Typically in Dungeons and Dragons an adventure consists of some easy encounters, some hard encounters, a deadly encounter, and then the final encounter. The way characters level up over a campaign echoes this progression.
Heck, this is even typical in most stories. The heroes may see a deadly monster early, but they don’t fight it until they are more powerful. Or, in the course of a D&D adventuring day, when they’ve used some amount of resources, thereby making the final monster more deadly.
Through a happy little accident of misreading some stat blocks, my last set of sessions inverted this process.
Rather than meet goblins, then hobgoblins, then an ogre climbing that ladder of difficulty, the group started their day with a CR 7.6 encounter, next was a CR 6.25 encounter, and then a CR 3.
That released some opportunities for the players. The happy little accident meant that during that tough encounter they used a bunch of powerful abilities rather than keep them in reserve. During the second encounter they used more.
Then, finally, when they met the “boss” (who was actually the boss of the various Dragon Sworn*) they only had a couple abilities left. That meant it felt deadly, but really wasn’t. They won easily.
* For this I used the Fizban’s Dragon Blessed, Dragon Chosen, and Dragon Speaker
Overall the group was tested, more so than typical in my sessions. Also, they got to use more of their potent features. If I better telegraphed the inversion, like if it was planned, then they would have used even more of their limited powers.
When a player invests in a character having certain abilities they need to be able to use them. This accident utilized more powers in one day then I’ve seen in some time.
Now they’ll try to rest.
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2 thoughts on “Try inverting your D&D encounters’ difficulty”
Hah! That’s a very interesting result to an accident, and happy epiphany as well. This has happened a couple times in my games, but it was intentional by player action, finding the BBEG’s “backdoor” and going straight for the kill. Then clearing out the rest of the complex, back to front, just to make sure everything was safe. (Okay, once it was an “accident”, because they didn’t *realize* they had found the backdoor escape route!)
Doing it on purpose as the GM isn’t something I had considered before, though, not in a real acknowledged way. The last “deadly” set of encounters started with the easy murdering of some purple wormlings that stayed in pre-created holes, followed by the “young adults” (also staying in the holes, but much stronger), and then “Big Momma” (who burrows freely) coming to see what happened to her brood. I spaced it out so the party – 5th level characters – could choose to flee when they realized they had overestimated their power. If Big Momma had shown up first, they wouldn’t have been worn down… but they also might have simply fled, unsure of how tough she was.
Good thought-provoker, Dave!
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