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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Is D&D too hard?

    Recently I have been told by a lot of people (both on the forums and in person) that my campaign's are extremely challenging.

    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.

    But still, the feeling of challenge is there.

    So are the guidelines in the DMG too hard?

    If so, what is the right level of challenge? And how do you run an easier game without breaking the system or the setting?

    If not, how do you get people more used to the "expected" level of difficulty?


    Now, some speculation about what I might be doing wrong:

    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.

    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.

    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. For example, I remember back in the college gaming club being sad that the other DM always had more players, and one of the guys who was in both games said people came to D&D for big dumb fun, and compared a fight where he had an ancient half shadow half fiendish red dragon with class levels charge in and brawl with the PCs, 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.


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    We just completed a campaign where we played every other week for almost two years.

    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.

    Some data about my game(s):

    I typically run about six encounters a session.

    The players complain that they are forced to spend too much money on consumables, but are still significantly above WBL the entire game.

    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.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    D&D isn't a computer game. Hard here is entirely subjective, you have the power to make the game as easy or hard as the players enjoy.

    Your players are not optimizers or particularly tactical, and complain about the difficulty. That means you are making it too hard for them. Some players on here play in ways that would be insufficiently challenges by your games, and they would be too easy for them.

    Appeal to charts doesn't help here, the reason to play D&D is that it is flexible.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    It's unclear what "hard" means in a RPG, but there some that truly require the players to choose the right actions and moves, and that luck be on their side. I wouldn't consider D&D to be one of those, since it's a pretty forgiving RPG that allows unoptimized play.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    WotC is bad at estimating balance on both sides of the screen. I'm not sure pointing to their charts on how tough an adventuring day "should" be is a great argument to be making. The default assumptions of the game (tank, rogue, healbot, blaster) probably hold up well enough against the typical beatstick monsters, but if either side starts building/playing a bit more optimally, or even just a bit weirder, things get thrown off.


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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tvtyrant View Post
    D&D isn't a computer game. Hard here is entirely subjective, you have the power to make the game as easy or hard as the players enjoy.

    Your players are not optimizers or particularly tactical, and complain about the difficulty. That means you are making it too hard for them. Some players on here play in ways that would be insufficiently challenges by your games, and they would be too easy for them.

    Appeal to charts doesn't help here, the reason to play D&D is that it is flexible.
    Quote Originally Posted by AvatarVecna View Post
    WotC is bad at estimating balance on both sides of the screen. I'm not sure pointing to their charts on how tough an adventuring day "should" be is a great argument to be making. The default assumptions of the game (tank, rogue, healbot, blaster) probably hold up well enough against the typical beatstick monsters, but if either side starts building/playing a bit more optimally, or even just a bit weirder, things get thrown off.
    Note that it is the outcome I am questioning.

    I am not having problems with "4 orcs should be an appropriate challenge for a level 1 party" but rather with the expectations that a standard fight should consume about 20% of the party's resources and a standard adventuring day should consume about 80% of the party's recourses. This is independent of player skill or optimization level.
    Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Note that it is the outcome I am questioning.

    I am not having problems with "4 orcs should be an appropriate challenge for a level 1 party" but rather with the expectations that a standard fight should consume about 20% of the party's resources and a standard adventuring day should consume about 80% of the party's recourses. This is independent of player skill or optimization level.
    It isn't, though.

    An inexperienced or un-optimized party could wipe on those 4 orcs. Or they could blow all of their resources and barely eke out a victory. A highly experienced or highly optimized party, with a solid grasp of tactics and clever use of resources and abilities, could steamroll those orcs with relatively little thought.

    The fact that the orcs "should" consume a fifth of the party's resources don't mean that they will, and yes that is very dependent on the players' skill and optimization.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Red Fel View Post
    It isn't, though.

    An inexperienced or un-optimized party could wipe on those 4 orcs. Or they could blow all of their resources and barely eke out a victory. A highly experienced or highly optimized party, with a solid grasp of tactics and clever use of resources and abilities, could steamroll those orcs with relatively little thought.

    The fact that the orcs "should" consume a fifth of the party's resources don't mean that they will, and yes that is very dependent on the players' skill and optimization.
    I agree, hence the "not" in the quoted bit.

    What I am asking is if "an encounter that consumed 20% of the party's resources," is an appropriate challenge. Not "will a CR 8 stone giant really use up 20% of the an eighth level parties resources".
    Last edited by Talakeal; 2019-11-15 at 04:25 PM.
    Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Note that it is the outcome I am questioning.

