OP Group? or Weak DM? Help please.

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I’ve recently started a gaming group. Out of lack of DMs I became one. The problem I’m having is that the group of 6 players I’m leading through a Neinter Vale campaign, is that they seem to be OP as hell. Despite my best efforts, there doesn’t (IMO) seem to be any real sense of danger (a KEY ingredient for a fun adventure). At level 1 they “one shot” a lvl 1Dragon, lvl 2 one shot a lvl 3 dragon (lol the tank didn’t even get a chance to hit the thing). The players are having a blast, which is great. But the thing is I prepared for almost 12 hours on the lvl 3 Dragon encounter with the intention of actually challenging the players with a dangerous situation but they breezed right through it.


I adjusted and tied the dragons together made them the offspring of Bitterstrike (for story content) and sent an older brother a lvl 6 White dragon (which I crated using the DNDi tools woot!). Finally they got a challenge. After a grueling fight, one that had the healer doing nothing but constantly keeping the party alive they were successful.  Here is the thing. Is this the way the game was intended to be played at lower lvls? I mean this party(at level 2 this time) of 6, killed a lvl 6 Dragon. Is my group too big for the same lvl content? I’m constantly throwing a good +5 mobs at them seemingly like almost every encounter.  And they always breeze through it. I had to throw something 4 lvls higher than them just to make them break a sweat.  


Do I need to increase the lvl of every monster they face by 2 or 3 lvls? Is it a game balance thing that will take care of itself at higher lvls? I had them all make their characters using the character creator on the website, does it allow for too much character power?  Should I come up with other ways to challenge them (ie make them take on greater numbers)? Or am I being paranoid and should just be relishing in the fact that they love playing so much that they are trying to arrange it so that we can game 2 nights a week instead of 1? LOL I don’t know. This is my first time being a DM. Help me out here. 

If they want to play twice a week, that's a clear sign that everything's okay -- at least for the players.  If they're enjoying not being challenged, why not let them be overpowered? Whenever my players are making short work of an encounter that I thought would be difficult, I try to change my perspective; instead of being annoyed at myself (for bad judgment) or my players (for taking all the dramatic tension out of the scene), I try to act as their cheerleader/fanboy and get excited along with them as they blast through what "should have been" a tense encounter.  If you view the players as demolishing your fun, you will be unhappy.  If you see yourself as someone who builds a house of cards specifically so that they can knock it down, then you'll be pleased when they do just that.

If either you or they get bored with encounters that are "too easy," then yes, it's time to throw tougher monsters at them (or attack their motivations rather than their defenses, as others here will explain in better detail).  A single monster is rarely a challenge for a party of 5 or 6 PCs.  Even if that monster gets 3 attacks per round, that's still only half as many attacks as normal; if you have six level 1 PCs, then six level 1 monsters should provide an encounter of "average" difficulty.  If your party is optimized, that encounter might be a cakewalk.  Since they're level 2 now, I would try a level 4 encounter (six level 2 monsters, or exchange some of those for minions) and see how that goes.

If your party is "overpowered" now, they're only going to get moreso at levels 11+.  Now is the time to get the balance right and figure out how much of a challenge they can (and want to) handle.
Leveling the monsters up higher doesn't provide a guaranteed mechanical challenge. A higher level enemy is, at best, annoying, and at worst, a bullet sponge. I would advise instead to add 1 damage die to a standard monsters attacks, and give at least one key monster per encounter, including standards, a special power they can do the second they're bloodied to add a bit more difficulty. It makes the monster a threat instead of a slog.

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming
I agree that even low-level players are pretty powerful in 4e. Sure, you could simply throw tougher (higher-level) monsters at them, but consider a few of these design ideas that can make a level-appropriate encounter a bit more challenging:


  • use minions that attack from several different spots on the battlefield. If minions are grouped, a simple area spell will wipe them out. But if you have a few attacking from cover, a few more in trees/ledges/rooftops, some that come up from behind the party, etc, it makes it more difficult for the party to handle.


  • protect your monsters with difficult/challenging/hindering terrain. All of the sudden, your mobile strikers and pushy tanks are limited in what they can do, and you bought a round or two for your monsters as PCs try to climb up a steep hill, slosh through mud/water, etc. Movement is slowed by 1 square in difficult terrain and it takes a skill or ability check to navigate challenging terrain. Same kind of thinking with cover and obscured terrain. It can be simple stuff, too: thick spider webs, morning fog (obscures), vines or low branches (cover), fallen trees (difficult). 


