Encounter/Session Building... What am I missing?

Introduction
So... I have been running a campaign with a group that started at 1st level and is now at 8/9th level. I started out using the Caves of Chaos and then started building my own encounters after we completed that module. We have had about 10...11 sessions each of about 4-6 hours which have been heavily combat orientated (We want to see what classes are still "broken" and which ones are too weak). But we're finding a larger problem at this point; Encounter Building isn't working.

Our Group
DM: ME, been playing D&D for about 13 years with most of my experience coming as a PC from 3.5.
Rogue Lvl-8: My wife, the playtest is her first experience playing D&D other than videogames.
Cleric Lvl-8: Friend, longtime DM and experience with 2nd, 3.5, and 4th.
Wizard Lvl-7: Friends wife, the playtest is her first experience playing D&D.
Druid Lvl-7: Friend, D&D player ~13 years.
Druid Lvl-7: Friend, D&D player ~13 years (Yes, two).
Ranger Lvl-7: Friend, D&D player several years.

Average Encounter: (550 x 2) + (350 x 4) = 2,500
Tough Encounter: (1,050 x 2) + (700 x 4) = 4,900

Encounters last session
Everytime I am building a session I have been slowly ramping up the difficulty of the encounters to the point where next time I will be building it at double the "Tough" encounter. Last Session when players were levels 8, 8, 7, 7, 7, 7 I had them fight:

(2) Cyclops: Level 9 XP (2,720 x 2) 5,440 ...
Players destroyed them (no one even fell)

(3) Behir: Level 7 XP (1,880 x 3)  5,640 ...
One player got swallowed but was saved before 0 Hp

(1) Dragon, Black: Level 10 XP 3,920 ...
4 players got hit with acid but killed the Dragon in 4 rounds

(1) Giant, Frost & (10) Wolves, Dire: Level 10/3 XP (3,020 + 70 x 10) 3,720 ...
Wasn't even close to a challenge

(6) Orcs all with 6 levels of Barbarian (I don't know how to calculate that XP) ...
Turned out easy

(5) Ogres all with 6 levels of Barbarian (Don't know how to calculate that XP) ...
Turned out easy

I mean, the way I'm reading encounter building it seems like one of the players should have died or at least fell during the encounters with the Cyclops or Behir.

Conclusion
- Maybe the encounter building table gets less accurate as you get above 3 or 4 players in a party.
- Or I'm missing something?
- Or Clerics and Druids are currently too powerful and need to be reigned in.
- Or Monsters need to be more difficult
- Or I don't know; you tell me... 


I would appreciate other peoples thoughts and/or commentary on this.

Thanks 
I am currently building a short adventure for my group of 5 3rd/4th level first-time DnD players that would happen after they finish reclaiming Blingdenstone.

I created a story, a map and encounters.

When I tested the story and the map, I found a lot of logical errors and stuff I could have fixed/done better.

When I tested the fights I had planned, I quickly found out that they were WAY too easy. The encounter building chart is bogus. I had planned a near-impossible battle for them to fight, but in 3 test fights I did, the characters completely wiped the floor with the encounter.

A tough fight should have been 1440 XP. I put them up against a 3300 XP Vrock. With resistance to non-magical weapons(the party doesn't have any) and really dangerous abilities, and they just completely wrecked the Vrock. Then I added 2 imps(100 XP each) and I managed to do my best test battle - one player down to 4 hp.

I don't know why this encounter table exists, but it's not serving it's purpose. Best way to use this table is to find out how many times more XP you need to build a tough encounter and use that multiplier(for me ~2.5x) to find out your real XP budget.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/20.jpg)

A minor question that I've been kicking around in my group: Swift Cast Cure Wounds

With 2 Druids, a Ranger and a Cleric, is alot of that survivablity often the result of 2/3rds of your party being able to undo the damage done by enemies while still being able to make an attack?  And when your characters are outnumbered, such as with the dire wolves, they tend to be of such a lower level that they won't hit as often, and even when they do the damage they do  must be done in greater numbers to equate to higher level Swift Casted Cure Wounds.  Not to mention that there are plenty of ways to deal with packs of enemies with spells and abilities in the game, so throwing a large pack of anything at the party rarely presents a challenge when both the druids can Thunderwave and the Wizard can Burning Hands to drop them (and there are higher level options that even those).

Stacking parties with Clerics, Druids, Rangers and Paladins results in trivial encounters simply because of Cure Wounds being Swift Cast in my groups' experience.

I am really just wondering if you think that this may be a source of your party's power in reference to the encounter builder's recommendation.  We found fights to be far more difficult when Swift Casting was removed from healing spells (and Inflict wounds) along with some other changes to limit the number of abiliites that can be activated in a turn (like channel divinity only being once per turn). 
A minor question that I've been kicking around in my group: Swift Cast Cure Wounds

With 2 Druids, a Ranger and a Cleric, is alot of that survivablity often the result of 2/3rds of your party being able to undo the damage done by enemies while still being able to make an attack?  And when your characters are outnumbered, such as with the dire wolves, they tend to be of such a lower level that they won't hit as often, and even when they do the damage they do  must be done in greater numbers to equate to higher level Swift Casted Cure Wounds.  Not to mention that there are plenty of ways to deal with packs of enemies with spells and abilities in the game, so throwing a large pack of anything at the party rarely presents a challenge when both the druids can Thunderwave and the Wizard can Burning Hands to drop them (and there are higher level options that even those).

Stacking parties with Clerics, Druids, Rangers and Paladins results in trivial encounters simply because of Cure Wounds being Swift Cast in my groups' experience.

I am really just wondering if you think that this may be a source of your party's power in reference to the encounter builder's recommendation.  We found fights to be far more difficult when Swift Casting was removed from healing spells (and Inflict wounds) along with some other changes to limit the number of abiliites that can be activated in a turn (like channel divinity only being once per turn). 

Thank you for the commentary and information.

We completely agree and have discussed at length that: swift casting inflicts/cures and being able to do a Divine Wrath Channel Divinity twice on one turn (with two-weapon fighting) seems over powered. I do believe that Divine Wrath should have "Once per turn" added to the beginning of its description.

Glad to hear that we're not the only ones experiencing these issues (increasing the likelihood of it being fixed soon).

Thanks again. 
Grindeland, I have had the same experience as you have over about 8-12 sessions. I'm finding that when I'm using the guidelines to build encounters, they work best for a party of 3!!!. With only 3 PCs, there is more of a limit on how much damage the party can dish out in 1 round. It is also more likely that each PC will suffer more ill-effects when there are only 3 in the party.

For higher level adventures, I'm also finding that hazards, traps and area effects are much more dangerous than the monsters that the PCs face. The only way to challenge PCs, for me, has been to add one or more of the following:

1) outnumber the PCs by 2:1 or more...this dramatically effects the difficulty of the encounter even against less powerful monsters.

2) Have monster or monsters that can cast area of effect or impose debilitating conditions (stun, immobilize, paralyze) on the PCs.

3) I've been giving elite monsters maximum hit points and adding better armor to some of them (letting the humanoids wear scale mail or plate armor), and that has been helping me challenge the PCs a bit more. I've even given some unique monsters special abilities too.

I'm looking forward to when WotC does work on the monsters. They have admittedly said that they have done very little with them so far. I'm hopeful that they will make monsters more interesting and vary them more so that some are not so deadly while others have the potential to be very deadly. I'm also hopeful that they will be able to work the numbers more so that it is easier to judge how an encounter will challenge a party.

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

 

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

 

 

Grindeland, I have had the same experience as you have over about 8-12 sessions. I'm finding that when I'm using the guidelines to build encounters, they work best for a party of 3!!!. With only 3 PCs, there is more of a limit on how much damage the party can dish out in 1 round. It is also more likely that each PC will suffer more ill-effects when there are only 3 in the party. For higher level adventures, I'm also finding that hazards, traps and area effects are much more dangerous than the monsters that the PCs face. The only way to challenge PCs, for me, has been to add one or more of the following: 1) outnumber the PCs by 2:1 or more...this dramatically effects the difficulty of the encounter even against less powerful monsters. 2) Have monster or monsters that can cast area of effect or impose debilitating conditions (stun, immobilize, paralyze) on the PCs. 3) I've been giving elite monsters maximum hit points and adding better armor to some of them (letting the humanoids wear scale mail or plate armor), and that has been helping me challenge the PCs a bit more. I've even given some unique monsters special abilities too. I'm looking forward to when WotC does work on the monsters. They have admittedly said that they have done very little with them so far. I'm hopeful that they will make monsters more interesting and vary them more so that some are not so deadly while others have the potential to be very deadly. I'm also hopeful that they will be able to work the numbers more so that it is easier to judge how an encounter will challenge a party.



This is pretty much the same experience I've been having. I often plan an encounter that I think will really challenge the party, only to find out that they pretty much breeze through it. It still isn't as bad as it was with the 1/28/13 packet when martial classes could deal more damage and reduce a lot more damage, but it's still often far too easy for the PCs to obliviate the monsters.
Same here.  I'm finding that in order to feel challenging, I really need to hike up the damage individual creatures do rather than adding another creature.  One orc dealing three orcs worth of damage feels better than three orcs but that's killing the verisimilitude aside from making getting hit with an axe feel deadly.

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."

For close level encounters, I usually double the number of monsters, which seems to create a decent challenge level.

For BBEGs, we need a list or table of qualities we can tweak our monsters with, like magic resistance, slashing or fire invulnerability/resistance, extra HD, up to +3 AC or to hit, extra movement, innate spells, etc etc. I mean I just added things on the fly to the monsters but an official table/suggestions/templates would be so much better.

A minor question that I've been kicking around in my group: Swift Cast Cure Wounds

With 2 Druids, a Ranger and a Cleric, is alot of that survivablity often the result of 2/3rds of your party being able to undo the damage done by enemies while still being able to make an attack?  And when your characters are outnumbered, such as with the dire wolves, they tend to be of such a lower level that they won't hit as often, and even when they do the damage they do  must be done in greater numbers to equate to higher level Swift Casted Cure Wounds.  Not to mention that there are plenty of ways to deal with packs of enemies with spells and abilities in the game, so throwing a large pack of anything at the party rarely presents a challenge when both the druids can Thunderwave and the Wizard can Burning Hands to drop them (and there are higher level options that even those).

Stacking parties with Clerics, Druids, Rangers and Paladins results in trivial encounters simply because of Cure Wounds being Swift Cast in my groups' experience.

I am really just wondering if you think that this may be a source of your party's power in reference to the encounter builder's recommendation.  We found fights to be far more difficult when Swift Casting was removed from healing spells (and Inflict wounds) along with some other changes to limit the number of abiliites that can be activated in a turn (like channel divinity only being once per turn). 

Thank you for the commentary and information.

We completely agree and have discussed at length that: swift casting inflicts/cures and being able to do a Divine Wrath Channel Divinity twice on one turn (with two-weapon fighting) seems over powered. I do believe that Divine Wrath should have "Once per turn" added to the beginning of its description.

Glad to hear that we're not the only ones experiencing these issues (increasing the likelihood of it being fixed soon).

Thanks again. 

I dont mind quick heals (although I think they should be touch only - at least make them require movemnet to apply!) but inflict should not be quick cast. And divine wrath needs to be redone, it needs to start out as one dice and scale with level. And yes once a turn cap (didnt realise it did not have that already)
I agree that healing as a swift action and at range is overpowered, as I've also run a group of two Druids and a Ranger. Perhaps the caster of Cure Wounds should be able to make it a swift action by using a higher spell level, same with ranged healing.
For close level encounters, I usually double the number of monsters, which seems to create a decent challenge level.

For BBEGs, we need a list or table of qualities we can tweak our monsters with, like magic resistance, slashing or fire invulnerability/resistance, extra HD, up to +3 AC or to hit, extra movement, innate spells, etc etc. I mean I just added things on the fly to the monsters but an official table/suggestions/templates would be so much better.




I actually really like this idea. We already have a base way to suggest how to build an encounter off of xp budgets. It would be nice if there was a secondary table for ways to buff / nerf the difficulty of enemies allowing you to choose when you want the "quick fights" or when you want an epic showdown ( basically a 4E fight ).  The fight with the guards should be quick but the Warlord leader shouldn't be a 3 round & done quickie, at least thats my opinion.

In 4E minions tried to do this but didn't quite solve the problem. The bloat of combat in general made things still take too long.

Without having played yet, only reading feedback and my own suppositions, I'm starting to think it would be realy cool if you still had some cool powers like in 4E but that fights generally are easy enough  you never need to use them until its a really tough battle. In 4E my players constantly hold back Dailies for the big fight but it makes the short fights last too long by not using them. 

That being said 4E has too many powers. 
From my experience, encounter building is way off at the moment. Either monster damage needs to go up, or their level & XP goes down.

On a related note, level & xp values don't seem to correlate very well at the moment either. 
I've had a lot of luck with the encounter guidelines, but I never EVER expect a solo fight to be anything but an XP gravy boat. 

The trick is to use lower level monsters and outnumber the PCs. Orcs/orogs are great for this up to about 8th-10th, when the numbers start to scare you. A handful or two of orogs, a few orc leaders for a damage spike, throw in a troll or two to make them cringe, and you've got yourself an encounter. If you really want a high-density fight, use goblins. They're really cheap and won't spell certain doom if they surround someone. 
WotC hasn't really worked on the monsters that much yet, but another reason why it feels off is because D&DNext is designed to let adventurers go for 5-7 encounters without having to take a long rest.

So far, at first level, it is tough to go more than 3 encounters, but after first, it isn't so hard to plan for 5, 6, 7 or even 8 encounters before the Party needs a rest.

I've learned to hold some extra monsters in reserve just in case I want any particular encounter to be more challenging. Sometimes I have them enter the encounter, and other times I don't. It definitely helps regulate the difficulty though.

Also, traps/terrain effects in addition to monsters really makes an encounter more interesting and more difficult. Again, I hope WotC has a section in the final rules that gives many options for DMs to use (like they did with 4e).

A lot of the time, I modify monsters or create my own. I've found that grappling and doing damage automatically on the next round, or area effects, or spell-like effects really add a lot to the difficulty level. For example, if a humanoid is trained with a spear and has an ability that makes him an impaler, a hit might impale the target, and unless the target pulls free, he or she takes automatic damage on the creatures next attack. (kind of like the Stirge sucking blood). Players fear that kind of stuff!

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

 

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