    I am not having problems with "4 orcs should be an appropriate challenge for a level 1 party" but rather with the expectations that a standard fight should consume about 20% of the party's resources and a standard adventuring day should consume about 80% of the party's recourses. This is independent of player skill or optimization level.
    Depends on your party though. It is possible your players won't use consumable items of abilities (ie spell slots) for fear of "wasting" them. This lowers their effectiveness dramatically and throws formulas off. Or they panic and use all of their items every fight and are out of resources constantly. The DMG was written with assumptions that don't always hold true.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tvtyrant View Post
    Depends on your party though. It is possible your players won't use consumable items of abilities (ie spell slots) for fear of "wasting" them. This lowers their effectiveness dramatically and throws formulas off. Or they panic and use all of their items every fight and are out of resources constantly. The DMG was written with assumptions that don't always hold true.
    HP is a resource too though.

    If a party uses no spells and takes double the normal amount of damage (or vice versa) they have still expended the same overall percentage of their party's resources.
    Last edited by Talakeal; 2019-11-15 at 04:36 PM.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    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.
    Well, otoh, the same DMG states that an adventuring day should consist of 4 encounters of EL = APL. So if you're going above that, by throwing more and/or higher-CRed encounters at them, you technically _are_ running the game harder.
    Granted, most MMx monsters are little more than speedbumps for a well-built party. In my home group we usually handle about 2x to 3x of the expected allotment between rests. Which of course also results in a quicker leveling pace. And that doesn't even require obscure splatbook optimization - my personal record one day was starting the day as level 9 and going to bed as level 11, in a core-only campaign with no wands available.

    So, in short, the CR system simply doesn't do what it's supposed to do.

    --

    That said, I once had a DM who seemed to run a similar style as you. He'd spent hours and hours on end designing single encounters, building opponents and devising tactics. And of course every single monster used its actions optimally all the time. We got our asses handed to us on a silver platter on a regular basis - about 2 in 5 encounters. And guess what? We were not having fun. We gave it a try for about 6 sessions or so but seized the first opportunity to rotate DMs and switch to something different.
    What I learned from this experience is that it's super easy for a DM to frustrate the players. The DM knows exactly what the PCs can do, and that's usually just 1-3 tricks per pony. For every one scenario that a player can prepare for, there are probably three dozen more that he can't, so it's trivially easy to attack their weak spots any time you want to. After a while it just feels arbitrary.

    So yeah, call it "big dumb fun" -- I guess many players (including myself) enjoy besting powerful opponents or overwhelming odds by virtue of their abilities and wits. They do not enjoy being bested by smug little buggers playing tricks on them.
    Let me give you a brief rundown of an average Post-3E Era fight: You attack an enemy and start kicking his shins. He then starts kicking your shins, then you take it in turns kicking until one of you falls over. It basically comes down to who started the battle with the biggest boot, and the only strategy involved is realizing when things have gone tits up and legging it.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    What I am asking is if "an encounter that consumed 20% of the party's resources," is an appropriate challenge. Not "will a CR 8 stone giant really use up 20% of the an eighth level parties resources".
    Probably, but it's still so generalized that you need to be careful. Resources aren't split evenly between party members, so keeping it challenging without it become deadly can be...difficult. Because it's just a really obvious resource that literally every class has, let's use HP as an example: if you've got a classic four-person party at level, you're probably looking at 10d4+10d6+10d8+10d10+120 damage to get the whole party to 0, and then another 40 to get them all dead. So "80% of party resources consumed in a day" might be 256 damage...but if you're not careful about spreading that damage evenly between them all after crits, evasion, healing, or what have you, you could very well be looking at "rogue is untouched, but fighter/wizard/cleric are all dead". That's obviously the far end of a spectrum, but the other far end where damage is extremely evenly split is where all four are alive at the end of the day...and that conclusion of "four living-but-heavily-injured characters" doesn't have a ton of room for error. This is least true in the middle levels - at low levels, a random crit outta nowhere can throw all the calcs off, and at high levels, rocket tag is kind of a thing - but even then, it's still true.


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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    THat is a difficult question (and cannot be answered in any one way, as there is no "correct" way to play ANY Rpg except "the way it fits to your group best").

    Lets go for 2 assumptions rather unique to D&D and CLones of it.

    The first is the "Numbered amount of encounters" a regular Adventuring Day should consist of to "reduce the parties ressources".
    THis is very much NOT an universal way to go about it, but pretty much the D&D Classicly run Shtick of "palyers must be very careful with their ressources or the DM will mopp the floor with them", which in my view is a leftover from its beginnings as a wargame.

    Now assuming you WANT to paly that way, and are all for thatr type of play, I`lls ay this:

    Do not EVER point to anything saying "But here it says a well balanced encounter should take away X ressources from you and that you should have Y per day".

