Balancing encounters in D&D

Balancing encounters picture

Many dungeon masters have problems balancing encounters in D&D when they start off. At first, the encounters might be too difficult and end up killing a player, or two, or a whole party. Perhaps the players are competent, have read my article, and are completely destroying your monsters.

Either way, life is hard and I would like to help you make some amazing encounters that will be balanced, fun, and difficult enough to keep your party interested in combat.

balancing encounters in D&D depends on your players. If encounters are too hard, make them easier. If they are too easy, make them harder.

I will go over the difficulties of

  1. If encounters are too hard
  2. If encounters are too easy
  3. And finally, some extra tips to help you out.

Too hard

This is the easiest to fix. If the difficulty is to hard, make it easier, done! I am just kidding about it being that easy, but balancing encounters in D&D that are too hard is easier than balancing encounters in D&D that are too easy.

The main reason is that your players are dying, running, or something is hindering them. Because something is hindering them, you are far more likely to know what the actual issue is when trying to balance an encounter.

If you still are confused, talk to your players and figure out why the encounters seem too hard. What is causing the frustration, the loss, and the encouragement to run away? Once you know, you have something to work with.

Now that you know the issue, let’s get into fixing some common issues that a dungeon master faces when they try to balance encounters.

Easier monsters

You might be too hard with your monsters. I am not just talking about monster stats, (although you can nerf those as well), but instead I am talking about how you use your monsters.

Do you use tactically minded orcs who have traps, formations, and other interesting things? If you do that is wonderful! But if your players are dying because of this then that is obviously not wonderful.

Start the players off slow. Use monsters that attack head-on at first making the player’s lives easier.

After this, make the monsters have one special person. It does not need to be a mage, just make that orc have something unique like using traps in a special way, giving orders in orcish to make the orcs use basic tactics, something.

Now that your players have some idea on how to deal with tough enemies and have developed methods themselves, rank it up a notch to when you use tactics or multiple monsters.

You need to slowly level up your players so that they can handle the awesome combats you have planned. Be patient, it will take some time, but have faith in your players. They can get there.

Base monsters off players

Do you like using magic users? I do, but I have made my players in the past give up once they see a person in robes. This is not fun, and I recommend that you do not make the mistakes that I have made.


If your players are all fighters with a cleric who only uses his spells to heal, or at least spends 50% of his or her spells healing, don’t use magic. The players have made it clear that they do not want magic in their game from the classes they have picked. Base your monsters off your players.

If your party is a bunch of casters you can make your encounters be big and flashy! You will generally not have a wave of minions for your party to hack through if your party is a bunch of casters.

Adjust the game according to your party and don’t force them to face monsters they have no experience with and cannot beat.

This is a tip for newer players since experienced players might know how to deal with all encounters. That does not mean however that the experienced players will like you creating an encounter that is in the end, sort of mean and created just because the dungeon master wanted a tough fight.

Change stats

I mentioned this before, but you can change stats on your monsters. Are your players dying due to them taking too much damage? Change that damage die from 1d8 to 1d6 or change that +7 to a +3.

Are your monsters just not dying? Change the hp from 50 to 38. Change the AC from 20 to 17. Switch the resistance or change them. +5 to dex saves might be a +3 or swapped with strength saves. This will also change the monster and make the encounter more interesting.

Some dungeon masters fudge dice rolls, and I will talk about this in the future but for now, change the stats. Your players will not know +3 is actually +7. They will not know the hp or other stats have changed even if you want to roll in front of your players. Make the game more manageable for them since they might just not be good at combat, or the most unlucky human being you have ever seen roll a di.

Favorable terms

Make the encounter favorable for the players. Maybe the players have more surprise rounds on the enemies, giving them a huge advantage. Perhaps the players are at a height advantage over the enemies. We all know what happens when you have the high ground.

Find a way to make the encounter favor the players from time to time, and show the players how the enemies adapt to the players’ advantage. This forces the players to deal with the ever-changing enemy, and force creative thought.

Now when your players eventually get put into a bad position they will know what to do. After three or four levels of this, the players should at least have some idea on how to turn the tables. Why? Because the tables have been turned on them from a disadvantageous position!

Use past experiences to help level up your players, and give them ideas. If they still are having issues, then use other tactics and consider if your players are just not that into combat. If so, you can improve your encounters or not have combat as much if your players are just not into combat.

