Deadly Encounters in the Caves of Chaos

Our group of 4 players have been playtesting the latest packet for several sessions running the caves of chaos.  We've been playing DnD in some form for years starting with 2nd and every edition since.  We have all DM'd in the past so we're used to being behind the screen.  Some of our players are familiar with this in previous editions as well. 

We started at lvl 1 and have had a very tough time with almost every encounter.  I've lurked on the forum and our experiences do not seem to match with what I've read.  I think we must be doing something wrong if this isn’t being reported.

We've had a lot of TPKs, more than we're used to.  Each time we’ve reset and tried again.  We’ve replayed those encounters to allow for good/bad dice rolls to average out but it resulted in the same... unless the DM treats us with kid gloves or we metagame the encounter.  We basically run it again and again until we get a success/escape.  At the end of the encounter we discuss the set up/rational for the monsters choices.  The choices make sense to us, but the monsters are deadly!  We’ve reminded ourselves of our early edition experiences, remembering it was lucky if a character could survive to 2nd level.

Unlike previous threads I’ve read, we're finding the monsters too hard (kobolds, goblins, orcs and hobgoblins), especially when outnumbered.   We do okay in encounters with 4-6 monsters.  We’ll get hit every round, and if the Dice are against us someone will drop (usually the paladin), but getting him up burn resources especially if you roll a 1 on a d10 on your HD during a short rest… so you spend another, etc.  In almost every encounter the paladin would drop, and if he didn't absorb the hits the rest of the party would go down (cleric, bow-fighter, wizard).   Our cleric is built for healing (lifegiver deity), so they can get the paladin back up with the cantrip or use one of the bigger heals…  However, the ‘tank’ just ends up going back down in the next round.  

Our paladin (AC 17) and cleric (AC 18) take most of the attacks.  On paper that seems good.  However, roll enough d20s and you can hit it with the monster's bonuses (roll a 12 or 13 with a +5).  That’s not too hard if 11 of them are rolling.  If the paladin or cleric doesn’t take the attacks/hits, the other players who have less HP/AC drop faster.  Armor doesn’t seem to matter with bounded accuracy; you’re going to get hit so just get more HP to take it.  You can't improve with better armor either.

It seems that a low level party in this module has to go back to rest after 2-3 encounters of any difficulty.  By that point we're out of Hit Dice, spells, and other resources.    When we leave and come back, the monsters are alert for another attack.

Part of it has to do with using a light in the dark caves.  It alerts the monsters to our presence so they’re ready/not surprised.  We can’t get around that without building a party of dwarves (and that feels like power gaming).  The module seems built for a kick down the doors adventure.

The first goblin encounter (the one where the ogre can aid), we’ve played 2-3 times.  The goblins dropped our paladin in the first round.  From there the party was taken out round by round so that when the ogre arrived there was one player left and the outcome was inevitable.  I’d say we should run, but that involves leaving one or more players behind who dropped earlier.

Our thoughts were that lvl 1 would be like this, and once we got to level 2 and 3 we’d have more HP to absorb damage and go through more encounters per day.   Our only experience with easier encounters was against the kobolds at level 2.  The paladin could still get hit and go down, but he had twice as much HP to do so.  We’re now into the orc/hobgoblin caves and are still getting trounced.

Orcs get one last chance to hit with their racial ability, and with their high attack bonus (+6!) they usually do.  A hobgoblin can give his allies advantage against a target… so they can hit almost every round with a d8.

We were able to get to the encounter with the hobgoblin boss a few times (each time a TPK).  They are alerted to our presence from a battle in the next room and a large group shows up in the next round or two.  From there, they use their advantage ability and round by round another player drops.

The monsters have a better or equal attack bonus, and do the same damage as players can do.  Some of the monsters can go down in one hit like goblins and kobolds, but in those larger battles it doesn't seem to matter if 1 or 2 are killed.  The advantage system for the monsters just give them more d20 chances to hit. 

This experience is not fun.  After several session of this we want to see the next packet.  We are looking forward to some changes and refinements with the classes and the monsters.   Maybe its different at higher levels, but 1-3 has been more frustrating than fun.

But maybe its just us.  If so, what are we doing wrong?