  • challenging battlefields- The PCs need to cross a rope bridge over a river- blood hawks attack! bandit archers pop out from behind the bushes! Lizardfolk slash at them from the river below! Harass the players when they're vulnerable. Have them make a skill check (athletics DC15) in order to remain standing or stable so they can attack. Narrow paths through canyons, ledges, unstable floors, etc. A pool of acid or high cliff face becomes a brute's ally on the battlefield when ogres start pushing PCs into spiked pits.


You can also force the PCs to use more resources between combat encounters. Again, challenging terrain (jungle/mountain slopes/scaling cliffs) can be used as skill challenges that cost healing surges upon failure. Wandering monsters are great for that- they force players to use up healing, spells, powers, etc. Anytime they're in the wilderness or a dungeon, toss a hungry wolfpack or nasty choker or bandits won't allow the PCs a moment's rest. Don't do it every time, but if they've taken care of an encounter no sweat, then absolutely let them rest...near a patch of assassin vines. 

If you have a high-level recurring bad guy, have him in the encounter as well. When his followers start to fall, he 'runs to fight another day'. You've accompilshed a few really cool things:
1. made them use resources by trying to hit the high level bad guy, 
2. introduced them to a foe who will be a nemisis for several adventures to come
3. pop the bubble of their overconfidence.

Finally, I'd recommend making the players realize that as powerful as their 3rd level characters are, there's always something else out there tougher than they are! Have them cross paths with an Earth Titan. He's on his way to someplace else, and doesn't feel like messing with the puny little people who he came across on the road. So he moves on, or tosses a log at 'em just for amusement. Maybe he backhands the party's toughest fighter, laughs, and continues on his way. They probably can't hit him (AC 31 and high saves) and will only piss him off if they inflict any damage. It teaches them not to fight everything they see, and that there are bigger fish in the pond as well. 

I hope you find this helpful. I'd love to hear how these things work out for you. Best wishes!

 A party of five characters vs an equal number of regular (i.e., not Elite or Solo) monsters of their level is supposed to be an average encounter (something they're expected to win without too much expenditure of resources), and a party can be expected to go through around 5-6 of them before taking an extended rest.
 Make sure you're using the updated monster math, and if encounters are too easy try throwing in more monsters (particularly minions) of the party's level rather than adding higher level monsters. You didn't just use a single dragon as an encounter, did you? Even a so-called "Solo" monster should be accompanied by lesser monsters - a party of 5 vs a single Solo creature equates to five turns against two or three, if the dragon or other creature has multiple atacks or instinctive actions it can use on different initiative counts.

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Also remember you have 6 players so even if solo monsters typically worked as actual solo monsters a level 1 solo monster against 6 level 1 PCs is actually a below level fight.  It should be a breeze.  A level 3 solo against 6 level 2 PCs is also not really supposed to be a hard fight.  So the level 6 solo against 6 level 2 PCs was not surprisingly the first challenging fight.  It was like a level+3 fight which should be challenging.  You don't have to raise the level of monsters though just add more monsters.
Despite my best efforts, there doesn’t (IMO) seem to be any real sense of danger (a KEY ingredient for a fun adventure).

I tend to disagree. Challenge is certainly necessary, but the characters themselves need not be in direct danger.

At level 1 they “one shot” a lvl 1Dragon, lvl 2 one shot a lvl 3 dragon (lol the tank didn’t even get a chance to hit the thing). The players are having a blast, which is great. But the thing is I prepared for almost 12 hours on the lvl 3 Dragon encounter with the intention of actually challenging the players with a dangerous situation but they breezed right through it.

You're experiencing something that many DMs, including myself, have experienced and had to come to terms with: our "intent" for an encounter bears little resemblance to how an encounter is going to turn out, no matter how much time we spend preparing it, unless we're willing to clamp down on and control player choice.

I don't know how your players did what they did, but I can believe they did it. My guess is that they hoarded their daily resources until that last fight. Were the fights leading up to that fight very slow, as a result of them only using at-will and encounter powers?

Is this the way the game was intended to be played at lower lvls? I mean this party(at level 2 this time) of 6, killed a lvl 6 Dragon. Is my group too big for the same lvl content? I’m constantly throwing a good +5 mobs at them seemingly like almost every encounter.  And they always breeze through it. I had to throw something 4 lvls higher than them just to make them break a sweat.

It's hard to know for sure, but with an optimized, strategic group, I wouldn't be surprised if they can pull this off. A 6th player probably also helps.

That's not the intent of the game, no, but the game can't account for all play styles. Your players might just be very good, or there's a key rule you're misunderstanding, or something.  

Do I need to increase the lvl of every monster they face by 2 or 3 lvls?

