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by Mike on 22 May 2023
How many encounters should you run in a typical adventuring day?
As many or as few as make sense for the story and the situation in the world.
The Dungeon Master's Guide describes the "Adventuring Day" in chapter 3 on page 84 and begins with the following passage:
"Assuming typical adventuring conditions and average luck, most adventuring parties can handle about six to eight medium or hard encounters in a day." (emphasis mine)
Many DMs think this means characters should face six to eight medium or hard encounters in a day. That's not the case. The guideline above intends to show you how many they can handle but the actual number of encounters can vary as much as makes sense for the story.
If you want to see a video on this topic, check out How Many Encounters per D&D Adventuring Day?
The question "what makes sense in the story?" is powerful GMing. We can ask it all throughout our time prepping our D&D games. Which monsters should we include? What treasure should we include? What ability challenges should we include? What DC should we select?
What makes sense in the story?
Which monsters make sense? How many? Which pieces of lore make sense to reveal? How hard should the DC be given how hard this situation is in the story? How would the NPCs react to the characters if they were real?
"What makes sense for the story" is incredibly useful. It pushes us into a story-focused direction when planning out our game.
The same question holds true for encounters per day. How many encounters will the characters face? Who knows. Will they even use combat to defeat those encounters? Will they sneak by? Let's play to find out!
Forcing characters to face six to eight medium to hard combat encounters per day pushes us out of the story and into a series of interlinked encounters of which the only intended solution is combat.
How often should the characters be able to rest?
What makes sense in the story?
Are they in a safe place where they're likely not to be interrupted? Are they in the middle of a wraith-infested hell-hole? What makes sense for their current situation?
Are your characters facing enough combat encounters before a full rest? Don't worry about it. Worry about the story. Build interesting situations for the characters to get involved in. Let the characters navigate situations as they come up in the game in ways that make sense given the story. Maybe they sneak by. Maybe they talk their way out. Maybe they fight like a pack of angry barbed devils.
What do you do instead of preparing six to eight encounters an adventuring day? Focus on giving yourself the material you need to share the story as it makes sense in the world and as it entertains you and your players. Use your eight steps to prepare what you need for the session. Use your dials of monster difficulty and your upward and downward beats to help you manage pacing.
Worry less about the mechanics of the game and the balance of combat. Focus on prepping the components of your game that lead to an interesting story and let the story evolve in ways you can't predict.
This week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Prepping Session 23 of Scarlet Citadel.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patreons. Here are last week's questions and answers:
Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's tips:
Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.
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