Monday, August 13, 2012

Do You Scale Difficulty to the Party?

Modern roleplaying games have a surfeit of rules for balancing encounters. It wasn't until recently that I realized these rules are near-useless. After years of planning encounters following these guidelines I can say that they are seldom accurate. Two monsters of equal challenge rarely pose the same threat. That's all beside the point, really. The question I want to ask is: as a DM, do you scale your encounters to your party level?

To some extent, everyone should be answering yes to that question. After all, we do want our players to have a fighting chance. What we don't want to do is design a world that scales with the levels of the players. Just because your party reaches level 3 doesn't mean they should suddenly encounter monsters of appropriate challenge. They need to look for them.

That's the reason I force my players deep into the wilderness if they want really tough fights: powerful monsters simply don't lurk within the bounds of civilized borders. In the few cases that they do wander within the bounds of a kingdom, it is usually to challenge that authority.

That's the long view of things. Within an adventure, however, the answer becomes a little more complex. Each adventure should, in my opinion, have several encounters below the party's level. It should have a fair number that are adequate challenges and even a couple that are very, very hard.

All of this is on mind because one of my groups is getting ready to venture deep beyond the bounds of civilization and they're going to see the difficulty of encounters spike almost immediately. I hope they have the good sense when to hold their ground and when to run.


  1. Do You Scale Difficulty to the Party? No.

    As a DM I will lay clues if I think the challenge is too great. If the players choose to ignore the clues then they are taking responsibility for their own actions. That's the fun of the game.

  2. I use a version for wilderness difficulty similar to old D&D games used for dungeons. Within 48 miles of a city or large town the "level" of all adventures will be from 1-3. From 49 to 72 miles is "borderlands" with adventure levels from 4-7. Beyond that is true wilderness with adventure levels from 8 and beyond. If you use hexes, you can assign individual values for each hex around that range as well.

    In general, it's no big deal for parties to find adventures or encounter below their own levels. It makes the game feel less grindy.