It can be tricky to balance monsters and encounters to ensure they don't simply wipe the floor with your player's characters. There is nothing worse than accidentally overwhelming the party and causing an unintended TPK. We often want to try to introduce new and more interesting monsters. We want something more than another claw and bite attack. Balancing these creatures can be very tricky if you don't know what you're doing. Here are five tips to help you design and balance encounters in D&D.
1. Know Your Encounter Level
The first step in designing a well-balanced encounter is understanding what level the encounter should be. The encounter level is determined by adding up the Challenge Ratings (CR) of all the monsters involved. The CR is a number that represents how difficult a creature is to defeat and is further explained in the Monster Manual. To give you an idea, here are some CR values for a few monsters:
Pixie - CR 1/4: A group of four adventurers should have no problem dispatching a pixie with ease.
Young Green Dragon - CR 8: A young green dragon might present a challenge for four Tier2 adventurers, but if they’re prepared they should manage.
Ancient Red Dragon - CR 24: An ancient red dragon would be an incredibly difficult opponent for even a high-level group. With the right preparation and tactics they could overcome it.
2. Utilize a Variety of Monster Types
One of the mistakes that DMs often make when designing encounters is using too many of the same type of monster. For example, an encounter with six fire elementals would likely result in a very one-dimensional battle. With every monster essentially the same bag of hit points and abilities. To avoid this, make sure to include a variety of different creature types in each encounter. You could also try to add modified versions of the standard monster to shake things up a bit. This will not only make the battle more interesting but also give the players more options when it comes to choosing their tactics.
3. Consider Your Party's Composition
When designing an encounter, it's important to consider the composition of the party you'll be running it for. Are they all melee fighters? Do they have access to healing spells? What kind of damage types are they particularly vulnerable to? Answering these questions will help you choose monsters that will provide an appropriately challenging battle without being too overwhelming.
4. Avoid Unfair Combinations
In addition to considering the composition of the party, you also need to consider what kinds of combinations might be unfair or too powerful. For example, pairing a beholder with a mind flayer might prove too much for even a high-level group since both creatures have abilities that allow them to control other creatures. In general, try to avoid pairing up creatures whose abilities complement each other too well or focus on the same weakness.
5. Pay Attention to Damage Output
Another common mistake DMs make is underestimating how much damage their monsters can do. This often happens with low-CR creatures like goblins since they don't seem like they should pose much of a threat individually. However, if those goblins are attacking in large groups or with particularly damaging weapons, they can quickly take down even high-level characters who aren't careful. When designing encounters, pay attention to both how much damage each creature can do and how many attacks they can make per round so that you can adjust accordingly.
Designing well-balanced encounters doesn't have to be difficult if you keep these tips in mind. Just remember to know your encounter level, utilize a variety of monster types, consider your party's composition, avoid unfair combinations, and pay attention to damage output and you'll be on your way to designing fun and challenging battles that your players will love!