    Why? Because thats a GUIDELINE. By people who dont really play their own game a lot/dont udnerstand all their hundreds of extra mosnters, spells and whatnot their game entails.
    Now if you apply that to a game only SIMILAR to the game where it didnt fit anyway....you WILL fail at meeting the intended effect more often than not.

    Hence even if thats the kind of game you want to paly, my suggestion is simple: Ask your group what kind of challenge they want, and adjust for dumb luck accordingly. Even doing that, you will never truly perfectly match what they want, but youll be much closer than if you simply follow the old recipie of the DMG but in another game.

    The second assumption D&D makes is that everything is strongly to exclusively combat focussed, as noncombat ressources (Aside from Spells or optional Social Systems) usually are not "expended".

    Hence in Games where you try to emulate something other than classic Dungeon Crawl/Hexcrawls etc you will have to adjust massively.



    Now to the original Question:

    Original to late 2nd Edition: Yes to barely yes.

    3rd Edition: depends on the Optimization on the Table, mostly not if using original Adventures.

    4th: Nope.

    5th: Maybe, if one overdoes it with ELgendary stuff, otherwise nope.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Consider Tomb of Horrors. If you didn't get a TPK at least twice before the party even properly entered the dungeon, you were considered to be going soft on the PCs.

    Yet people had fun.

    People forget one of the most important things about D&D: It's not actually a game. You're not supposed to "win". I mean, you can, but it's not the primary goal of D&D.

    It's actually a toy. The "win condition" is to have fun and enjoy a social experience with friends, not to beat the monsters.

    So, did you have fun being with your friends? If you did, then congratulations; you won at D&D.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    I have one, all important question to ask you in response: how many of the assumptions that the designers made about game play does your group follow? The further you stray from that baseline, the less reliable the given metrics become.

    Party of 4
    Warrior, mage, priest, thief
    artillery mage
    buffer/healer cleric
    skulking backstabber thief
    tough-as-nails, dumb-as-a-brick warrior
    WBL and readily available magic items

    The more of these fall through, the less reliable CR, among other things, gets. A skilled GM can compensate for any or even all of these things being different than expected, and I'm not saying you're not skilled enough to do it, but pointing at the book and saying "see, four encounters per day," rings more than a little hollow if that is the only or one of only a few of the other presumptions the game makes you're sticking to.

    All that out of the way, heck no. Not past about level 5 or so, anyway.

    Up until level 5~7 or so, the dice play a -major- role in -everything- the PCs do. It's part of why I don't like to play or GM for that level range. When the RNG can spike you like a game-winning touchdown ball at pretty much any time, it doesn't matter how competently you play. It's not -hard- it's just random.

    After that point, you should have picked up -some- ability to avoid things you can't handle and excell at things you can to the point that the dice aren't everything. You can still get spiked but it's no longer at dangerously high odds and becomes less so with each level.

    Mind, that's at bare minimum competence presumed by the designer's guidelines. Top-tier optimizers can get to okay-ish chances at the lowest levels and become... difficult to GM for in later levels, to the point of the game actually breaking down when you hit 9th level spells.

    The resource managment portion of the game can throw things off for some players. If you nova the first encounter of the day and still have to go through three more, the last is going to be way tougher than it has to be.


    Finally, there's the one simple fact others upthread have pointed out: none of this is prescripted code. You can and should make adjustments until you reach a point that's fun for you and your players. If it's too difficult for your players, soften up unless that would make the game too boring for you. If you're already playing with kid gloves and they're still complaining, try and help them figure out how to perform better. Either way, something's gotta give.
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    Kelb, recently it looks like you're the Avatar of Reason in these forums, man.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Reading the "details about your specific game": your game doesn't seem "too hard" to me. It doesn't seem that deadly. It's probably challenging, but that's not a bad thing. Lots of players enjoy the challenge and would be happy to play in such a game. Even players who casually complain about difficulty may enjoy the challenge. I would know, because I tend to do that: during in a hard, really tense fight, I tend to not enjoy it that much at the time, and even complain about how "my god, that monster hits so hard, it's unfair, the DM's out to get us", because I'm afraid and stressed I'm gonna lose my character. But once the fight is over, I'm happy about how epic and challenging it was.
    If that's not the case for your group, though, and if you genuinely think you should dial it back, I'd go with that third one:
    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    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. For example, I remember back in the college gaming club being sad that the other DM always had more players, and one of the guys who was in both games said people came to D&D for big dumb fun, and compared a fight where he had an ancient half shadow half fiendish red dragon with class levels charge in and brawl with the PCs, 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.
    Yup, that's probably it. Monsters of the same CR are not equal in difficulty, and a monster may not even be equal to itself depending on how it's played. As a DM, I notice that the more effort I put into building my fights, the harder (and also more dramatically tense) they tend to be. If I think a lot about how to build a boss fight, if I prepare tactics, etc., the way you do, the fight is harder. If I just roll a random encounter and pull the monster straight out of the book without analyzing its stats block and playing to its strength, PCs usually steamroll the fight.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Okay, just read your campaign notes. You're swinging just a little high, by the sound of it, (6 per day plus an occasional bonus encounter) but it sounds a lot like your players are just whiny if they're only hitting a major setback twice a year and a TPK half as often.