No, there are other ways.

Is it a game balance thing that will take care of itself at higher lvls?

No, characters tend to dominate straightforward combat more at higher levels.

I had them all make their characters using the character creator on the website, does it allow for too much character power?

No.

  Should I come up with other ways to challenge them (ie make them take on greater numbers)?

Yes, but not by having them face greater numbers.

Or am I being paranoid and should just be relishing in the fact that they love playing so much that they are trying to arrange it so that we can game 2 nights a week instead of 1? LOL I don’t know. This is my first time being a DM. Help me out here.

Only your players can tell you what they're enjoying, and only they can tell you what changes they think would make the game better. Talk to them, get on the same page with them. Really try to figure out what's making the combats easy for them and see if the players would be willing to face monsters that specifically limit those strategies.

Good luck.

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

Make sure the math is right, yours and theirs. Like, seriously, mane sure there isn't anything going wrong in this aspect. Have them face encounters with monsters from MM3 and onward that are appropriate for a party of theor level +1/+2. See what happens. With just what you told us, it's not possible to see ehat exactly is going wrong.

Honestly, a moderately optimised group will absolutely wipe the floor with at level encounters and solos. It's to be expected.

 Was the level 6 dragon a solo? I had a level 3 party face a level 7 young red dragon at one point who would have massacred them if the damn thing hadn't miserably failed 2 saving throws against Sleep despite a +5 bonus ...
Make sure the math is right, yours and theirs.


I'd second this - I've seen people using their d20 for damage for their daggers, or adding CHA instead of cha-mod, etc etc. Even simple things like double-stacking cha mod can really inflate out the damage. They also may be misunderstanding rules.

What sort of damage do you reliably get from an encounter/at-will? Unless the party has wicked party syngergy & exploiting things like Frost-Cheese or Radiant Vulnerabilities, then you should be seeing no more than 15 damage (say 20 in their primary stat for +5 damage, and a d10 weapon) for an impressive strike.

In terms of challenging them:
1) I found the monster type can also make a huge difference, along with monster tactics. Including controllers & artillery can make a battle much more varied than choosing brutes & soldiers.
2) Include minions to set up monsters (aid another to make the big guy's attack better)
3) Terrain. The closest time my party came to TPK was when the DM put us in a thin (5~10 ft), splitting cavern with ghouls on the roof that kept seperating the party with choke points.
4) Alternative goals (like "stop the ritual" rather than "kill every monster") may give you the DM more satisfaction than seeing "your" monsters get slaughtered. It may also give the players some incentive to do other things and vary the game
5) One thing many find bad about 4e is the drawn out combat. It looks like your players have solved this problem for you!
6) If the players are happy - good on you! :D
If the dramatic question for a given scene (the outcome that's being determined in the scene) is "Will these heroes kill this dragon before it kills them?" the game's math inherently skews a favorable answer to the characters, especially with a bigger group. Over-level monsters or high-XP budget encounters therefore generally only mean longer scenes with more resources expended (and possibly a grind). If their resources haven't already been taxed prior to the climactic scene, then there's probably not much danger to be had. It just takes longer to resolve.

To increase the challenge (if not the physical danger), consider changing the default dramatic question to something else. Some examples from my own games: "Will the heroes be able to stop Narch the kobold artificer from breaking the containment field and stealing the soul fragment?" or "Will the heroes be able to score more goals than Team Guthay before the final gong?" or "Will the heroes be able to prevent The Xaositect from getting past them and spreading more chaos in the city?" Then set reasonable parameters by which that question is answered (e.g. Narch spends three rounds adjacent to the containment circle, or when The Xaositect moves 20 squares and makes it off the map). Generally, the challenge goes way up and, if you're still using XP budgets like I do, the level of "danger" remains about the same. When the question is answered, the scene ends, win or lose.

Finally, remember to use post-MM3 monsters only, don't have them encounter solo's alone, etc. Some of this advice was provided above. Consider also that there is a relative disconnect between the level of challenge a dragon can bring mechanically at these levels versus how you personally perceive dragons. As an iconic D&D creature, I hold them as near sacred when it comes to encounter design. You'll almost never see dragons in our games until late heroic at the earliest and when you do encounter them, they are nasty and they have a goal (as above).

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Finally they got a challenge. After a grueling fight, one that had the healer doing nothing but constantly keeping the party alive they were successful. 

The problem with this challenge was that you describe it as grueling. That doesn't sound very fun - it just sounds like they missed a lot or took a long time to whittle down its HP.