Nice report. I think you are right on about some of the monsters being too tough for 1st level PCs. There needs to be more variation with "To hit" scores. Most of the level 1 and 2 monsters have +4 or +5 to hit. Why can't really wimpy monsters have +0 or +1?

Also, clearly, the way the game plays, level 1 really means that the PCs are little more than average Joes, where 1 hit can take them down. As a result, players need to play them very carefully and avoid most situations where they are outnumbered. Personally, I love that style of play, but many are not used to it. A lot of people are more used to the heroic feel of a PC who can charge into a room and start hacking.

As for 2-3 encounters and then rest, I think that is about all a neophyte can handle.

Once the PCs gain level 2, they feel much more capable, especially because they will generally be fighting the same monsters.

In our sessions (6 or 7 with this package alone), we've enjoyed the challenge of 1st level, especially because it doesn't last that long. By the time the PCs get to level 3, 4 and 5, the game seems to move along much more smoothly. In fact, I've found it really easy to design and run adventures for 2 or 3 players. For each player past 3, it gets exponentially more difficult to challenge them.

Then, at 10th level and above, wizards become too powerful. Some of the spells like polymorph, wall of fire, even fireball (considering a 10th level wizard can cast 9 of them per day if he or she doesn't use other 3rd, 4th or 5th level spell slots - and regains 1 3rd level spell with arcane recovery) are very powerful, especially against foes that don't have so many hit points or many attribute bonuses to help them make saving throws (basically most of the monsters in the bestiary).

I've been having a great time playtesting, and I'm really looking forward to the next package, but I really want WotC to start calibrating monsters vs. PCs more carefully once they get the classes and PC mechanics close to complete.

I think the "super feats" that Mearls mentioned will be very interesting, giving fighters and other melee classes more interesting power that might balance better against the higher level wizards.


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If your DM didn't notice, the goblins in the first two rooms of the section D (Rooms 17 and 18) are using Javelins (only +1 to hit, 1d6+1 damage).  This makes them significantly easier than the default goblins in the Bestiary.

The bigger fights are a bit tougher, but only if the party lacks casters or are being stingy with their resources.  Use of hit and run tactics, sleep spells, etc and these encounters aren't so bad, in our testing at least. 
Thanks for the feedback.  To hear that others are finding regular bestiary monsters more difficult than they should be is a bit of a relief.  I have not seen much feedback on early levels in the forum.  I also have not read the module, so if there are special notes about the monsters having different stats I'm not sure if those are being used.    If goblins are supposed to have a smaller attack bonus that would definately something to bring back to the group.  If orcs, and hobgoblins have special notes as well, that could be the problem we're encountering.  I suppose that could just be an error in the bestiary/module playtest notes, but I would hope they would be more consistent.  That doesn't seem like a good place to start for a the first encounter for a playtest.

What modules are others using for low level playtests?  I can appreciate that level 1 harkens back to 2nd edition (you're a novice) vs 4th ed (you're a hero).  The first encounters for level 1s in the Caves of Chaos (goblins and kobolds) throw large numbers of monsters at the party and feel more like a 4th ed encounter, but the characters don't have the abilities/HP/whatever to stand up to that onslaught.  You can come up with a tactically sound plan, but it all comes back to the d20 roll which can lead to very poor results if the dice are not with you.  All it takes are 1-2 hits.

Perhaps if we get more experience with 3rd level and beyond we'll see it work out.  We've only had 2 encounters with 3rd level (hobgoblins) thus far.

Without knowing the module name for the rooms, we went in the hobgoblin cave front door (stealthily), fought a few hobgoblins (4) to the west.  That fight went ok, and brought the paladin to the point where he needed a short rest and spending a HD to heal  We then encountered a locked door further west.  We knew there were going to be more on the otherside (heard voices), and we didn't have a rogue to open the door so the paladin kicked it in (pretty good roll to kick in the door on the first attempt).  Hobgoblins (3) were readied on the other side and stabbed at him with their spears from range (they were ready from hearing the previous battle).  One of them used their ability to grant the others advantage.  2 hits and the paladin is below half health again.  A round later two of the three hobgoblins are down and suddenly 11 more pour in with the boss.  (From my understanding of the module, hobgoblins will call for aid that arrives a round or two later).  Several more attacks come against the paladin and cleric with advantage.  Paladin goes down that round, the cleric goes down the following round even after using the Channel Divinities that reduce damage.  Wizard uses all of his spells (Sleep, Burning Hands, Scorching Ray, Magic Missilex3, and Melf's Acid Arrow) in a retreating battle.  Poor die rolling on his part only drops/sleeps a few.  Bow Fighter and Wizard get chased down.  Monsters that were slept get woken up and continue the chase and kill them.

