Help! I keep killing my party (nearly).

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I run a 4e game from time to time. Since my games got to round 5th level I find it hard to put my party through an encounter of their own level without severly hurting them. I am talking multiple players lying on the floor making death saving throws here. After one round of combat a monk in my game was on worse than half hitpoints, that is from coming in fresh. I put the party of six up against 6 gnolls of their own level and it was touch and go. At one point I thought I was going to end up with a death (which i did not want, it is the first fight in the first game of a block and was not supposed to be deadly, just a shakedown really). What is going wrong?

I got some good rolls, but those gnolls seem to hit very hard. Is it normal to have such a drubbing in an encounter of the same level as the party, against enemys the same level as the party? I find my encounters get longer, and more deadly as the game gets higher level. What is going on? Am I doing something wrong?
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It would help to know your party's composition. If a party doesn't have all four roles covered, they can find encounters harder than they should be.
I wouldn't say it's 'normal', but one of the things 4e emphasizes is teamwork.  If the party isn't working together, they're going to have a much harder time of it.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
We currently have:
2 Runepriests
1 Monk
1 Druid
1 Rogue
1 Fighter

Should work well. Problems seem to be:

1. Artillery monsters get ignored, then everyone starts looking hurt and surprised by how much damage they can output...and carries on ignoring them. (this has happened before and had similarly disastrous consequences).

2. The Rogue doesn't want to do damage and attack. One round she wanted to just stand behind a pillar and do nothing. *facepalm*, but hey that is what she wanted to do apparantly.

3. I was rolling high for the first few rounds so all the monsters hit.

4. The monk wasn't using flurry of blows for the first 3 rounds because he didn't know how it worked (and I forgot to notice). But to balance that when the Gnolls got bloodied I would sometimes forget to do their extra damage.

Once the teamwork started to coalesce, and the party were ganging up on one creature and taking it down they pulled through. But I was worried, and it was the first 4e game for one player and I am worried I will put him off if he starts to see 4e as a meat grinder for the PCs. 
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1. Your party seems to lack a lot of ranged options, so you should keep artillery monsters to a minimum.

2. That's a rather large problem, yes.  D&D kind of expects people to do something.  The rogue should be flanking with the fighter constantly.

3. This is where 'fudging' comes in.  If your monsters are rolling too hot, and it's making things less fun, start having them miss.  You could also have them start making poor tactical choices from overconfidence, because of how easily they're winning.

4. That will come with experience.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Every group will be different.  So if your party is having a hard time with creatures their own level you have a few options:

1) Put on the mittens.  Maybe the group is more story interested and doesn't want / need challenging combats to have fun at table.  Downlevel the encounters to the point that you find appropriate. 

2) Talk to your players and get some optimization going.  For contrast my Sorcerer by himself can often take out, or nearly take out, a room of at-level enemies on his own(His nova is something like 8d6+1d10+108 assuming everything hits.  Or 8*3.5 + 5.5 + 108 ~ 141.5 hp at a level were standard monster HP is 136)  If two of your strikers target the same thing on the first turn it should die unless it is a solo or elite.  If two of your strikers Action Point, an elite should die.  If that seems way out of the realm of realistic for your party, it might be time to do a little number crunching, or going back to option 1.
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Your party composition seems fine on paper. Some ideas:


1. Artillery monsters: it may be ok to ignore them for a while, on condition that the party tries to focus fire other targets. Killing enemies fast is the best way to reduce damage output overall.

2. Rogue. Why is that? Is it a roleplay choice or is it because she is unsure about the rules and how to play the character effectively? In the former case, just take it into account for balancing the encounter; in the latter case perhaps talk to her and maybe do a little 'training', or have a more experienced player use a rogue to show her the ropes of the class.  

3. Consider using average damage for monsters. This takes away spikes which may turn the fight for worse. Also be careful with Brute monsters, as they can really hurt: don't use many of those together.

4. Monk: doesn't seem like a big problem. Just needs practice.    


Also note that damage for monsters have been increased in MM3 and Monsters Vault, to align it to the latest updates. Even if it may make combat tougher I'd still recommend using those new values, otherwise combat may drag too long and lose excitement.
Gnolls in particular are unusually hard-hitting for thier level, particularly if they're allowed to play to their strengths.
I run a 4e game from time to time. Since my games got to round 5th level I find it hard to put my party through an encounter of their own level without severly hurting them. I am talking multiple players lying on the floor making death saving throws here. After one round of combat a monk in my game was on worse than half hitpoints, that is from coming in fresh.

A PC bloodied in one round (or, by a lurker, in one attack) isn't beyond the pale.  It shouldn't be a common occurance, though, and the party should be able to deal with it with some healing.

I put the party of six up against 6 gnolls of their own level and it was touch and go. At one point I thought I was going to end up with a death (which i did not want, it is the first fight in the first game of a block and was not supposed to be deadly, just a shakedown really). What is going wrong?

Gnolls can be pretty nasty.  There are a number of monsters like that which get pile-on damage on bloodied characters and that can bring a PC down quickly or decimate a party that isn't doing a good job mitigating damage.  You might consider using more of a mix of monsters, with a few less-brutal ones, especially for a 'shakedown' combat. 

I got some good rolls, but those gnolls seem to hit very hard. Is it normal to have such a drubbing in an encounter of the same level as the party, against enemys the same level as the party? I find my encounters get longer, and more deadly as the game gets higher level. What is going on? Am I doing something wrong?

That's not typical, no.  Usually PC healing gets them through a few good rolls or concentrated damage by the opposition and the tide turns.  That depends on some teamwork, though, I suppose.

