XP Budget /Encounter, a Bit Confused

My players wanted to continue with the characters they had a bit and just make some minor revisions for the new rules, in doing so I am reworking the self-made dungeon that the blocked off passage in the cultist's cave led to.  In reworking it I'm trying to use the new xp budget rules properly and they just seem... off.  I can never quite work things so it feels right.

The main concern here is the final boss.  I want to have a big strong boss that doesn't need a lot of help from minion types to soak up it's xp budget. Originally I had a Cleric that i created for the role and estimated him to be around the strength of a level 5 elite (approximately 50 HP with 8d8 HD along with some nice gear, spells, and a few rituals already put down before the group arrives.  also note the group is mostly level 4).  when I ran some numbers (quickly and sloppily) just to see where he stands, he seemed appropriate.  I was just going to add in some Animate Servant pets that would auto spawn every so often to add a little challenge but not be too bad.

Even with all this though, the xp budget is only about half full for the group.  Anyone else have some insight maybe.  My next choice was going to be to just add another elite NPC or 2 to fill it up the rest of the way but I really hadn't been wanting to do that at all.
Honestly, I have found the XP "charts" and buget to be simply out of whack and not very useful in this  packet.

I would honestly just suggest using the eyeball test.  Does the encounter look about right?  Do you think you have enough creatures involved for that setting?  Should have have a couple of elite guards?  Concubines?  Pet Dire Rats?  However you imagine it.

Give it a good look over... judge as best as you can what you think the challenge will be... and go from there.

Whatever XP comes up from that is good enough.
 
I found the idea of an XP budget to be completely essential to building a combat encounter in 4E.  I have not gotten a chance to playtest the system yet but I really hope there is a system in place to work out the "correct" number of monsters to put out for the expected difficulty of the encounter/adventure.

Vampire Class/Feat in 2013!

I prefer Next because 4E players and CharOpers can't find their ass without a grid and a power called "Find Ass."

Drop the minions to 1hp, and don't give them XP values.
It was/is important for 4E, no doubt.  But 4E is pretty rigidly controlled when it come to building encounters.  Not much of 4E is "just for fun."

I don't think Next should be like 4E, though.  The game shouldn't center around tight, well balanced and challenging combat.  I don't think game balance and combat mechanics should be 1a and 1b on their priority list in this edition.  4E really is a good RPG.... and solid throughout.  If they want to expand 4E, they should just do that.

I want 5E to be the throwback to simpler days with lessons learned from all editions along the way that it feels like it's headed towards.  To that ends, getting encounters balanced "just right" doesn't have to be so important.

Getting the feel of a real, living-world encounter right would be more important in my book.

Examples:
4E - You created an encounter to test players.  A good mix of XP budget creatures that include a nice mix of artillery, soldier, and skirmishers (for example).  It should put to test the group's skill and use up about 20% of their resources.

Next - You put together a handful of creatures that make sense for the adventure they are on.  Bugbears have been raiding a dwarven mine.  For the current level, I am going to say 4 bugbears who have half a dozen gnolls along to carry stuff if the from their typical raids.  Not worrying about making sure they have a controller, lurker, and artillery in there.  Just some creatures to give the PCs a modest challenge they should overcome unless they play foolishly or the die are very unkind.

You still need a rough estimation (creature level, damage, HPs, etc) of how tough they are (so it would be nice if XP reflected challenge), but making sure it is perfectly suited for the extact type of encounter you expect (aka 4E) isn't necessary.

+1 or -1 creature should throw everything out of whack like it did in 4E.

That said, a good XP chart and encounter creation rules would still benefit novice DMs and give a starting point for veteran ones, too.
 

I found the idea of an XP budget to be completely essential to building a combat encounter in 4E.  I have not gotten a chance to playtest the system yet but I really hope there is a system in place to work out the "correct" number of monsters to put out for the expected difficulty of the encounter/adventure.


I see why you say this, but I can also explain why I think that shouldn't be a core mechanic but an optinal rule. 

XP Budget is there to create challenging combat, that test the skill of the player. They need an optimized build to survive and even then you are expected to choose things based on tactical advantage and not in character reasons. As you had to carefully evaluate all options combat became slower. It wasn't good for immersion to say the least. And often your possible actions were different from what the setting would dictate (movement rules for example).


And a lot of Players and DMs expressly stated that they don't like this. 4E is not for them.


When Wizards is trying to get those people back, the tightly balanced encounter design of 4E must be removed from core rules. It can be a modular component for tactical gameplay. It can be an optional rule. But it can't stay in core. 


Instead of XP pool only I would offer guidelines about how to design encounters that make sense from the perspective of the setting. How enemy leader can compare to the charaters (in level), how the other enemies can compare to characters in level, how such enemy groups can work.

