I've got a great group of level 6 players (five in all Sorcerer, Monk, Paladin, Rogue and Cleric and not ultra optimised) and what I'd really like to ask is for some help on making my Encounters not suck.
We've been running a the Scales of War campaign, but I've been improving the monster math and trying to make the monsters a bit more challenging and also fit thematically better.
The party burst in on the Dryad Queen in the Lost Mines of Karak and I put in there a couple more Satyr rakes along with what was already there i.e. five minions two cacklefiend hyenas and the Queen and took out the Longtooth Hunters. This was meant to be a level 9 encounter.
Now I appreciate that the party got something like 6 Crits and my rolling was appalling, I couldn't hit for toffee last night. But this isn't the first time its gone wrong.
Partly I feel I just make some really bad tactical decisions in terms of where I placed the monsters, but also I realise that when the party swarmed the Dryad Skirmisher, it was a whole round before she could escape and she got pummelled by two of the characters and was dead with no way to change this before her turn came or anyone could do anything. And so it all went down hill from there. What was meant to be a dramatic encounter, wasn't.
I realised several things that just don't work for me.
1. When rolling the dice, sometimes bad numbers happen at the wrong time and it makes the encounter really suck. I know encounters are finally balanced but again and again I find poor dice quickly turn even a well planned encounter into not such fun. Perhaps then fate sometimes has to intervene or the encounter might as well not have happened, especially if the story is going to have a dramatic sense of achievement.
2. The party lock down certain characters really quickly (anyone they perceive as the big bad threat and focus fire really well), with being able to knock prone, slow, or other stuff even elites, leaders or controllers can end up dying really fast. I don't want to punish them for good tactical thinking, but neither do I want to make it too easy (on account of my bad decisions) and so loose the sense of drama.
All too often I find that only a third of the party ever get hit, and I've yet to kill a single character or even bring them to zero hit points in recent memory? So I am not a killer DM, just finding it hard to offer a genuine challenge and trying to figure out what I am doing wrong.
3. Minions last night were a waste of space, I had five in two separate encounters, (as per the scenario) and they failed to do any damage save one, most got wiped out so quickly that it made little difference to the encounter and they might as well have not been there. So in future Minions a plenty or not at all.
But this aside, I am wondering what things you've learned about planning encounters. Some of my best encounters have been accidental, things worked out a certain way because of what the players did, not me (a previous level 7 encounter with troglodyte took 6 rounds, this one above took no more than 3). So I feel like tactically I'm terrible DM, but I want to improve.
At the table I think part of the problem is I make hasty decisions in an effort to keep things moving. You don't want to be the one keeping the players waiting, as you've got say, four different monster groups to resolve (sometimes initiative means that the monsters are all bunched together so the temptation to rush, through so the players don't get bored - how do you handle this) But also I sometimes just make poor choices and the players punish the monsters mercilessly for it - and rightly so. But how can I improve, so that level appropriate encounters are still challenging as they should be?
Your thoughts or suggestions would be most appreciated.