Even with our 3rd level HPs, several attacks with advantage chewed through our melee characers in two rounds.  All it takes is one monster to point, and all his allies gain melee advantage against the target.  That seems quite overpowered using stats from the bestiary.  Swift action healing and damage reducing reactions couldn't stop it.  When players get dropped in one round before they have a chance to react or run something seems wrong.  That's been a scenario we've encountered throughout this module from levels 1-3 (in 4 sessions).

I'll follow up with our DM to confirm if monsters should have special stats, and suggest trying something else with players above the intro levels where the monster challange/PC abilities will hold up.


Sounds about right to me.  You guys went boldly charging in to the home of a tribe of Hobgoblins, kicking down doors and making a fuss, and were then quickly overwhelmed.

Think about it this way... What would happen if a group of 4 hobgoblins decided to raid the Keep?

Sure, they might kill the guards at the gates, but pretty soon the alarm would be raised and they would be quickly overwhelmed.

Sounds to me like your party needs to rethink their strategy and keep in mind that these caves the home to TRIBES of monsters, not just some empty cubbies where some monsters occassionally hang out.

Stealth, hit-and-run tactics, surprise, negotiation, getting the various tribes to fight each other, etc.  That's the kind of tactics needed to survive this adventure unless your party is significantly higher level (at which point it wouldn't be much of a challenge anymore).
This version seems quite deadly at first level. I think it is odd that most monsters have that +4 or +5 to hit. There should be greater variance. And some of them dont seem to follow any logic.
Goblin has -1 Str mod and +1 Dex mod. Difference between mace, not a light weapon, therefore Str is used, and shortbow, ranged weapon so Dex is used, is only 1. And for 10xp creature +4 and +5 feel way too high.
And combination of Sneaky, Stealthy and ranged attacks mean smart goblins can kill quite efficiently if there is any way to hide. Like darkness...
10xp creature, for 1st level 4 player party normal encounter is 8 of these.

One quick note, Disciplined gives advantage only to next attack, not all attacks on that target.
Low level monsters have a ridiculous attack bonus as discussed above.  It was something I hope is fixed in the next packet.  Smaller encounters are harder than they should be, but the dice should average out.  I don't think they've balanced the monsters properly, especially if the PCs are outnumbered.  You are low level noobs and one hit can end your career!

We had a similar experience with the Caves of Chaos, but our DM is known for being a killer DM.  However, it sounds like your DM is interpreting some of the monster abilities in their favor.  That can make things harder than they should be.

Ard3 is correct.  Hobgoblins only grant advantage to the next attack on a target, not all attacks by every ally that round.  You mentioned Orcs not dropping?  If you do enough damage (to get them to - con score) they can be killed without getting the relentless last attack.

We had a TPK on the encounter with 15 goblins in their common room (room 19).  Our elf ranger went ahead to scout and stealth, but could only see 10ft in front of him in darkness.  Our DM ruled that monsters with darkvision can see some thing trying to hide in their regular vision (ie. creatures with low light see creatures stealthed in dim light, darkvision in darkness etc...)  PCs using lights would also alert enemies automatically.  So the ranger goes in, the monsters see him and strike from darkness (grants advantage).  15 or so attacks later, the ranger was outright dead, the the rest came after the party in darkness and surprise.  That interpretation led us to think that stealthing and scouting was impossible against creatures with darkvision.  We couldn't surprise anything but ourselves as we ran into monsters who could see us from 60ft away in darkness and attack with shortbows.  The ranger switched to playing a dwarf so he could see in the dark!

We started using the Monster Readiness in the DM guidelines to avoid that scenario.  Distracted enemies (who fail their wisdom check) won't notice someone approaching.  If someone is stealthed, then they get the benefit of a second wisdom check to be noticed.  But in the midst of combat, stealth can't let you get away unless your break LoS against darkvision/lowlight vision.  But if we went out of the cave and back in, then the next group would be more alert (and have a lower DC for the wisdom check) until it was DC 0.
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