Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
To deflect this, I usually point to the DMG, and how I typically follow the guidelines in it pretty much too the letter, with each adventuring day using up roughly ~80% of the party's resources. If anything I actually softball it a little, as I don't use the part where it says "5% of all encounters should be overwhelming difficult and dealt with by running" or that most encounters should include a few scary moments.
Huh. Well this could go two ways: either the players feel like they're working too hard to get results with that expenditure rate, or they feel like they should not be expending that much in a day.
So are the guidelines in the DMG too hard?
I think they're pretty spot on myself. Red Hand of Doom is a beloved module and lines up well enough.
If so, what is the right level of challenge? And how do you run an easier game without breaking the system or the setting?
That'll depend on what exactly you need to do to make the game feel appropriately easier for these players, and what they're playing. If they want to work less hard, then you'll just have to dial it back- however, if their builds allow them to suddenly increase in competence (eg: the wizard suddenly switches from simple spells to cheese mode), then you'll have to strategically plan for which fights they'll be lazy, and which fights they'll hulk out. This is how a lot of video games function, as well as many tabletop campaigns, and it'd be my first guess.

But, if they're all playing builds which function at the same constant power level (ToB, fixed/limited spell known casters, etc), you can at least keep a constant threat on your end.

1: My players do not memorize the monster manual, and I often use customized or reskinned monsters. If my players don't have any information gathering or knowledge abilities, they normally learn their opponent's abilities by doing over the course of the encounter.
You'll just have to ask if this is an issue, 'cause it's perfectly normal and their reaction is up to them. Even without "memorizing" the monster manual there are plenty of benchmarks they could pick up on, if they were inclined to do so.
2: I often place "optional" monsters in dungeons which are not required to complete the main plot and are in addition to the standard CR budget, but provide additional XP and / or treasure. To most players, they may not seem optional at all.
Yup, good guess there. I'd recommend planning under the assumption they will fight everything, and adjust later if it turns out they skip something.
3: I might just play monsters too smart. I typically allow them to use tactics, prepare for the fight, and make use of the terrain. . . while I had a standard young adult green dragon use cover, camouflage, deadfall traps, and low level buff spells, and both were able to be of a similar level of difficulty to the party.
Yeah, this is the kinda thing that will probably trigger their "its too hard" response. And if you hadn't already given that you're estimating them at the correct resource expenditure, I'd point out that giving monsters advantageous terrain does in fact make those fights harder, as per the DMG. Said fights should give more xp than normal due the monsters' advantage, and traps provide their own xp and count towards overall EL as well. As for the dragon's buffs, if it made for a good match against the party then its fine, but I always point out that the books really don't account for the difference between a char-op'd and vanilla dragon, period.

So, basically, I have four players:
One of them bitches about basically every encounter and finds someone or something to blame anytime his character fails at something.
One of them is normally fine, but occasionally, usually when encountering a monster that he can't just run up to and trade full attacks with, or when he is wrong about a rule, he explodes, calls people (usually me) names, screams, and threatens to quit the game.
The other two were pretty calm and drama free, but during the last half-dozen sessions or so they started exhibiting the same behavior as the first two, and I don't know it is the other players rubbing off on them, my game driving them to it, or some combination of the above.
Oh it'll definitely be the combo, it would appear you have two people who'd rather lose their temper than have a frank discussion (unless of course you've had this discussion and failed to change the game when they reasonably voiced concerns). But unless #1 is a habitual complainer in general and #2 has temper issues that are medically out of their control, usually it would be recommended to stop playing with them.
I typically run about six encounters a session.
That is quite high, though speed of play and hours of session vary wildly. It also brings up the question of resource expenditure again, as if they're running 6 encounters per day, they're actually below 20% per encounter- and thus are scrimping to less than 20% in order to manage. If you're running some underleveled fights (which are 10-30% on the table) so 6/day would be fair, but which are then optimized and advantageously terrained to make up for it, then you are indeed pushing harder than the book says.
The players complain that they are forced to spend too much money on consumables, but are still significantly above WBL the entire game.
Easy check, the sidebar on page 54 tells the difference in treasure gained vs wealth expected, which you can subtract to get the expected consumables used. If they're using more than that, then by the book they are using more than expected. That said, if they're staying above WBL in permanent useful items, then it's fine mechanically. But if they feel that expending consumables means they're failing, you should probably rethink your treasure system. It'll mean they'll have less wiggle room, but they might be less annoyed?

