Determining the appropriate combat challenge



I’m a fairly experienced 5e DM. I’m new to IC RPG and I like a lot of what I have seen so far.

I’m considering running some friends and I’m having a hard time figuring out what strength monsters to throw at the group and even how strong the group is. And how strong they would be down the line.

For all that hate 5e CR and AXP gets, it gives you a pretty decent framework at least. The same with character levels. I had never thought of these things before until trying another system (currently this one).

I generally like combat that’s challenging, that has the possibility of defeat, but that ultimately should see the players victorious barring bad dice. I don’t fudge, and if they lose, they lose, but I feel like I don’t even know where to start when it comes to building a combat encounter in this system. The tier groupings and monster creation section help a little but I was wondering if anyone had any other information for me or ways of doing it to help me determine the strength of the players and the difficulty of what I’m throwing at them.

Thanks in advance.


It’s kind of a “feel” thing that you get used to, but it can be reduced to some simple science. A good rule of thumb is this: four one-heart party members (standard 6 point builds) should be pretty evenly matched with four one-heart monsters at an 11 or 12 target.

Accordingly, a night of play might be like this: For a brand new party, try a target of 11 with four one-heart monsters for the first room. For the second room, try the same thing but with a target of 12. For the third room, try a target of 13 with four monsters with one heart and a boss with two hearts. That is a good progression and should challenge them sufficiently, depending on the dice.

Then play it by ear. IF they are super ragged at the end of the second room, maybe only throw the boss and two enemies at them or consider rolling the target back by one. If they are in great shape at the end of the second room, maybe add an enemy and make one or two of them do magic damage and/or roll the target up by one.

The best early dial is monster damage because players usually only have 10 hit points. I turn this dial first before I ever think about target, number of enemies, or enemy hit points.

As for the targets, we have ultimately determined that a target of 12 is about the perfect target for most games. Accordingly, early games of a campaign will see targets between 11 and 14. Once players have a great deal of loot, then epic level campaigns see targets between 14 and 17.


Thanks. This was helpful.

I like a lot about the system. I’m sure once I play with it I will see some of these things in effect. I’m just trying to come up with some initial stuff for a mini-campaign.

It will probably be with people I have already played other games with so I’ll just tell them that I’m brand-new to this game (which they know) and that things could consequently turn out GREAT, or calamitously, for the party :slight_smile:

I’m looking forward to playing. I just like to have something reasonable prepared. My story is good. I’m going to roll up some characters and see what it looks like they can do. I think that will be helpful in learning and understanding. Then I’ll deal with my monsters and then get out there :slight_smile:


A tip for new Gm’s. Have your players roll up disposable garbage characters to run one of the trials that are around. I used Grey Hill, but modded into a sci-fi setting cuz my people were jonesing for something Not fantasy after leaving 5e. While they are going through Character generation, use that time to explain how the game works.
First give them a quickie primer on the various worlds, and specifically a little more about the world your trial will run. Let them know that this game allows them to collaborate with the GM better than most games, and even though this is a throw away character, to get a vision for their character so they get used to the agency they are allowed in making what they want. Explain about Bio-forms and types and how each effects stats. You can have them choose those now, or do as I did and told them to keep them in mind, establish their stats and then choose. While they are allotting points to their stats, explain how what points they are allocating effects their rolls. Then explain the concept of effort, and how the various dice fit into the scheme of things. Now explain how the points they allocate to the effort dice modify these rolls. Since I was explaining how hearts worked, this is where I showed them they had one heart and where it was on their character sheet. Lastly, they are setting their Defense stat, explain what it does. Once all that’s covered, that’s the meat of the game, really.

Now you can quickly go over whatever starter abilities your characters have, and any loot you may have them start with and move quickly into the trial. I had them pick one cool piece of loot, then roll for the rest. For Grey Hill the characters start with no loot, so I took it all away, then just outside the first room I came up with a way for them to get it all back. I did it this way because I wanted to accomplish a few things.

First, I wanted them to see how loot is a big part of the game. I also wanted them to see how when they “pick something” we can collaborate on how they get it. I had them find what would be in normal circumstances an absurd amount of loot in one place by them discovering the place of a battle and the dead enemies. This gave them most of their loot. This gave them the hint that looting enemies was a thing. I did remind them that they will usually only find one thing in a group of dead baddies, and this windfall was only because of the shortened length of the trial. Then I had them find a couple containers so they would see that there are lootable containers in the world.

Trials themselves are designed as quick games that introduce new players to the various concepts of the game, so the adventure reinforces what you showed them during chargen, and since it’s short and chargen was quick, they can toss these characters (or keep them) now that they know how their choices effect how they play.

Hope this helps.


I forget if this advice came from ICRPG, YT, or from here. My first time GMing a game of ICRPG I started off the TN at 10 and increased it by 1 every round. Next room, did the same. Kept doing it.

The party had a candle that allowed them to resurrect five times or something. This too was part of the suggestion if I remember correctly.

After doing this for about 4-5 different encounters, I had a pretty good idea of what the goldilocks TN was for a certain encounter.

And, the table thought the experiment was a lot of fun.


Having run several of the adventures that come with ME, I have found that my players can easily navigate a TN of 10-11 with a number of 1 heart mobs equal to the number of players or a TN of 12 with a 1d6 of Mooks (5hp) and 2d4 Super Mooks (1hp ).