    You -could- cut the encounters per day and ease off on the tactical accumen of your NPCs if it won't make the game boring for you. I'm concerned about the first two playerse you described, tbqh. The first seems like a simple discussion about his complaints but the second sounds like a real problem and I'd hazard their behavior -is- a major cause of the others starting to follow suite rather than anything to do with the game itself.

    I can only see it getting worse if you don't -do- something. Getting guy one to knock of the whining shouldn't be -that- hard but I'd seriously consider giving guy 2 the boot if he can't get those outbursts under control. In any case you should probably have as frank a discussion with the group as you're comfortable with about how they're enjoying the game, what they really want from it, and where they're willing to compromise on that. You absolutely -have- to address the problem behavior though.
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    Kelb, recently it looks like you're the Avatar of Reason in these forums, man.
    Quote Originally Posted by LTwerewolf View Post
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Again, I don't have trouble meeting the difficulty metrics, this is more of a "postmodern" question about whether the metrics themselves are flawed.

    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelb_Panthera View Post
    Okay, just read your campaign notes. You're swinging just a little high, by the sound of it, (6 per day plus an occasional bonus encounter) but it sounds a lot like your players are just whiny if they're only hitting a major setback twice a year and a TPK half as often.

    You -could- cut the encounters per day and ease off on the tactical accumen of your NPCs if it won't make the game boring for you. I'm concerned about the first two playerse you described, tbqh. The first seems like a simple discussion about his complaints but the second sounds like a real problem and I'd hazard their behavior -is- a major cause of the others starting to follow suite rather than anything to do with the game itself.

    I can only see it getting worse if you don't -do- something. Getting guy one to knock of the whining shouldn't be -that- hard but I'd seriously consider giving guy 2 the boot if he can't get those outbursts under control. In any case you should probably have as frank a discussion with the group as you're comfortable with about how they're enjoying the game, what they really want from it, and where they're willing to compromise on that. You absolutely -have- to address the problem behavior though.
    Agreed.

    At this point I am taking a break from GMing, so I am going to see how it plays out with someone else in the chair while I process everything I have learned.

    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by Firechanter View Post

    Well, otoh, the same DMG states that an adventuring day should consist of 4 encounters of EL = APL. So if you're going above that, by throwing more and/or higher-CRed encounters at them, you technically _are_ running the game harder.
    Granted, most MMx monsters are little more than speedbumps for a well-built party. In my home group we usually handle about 2x to 3x of the expected allotment between rests. Which of course also results in a quicker leveling pace. And that doesn't even require obscure splatbook optimization - my personal record one day was starting the day as level 9 and going to bed as level 11, in a core-only campaign with no wands available.

    So, in short, the CR system simply doesn't do what it's supposed to do.

    --

    That said, I once had a DM who seemed to run a similar style as you. He'd spent hours and hours on end designing single encounters, building opponents and devising tactics. And of course every single monster used its actions optimally all the time. We got our asses handed to us on a silver platter on a regular basis - about 2 in 5 encounters. And guess what? We were not having fun. We gave it a try for about 6 sessions or so but seized the first opportunity to rotate DMs and switch to something different.
    What I learned from this experience is that it's super easy for a DM to frustrate the players. The DM knows exactly what the PCs can do, and that's usually just 1-3 tricks per pony. For every one scenario that a player can prepare for, there are probably three dozen more that he can't, so it's trivially easy to attack their weak spots any time you want to. After a while it just feels arbitrary.

    So yeah, call it "big dumb fun" -- I guess many players (including myself) enjoy besting powerful opponents or overwhelming odds by virtue of their abilities and wits. They do not enjoy being bested by smug little buggers playing tricks on them.

    Note that it isn't about the PCs actually getting their butt-kicked, the PCs still win in the end and go through their ~80% party resources in an adventuring day.

    I was just thinking that it might feel harder to actually deal with weaker monsters that use smart tactics vs. a big bruiser that just charges in and deals huge damage.
    Last edited by Talakeal; 2019-11-16 at 12:41 AM.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    I have guaged my players strengths and weaknesses in my Saturday campaign. I have a long history of throwing extremely challenging encounters.

    An example: A phasmadaemon created a completely illusionary fortress and filled it with derghodaemon shock troops.

