Games are designed as a way to relieve stress. They’re a distraction from the tougher parts of our lives that we use to have fun. Why is it then that a lot of us players crave games that are difficult? For many of us, the challenge is seen as something to be overcome to prove how good we are at a game. So it stands to reason that the higher the hurdle, the better the feeling that comes with beating it. However some games have missed the mark and set the challenge too high. This just leaves the player with frustration. So how can we find the right height hurdle for your players to jump? Let’s take a look.
The first step in setting the highest possible challenge for your party is evaluating your party’s capabilities. If your players are particularly smart, they may be able to fight their way through encounters that are several challenge ratings higher than their own level. Judging this uses the slow and steady technique, requiring tweaks over the course of some games. If your players do particularly well (not due to lucky rolls) then you can bump up the challenge by a few levels at a time. If they are starting to have a little difficulty, then you can bump up the difficulty one notch. Continue in this fashion and soon enough you’ll have a finely tuned game that your players will get a thrill out of.
The second way of evaluating your party requires knowledge of the game system you’re playing, but if done right it can lead to interesting games right off the bat. You need extensive knowledge of both the monsters and your players’ characters for this. You’ll be looking at the party as a whole and determining a few things. By looking at their abilities you can determine the total amount of damage they can put out in a fight, as well as their DPR (damage per round). This will give you a good idea of how long the fight can last until your party runs out of steam. Next, you want to account for everyone’s health and healing capabilities. This tells you how much damage your monsters need to do to kill the party. Once you have these numbers, you need to put them together and match them to a monster group that suits your story needs. You can make minor adjustments and then boom! You have a killing machine that should last against your party and push them to the brink of annihilation.
No matter what route you take, just remember that a challenge is only fun if it’s not overcome by frustration. If you can find that nice balance, then you can create lots of memories. Last stands, fights won by crits alone, and off the wall ways of killing monsters are but a few of the side effects of a challenging game. So both for your sake and theirs, keep those dice rolling high!