Epic Encounter Levels | sermon
Epic Encounter Levels
UPDATED 28th February 2007: To take into account new discoveries about Encounter Levels.
I recently discovered a flaw in my Encounter Level breakdown. Basically I hadn't factored the degradation of the combat effectiveness of mutiple weaker opponents over the course of an encounter.
After recalculating I found that instead of CR x2 = EL +4 (the old formula), CR x2 = EL +6 was actually better balanced. But what does this mean in real terms?
Examples of Changes to the Encounter Level Dynamic
Basically, when dealing with multiple creatures you need to increase the Encounter Level jump by 50% to get the same Encounter Level as suggested by the old formula.
Lets go over the mechanics we will be discussing:
Before we can fix something, we have to know what the problem is.
The problem with the official Challenge Rating/Encounter Level rules are threefold.
Solution to Problem #1: Make Challenge Rating 2/3rds Effective Class Level.
e.g. An ECL 30 Balor is CR 20, while an ECL 20 NPC would be CR 13.
Solution to Problem #2: Encounters levels should be considered relative to average party level. Think of them as a percentage of the party levels power using the following formulae:
e.g. Challenge Rating 20 (Balor) is 2/3 Average Party Level for a party of four ECL 30 PCs. Therefore the Balor will be EL -3 (or in this case EL 27).
...Now, another minor complication is that, the official rules state that a CR 20 monster is EL 20 AND a 20th-level NPC is also EL 20. With this new system (and assuming a 20th-level PC party) the 20th-level NPC would only be EL 18 (two less because of the conversion between ECL and CR). This means four such 20th-level PCs would only EL 22. Therefore EL 22 (in this case) must be EL +4 above the party average. Which means that a single monster of a CR equal to the party average will represent a tough encounter rather than simply a moderate one.
When using multiple monsters increase the Challenge Ratings
In the following Table, ORANGE is the sweetspot for setting encounters, RED should be used for sub-boss encounters, DARK RED should be used for boss encounters at the end of an adventure. PURPLE should be used for end of campaign boss encounters.
So if you are designing an adventure with a dozen encounters you probably want to create 10 orange encounters; 1 red encounter (sub-boss) and 1 dark red encounter (boss).
If we look at the above table we can see that a CR 30 monster is a tough encounter, while a 30th-level NPC (CR 20) is only a moderate encounter.
Min./Maxed Character Parties
The above picture is a breakdown for a typical party of epic characters. However, if your players have min/maxed their PCs to a certain degree then you may need to think about upping the threat to properly challenge them.
Encounters with Multiple Opponents
Okay, so if you never create encounters above the orange level, whats the point of the blue sections? Those sections are so you can work out how many multiple weaker opponents of that challenge rating will make a green encounter.
Modifiers for multiple opponents of same Challenge Rating.
e.g. 1 Crawling Head (CR 15) is EL -2 for 30th-level characters. While seven Crawling Heads would be EL +3.
Problem Official Challenge Ratings
NB. When I first determined the Encounter Levels for this adventure, several encounters seemed out of whack. Which prompted me to go over the official Challenge Ratings for the Crawling Head and Marut. In so doing I have worked out that the Crawling Heads should be CR 15, while the standard Marut should be CR 10 (The Advanced Marut featured below is about CR 16). Following is the full list of revised challenge ratings I uncovered:
Now you can say, well hey Krusty, aren't you just giving them new challenge ratings so you can shoe-horn them into this system of yours...? But the answer is no, if you look at the Fiendish Codex you will see that WotC themselves have revised lots of their own challenge ratings, for example the Klurichir dropped from CR 25 (Fiend Folio) to CR 17 (Fiendish Codex).
"QUICKSILVER HOURGLASS" (Dungeon #123)
The following is a breakdown of the encounters in the fantastic epic adventure "The Quicksilver Hourglass" by Anson Caralya. For me its the best designed epic adventure published to date. I'm going to use the various encounters to try and illustrate how to determine encounter levels using the above system.
Encounter #1: Huersefful (CR 17) + 7 Crawling Heads (CR 15 each) = EL +3
Huersefful: Lich 22nd-level Sorcerer/5th-level Archmage with approx. 18th-level PC wealth = ECL 26 = CR 17
27 class levels = 17.82 ECL. 18 levels of PC wealth = +6 ECL. The Lich template is worth +3 ECL (no equipment). So total ECL = 26.82. Challenge Rating is 2/3rds ECL. So the Lich is CR 17.
What this means is that, on his own, the Lich is a tough encounter (EL +2) for a party of four or five 17th-level PCs.
Now lets say you have a party of four 20th-level characters facing this Lich. What is the Encounter Level of the challenge? In this case the Lich is only an EL +1 'moderate' encounter.
Encounter #2: Three Glooms (CR 20 each) = EL +3
Encounter #3: Two 'modified' Bearded Devils (CR 19 each) = EL +1
Advanced 26 HD Bearded Devil with 8 levels of Blackguard with approx. 12th-level PC equipment = ECL 29 = CR 19
Bearded Devil ECL = 12 (with 12th-level PC equipment). Without equipment, ECL = 2/3, ECL 8 in this case. 20 additional outsider hit dice = +12 ECL (+0.6 ECL/ Outsider HD). 8 Levels of Blackguard = +8 ECL (or +5 ECL without equipment). 12 levels of PC equipment (+0.33 ECL per level of PC equipment) = +4 ECL. So 8 (base) + 12 (extra HD) + 5 (levels) + 4 (equipment) = ECL 29. Challenge Rating is 2/3rds ECL. So 2/3 of 29 is 19. The Bearded Devil is CR 19.
Encounter #4: Shoolian, modified Gloom (CR 28) = EL +2
Shoolian: Gloom with 5 levels of Invisible Blade with approx. 14th-level PC equipment = ECL 43 = CR 28
Gloom = ECL 35. 5 extra class levels = +3.3 ECL (with no equipment). 14 extra levels of PC wealth = +4.5 ECL.
Encounter #5: Voursuol, modified Black Dragon (CR 41) = EL +6
Voursuol: Half-fiend, Great, Great, Great Wyrm Black Dragon with approx. 15-levels of PC wealth = ECL 62 = CR 41
Great Wyrm Black Dragon = ECL 47 (no equipment), +2 Age Categories = +6 ECL, Half-fiend +4 ECL (no equipment), 15 levels of PC wealth = +5 ECL.
Encounter #6: Ivirere (CR 19) + an Uvuudaum (CR 33) = EL +4
Ivirere: Vampire Fighter 12/Duelist 15 with approx. 18th-level PC wealth = ECL 28 = CR 18
27 class levels = 17.82 ECL, vampire = +5 ECL (no equipment), 18th-level PC equipment = +6 ECL.
Encounter #7: Baucojin (CR 20) + a Phane (CR 30) = EL +3
Baucojin: Vampire Sorcerer 29 with approx. 18th-level PC wealth = ECL 30 = CR 20
29 class levels = 19.33 ECL, vampire = +5 ECL (no equipment), 18th-level PC equipment = +6 ECL.
Encounter #8: Four 25th-level Monks (CR 14 each) = EL +2
25th-level Monks with approx. 17 levels of PC wealth = ECL 22 = CR 14
25 class levels = 16.5 ECL, 17 levels of PC equipment = +5.66 ECL.
Encounter #9: Beshejaer (CR 19) + three modified Bearded Devils (CR 19 each ) = EL +2
Beshajaer: Half-fiend Cleric 29 with approx. 18th-level PC wealth = ECL 28 = CR 19
29 class levels = 19.33 ECL, Half-fiend = +3 ECL (no equipment), 18th-level PC equipment = +6 ECL.
Encounter #10: modified Blackstone Gigant (CR 30) = EL +3
Advanced 76 Hit Dice Blackstone Gigant = ECL 46 = CR 30
Blackstone Gigant = 27 ECL, 44 extra (intelligent) construct hit dice = +19.8 ECL (no equipment).
Encounter #11: Seven modified Maruts (CR 16 each) = EL +3
Advanced 43 Hit Dice Maruts with approx. 11th-level PC wealth = ECL 25 = CR 16
Marut = 16 ECL, 28 extra (intelligent) construct hit dice = +12.6 ECL (no equipment), 11th-level PC equipment = +3.66 ECL.
Encounter #12: Erivatius = EL +4
30th-level Demigod = ECL 52 = CR 34
20 Outsider Hit Dice = 12 ECL, 30 class levels (no equipment) = +20 ECL, Divine Rank 6 (from Deities & Demigods) (no equipment) = +20 ECL.
A few notes on the above encounter breakdowns. The hardest encounter is easily with Voursuol the dragon (encounter #5). Although I have given it a purple rating a closer study shows it is right between +5 (dark red) and +6 (purple). Likewise encounter #2 is also borderline +3 (orange) and +4 (red).
Also you have to take into account that the majority of epic parties will probably be min/maxed to a minor extent. So while on paper Voursuol looks like hes going to eat your players for breakfast, its probably an encounter most epic parties will survive.
Unless stated otherwise, all content © 2001-2007 Craig Cochrane. All rights reserved.