The Right Level Of Challenge
May 19, 2014

The Right Level Of Challenge

As a Gamemaster, it is up to you to create the encounters for your players. Your goal is to make them challenging, fun, and – at least in some form – fair. What do I mean by fair? I mean that no Gamemaster in their right state-of-mind is going to throw an great wyrm red dragon that would take a whole party of high level characters to defeat against a group just starting out as first level adventurers and expect them to win. Such a foe is so far beyond their ability that they cannot hope to win. Most games offer some sort of guideline for determining the relative threat of various creatures, allowing Gamemasters to better estimate what a reasonable encounter will be. Other games, however, do not.

I recently ran into that problem while running a game of Exalted for some friends of mine. We had played a few sessions at that point and everyone was getting the hang of their characters. So, I set up an encounter with a group of Dragon-blooded. Five dragons against four of the Exalted player characters and three non-player characters who were there to help. Now, according to everything I have read in the books, Dragon-blooded are weaker than Solar Exalted. Solars have more energy to draw on, higher attributes, and more powerful abilities. This fight was meant to be a challenge, so I allowed the dragons to get an opening attack, striking against them without warning while the characters were in the middle of a ritual in order to pass into the Underworld and be able to find their way back. The goal of the encounter was just to be a fun little challenge wherein the dragons would fall back at the first sign of being overpowered.

That did not happen.

Let’s just say that the dice karma was not with us and we began a Pathfinder after that.

You see, Exalted, while a fun game, does not have any sort of challenge rating built into it. Gamemasters are left to a guessing game when determining how strong to make an opponent. While this can certainly be done, it also has an unfortunate habit of making encounters too easy or far too difficult. Games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and even Anima: Beyond Fantasy all use a system to determining how strong a creature or encounter will be, allowing a Gamemaster to better anticipate how much of a challenge they will be for their players. In D&D and Pathfinder, it is based on the creature or trap’s “CR” which is meant to indicate at what level such a thing will challenge your players. A CR five, for example, is meant to be a fair challenge to group of between four to six level five characters. It is similar in Anima, which uses a level system in the same way player characters do. In this regard, a level six creature would be a difficult challenge for a level six player.

Now, I am not saying that games without such a system are bad. Far from it. Merely that the inclusion of such a system within a game goes a long way toward helping Gamemasters set the right level of challenge for their players. Being able to continually pose just the right level of threat for your players is a difficult enough task as it is.

As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good and appropriately challenging gaming.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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