[PnP] How do you balance encounters?

Alex Koponen akoponen at mosquitonet.com
Sat Apr 19 22:00:48 CEST 2014

     Its been awhile since I GM'd P&P but the way that I did it was to 
have an area of the world that the characters could adventure in. They 
could hear rumors about things, (brigands on the high road, the haunted 
ruins, etc.) and choose where to go and what to deal with. Some things 
are too tough for them (I hope they are wise enough to avoid these or to 
talk their way out or run if they fail to avoid too tough an encounter), 
some a pushover, but most could be handled by using good tactics and 
avoiding really bad luck. (I don't fudge the die rolls). I try to have 
the encounter be reasonable given the background setting...I do reroll 
encounter types that don't seem reasonable and may choose to reduce the 
number immediately encountered (though the rest will be within an hours 
walk) to make the encounter less hazardous (winnable).
     To calculate the difficulty of the encounter I do not have a 
formula, instead I used a feel developed over many encounters as both 
player and GM. But rules of thumb include:
     Don't outnumber the characters by TOO much, numbers DO matter and 
allow for flanking and rear attacks which radically change the odds. The 
terrain matters here as well. Horatio may have beaten many opponents on 
a bridge that he only had to face one opponent at a time on, opponents 
that would have quickly beaten him had they been able to surround him. 
Other things that matter are such things as flying and invisibility 
(note that sprites can be REALLY dangerous opponents far outperforming 
their OCVs with the proper tactics - figure the situation modifiers 
likely: Rear, Above, Flank, Multiple Opponents).
     Traps AND opponents together are much tougher than either alone. A 
few missile armed goblins under cover behind a series of concealed traps 
may be harder to beat than an ogre.
     Let the opponents be overconfident. Perhaps they are used to 
beating those with OCV and DCV of 1 or 2. Likely they are NOT used to 
encountering magic users. Not all encounters have to give the opponents 
much of a chance.
     Rarely have more than one really tough opponent (tougher than the 
average party member), let the tough guy have much wimpier flunkies.
     Magic, properly used, CAN make a huge difference...but in P&P it 
doesn't always work. Indeed it can backfire (one notable example: a 
wizard called lightning from the clouds to fight off brigands and turned 
himself to charcoal and set the wagon he was on to fire with an abysmal 

         Alex Koponen

On 4/19/2014 10:52 AM, Melkor wrote:
> Hi all,
> how do you manage to balance encounters in P&P?
> I have a group of four players:
> Ennon: OCV 2, DCV 4
> Gunnard: OCV 9, DCV 8
> Darrel: OCV 3, DCV 5
> Habbakuk: OCV 6, DCV 5
> the average hit point value of each character is around 20, except for 
> Gunnard who has 33 HPV.
> Given this situation, i always have doubts as to which creature 
> (monster) they should face.
> As you probably remember, Richard Snider at the end of book IV stated 
> that "the situation that evolves in your game must be designed such that:
> A) they are not automatic victories for your players
> B) they are situations that the party involved can win
> I always try to stick to this (apparently simple) rule, but it is not 
> so easy, so i would like to know how you are used to managing encounters.
> I think it is a mistake for the game master to throw monsters at the 
> party that are too strong to beat, but at the same time the player's 
> skills must be put to test, that is why i think that encounters should 
> always be balanced.
> Now, how to balance them? How to pick the correct monster (*one which 
> is as strong as my players are*) from the monster list in book III?
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