You should also know what they can or can't handle as a group by now. If it seems like it's too strong, or not strong enough... Then you're absolutely right. Adjust it accordingly, for fun, not for XP. If you want to award them the correct XP for the encounter, throw in a mix of role play parts. Perhaps the boss gets a bit angry part way through and begins casting a spell that will threaten to instantly kill a party member unless the players focus their attention on damaging the holy symbol he uses while preparing the spell. Give them a round or two to do this; if it doesn't work a player gets dropped to -5 hp. If it does work, continue the fight as normal but have the boss take a round at a disadvantage ^^. Little things like that make a MASSIVE difference in combat... Especially when 4e didn't really allow for that when it came to balance... Put a boss on stop for a round and the players will just own him; or call cheats when for some reason he's invulnerable... Seems like Next is allowing for that roleplay/combat style we love so much.
I don't get it. What does having a XP budget and creating tightly planned encounters have in common? If you want to say: screw this, I put the monsters I want, say it. Tally the XP, and spread it around, just don't use it to *plan*.

Linking XP to challenge, and suggesting a budget, shouldn't turn anyone away from the game. Really. It just means that in the end, you don't need a supercomputer to give your players their reward. Even   in 4e, it was just a guideline, clearly stating that you should also eyeball the relative difficulty of monsters so the XP budget isn't filled with mooks or unkillable monsters.
I don't get it. What does having a XP budget and creating tightly planned encounters have in common? If you want to say: screw this, I put the monsters I want, say it. Tally the XP, and spread it around, just don't use it to *plan*.

Linking XP to challenge, and suggesting a budget, shouldn't turn anyone away from the game. Really. It just means that in the end, you don't need a supercomputer to give your players their reward. Even   in 4e, it was just a guideline, clearly stating that you should also eyeball the relative difficulty of monsters so the XP budget isn't filled with mooks or unkillable monsters.

I've played a lot, and still play, of 4E.  Let me tell you, it's very easy to make a little misjudgment in Encounter Creation to upset the cart.  I've had to fudge a lot of encounters that were simply ill-suited for the group.

4E might have called them guidelines, but with resource management and game balance was at the crux of the game, it was a very strong suggestion to design encounters within the boundaries.

I'm just eyeballing it for this playtest package.   I'm figuring that if the party isn't out numbered, even what they call a difficult encounter may not be so bad since even the heavy hitters like a bugbear, only have a +2 to hit bonus.

What I'll probably do is err on the lower side for some encounters and then if need be send in reinforcements or just beef up the next encounter.  Here's a sample of some groups I'm creating for a session this weekend.  There will probably be 3-4 1st level PCs.  They will find a nearly dead explorer who tells them about a tomb that he and his group were excavating when they were surprised by goblins.  He'll ask the party to find out what happened to the other members of his party.


1.  2 gobln bowmen and 2 soldiers in a look out tower.

2.  4 goblin bowmen on scaffolding with 1 leader and 1 grunt down on the ground in the main hall.

3.  6 goblin grunts (slave workers..mining for gems and artifacts) with 1 bugbear taskmaster.

4.  6 stirges in one cave

5.  4 giant centipedes and 2 dire rats in another cave with a huge refuse pile.

6.  4 skeletons guarding a sarcofogus in a hidden chamber.

7.  1 Wight in the sarcofogus that will actually attempt to gain the party's assistance if he is freed from his tomb.    


If the adventurers are careful, they should be fine with this.  If they get in trouble they can always run.   lol.                   

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

Sound like fun, Rhenny.  Five characters in your group?

Curious, are you using creatures as-is out of the beastiary, and just naming a Goblin as Goblin Archer, etc., or you tweaking them to be a little better at their specific "roles"?

The third encounter is a bit of a doozy with a Bugbear (lvl 6).  PCs will have to be careful and smart there.  2d8+2 or 2d6+2 damage will hurt, luckily it's only +2 on to-hit so a strong defensive character that can hold it's attention should be able to withstand a few attacks from it (especially with healing).

If you don't dole out any other XPs, they should level right after #5, the centipedes/rats.

Sound like fun, Rhenny.  Five characters in your group?

Curious, are you using creatures as-is out of the beastiary, and just naming a Goblin as Goblin Archer, etc., or you tweaking them to be a little better at their specific "roles"?

The third encounter is a bit of a doozy with a Bugbear (lvl 6).  PCs will have to be careful and smart there.  2d8+2 or 2d6+2 damage will hurt, luckily it's only +2 on to-hit so a strong defensive character that can hold it's attention should be able to withstand a few attacks from it (especially with healing).

If you don't dole out any other XPs, they should level right after #5, the centipedes/rats.




