As a GM, how do you choose an encounter? Obviously, there’s the Monster Manual and of course that helps. But what if you like the players characters so much you’re afraid of killing them? What if you throw a monster at them they cannot handle? What if you throw a monster at them and they nope out and there go all your efforts at setting up the encounter and you have to run the rest of the game by the seat of your pants?
Well I suppose that’s all a part of being GM. I run into this all the time. I find a monster and I think, “That’s awesome! I’m gonna sneak that one up on my players.”
But then I see the monster’s CR and remember that I have been stingy with XP and my players are only 4th and 5th level so I probably shouldn’t throw a Tarrasque at them. But I really want to! I want to just put it out there and have it wandering the plains where my party can see it in the distance and wonder what it is, maybe edge closer out of curiosity. Knowing them, most of them would want to go the other way. But there’s always that one player. You know the one. The party turns back and starts to roll their move silent checks to slowly sneak away and that one players rolls the dice and says, “I just rolled a natural 20!”
Sticks and Stones
So I respond with, “Awesome! You’re so quiet your own party forgot you’re even there.”
But the player shakes his/her head. “Oh, I’m not going anywhere. I just threw a rock at it. What damage do I roll for a rock?”
I stare at my player, blinking stupidly. Waiting (hoping) for them to say, “Just joking. I’m sneaking,” but knowing it will not come.
Eventually I must ask, “How big is the rock?”
The rest of the players are throwing candy and popcorn at their friend and already clearing the table for the battle mat while one or two players are still sneaking away.
“It will be too busy stomping the party to death to notice me. I’m out!” they say.
Finding the right monster for your adventurers
Anyhow, my biggest difficulty is figuring out how strong of a monster to use and how many. The game rules for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons are usually based on a standard party of four. But I run for a party of 7, excluding any NPC’s I put into the mix for myself. That doesn’t necessarily mean all 7 players will be in a attendance as we have a “real life comes first” rule with my group. So even though I try to find a monster with an XP budget that fits a group of 7 4th and 5th level characters, I also have to come up with a backup for a smaller party in case any of my players are participating in real life that day.
Basically, I suck at math and it makes GM-ing challenging at times. For crying out loud, during our first game, 1st level characters, I nearly killed them all with a group of goblins… goblins! Oops.
Custom rules can save a party, if they remember…
So how do I get around this? Well what I love about Dungeons and Dragons is that the GM can make up a lot of the rules. I have a savior rule that can only be used once in a campaign. Ever. So far, no one has used it because my players are pretty smart. And it’s possible they may have forgotten about it.