View Full Version : Keeping Combat Challenging

01-04-2010, 11:41 PM
Not every encounter you throw at the PCs should drain all their resources and HP to beat it. Wearing a group down, and picking at them slowly gives them the feeling of power at the beginning of the chain of encounters, and at the end, they are very very careful, and their tactics totally change in combat when they are low on HP and resources. It creates very memorable combats and makes the combats very different from each other.

Even a small pack of goblins can scare a level 4 party when they are very low on HP and resources.

I find with 4th edition D&D this is very hard to do as a DM. Every character has the ability to heal themselves, and they would need to totally run out of healing surges before a DM could employ this tactic. By the time this happens, they are already doing a full rest to load up on healing surges again. It is one of the few frustrations I had DMing 4th edition.

It sort of removes that whole feeling of impending doom from a PC perspective when they are skirting the edge of life/death...

I've split this quote off into a new thread since I think it warrants some discussion, but it was off topic.

Howwwl, the 4e DMG2 has some excellent suggestions on managing resources that you should check out. A couple of very easy things you can do are to give the party an incentive to press on without extended rests and to reduce the opportunities for short rests.

For example, if the party knows that some of the goblin forces are out on a raid and won't return until tomorrow, they are given an incentive to try to reach their objective in the goblin camp in a single day. They know that if they don't, tomorrow it's going to be MUCH tougher. Once they're in the camp, they need to be quick and stay on the move to avoid being discovered / overwhelmed. Make it very difficult to take breathers longer than a minute or two, and perhaps only allow them to refresh one of their encounter powers and maybe their Second Wind as well.

I've seen this technique used to great effect. It can really ramp up the challenge, and it creates more intense and unnerving battles -- especially if you're in Dark Sun and you're fighting yet another wave of elven marauders after you've already failed two death saves ...

01-05-2010, 09:09 AM
I'm rather curious whether not giving the party a whole short rest is such a good thing. In my group there are a few whiners when I do things like you can have your Second Wind and an encounter power back, nothing else... Now, that's not to say that having a mechanic that one of the enemies always flees to grab more when there's only 3 monsters left, or something similar, can't be used to keep the party in a continual combat, should you really want to do that. But if they want to take an extended rest when they shouldn't, give them some suggestions that its a really bad idea, and when they do it anyway, punish them somewhat. Maybe have them wake up with a grievous wound, surrounded by enemies. Give them a wound that, until healed, reduces their healing surges by a number that you find reasonable. If you really want to make it interesting, have them be without their equipment when they awake. They have to kill enough enemies to get their equipment and then they have to escape. That can really cause the hysterics you seem to want the party to feel for a few minutes. When they finally flee because you made the encounter tough enough that they're hurt bad, but not a TPK, they'll take a breather and hopefully they'll say hey, the DM coulda killed us; maybe we need to finish the job before we go to sleep for the night. If you've got a warforged, eladrin or I think drow party member, such methods don't work so well because they all keep enough awake not to take penalties to perception, but the rest of the party doesn't. And if nobody finished their allotment of sleep, you can say that x hours is x hours and you had less than x hours, so no recharged healing surges and no refreshed dailies.

01-05-2010, 01:43 PM
As I found my "Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" party raise in levels, I just increased the actual number of members of the opposing force. Especially when it came to the Drow encounters. Including the last time that they encountered the Drow, they were ambushed by a force of over 100. This is what allowed the Drow to obtain the artifact, Prison of Zagig, that the party had retrieved from the caverns. Although the Drow didn't get to take all 3 of the artifacts from them, they left after giving the impression that they could return and obtain the other 2 artifacts whenever they wanted to and not have any problems in doing so.

Even in just a random encounter, It means using stronger creatures. With such a large party, I don't have to worry about using creatures that are worth 10,000+ experience points, since they get divided amongst 10 different characters (one of which has to divide his between 2 classes). Also, when using stronger creatures, they will usually be smarter and if things are not going well will retreat/flee and survive to fight another day. Nothing like using spells and supplies and end up not getting the experience for killing the creature.

01-05-2010, 02:13 PM
all good points, but I am going to add something completely different.

My goal in designing the encounters, is to set up each one to be different. An ambush here, a large number of baddies here, major status effect issuers there, etc...

01-05-2010, 06:51 PM
Thanks for splitting this off Farcaster. :)

I am not against 4th edition by any means. I really enjoy it. With every system I play there is usually something about it that frustrates me somewhat. 3.5 had MANY. Pathfinder fixed almost all the issues I had frustrations with.

Some people love that feeling of being weak at 1st level. Others like to be strong at first level. Start off strong, skip all the weak crap. As a DM and a player I really like the feeling of weakness at early levels. And you know what, I can't really tell you why. I just like the whole scariness of being on the edge.

I know you can make it so the players have to have combat after combat until they finally run out of encounter powers, and healing surges, and are low on HP. But I don't feel like it is fun to do that in 4e, especially nearly every session. It makes for a never-ending constant combat grind.

In Pathfinder/3.5 and earlier, this is not the case because EVERY combat feels like you are close to death and any crit will take you down or a couple of attacks can drop you. I do not believe You can get that feeling in 4e.

But again, that is just the way the system is, and it is not a bad thing. Not everyone likes the fact that they are weak and can die in one or two hits (my wife doesn't for instance, it stresses her out, heh heh). Some like to start like they are 8th level and can whoop some butt right at first level. (My wife is an avid 4e fan by the way...)


01-05-2010, 11:15 PM
Heheh... I've just been making the monsters a lot stronger, but I like the time-crunch idea much better! It would make slaying dragons much more meaningful if they've been rationing their powers.

01-06-2010, 07:47 AM
as for time crunch, one that I do to mix things up is the faithful alarm horn. You're in the dungeon with all of these kobolds, you kill all but 1, he pulls out the horn, and then the whole army is on you (in waves of course :cool:). They can try a short rest, but they know the enemy will be on them.

So a fun puzzle for them is to find a little hole or find a way to trick the oncoming kobolds or whatever, so they can get in that short/extended rest. This way, they sort of earn the rest and appreciate the rest.

Also, in the PH, it does mention the frequency of when extended rest can be used. Don't have it handy, but it is in there.

01-06-2010, 01:31 PM
The PHB says that there can be one extended rest per day. In most cases, that suffices, but personally, since I don't make an issue out of time in our game, that doesn't mean much. Certain logistic issues like weight burden, or eating food, or breathing, or enduring the climate all feel more central to my games I guess because there's more often times where those things come up in my games and time is just not stressed as much as a significant factor in the goings on. I suppose that might mean I need to make it more of an issue in the future, but I'm already adding a bunch of things to my game that I didn't make important in the past, and I can add it as time progresses.