Designing a Combat Encounter

When preparing challenges for your Players, you want to make sure that you design encounters that are balanced, interesting and fun! In order to make an encounter balanced, it is important to understand how to create an Experience Budget, based on the difficulty of an encounter. To make the encounter interesting, you want to vary the difficulty of your encounters and vary the types of monsters that each encounter contains. Making encounters fun has a lot to do with the these first two aspects, but also depends on your players. As you run through encounters, pay attention to the types of encounters that your players latch on to the most, and consider including more of those aspects in the future.

Experience Budget

In order to make sure that you create a balanced encounter for your Players, we recommend creating an Experience Budget for each encounter. To begin, determine how difficult you want the encounter to be based on the categories below. You should aim for most encounters to fall in the Moderate range, with the few easy encounters and an occasional Difficult encounter to vary the gameplay. For advanced players, increasing the number of Difficult encounters and adding the occasional Very Difficult encounter makes the game a bit more challenging for them. Very Difficult encounters should be planned with caution, however, as these are the kinds of encounters that can get players killed. Moderate Encounters and above usually also grant 1 Karma as an additional reward (a Very Difficult encounter may grant 2).

Very Easy: 99xp or less per player
Easy: 100-199xp per player
Moderate: 200-299xp per player
Difficult: 300-399xp per player
Very Difficult: 400 or more per player

Once you have determines the difficulty level for the encounter, you can determine your Experience Budget by multiplying the Base Experience for the difficulty (such as 200 for Moderate or 300 for difficult) by the group's Party Level. You may want to determine two values for your Experience Budget, to represent an upper and lower limit for the amount of Experience you want to give.

Experience Budget = Base Experience per Player x Party Level
Let's look at a party that contains four 5th level Player Characters. The party level for this group is 20 (4 PCs x 5th level). You want to create a Moderate encounter for them, and so determine you want to give them between 200 to 250 experience each (they are all new players, so you don't want to be too hard on them). By multiplying the Party Level of 20 by 200xp and 250xp, you get a Experience Budget ranging from 4000xp to 5000xp. This means that when creating your encounter, the sum of all the opponents experience should fall into this range.

Your Experience Budget approximates the total experience for your encounter. Therefore, when building an encounter, simply sum up the experience of each opponent added to the encounter until your total experience is approximately equal to your Experience Budget (or falls into your budget range if you determined an upper and lower limit).


Continuing with our example from above, we have an Experience Budget ranging from 4000xp to 5000xp. We decide we want to run an encounter made up of several different Bugbears. To start, you decide to have a Bugbear Chieftain worth 2550 XP, then decide to add 2 Bugbear Warriors (950 XP x 2 = 1900). This gives you an total experience of 4450 XP, which falls almost directly in the middle of our Experience Budget range.

After PCs complete the encounter, they are rewarded with experience. To determine how much each player gets, divide the total experience by the Party Level. As mentioned before, the Party Level for this example is 20. You then divide the total experience (4450) by the party level (20). The result is 222, rounded down. So each player is awarded 222 experience, which falls within your experience goal for the encounter.

Types of Creatures

There are three main types of monsters in QoD: Simple, Complex, and Legendary. Each type has slightly different mechanics, making them simpler or more difficult to run respectively. Though each type is explained in brief here, you can find more details on the Monster Types page. Of course when we say "monster," we really mean a generic term for any opponent that the players will face (i.e. Humans, Elves, Dwarves, etc that oppose the party are still considered "monsters").

Simple Monsters
Simple Monsters have a single long Recovery time that allows them to move, make attacks, and take other actions on the same turn. Additionally, simple monsters take initiative as a group (i.e. all Common Goblins in an encounter act on the same initiative). This makes them simpler to run and track during combat. Most opponents that you run will be Simple Monsters.
Complex Monsters
Complex Monsters have a separate Recovery time for each action (like PCs) and each Complex creature takes its own initiative. Because of this a Complex Monster is considered to be a harder challenge and is worth more experience, and is typically a challenge for two or more PCs of equal level. Usually, you only want to run one or two complex monsters at a time, though more is ok in a particularly complex encounter. Generally speaking, running more than two complex monsters slows down the combat rounds, as the GM needs to spend too much time tracking and determining what each monster does.
Legendary Monsters
Legendary Monsters also run like PCs, with a separate Recovery Time for each action and taking its own initiative. Legendary Monsters, though, typically have much shorter Recovery Times and significantly more hitpoints than normal, as they are meant to challenge an entire party of four our more equal level PCs. Legendary Monsters also have an Automatic Action that functions as a free action ability every round. A Legendary Monster will typically serve as a challenge for the party on its own and are usually run as solitary creatures.

Most encounters you create should consist of one or two groups of Simple Monsters, with zero to two Complex Monsters. Legendary Monsters are usually their own encounter, but a group of Simple Monsters may be run with them if there are a large amount of Players in the party. Generally speaking, it is best to run no more than three different monster groups in any one encounter, as much more than that tends to slow down the games progression. Remember that each group of monsters added to an encounter increases the complexity for the GM, but also makes the gameplay more interesting and challenging (as different monsters usually require different tactics to defeat). With this in mind, it is best to vary your encounter complexity from battle to battle, to sometimes give the Player's a more interesting encounter and sometimes give yourself a break with a simpler encounter to run.

Monster Level

In addition to Monster Type, you should also pay attention to the level of your Monsters. Generally speaking, any creatures that will directly oppose your party should remain within about 4 to 5 levels (either higher or lower) than the PCs, especially at lower levels (i.e. 15 or less). Creatures of too high a level may prove too difficult a challenge for the PCs (even when experience is taken into account), and creatures of too low a level usually have difficulty effectively attacking the PCs (even when numbers are taken into account). As the differences between levels are more pronounced at the lower levels, this is much more noticeable then and not as important at the higher levels.


The environment and setting of your encounter will help to determine which opponents are appropriate to use. For example, a Fire Giant is not likely to be found in a glacial area (and if they are, there should be quite an interesting story as to why). Each monster race has an Ecology section that discusses their natural environment and other aspects that may impact their location. Most creatures that are natural to the Martial Plane will have a specific environment where they can be found. Extra-planar creatures, not being native to the Material Plane at all, can be found in just about any environment, but usually should have some sort of reason for their existence there (they could have been summoned, the area could be corrupted by another plane, or they could have been sent specifically to this plane for some reason).

Your environment can also provide interesting challenges to the PCs, things that affect the strategies of combat but don't really impact the difficulty. For example, the encounter could take place on a raft moving down a rushing river, making it hard to get to the opponents attacking from the shore. Or there could be a cliff edge near by that PCs must avoid for fear of falling over (or being pushed off). There could even be adverse Weather conditions that affect gameplay.

Whatever you decide your environment to be, make sure that the size of the area is appropriate for the opponents that you plan to include. Typically an outdoor setting does not have this problem, but an interior setting should be large enough to accommodate the creatures residing within it. For example, if a huge size monster is in a cavern, there should be a huge size exit to that cavern (otherwise, how did the creature get in there?). Unless the creature has been summoned into an area, make sure the location should be appropriately sized for the creature.

See Setting the Scene for more information on formulating the setting and environment for your encounter and how to present that setting to your players.

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