It will probably be only 4 pcs.   I am running the goblins right from the beastiary as is, just calling them archers because they'll use bows while the other goblins engage in melee, or hide to wallop the PCs when they come up the tower to get the archers.   The scaffold in the hall gives the PCs a chance to hack at the structure to cause two archers to fall for each scaffold.

The bugbear will be the challenge, but I think they'll handle it.  I'm placing lots of barrels in that room, so it should be easy for the rogue to hide, and for the others to position themselves well.  The goblins will be busy using pick axes on the walls of the cave, so the loud noise will mask the party's approach, unless one of the goblins from the main hall makes it in to warn them.

I'll probably just keep them at 1st level for the entire adventure.   There will also be a shackled goblin under a canvas tarp in the stirge room, on an island over a stream.   He is an outcast that the others are punishing so if the PCs talk with him, he'll show them where the hidden chamber is so they can find the wight's resting place.

Thanks for the thoughts.   I'll post a full report after the session.       

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

Going to level 2 wouldn't be hard (and with 4 character, they'd hit it after the stirges I think.. maybe even after the bugbear).  Maybe an extra spell, +1 to a skill, and some HPs.  But for testing purposes, keeping them at 1 works.

Hey... got room for a 5th?  Cool  I'd love to play for a change. Wink
Going to level 2 wouldn't be hard (and with 4 character, they'd hit it after the stirges I think.. maybe even after the bugbear).  Maybe an extra spell, +1 to a skill, and some HPs.  But for testing purposes, keeping them at 1 works.

Hey... got room for a 5th?  Cool  I'd love to play for a change. Wink



I'm still a closet DM (even after 34 years).  I'll be running this one with some of my old buddies.   When I get up enough courage to go public, I'll let you know and you can be my first victim...I mean player.   lol.





  

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

I'm still a closet DM (even after 34 years).  I'll be running this one with some of my old buddies.   When I get up enough courage to go public, I'll let you know and you can be my first victim...I mean player.   lol. 

Man, I hope they change that Shield spell as I suggest before then, because I am taking it 3 times and hiding behind the halfling rogue. heh.  No one can see me, either, right?  I mean if the halfling is hidden, how could the notice the wizard crouched behind? :P
I have found the XP Budget numbers to just be wrong. Some monster combinations seem OK, but some are Nuts. Five 2nd Level Characters have a tough encounter with five Owlbears! I think that Tough does cover it. But, I have found that with the right situations hordes can either overwhelm or be non-combats. Five 1st levels vs 20 stirges. One fight was a slaughter, the other was over in less than one round. The difference Cause Fear. I think eyeballing it is a good idea as well. I have experimented with some encounters that I thought where nuts but left the party an out. They where able to run from the Owlbears - and did!
Yeah, Ramses, their Elite and Solo XP is just wonky wrong.  An Elite Level 1 Kobold is worth the same XP as a normal level 1 goblin.  With over 5x the HPs, more AC, more damage, and an AoE special attack.

Not a lot of thought and attention was paid to XP scores. 
My guess is that with bounded accuracy, it will be both easier and tougher to design encounters.  Let me explain.

If the to hit scores remain lower for the monsters, then, it will be possible to overcome relatively stronger opponents at any given level.  If the  bugbear only hits 30% of the time, then it is possible that it will not hit for up to 2 rounds.  Since the players will hit with higher frequency, the bugbear will not last that long.  It gets a little more tricky when you increase the number of bugbears, but their limited to hit score still places them at a disadvantage.   

As a result, it may be easier to throw in a variety of more powerful critters into encounters without automatically tipping the balance of power.  This was something that we just could not do in 4e.   In 4e a higher level monster was nearly impossible for a lower level PC to hit, and it often had so many hit points that there would be no way even in 10 rounds for the PCs to dent it.  To me, this is what makes creating encounters in 5e easier and harder.   Within a threshold of power, PCs will always have a chance, so unless you throw a 10th level monster at 1st level PCs (or a monster with higher to hit scores, higher AC and higher Hit Points), the PCs will always have a chance.  To me, this is a good for the game.  As DMs, we will have to throw out clues to the players to help them make decisions...should we fight or should we run.   If as DM, I don't want them to fight, and I only want to use a monster to develop the story, I'll use a threat that they can't fight (I won't even have to stat it up).  I'll describe it with such horror and menace that the party will not even dream of fighting it yet.  

I used the bugbear as an example because it is rated as a 6th level monster and it does a sizable amount of damage.  But you could do the same with Ogre, Troll, Minotaur, although, the higher hit points of some of those creatures may make them more dangerous (they also have +4 attack bonus rather than +2...that 10% increase is significant with bounded accuracy).

Bounded Accuracy will take some getting used to.   But, in the end, I think it is a better way to go so that there is more flexibility in encounter design.   


A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog