In What can I do to make a Kobold encounter interesting? there was a question of how to make an encounter more challenging.

I noted the example of Tucker's kobolds, where you lead the people to monsters, use cover, set traps, and use explosives and such and so low level people can hurt PCs.

Naut noted this.

How does that work when the Kobold's aren't in their lair but assaulting another structure. Yes, showing your experience with how this would work for OP is necessary. Tuckers can be a good tool, but a good answer will show how using them in this way will work and what things to look out for.

I'm not sure exactly how to answer for this.

I've certainly used traps, sent lots of monsters at PCs, used higher damage weapons for monsters, and had enemies use cover, but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to write this as a personal experience thing.

Like, am I meant to say. "Yes, once I was playing a campaign where the level 5 PCs had to invade a goblin castle, and I had them put traps in the sewer system which caused them to take damage and find it harder, and so they had less HP left to handle the goblins in the castle, who also had a captured monster to fight which meant there were more enemies, and more enemies means a higher CR rating." Or such?

I thought it was fairly intuitive why that doing more damage or having more traps or having more monsters would be harder?

Does this apply to other questions? Like say this question about ruby dust should I have added personal experience about how a player used continual flame in an encounter with rubies? What's the general rule about when to give personal experience and when not? I just gave the mathematics of what spells you could cast, just as above I just gave the sorts of mathematical ways you can make encounters harder.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What's an encounter with rubies? Were they like... fighting them? \$\endgroup\$
    – Lovell
    Jun 21, 2021 at 22:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ They were using them to illuminate a tomb lost to time, filled with terrible and dangerous treasures, and yes, fighting with the spells that resulted from them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 22, 2021 at 7:47

3 Answers 3


Tucker's Kobolds are not just math

Tucker's Kobolds live off one thing that is not math: Battle Tactics. They are the embodiment of The Art of War (Sun Tsu version) applied. They are the 36 Strategems in use. They use tactics that come up in the Zhoyo Monogatari, On War, Infantry Attacks. In short, they are Tactical Geniuses and using them properly in the fashion that Mr. Tucker did to the crew of poor players back in the early days requires a skilled tactician. While each Kobold has little to no power on its own, the use of positioning, environment control, and mental drain turns them into a deadly foe. Strength in numbers is only an assisting factor, not the only factor why they work. Most is you just can't attack them.

A crucial part is, that they had time to prepare though. In attack, you don't have that, which makes Tucker's Kobolds fail to apply in that moment. And if executed badly, you get a Human Wave Attack. You'd need to help us see how your proposal is not that. And that means... you need to study tactics and maybe simulate some skirmishing by going back to the Roots and Wargame it out!


You don't have to show personal experience. The idea is to show support for why your answer is a solution to the OP's problem

Not all questions are asked in the same mode, and not all types of answers are equally appropriate for all questions.

A question like "how will it affect a combat if I add +2 AC to this monster against this particular party?" can probably be answered adequately with math: you can look at the probability distributions for attack rolls hitting the original AC and the modified AC and extrapolate that a combat will probably last X-Y rounds longer, subjecting the PCs to Z additional risk of hitpoint loss, or something along those lines. In this case the math may be enough support for an answer.

A still better answer might fold in personal experience as well. Whether or not the math is included, something like "when the AC gets as high as +2 would grant this creature, my players usually switch from a fighter-focused, attack-based strategy with spellcaster support to a spellcaster-focused, save spell-based strategy with fighter support. This made combat shorter and easier, though the PCs used more of their limited resources for the day on spells." In this case the personal experience is the support for the answer: it describes what happened when the +2 AC was attempted.

Both of these are answers that I, personally, would accept as sufficiently supported (for this very contrived example, at least). They include advice as well as an explanation for why that advice is appropriate, applicable, and valuable. These features tend to make answers better and also make it possible to judge between different answers.

The linked question is not an ideal one

The headline is asking for something subjective: what makes a combat interesting. The body of the question is better, asking about making combats more challenging, but that is still not all that well-defined.

Answering such a question directly is very difficult in the SE mode, and that is almost certainly the reason the question was closed. The issue then becomes one in which support for an answer is difficult because the question itself is at odds with how the stack is intended to work. If a question isn't really answerable in the SE way then the most appropriate course of action is to adjust the question rather than to write looser answers. Even with that in mind there is considerable wiggle room on the matter, but if you choose to answer a more marginal question you'll have more openings for critiques.

The linked answer lacks much support of either type

There is neither math nor personal experience in it. It essentially says "you can add more things to combats to make them interesting. Here are some things: [...]". Traps are mentioned, for example, but there is no description of what kinds of traps make combats more interesting, or in what way, or what circumstances traps work particularly well or poorly in, nothing about how to calibrate them, how the kobolds might lead the party towards the traps, or anything else. A later edit added in some information along these lines but is still pretty thin in my reading, but is better than the version of the answer that did not have that experience. The edited version provides some additional guidance beyond "do something".

A good answer to a good question is directly usable in some fashion

As above, the question is not ideal as currently written-- if the players in that game find traps boring and irritating then traps in combat is not a good solution to the problem, which is why "interesting" is not really an appropriate goal for an SE question. "Challenging" is better, but (continuing with the trap example) that doesn't provide enough information to choose a specific trap or calibrate one for an encounter. But even if it were, the linked answer doesn't clearly identify what makes its suggestions appropriately challenging in a way that solves the querent's problem. This is true even though they're good ideas-- they just lack the necessary details to be translated into a specific game in a way that precisely addresses the question.

tl;dr: the best answers don't slavishly have support in exactly form X; they have support appropriate to the suggestions they make in service of answering the question as directly and fully as possible.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Of note, they asked how to make the encounter more challenging, not how to make it more interesting. I felt that could be answered more easily. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 21, 2021 at 21:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NepeneNep That's true, I was over-emphasizing the headline of the question. And I agree with you that "more challenging" is definitely more answerable (though still not as well defined as would be ideal); I'll edit this answer. The rest still stands though-- math or more experience (or both!) would be very valuable in helping the querent accomplish their goal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Upper_Case
    Jun 21, 2021 at 21:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this but feel the need to express that while a title needs to be descriptive, a title is not the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jun 22, 2021 at 15:11

Encounter design is not even close to "mostly mathematical".

Sure, there is guidance in the Dungeon Master's Guide that attempts to rationalize Challenge Rating and encounter design as numerical data, but anyone with experience working with that system can attest: it is at best going to get you somewhere in the same zipcode as what you wanted, and at worst, land you on another planet. In my experience, the calculations are best used as a starting point for applying past experience designing and running encounters. A new DM using the encounter building guidance, just going by the numbers, is going to find their encounters all over the place in terms of difficulty.

Which is to say, experience is probably the only way to answer that question well.

Once you have a lot of experience running and designing encounters in that level range, you start to get an idea of how different encounter designs work out relative to different party compositions. When you get more specialized experience running a particular monster, you can understand how to make encounters involving it more difficult tactically and statistically.

So the kind of experience that would make a decent answer to that question would look something like:

I've run kobolds before, here are the different ways I've done it. Using these particular tactics synergize well with the creature's statistics, so these tactics may make the fight more difficult for the party because reasons. Alternatively, using these other tactics, the best statistical adjustments for making the fight harder are these particular ones, for these particular reasons.

Anyone can say:

Just raise AC/HP/Hit/Damage

But someone with particular experience running kobolds can say:

Adjusting this one stat can greatly influence the fight difficulty while preserving the thematic elements of the fight. Combining this statistical increase with these particular tactics will make the fight too hard, pick one or the other.

And these are just sketches of what a good answer might look like, I would expect far more detail than just filling in the basics of what I've suggested here.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't that require knowing details of the party, their NPC allies, and the environment? Level 5 characters have a great deal of variation in how strong they are. I'm not sure most people can reliably predict how well a level 5 party will do, with no more details about them. As you said, challenge rating isn't a reliable predictive measure, are we supposed to predict exactly how well a random level 5 party will do? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 21, 2021 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NepeneNep Yeah thats why I voted to close the question. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2021 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Experience and strategy - Tucker's Kobolds are a masterpiece of applied strategy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jun 23, 2021 at 8:13

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