Raising the levels of the enemies is probably the worst way to make an encounter more challenging. It just ensures the party will miss a lot, which is just frustrating and anticlimactic for the most part.

Check out MM3 on a Business Card for updated math expressions. The main update is that standard attacks will do an average of monster level+8 damage, which is significantly higher than older monsters.

Using this math, add extra monsters to encounters until you get the challenge level you're looking for. Make sure to keep them spread out to avoid being nuked all at once, and have them work together to isolate targets, flank with each other, etc. For one thing, most written modules are intended for a party of 5, so your group should have been fighting at least one extra monster from the start.

Once you get more confident with DMing, adding extra challenge through terrain, traps, and hazards can be a lot of fun as well. Don't be afraid to alter the maps you're given (or monsters, if you're so inclined).

The game assumes your party of 5 level 2 PCs can fight a level 2 solo dragon and win without breaking a sweat. A level 5 solo dragon is supposed to be Hard. That said, the earlier solos tend to be weak. 4e works best when its 3-4+ monsters vs the PCs. 


instea of a single level 6 Frost Dragon, throw in a level 4 solo Frost Draon, a couple of sturdy (elite) level 2 Ice elementals, and a horde of artic kobolds (minions) in parkas. Maybe toss in a kobold ice priest who leads worship of the dragon. Make him a (level 3) controller of some sort. That will be a much more challenging encounter, and the numbers will also be a lot more favorable to the players. They will get hit less, and they will hit more. 


My rule of thumb is at least one real enemy per PC. I also personally have my minions respawn until [envronmental condition is changed] but don't include this change in the difficulty in the encounter XP budget. A good condition for this fight might be having the kobolds swarm out of a fisure bringing 2d6 more every 1d4 rounds. To stop them, you need to spend a full round action making an atheletics check to collapse the rickety opening they have propped up. 

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Raising the levels of the enemies is probably the worst way to make an encounter more challenging. It just ensures the party will miss a lot, which is just frustrating and anticlimactic for the most part.



Quoted for emphasis. Raising the levels of monsters too high makes the PCs start missing on a constant basis. I rarely ever touch the PClevel+3 tier since that seems to make the monsters hit my party constantly and the players start getting very frustrated.

You can update the power suite that monsters use, however. For instance, I recently tried changing the Dragon Fear power that dragons all have to trigger as a free action when the dragon used an action point instead of being a standard action. Suddenly Dragon Fear was actually dangerous instead of awkward. Another solo monster I made had a minor action power that did low psychic damage and dazed in a close burst 10 (recharge 4 5 6).

Adding more monsters if needed is also a valid tactic, as others have mentioned. Assuming that they are reasonably well built, a six player party is much stronger than a five player party...definitely more than 20% stronger.

The best thing you can do is to keep experimenting though. The tricks that we use with our players may not work for your party (or might be too much). Err toward caution, because suddenly wiping out your party on accident is inconvenient. 

D&D rules were never meant to exist without the presence of a DM. RAW is a lie.
If they want to play twice a week, that's a clear sign that everything's okay -- at least for the players.  If they're enjoying not being challenged, why not let them be overpowered? Whenever my players are making short work of an encounter that I thought would be difficult, I try to change my perspective; instead of being annoyed at myself (for bad judgment) or my players (for taking all the dramatic tension out of the scene), I try to act as their cheerleader/fanboy and get excited along with them as they blast through what "should have been" a tense encounter.  If you view the players as demolishing your fun, you will be unhappy.  If you see yourself as someone who builds a house of cards specifically so that they can knock it down, then you'll be pleased when they do just that.



Could not have said it any better.

 

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The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.

Thanks all. I was just worried about mucking up what I think is the greatest game ever made. I ran them through the "Dead by Dawn" encounter for the "Chaos Scar" and they and I loved it. It was a challenge to them in their "Hack n slash" style and they LOVED it. We all had a blast in fact. Plus it had that long awaited "sense of danger" aspect i was craving to give them. As a follow up i intent do tie that into the LEGENDARY Tomb of Horrors (as they lvl up ill throw more of it at them) for 4e. So far from what I’ve read it will do the trick HA HA! My intent is not to kill them but I feel that the tomb should be a goal of all players DND. I might do an OP night where I make them all premade characters (just another way to mix it up) and run them through the original portion of the adventure as a warm up for the overall campaign.


Thanks again all. It’s tough being so far from an area (I’m in North Dakota currently) that has a large number of players to pool ideas from. You guys have given me a lot to chew and some really great points of view.


BTW I would LOVE to see a Ravenloft (my personal fav) campaign setting for 4e come out anyone else?

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