A Nagging Feeling that 4th Edition Is Not Scaling Well At Higher Levels

I have been playing 4th edition for over a year and lately I have this nagging feeling that the power differential between NPC monsters and PCs is out of balance.  Difficult, even lethal combat encounters are part of any role-playing game, but  4th edition Dungeons and Dragon’s NPCs seem to grow statistically more dangerous (that is, their attack/defense/power numbers or power effects) at each level significantly faster than the PC equivalents .    I understand that this is the case in most RPG games, since the monsters need all the help they can get against characters designed by players. That said, 4e really seems out of balance to me.   I know this is a totally subjective analysis, but I am curious to know if anyone else feels this way or am I alone in my thinking?

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

5 thoughts on “A Nagging Feeling that 4th Edition Is Not Scaling Well At Higher Levels

  • June 21, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    I’m actually finding the opposite is true. At paragon and epic levels, the PCs are so powerful that I can’t think of any way at all to actually threaten them. I’ve resorted to bumping up monster damage.

    Probably truth lies in between.

    Play through it and see for yourself. A good party has no trouble battling creatures +/- 3 of their level.

  • June 22, 2009 at 3:46 am

    It’s all going to vary greatly on the choices that the party makes along the way. At first level, no matter what combination of 5 characters are built the power level of the party is going to be the same. As levels go up and feat/power/pp/ed/ability choices are made, plus magic items gained, the power level will vary greatly.

    A perfectly min/max 25th level party can treat level 26-28 encounters like a cake walk. A more normalized party will find equal level encounters to be tough. It all depends on the group and it is up to the DM to react to the parties abilities accordingly.

  • June 22, 2009 at 8:42 am

    @Jacob: I agree. 4E is designed to be played with “a PC in every role”, and min/maxing is a factor (as in many other games). A poorly planned party will face greater difficulties. Try to play with a party of 3 strikers, and you’ll find out why. 🙂

    Also, it seems that defence scales quicker than offensive power in 4E, so DMs should pay attention on how they make encounters more challenging for they players. If PCs have to face monsters of higher level, they will find them really difficult to hit, and encounters will quickly become a source of frustration. I always prefer to drop in more comparatively weak critters than big baddies.

  • June 22, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Consider that the in-game balance against deadlier monsters may not be higher defenses against attacks, but cures for death. Example: my first level party finds a healing scroll, which allows me to throw some really tough fights, and actively try to kill players knowing that it won’t destroy the story or the fun of the characters. At low levels, I try to bounce one of the PCs off the floor (unconscious) and let the group run in with first aid checks and heals to counter it. At high levels, I’ll start trying to outright kill PCs, and let the group rez them. At epic level, the PCs will have particular powers that kick in when they die, and should expect to die on a regular basis when you consider what they are fighting.

    I understand that many DMs, wanting to make the world feel “dangerous” and “gritty” like to limit access to resurrection. What may happen, though, is that they have to compensate by weakening monsters or fudging to keep from killing PCs. If you want to play “limited resurrection to make the setting seem gritty, but the DM promises to fudge things to keep you alive,” that’s fine. I prefer “the monsters are truly deadly, better be prepared for death.”

  • June 22, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    I have to say it depends on the encounter. It can be deadly for unexperied players. Ie youve only played up to 11th level, and now your doing a one night 25th level delve. You haven’t build up the experience needed to play your guy properly.

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