In setting out to design new types of Encounter groups for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, I started in the obvious place by looking at what was provided in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Right away I noticed the two groups that stood out were the Wolf Pack (4-7 skirmishers) and the Dragon’s Den (one solo monster). Both of these solely feature one type of monster, which highlights the abilities and features of the monster in a unique way. Wolf Pack is a great encounter of all skirmishers: a group of speedy and maneuverable but lightly armored and weak troops. The Dragon’s Den features solo monsters but adds in the spice of an additional elite monster in particularly hard fights and is presented to us the suggested way of complementing solo monsters with other monsters in correct balance.
With that in mind, and with a request from Asmor, I began putting together some new Encounter group templates that can be used to expedite your game planning and hopefully present your players with some new experiences and challenges. I’ve also listed some suggestions and brainstorming for how these groups could be implemented, and I would love to hear any you’ve come up with as well!
I looked first to my personal favorite monster role to feature in its own Encounter Group: the Lurker! I feel like they get very little love in the DMG Encounter groups as they only show up in the harder Double Line groups, so I very badly wanted to do them the justice they deserve.
- 2 troops (soldier/brute) of level n-3
- 2 skirmishers of level n-3
- 1 lurkers of level n
- Elite (soldier/brute) of level n-2
- 3 skirmishers of level n-3
- 2 lurkers of level n+1
- Elite (soldier/brute/controller) of level n
- 4 skirmishers of level n-1
- 2 lurkers of level n+3
The Assassination Squad is meant to highlight the best Lurker monsters that skulk in the shadows and pick off party members one at a time. One large, tough muscle is used to absorb damage while a group of quick skirmishers move about and create distractions so that the lurking monsters can strike with maximum effectiveness and surprise. The squad is set up to be very mobile for infiltration and surprise attacks. These encounters should typically include lurkers such as assassins or stranglers who will be the highest level monsters in the fight. In most cases all of the monsters should be set up in a way that they are ambushing or surprising the party at the same time, if the lurkers are caught off guard or on their own then the encounter might be over too quickly.
Next I noticed that minions were pretty well left out of the fold in the assumption that you could substitute in 4 of them for any one monster of the same level in any of the encounters; however, I think they could also benefit quite nicely from having their own custom groupings.
- Brute/soldier of level n+2
- 12 minions of level n-2
- 2 brutes/soldiers of level n+3
- 8 minions of level n
- 2 brutes/soldiers of level n+4
- 12 minions of level n+1
- 1 artillery/controller of level n+1
The Tough Gang is meant to represent a truly tough boss character, someone with such a personality that they have attracted their own mob of minions to through around or protect them but really exerts little control over their posse and has minimal leadership skills. Essentially this splits the party sharply between focus fire and crowd control, if either one is too weak then one aspect of the encounter will be tougher for the party to handle. For the hard encounters an artillery or controller is around to really add some real chaos to the melee. An example of this type of group is a particularly strong and tough Bugbear who has acquired an entourage of puny goblins that he pays little mind to. Instead of leading the group and working as a team, the Bugbear is prone to stepping on his allies or picking them up and using them as melee/close range weapons and in return the goblins try their best to flock around the Bugbear and be close to him, preventing him from ever being fully effective in close quarters combat.
For the last Encounter template I am presenting here, I wanted to use an idea that comes up in every party I’ve ever played with and present it from a monster’s perspective as well. When an ally is in the fray, do you still throw that fireball? The answer here is, Yes!
- Controller of level n-2
- 5 brutes of level n-3
- 4 minions of level n-3
- 2 controllers of level n-1
- 5 brutes of level n-2
- 4 minions of level n-1
- 3 controllers of level n+1
- 5 brutes of level n
- 4 minions of level n
Assumed casualties is what these monsters go into combat with, the key controllers sit back and lay down areas of effect without care or worry for their allies well being. Hanging out in such a group, some of the monsters have become quite tough, representing the brutes while others don’t last so long either hacked down by heroes or taken out as collateral damage from the same controllers that have led them into battle. If you tally the xp totals for this template you will find them about one monster over what they should be, as it should be implemented in a manner that the controllers do enough damage to their own side to negate this offset. Besides, no matter what happens those minions aren’t going to last for very long! A perfect example for this would be the classic evil wizard and his ogre bodyguards, who cares if they live or come out of it partially roasted as long as his enemies are fried along with them?
This also allows the DM to spring a little surprise on the party when they assume they are safer from the wizard raining death when his bodyguards are nearby. They’re brutes, afterall, they’re designed to take damage! You could easily reverse this encounter scenario by switching the brutes to soldiers, thus making it into a group that works well together as the bodyguards are armored and suited to withstanding whatever their master throws at them, or even for particular nasties choose mobs that are resistant (not invulnerable) to the kind of damage that the controllers are throwing around.
These are the first three Encounter Groups I’ve come up with, and I think they serve to fill out a percieved absence in the DMG encounters which should give DM’s a bit more diversity while planning their games. If Asmor likes these enough hopefully he’ll add the into his 4th Edition Encounter Planner, and I certainly hope that some of you find these useful as well, feel free to let me know what you think and offer up suggestions for changes, edits, or additions!