In the Last Voyage of Finagins Pride, I ran many of my encounters at TN 12 and had Mooks and Super Mooks showing up when the Timer Die went to zero. I used 1d6 Sahagin Mooks (5hp) and 2d4 super mooks (1hp) for 1d4 waves. The time between waves was a 1d4 timer. The players had fun mowing down the super mooks with single shots, one of my players commented; “This feels like that scene in the Mines of Moria when the fellowship is one-shotting goblins”.

For normal encounters, I personally find that a TN of 12 with 2d3 normal 1 heart mobs generally presents a moderate challenge for my players. I adjust the number of dice or the die type by how many pieces of loot the group has or the number of milestones they have acquired.

I generally will add +1 to all TN once any one player has acquired a “Mastery” reward.

Lastly, I find that a Hard challenge is about TN 15 with 2d3 1 heart mobs or TN 13-14 with a two Heart boss mob. Again I will adjust the TN or the number of mobs based on how many milestones the party has acquired, +1 TN for every 2 MS or +1 mob for every MS and any/or any combination therein.

If a challenge seems too powerful the party should always consider retreat as an option. Yes retreating as a player sometimes feels horrible especially if victory is within sight, but the benefits to retreating are generally better plans of attack, and if my players come up with a good plan of action before going back into the encounter area I will generally lower the TN based on what they do or what terrain advantages they use/make.


This was really good. Specific and actionable. Thanks


There are a few other things to also keep in mind when designing encounters, and this comes directly from the GM section of the Master edition;

Timers: Something is always happening when the timer hits 0 then reroll the timer die

Threat: There is always some kind of danger lurking around every corner, traps, monsters, diplomatic incidents, etc.

Treat: This is some kind of clue or big puzzle piece to the encounter, a weakness in the enemy that can be exploited, or an environmental hazard that can be used to the player’s advantage.

You can fine-tune your encounter with the following;
Damage: If the foe(s) you have placed in an encounter space seems to be ineffective, increase their damage. If in the middle of a combat offer an explanation as to why the damage has increased. This is the simplest way to increase the pressure on PCs.

Disruption: If your encounters are flat 2 dimensional spaces filled with just monsters it becomes a hack-and-slash race. By introducing disruptive dangers the players will have to find ways to navigate the encounter space and combat their foes or achieve their goals. This can be simple winds making ranged combat Hard or complex disruptive dangers like a wildfire that fills the area with thick choking smoke (Con defense per round to remain unaffected) and the fires fell trees every 2d4 rounds potentially cutting off escape routes, finally the heat of the flames do 1 point of damage per round, Con Defense to negate per round.

Lastly is Durations: In my previous example, I used a wildfire, set a reasonable duration for doom or bad stuff to happen, then when conditions are met based on the timer things start happening such as the “wildfire spreads cutting off escape to the city”.

These are ways to challenge a party that is not directly combat but can be part of combat.

Imagine a party having to fight a dragon in an open field of tall grass that is on fire. The Target Number is only 13 but they need to make decisions that matter.

•“Do I stay in place and take shots at the flying dragon raining fiery death upon me or flee to the cover of nearby trees?”

○The player may think “I can hit the dragon but I don’t know if my attack will do anything and even if it does I am sitting out in the open surrounded by rapidly spreading fire.”


i know in my first session a player knocked out a guard but with a d4 timer ticking until he woke up it made his task that much more interesting. much like how two pcs were invisible but the slightest failure and they would become visible. as the gm you have a great deal of control over what your timers are I’m just a bit cruel in having my players roll my timer dice.

you control the dials of how many and when something arrives and early rolls tell you if TN are correct


I appreciate the time you put into your reply but I was talking solely about the combat aspect of the encounter and evaluating creatures versus player capability in this particular system (IC RPG). I’m a very experienced 5e DM and I have used/am familiar with the other things already.

The one thing I would say is that I would not feel right increasing a creature’s damage in the middle of a fight simply because the players were doing well and the challenge wasn’t there. I feel like that’s punishing the players for success. Early on I could have reasons built-in ahead of time for possibly increasing the creature’s damage during the fight. But it would have to be a really good reason. Logic is important to me, even in these fantasy games. Like I need things to follow the rules of that particular fantasy world, if you know what I mean.

Regardless, I downloaded the EZd6 PDF the other day and I think I’ll be going with that as my rules-light alternative.

Thank you though.


I have not picked up EZD6, though I probably should, I am actually looking at Shadowdark Quick Start and Kickstarter.

I often feel the same, as I also feel a need for things to make logical sense. The reason I mention the increase in damage even if in the middle of combat is because in GM section of ICRPG it offers the example an outsider damaging their sword by breaking the sword in such a way as to create a ragged edge to do more ripping and tearing than simple slashing.

Then the question becomes why doesn’t everyone do this to their swords. The simple answer because the sword would start to break down and become harder to use, unbalanced, unable to be sheathed, etc. And in the given example I would put a timer on that broken sword after XdY hits the swords damage is reduced to just 1 point.

Either way have fun exploring EZD6!


Yeah, I’m definitely planning on looking at Shadowdark as well.

A fair amount of the IC RPG system appeals to me. I suspect I will play it eventually.