About once every five sessions they have a close fight where several of the players are down and they are seriously considering retreating to avoid a TPK, but pull through and win in the end.
About once every ten sessions the players will have an encounter where they are unable to achieve their goals the first time. They decide to fall back and regroup / resupply / research / ask for help, the enemy gets away and has to be tracked down, or the enemy incapacitates them on their first encounter.
About once every twenty sessions the party suffers a serious setback; the fail to stop the villain, they are forced to abandon the mission, one of the players dies (and resurrections isn't recoverable), they get their allies killed, or they make a mistake and choose the wrong side.
About once every fifty sessions the group actually suffers a TPK and either starts over or has to resort to a deus ex machina.
I presume that by 1/50 sessions in a game that lasted about 50 sessions you mean they TPK'd only once? Reasonable for groups that consider it fair, but some people don't think they should ever TPK, which means you just need to walk a tighter rope. I would point out that if they TPK'd due to a fight where the DM made it impossible to retreat, that's on the DM, no matter how justified it is for their foes in-world. Unless the players actively choose to walk into a no-retreat scenario, it's never going to feel fair.

As for 1/5 having multiple downs, you've said that's only 1/30 encounters, which yeah by the DMG is actually way better than normal odds. Though this makes me notice something else: at 6 encounters per session, if those are level average, they're leveling up almost every other session. This game must have gone 1-20. But also, leveling up that fast probably means they barely had time to even use, let alone grow fully accustomed to, a particular level's worth of abilities and foes before rushing off to the next. If you're constantly fighting harder foes without seeing your previous foes crushed under your new comfortable power level, well yeah.

For example, last year the wizard player came to me and said the game was too hard because he ends every adventuring day with only about 20% of his spells remaining, and that means I am cutting it close. I responded by saying something along the lines of "Good, that is exactly what I am shooting for!", which he (and several forum-goers) took as me just dismissing his concerns about the fundamental nature of the challenge I am shooting for, and now I seem to be having a similar conversation here, just the other way around.
Did you also tell them why? 'Cause not telling them why would be pretty dismissive. I'd be more interested in hearing a player explain why they think they should be ending with X higher amount of resources (seriously, would be interesting).
I also found out today that two of the players in question were on mood altering prescription medication during their outbursts, so that problem might solve itself.

There's more discussion further down about hitting 80% every day- I would assume that this is hyperbole, and there are days with random/traveling/etc encounters where the party does not burn through "all" their resources. That would indeed be a massive oversight, but you've said it varies.

Regarding their knowledge of whether they're punching above their weight or not: there are mechanics the party can use to figure out how powerful an opponent is so they know this. But in order to do so they'd have to actually use those mechanics. As such, I (possibly to detriment, possibly not) generally make it known when they are. For example: I might point out that the thing they're fighting is the size of an Elephant, which is a CR 7 with 100 hit points, but this breathes fire! Or that it's the kind of thing that eats Elephants for breakfast. Spellcraft and Knoweldge checks that reveal the spell (and thus level of spell) the enemy just cast, or the SLAs they have, also tell the PCs exactly how powerful the thing they're fighting is. Liches are a minimum of 11th level, and I see no particular reason this needs to be behind a skill check if they hear about a Lich- "Yeah that guy's 11th absolute minimum, almost certainly more, with a pile of immunities and defenses." And once they've beat something and aren't likely to fight it again I don't care if they look it up (indeed, I usually do myself on the player side), for proper context. After which I can say "yeah this new thing is X above the last thing," etc.