    The dhergodaemons weren't too big a deal except for the fact they could get full round attacks through walls that don't exist in a long running combat. And the phasmadaemon could strike with spells thrpughout the combat. It took a lot of effort for the party to survive it and the giddiness when they finally took down the phasmadaemon was palpable.

    That's why many of us play... The struggle to defeat enemies that requires serious thought and effort, the final great blow that finishes that horrible enemy that has frustrated the party for so long, the moment your character stands in triumph and reaps the impressive rewards.
    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hall View Post
    So, your roleplaying guide is pretty much "Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a confusing corpse"?

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Maybe your style of encounters leads to frustration due to lacking sense of achievement. Okay, they win, yes, but only with huge effort (80% resources*), and then for all that trouble, all they have achieved was neutralizing some goblins or whatever. That doesn't even earn them bragging rights.

    Imagine being in the PC's shoes, as they return to town after a hard adventuring day:
    Barkeep: "Whoa, you look pretty beat up, what ever happened to you?"
    Party: "Goblins."
    B: "What, Goblins did that to you? Are you messing with me?"
    P: "Yah well, they were really nasty Goblins and they used the terrain to their advantage."
    B: "Riiiight, the terrain. Uh-huh."
    P: "We did kill them eventually!"
    B: "And do you want a medal for Goblin-slaying now? Tell you what, here's a cup of warm milk on the house for everyone. Also, I have a cellar full of rats, that might be more up your alley."

    Now imagine the same scene, except the party killed a band of Trolls or Fire Giants or whatever sounds tough at their level. I don't think I need to spell it out, but the Barkeep's reaction would be different.
    So, regardless of whether any such scenes ever play out at your table -- something like that is probably going on inside your players' heads. Hence they get mopey.

    --

    *) come to think of it, strictly speaking "80% of resources" cannot mean "80% of HP _and_ 80% of spells", much less "and 80% of consumables". After all, HP need to be restored, and that will probably require more magic resources (like the next day's spell slots). Sure, casting Cure spells in downtime is practically free, but keep in mind that if restoring those HP takes, say, 40% of another day's spell slots, that adventuring day actually cost them 120% of their daily resources. Ofc I don't know if you handle it that way or not, just wanted to get the thought out.
    Let me give you a brief rundown of an average Post-3E Era fight: You attack an enemy and start kicking his shins. He then starts kicking your shins, then you take it in turns kicking until one of you falls over. It basically comes down to who started the battle with the biggest boot, and the only strategy involved is realizing when things have gone tits up and legging it.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Firechanter View Post
    Come to think of it, strictly speaking "80% of resources" cannot mean "80% of HP _and_ 80% of spells", much less "and 80% of consumables". After all, HP need to be restored, and that will probably require more magic resources (like the next day's spell slots). Sure, casting Cure spells in downtime is practically free, but keep in mind that if restoring those HP takes, say, 40% of another day's spell slots, that adventuring day actually cost them 120% of their daily resources. Ofc I don't know if you handle it that way or not, just wanted to get the thought out.
    I do not count consumables.

    The DMG defines resources as "Hit points, spells, magic item charges, etc."

    Logically speaking, it would have to include HP, other wise the CR system would just throw up its hands in defeat the first time someone made a party that didn't include any casters (or casters that never get spell slots / don't get spell slots until mid-level).
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Again, I don't have trouble meeting the difficulty metrics, this is more of a "postmodern" question about whether the metrics themselves are flaws.
    The metrics are flawed. Videogame mechanics and design in this area run rings around the average TTRPG and have done so for decades, mainly because video games sell an experience and RPGs for the most part sell a group of rules.

    The most obvious contradiction can be illustrated by juxtaposing two canards of encounter "design":

    a. 80% of a party's resources should be used up per day. Thus, 4 encounters chew 20% of resources each.
    b. 30% of encounters should be either outright easy or easy if handled right (DMG).

    If an encounter is easy, i.e. involves the party hitting more often and not having to dig deep into its resources, why should it cost 20% of your daily resources? In particular, an encounter that's easy if handled right surely should use less than 20% of a party's resources because once the party identifies the weak spot or the load bearing boss, the resource usage should drop pretty significantly.

    "But I fix that by pushing the resource cost on the other daily encounters higher, i.e. making the other encounters harder, so I still chew up 80% of their resources per day." That's penny wise and pound foolish thinking, because if you stick hard and fast to that rule, eventually your players look at their daily resource balances and start realising that easy encounters during a day are actually a harbinger of doom, because if they get an easy encounter that only chews 5% of their resources, later that day they will be facing an encounter that's going to hit them for a good 35% of their resources. Which is problematic, because typically the encounters that heavily chew party resources are also the encounters most likely to get their characters killed.

    And the reason that sucks is because it is destructive of the illusion of character progression, which is the primary impetus for people to keep playing past a DM's (generally) second-rate one-man theatre show for an audience of four to six.