 

 

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Is this a party that started at 1 and leveled to 5 or started at 5? I had to coach the players a lot in the early going while they got familiarized with the system and their characters, if its the case that they're still learning then it isn't so bad. In early encounters my party had a bad tendency to let the enemy bottleneck them and have artillery blasting them but they've improved and have a better tactical sense now. Hopefully that is the case for your group and they just need to be familiar with their characters. I know the warlock in our group needed to be reminded about curse damage early on, and the rogue was afraid to mix it up in melee after getting clobbered the first couple encounters, but now they've got the hang of things. If they've been playing this way all the way through to level 5 I'm surprised that you didn't have these doubts a lot sooner, because they are not doing their jobs and that makes it a lot harder for them to have success when they are as unaware of their class mechanics as it sounds from your post.
We currently have:
2 Runepriests
1 Monk
1 Druid
1 Rogue
1 Fighter

Should work well. Problems seem to be: 



Ye gods, what a crappy mix.

No range, so any use of artillery is going to hurt badly.

and.....

Runepriests are awful healers, so bad that you basically have no healer in the party. 

Runepriests are finnicky in the hands of experienced players and groups. Its THE worst class to hand to someone whos never played, with a newby group its even worse. 

The only way to get Runepriests to stack is to keep one on offense and one on defense. Expert level tactics from brand new players? 

Talk one(or both) of those guys into switching to Warlord, much more straight forward.

....and, Druid? Really?!? 4es druid is not CoDzilla and takes careful planning to play at even a mediocre level....


Eh, a couple of things:

Have you verified your PCs numbers using Character Builder? If you don't have it, then maybe dig up a pre-gen character somewhere and go through the HP and HS calculations, and attack bonus calculations and make sure you come up with the same numbers. Its possible to misinterpret character generation and end up with too few hit points (for instance starting hit points are CONSTITUTION + class hit points, NOT CON BONUS + class hit points, a common mistake).

Gnolls are anywhere from level 3 on up monsters, but they're basically a level 6 threat in general. Not sure what level the PCs are in your group, Normally I find new players start to pretty well get things figured by around level 5. At that point the PCs also pick up a fairly hefty increment in power (level 4 they get a stat bonus and another feat, then level 5 hands them their 2nd Daily, and hit points are now up to a pretty high number). If you're fighting level 3 gnoll scavengers then maybe they're just not quite up to speed yet.

While I am far less harsh in my assessment Marshall is right, the Runepriest class is if not THE most complicated to run definitely right up there with the Shaman. Monks are weak strikers (good class, but both a little tricky and not the highest damage output without some tactical savvy), the Druid likewise is a class that can stand some experience building and has some build traps. Fighters are of course straightforward, but even there you CAN make some not-too-obvious sub-par choices. Rogues are great, but you do have to get in and get CA and do the job to be a good striker. Playing hide-n-seek is OK, as long as the point is to get CA and you are able to attack pretty much every round (now and then a rogue may find it worthwhile to spend the round seeking a good hiding spot depending on build).

In any case, while it is hard to make a really bad 4e character, it is QUITE possible to make a party full of mediocre ones that will only do so-so against equal level enemies. They'll probably also survive harder encounters once they get more experienced, but my first group was like this too. They just could care less about builds and tactics, were used to 3.5 style "everyone go attack a different enemy" and just basically took forever to kill stuff and would get mauled on a regular basis. However, they got better with time, and in any case its no less fun, just scale the bad guys back a bit.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Well, one solution to this is actually seeing how your characters are built.  If you can either send someone (I wouldn't mind) a copy of their characters to see if they are not just blatantly bad that might be a good start point.  Or you can compare it to some of the baselines in the pregen thread in my sig (which I know is incomplete and I need to get back to working on it, but it will still be useful...).
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
When an encounter you have designed ends up surprising you, you weren't prepared enough. You should know quickly as possible strengths, weaknesses of your group and how they function individually and as a team. Then you can design the encounter accordingly. It just comes down to mathematic probability & tactical decisions party is known to make. Players may need to also learn how their class functions, its str & weakness and how they can synergy in encounter. They are new adventurers, so obviously in game they are learning to function individually and as a group. Adventuring is deadly & difficult career choice! You can help quicken the learning curb by introducing a training monestary in their setting they can go and let them arena with diferent type of monsters and give them a opportunity to talk among each others about tactics, ability synergy with you coaching as the trainer.. good RP chance for each players to get to know their class, each others class, and what to expect from each other in a real deadly encounter setting. Also gives you an idea so can design your encounters accordingly.
Good RP opportunity and introduction to key npcs (trainers who are retired adventuerz themselves) in players life which players can befriend tap into for nformation, assistance also possible hooks you can use throughout your game.
Try not designing encounters that can only be failed by dying. Put in some goal that the monsters are trying to accomplish (other than the PCs' deaths) so if the players flub it, they aren't killed. This should also work well with the rogue, who doesn't seem to want to get into combat. For example, if the goal of the monsters is, say, to acquire and depart with an item, then the rogue can make it her job to get the item first, while the rest of the players attempt more direct methods. The monsters still fight back, but their priority is their goal, which can't necessarily be achieved by killing the characters.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I really don't think you have a problem here. If you have new players they will likely just scrape through as they learn the rule system. This happened to me while the party was in the lower levels. It's alright to have the party on the edge of destruction, this will not last as they get more powerful you will struggle to hurt them. As you get closer to paragon level, Centauri's advice is going to become vital. There's lots of ways to manage character death or Total party kills, the forums full of these topics.