Allies

Give your players some meat shields! I er um… I apologize. That was the wizard in me talking. Give your party some useful friends who will fight beside them. Sometimes the allies or henchmen presented to the party are just small townsfolk who want to help. Then have the townsfolk die as meat shields to protect your almighty wizard! I once again apologize, but we all know that is their best use.

If your players happen to have a moral dilemma when using innocents as cannon fodder, then use the allies as extra damage. Let one or two die to add some tension and give a sad letter to the party, but get some mileage out of those bad boys! Use that sad letter to spark another plot point, or just make the party feel bad. The call is up to you.

Think about it this way. If there are 20 orcs fighting your level four party, your level four party is probably going to die. Unless those villagers give their lives and deal damage from the 30 attacks that deal 1d8+2 if they hit. That might kill 5 or so orcs in the first round!

You do not have to use townsfolk. Instead, you can let your party hire a cleric or a few bodyguards. Make it harder to recruit if the followers end up dying in droves, but give them some allies to make the game a little easier.

Swarms or singles?

If your party is having trouble fighting a single monster, make that monster have a weakness. The orc attacking the party has a gimped leg. Now the party can exploit this to win! Do not make a specific area be the weak spot on the monster. We are not playing a video game. Instead, give the players a real weakness that is exploitable.

Swarms? Make the swarm be extremely cowardly or held together by fear. If the swarm is held together by a leader, make it so that when the leader dies the swarm disperses. You, of course, need to make the leader have something to show that they are the leader like a fancy crown, barking orders, anything like this. Once your players see this, then the players can kill the leader and make half of the monsters flee. Now fights are much more manageable.

Too easy

Here we are! The part for when you must balance encounters so that your party does not steamroll through the group of enemies before them.

The truth is, you should read the allies, favorable terms, and change stats subsections above BUT read them having the opposite effect in mind. Make your monster stats bigger, make your terms favor the enemies, and give your enemies allies.

As for basing monsters off the party, you can do this to isolate the main threat. This part is tricky since you cannot make the player useless. If you do, then that player should be playing a level 20 barbarian. Great in a small room, but almost worthless in the world due to all their weaknesses.

Don’t make the player feel like that level 20 barbarian. Instead, give that player something to deal with. What if the level 20 barbarian was fighting off 50 goblins instead of being controlled? That barbarian would feel epic instead of dejected. Make your players feel epic instead of dejected.

Boring fights

If your fights are boring, read the combat article and the boss article. These two articles should help you out tremendously, and give you extra resources to help even further.

Makeup monsters

I know the last section was kind of a cop-out, but I already wrote two articles about the subject. What more do you want from me?

This will not be a cop-out. Making up monsters is a great way to make fights more interesting. Perhaps your players have memorized every monster in the book because when they were 10 they had no life and instead stayed up reading the monster manual. I might be able to relate.

If your players were weirdos like this, then you need to throw some curveballs at them. Give them a two-headed dragon creature with a snake tail. Their mind will go to chimera, but something is wrong. This isn’t that creature, and thus it puts them on edge. Be bold in your statements and confirmations about what they see, and smile. This puts them on edge, and the fight should be more intense because of this.

In addition to making the fights more interesting, you should know how to make the fight more difficult. ‘If only my creatures had wings so my 4 barbarians couldn’t hack it to pieces.’ Or, ‘If only my creature had immobilization immunity so that the wizards and druids didn’t just pin it down while the hobbits stoned it to death.’

Add that feature to your creature, change its appearance. If you need to, change the abilities slightly.

Not sure if the abilities are balanced? Really confuse your players by swapping out the ability of one monster with another of the same challenge rating. That will confuse know it all players, and make a sort of balanced encounter!

Extra help

Here is an extra resource to help you figure out if your encounters are balanced. Balanced encounters do not always follow this structure, but that gadget definitely helps.

One of the last things that I want to tell you is to talk to your players. If you really don’t know what the problem is, then talk to your players. See what they say and then adjust. Once you know the problem you can fix it.

If you want more extra help there are a lot of other pieces of content out there for you to read. But you don’t want to find and read more articles, do you? If not, then ask a question down in the comments below and I will try to help you out, my friend.

Conclusion

Balancing encounters in D&D is difficult at first, and can be difficult once an experienced dungeon master gets a new group who can’t do anything. I helped identify what to do when your encounters are too hard, or too easy. I even game some final extra tips for you above.

If you are interested my take on Cr? If so read this article!

This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

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