    If you realise on a gut level that your levelling is meaningless because the DM is just going to keep the difficulty level at a point that you never actually get that much more powerful - you are always burning up 80% of your resources - then it removes a big sense of the reward for fighting all those horrible things trying to bring your hitpoint count to negative integers.

    "But that brings out the best in my players, they have to think and come up with better and better strategies to win, their bloody deaths teach them how to play better, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" I hope a bus tries to make you stronger. Dice are mathematically objective but in reality unfair. There is no reasoning with them. A large part of the reason we have all those rules adding modifiers to the roll is to introduce the illusion of fairness: that if you do persevere, that if you do think and fight efficiently, that if you invest your XPs in the right places, you will manage to cheat the dice a few times. And most people need overt indicators that they're getting better. That illusion is as important as the suspension of disbelief when reading a novel. When they don't have that, quite apart from chemical mood stabilisers and rubbish personalities, the result is a feeling of powerlessness. Which, as Yoda once said, leads to frustration. And frustration leads to rage. And long posts on GITP from DMs about how their players aren't engaging with them despite the fact the DM is following the DMG guidelines to the letter.

    Try introducing some meaningful as opposed to mathematically-derived texture into the difficulty ratings of battles, by which I mean, a couple of fights against formerly-formidable opponents which are cakewalks and which don't result in an increase on the difficulty or cost of future encounters in that day. This will involve moving away from the DMG guidelines, but the guidelines, as said, are slightly more expensive toilet paper.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Saintheart View Post
    The metrics are flawed. Videogame mechanics and design in this area run rings around the average TTRPG and have done so for decades, mainly because video games sell an experience and RPGs for the most part sell a group of rules.

    ...snip...
    But don't video games do the exact same thing? Start off easy and then ramp up the difficulty as the players develop skills and learn the rules?

    IMO progression and narrative goals are accomplishments in and of themselves; beating up an army of demons and saving the world certainly feels more "powerful" to me even if it uses up the same percentage of my resources as beating up a group of goblins and saving a sheep farm did at level one.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    I judge difficulty based on how often PCs drop to death's door and/or killed. It's not a set ratio of drops per combat but an impressionable feeling. There are obvious ratios. If a PC drops every combat it's hard but not necessarily too hard. It's a warning sign where circumstances matter. If it's two or more PCs it's too hard. If you're losing count how often a PC is killed it's not even a game any more. BBEG fights don't count in terms of dropping. If no PC drops great, but a PC or more than one PC dropping is not unusual. If a PC is killed every BBEG fight that's still a problem. Those are the extremes. Lesser ratios are still hard until some subjective point is reached where the difficulty is just right the risk of dropping makes victory sweet, but if it does happen you recover and it's all part of the fun. PCs deaths are memorable because it's rare.

    That's the DM side of it presuming general player competency and no ill will intention meant about the DM though "killer DMs" who enjoy PC drops and deaths do exist. On the player side new players do earn their own personal experience points so to speak learning how to play so eventually it becomes easier. At some point they're no longer new players and have general competency. However, there are players who can't or won't learn thus the game is always too hard for them. I knew a 5E paladin player who hardly ever went into melee and instead insisted on using a crossbow. When he deigned to go into melee he would not smite unless another player told him to. D&D is not hard, but it could be hard for a particular player. It's not the game for them.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    But don't video games do the exact same thing? Start off easy and then ramp up the difficulty as the players develop skills and learn the rules?
    No, CRPGs usually do the exact opposite, start off hard (because you have frack-all resources) and get compartiviely easier as you go along, for the most part, occasional boss-fight notwithstanding.

    (Pathfinder Kingmaker cerainly did, throwing in a horrendous amount of immune-to-weapon-damage swarms as part of the first sidequest, to the point where I knew they were coming but was unprepared even so for the sheer number...)



    Another classic example being Pokémon, where not infrequently, the first gym leader was the hardest-fought battle, because you have paff-all to fight him with.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Aotrs Commander View Post
    No, CRPGs usually do the exact opposite, start off hard (because you have frack-all resources) and get compartiviely easier as you go along, for the most part, occasional boss-fight notwithstanding.

    (Pathfinder Kingmaker cerainly did, throwing in a horrendous amount of immune-to-weapon-damage swarms as part of the first sidequest, to the point where I knew they were coming but was unprepared even so for the sheer number...)



