The Encounter Ramp is a concept from scenario design which tries to match your parties experience with the strength of the monsters they are facing. In D&D this is often referred to as the Challenge Rating. As PCs gain more experience and become more powerful the strength of their opponents must increase to maintain the feeling of challenge.
Sometimes the stars align but more often than not they are never in the right bloody place at the right bloody time. As a GM it is your job to make the adventure a heroic challenge.
I thought I had unwittingly led my players into an encounter that was going to result in a Total Party Kill (TPK) and an early bath for the GM. In my current campaign the party is relatively low level comprising of
- 3 x Level 1,
- 1 x Level 2,
- 1 x Level 3 and
- 1 x Level 4 PC
That's a total of 12 levels of experience between them but the scenario is designed for 5 to 8 Characters of Levels 7 to 9 (between 45 and 56 Levels).
OK, I admit it, I fell in love with the scenario and didn't really worry too much about how the PCs were going to fare. I mean it's never supposed to be easy right?
To cut a long story short, their first big battle finds them fighting some pretty big guys, a Troll and 3 Bugbears, with a second wave in the room above being 1 Ogre and 5 Gnolls. As individual encounters these would be manageable, difficult but manageable. However, as a second wave these are not one hit minions, they are going to descend on the PCs like a hammer.
Oh and did I forget to mention that this is just the start. If I were playing this by the book they will still have to fight their way past 12 bugbears, 1 giant 2 headed troll, 2 hill giants, 2 giant trolls, 4 trolls, 8 ogres, 11 gnolls. That's a lot of hit dice they have to overcome.
Ramp it down a little. I always knew I was going to have to reduce the number of monsters to make it manageable for them.
Hit Point Reduction - make a few of them one hit wonders. Give your PCs a free perception check to spot the ones that are limping or carrying a few fresh wounds from some recent war band pissing match.
The Call of Nature - There's always one bad guy who is in the middle of something else when they hear the battle cry or the bugle. Having a Bugbear otherwise detained sitting on the khazi, asleep or drunk is perfectly legitimate and offers that added advantage of potential information gathering once the battle has ended.
Morale Fail - Often overlooked, but a perfectly legitimate excuse for a GM is to make the monsters flee rather than fight it out to the death.
Take Two Bites - PCs often overlook the adage "Run away and live to fight another day" or in otherwords run away and have a short rest, drink some healing potions and try again. Dead bad guys are still going to be dead whereas PCs often have heroic recoveries. Tactics can be re-evaluated, strategies can be re-examined and knowledge gained during the fight can be exploited.
|Zach Kanin (The New Yorker)|