    Another classic example being Pokémon, where not infrequently, the first gym leader was the hardest-fought battle, because you have paff-all to fight him with.
    I was thinking about video games in general; but yeah, CRPGs do tend to buck the trend a bit.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    D&D varies depending on the type of optimization that you or your team has. It's very difficult to say too be quite honest on how you define hard or difficult.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    But don't video games do the exact same thing? Start off easy and then ramp up the difficulty as the players develop skills and learn the rules?
    They both use progression and increasing difficulty. Video games are a hell of a lot better at it than TTRPGs. And the reason they're a lot better at it is, at its most fundamental, because the video game is the experience. TTRPGs by and large only provide you with rulesets and provide you with virtually no guidance on how to use those rulesets to create a good experience. An analogue I have seen for it is that, at best, the DMG is a level editor, and a badly built one at that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    IMO progression and narrative goals are accomplishments in and of themselves; beating up an army of demons and saving the world certainly feels more "powerful" to me even if it uses up the same percentage of my resources as beating up a group of goblins and saving a sheep farm did at level one.
    That's your opinion. The problem being twofold:
    (1) It's the opinion of a player.
    (2) It may not be shared by the players you are DMing.

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    This thread has so much potential, so many possible directions to take things. Let me start with what I think is most important:
    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    this is more of a question about whether the metrics themselves are flaws.
    All metrics are flaws. That is, blindly following a recipe without understanding is inherently flawed.

    Human social interactions - including things like playing an RPG - are inherently complicated. There is no "one size fits all" solution. You should not try to replicate exact textbook kisses per hour with your SO or exact textbook cuddle times with your kids. Instead, you should aim to understand why certain metrics exist, and attempt to produce counterparts to those metrics that produce the same results for the specifics of your scenario.

    Consistently hitting an arbitrary "80% resources consumed" mark? That's terrible in general, and terrible for your group in particular.

    It's terrible in general, because it makes the world a grey, unmemorable, low-agency mess. Remember day 27? Oh, was that the day we ended with 19% resources left? No, that was day 43; day 27 was one of the usual 20% days. Bleh. No, I remember the fight where my "not a Frenzied Berserker" ran out of HP, and PSP, and finally dropped, leaving just one man still standing at the end of what otherwise wouldn't have been a terribly memorable or important fight.

    It's terrible for your group in particular because a fairly consistent "80% resources consumed" a) was probably higher than they wanted (did they ever seem unhappy going back to town after each fight, not counting the time that you made timing **** them for doing so (which was hilarious)?); b) showed that they lacked agency to control pacing and difficulty / tied into their trust issues & their belief that you just made stuff up to **** with them (to maintain your "intended level of difficulty").

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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Talakeal View Post
    Again, I don't have trouble meeting the difficulty metrics, this is more of a "postmodern" question about whether the metrics themselves are flaws.
    They do what they're intended to do decently but people seem to expect more of them than is reasonable and so declare them failures.

    CR 5 is only CR 5 if the presumptions of the designers are -accurate- to your table. If, for example, you're being stingy with treasure and the party is mostly martial types then CR 5 might feel more like CR 8, particularly if it's a bruiser type, or even C9+ if it's got an ability they have no ability to deal with. On the other hand, if the party is all over-geared, borderline-TO gish builds then CR 9 might feel more like CR 4.

    That said, there are a few shots that strayed well off-target. Virtually all of MM2 is questionable and there are outliers like the infamous "That Damn Crab," but from the 3.5 changeover forward they're really not too far off for the most part.

    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.
    I guess this is where you showed him the DMG guidelines? Different people have different desires and expectations from the game. It's important to discuss them so you're all on the same page or at least know where everyone stands. I'll acknowledge that can be a royal pain-in-the-butt when trying to discuss it with newbs or people who haven't given it much thought.



    Agreed.

    At this point I am taking a break from GMing, so I am going to see how it plays out with someone else in the chair while I process everything I have learned.

    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.
    That's not a bad idea at all. Getting the opportunity to see things from the other side can be very helpful for understanding the opinions of others.

    As for the meds issue... Yeah... Here's hopin' that's sorted now. Ya never do know what's goin' on in someone else's head, I suppose.


    Note that it isn't about the PCs actually getting their butt-kicked, the PCs still win in the end and go through their ~80% party resources in an adventuring day.

    I was just thinking that it might feel harder to actually deal with weaker monsters that use smart tactics vs. a big bruiser that just charges in and deals huge damage.
    Oh yeah. It always feels rougher to deal with smart enemies. I like it because that's just how I'm wired but others can have a rough time of it, particularly if they're less tactically savvy than you are.

    Quote Originally Posted by Firechanter View Post
    Maybe your style of encounters leads to frustration due to lacking sense of achievement. Okay, they win, yes, but only with huge effort (80% resources*), and then for all that trouble, all they have achieved was neutralizing some goblins or whatever. That doesn't even earn them bragging rights.
    There might be something to this. This is why I like to do throwback encounters once in a while. I do a 1:1 recreation of an encounter from a few levels back and the players get to enjoy steamrolling something that was once a serious challenge. It also helps to give them a sense of their growth that might otherwise be overlooked if near to all of what they face are "fair" challenges.

    Imagine being in the PC's shoes, as they return to town after a hard adventuring day:
    Barkeep: "Whoa, you look pretty beat up, what ever happened to you?"
    Party: "Goblins."
    B: "What, Goblins did that to you? Are you messing with me?"
    P: "Yah well, they were really nasty Goblins and they used the terrain to their advantage."
    B: "Riiiight, the terrain. Uh-huh."
    P: "We did kill them eventually!"
    B: "And do you want a medal for Goblin-slaying now? Tell you what, here's a cup of warm milk on the house for everyone. Also, I have a cellar full of rats, that might be more up your alley."
    Ahem:

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    Do not underestimate goblins.

    Now imagine the same scene, except the party killed a band of Trolls or Fire Giants or whatever sounds tough at their level. I don't think I need to spell it out, but the Barkeep's reaction would be different.
    So, regardless of whether any such scenes ever play out at your table -- something like that is probably going on inside your players' heads. Hence they get mopey.
    Punching above your weight-class always feels nice -if- you know that's what's happening. OP has said that his players aren't super familiar with the MMs. If all they know is the struggle then you have to -tell- them that what they've done is impressive and that just doesn't have the same impact.

    If you work in some foreshadowing then you -might- get that sense of accomplishment but you might also get the Players to decide to look for another plot-hook because this one seems suicidal.

    I agree in principle but the execution can be tricky is what I'm saying here.



    *) come to think of it, strictly speaking "80% of resources" cannot mean "80% of HP _and_ 80% of spells", much less "and 80% of consumables". After all, HP need to be restored, and that will probably require more magic resources (like the next day's spell slots). Sure, casting Cure spells in downtime is practically free, but keep in mind that if restoring those HP takes, say, 40% of another day's spell slots, that adventuring day actually cost them 120% of their daily resources. Ofc I don't know if you handle it that way or not, just wanted to get the thought out.
    Single use consumables aren't generally considered when you're eyeballing resource drain for an encounter. It's dailies that you need to worry about.

    By class you want to look at the resources important to that class. The warrior is worried about his HP and maybe something liike rage uses or smites. The mage is concerned about his slots and maybe the charges on his metamagic rod.

    If you've burned through 80% of -all- the resources that the party has; each character's HPs, all the casters' slots, the charges on their staves and wands, all their rechargeable dailies from class or gear, and their one-use consumables; that's been an absolutely monstrous grind of a day.
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    Default Re: Is D&D too hard?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pex View Post
    I judge difficulty based on how often PCs drop to death's door and/or killed. It's not a set ratio of drops per combat but an impressionable feeling. There are obvious ratios.
    Talking about flawed metrics.... xD
    Sure, PCs going down is a definitive sign that the encounter is pretty hard for them, but do not make the mistake to assume the converse. Sometimes a won encounter appears to have been easy when you just look at the result (nobody dropped, not too many HP lost etc), but that doesn't account for the possibility that maybe you only rocked the encounter because that one die fell in your favour, and if that roll had come up differently, it would have set events in motion that could have even led to a TPK.

    Like, reminds me of that one skirmish we once had in PF, level 7 or so, against a bunch of Chuuls and Rorkouns (slime-spitting worms). There were just 3 of us, which generally means there is little margin for error. So on this occasion, one of us is busy getting an overly attached Chuul out of his hair. Meanwhile our Bard makes a little mistake with her movement and exposes herself to a Chuul. The monster does a lot of damage, but fails to Grapple the Bard due to a Nat1. Then the Bard manages to Tumble out of range, barely rolling high enough to avoid an AoO. This happened right in the first round before we could get any buffs up. After that, we get our act together and shred the saucy seafood to Nigiri-sized chunks.
    If the Bard had gotten grappled, she would have been paralyzed. If she hadn't managed to tumble, the AoO would have dropped her. Without her buffs, the other PCs would have gotten zerged, grappled, paralyzed, dragged under water, final curtain.

    So in short, just looking at the outcome you might think "Easy, just some HP damage", but actually it was on a razor's edge due to one little mistake (made by our least experienced player), and our bacon was saved just by two lucky rolls in a row. Then again, it was a CR11-12 encounter while our APL was just around 5.
    Last edited by Firechanter; 2019-11-16 at 12:36 AM.
    Let me give you a brief rundown of an average Post-3E Era fight: You attack an enemy and start kicking his shins. He then starts kicking your shins, then you take it in turns kicking until one of you falls over. It basically comes down to who started the battle with the biggest boot, and the only strategy involved is realizing when things have gone tits up and legging it.

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