The people have spoken, and our latest Patreon Poll has come to a close. We asked all our Quest Givers to choose one unlucky hero to get their ass kicked by a low-CR monster. Kobold won the monster vote, while Fighter “won” the hero vote. (Better luck next time Vegepygmy / Ratfolk / Goblin!) Of course, this isn’t the first time Fighter has found himself on the wrong end of a kobold beatdown. It should be noted, however, that Baby Blue has considerably worse stats than Pugilist.

Much to my chagrin, I empathize with Fighter in today’s comic. That’s because of something that I term “fighting the bell curve.” Let me explain.

Imagine an infinite number of average CR encounters. Now imagine their relative difficulty plotted out all nice and neat. I’m not talking about how hard the fight ought to be on paper, but how difficult it actually is for the party to overcome. Most of the time those average encounters will deplete the expected amount of party resources (HP, spells, daily powers, etc.), and will therefore skew towards the middle of our graph. Sometimes the dice will go against the party. Other times the dice will go against the monsters. And every once in a while the dice will go crazy. Voila: we’ve got our normal distribution.

This may seem like it’s all very common sense, but you’d be amazed how often I hear new GMs making wild claims about the relative power of their party.

“Yeah man. They absolutely blew through an encounter that was, like, 5 CR higher than it should have been. I thought they were going to get TPK’d, but they wound up walking all over my beautiful mini-boss! My group is crazy OP. I think I’m going adjust encounter difficulty so they don’t just roflstomp my campaign.”

Now let me be clear: depending on the circumstances, that may not be a bad call. However, if you’re making that decision based off of a single encounter, then I’d encourage you to think again.

The bell curve skews towards the middle, but statistical anomalies happen all the time. That’s why Fighter is down to his last hit point in today’s comic. That’s why my group still talks about the “invincible goblin” in our megadungeon campaign. They’d killed off the rest of that particular greenskin ambush, but there was still one little skirmisher left to mop up.

“Can we just say we kill him and move on?”

“Naw man. He’s got one hp left. He can do this!” We all laughed. None of us could have known how right I was.

They must have chased that little bastard around for three rounds, swinging and missing while he dodged and parkoured like he was Yoda’s stunt double. He couldn’t miss his attacks. The party couldn’t hit theirs. They were actually considering retreating by the time someone finally managed to roll in the double digits and plunk the “invincible goblin” with a crossbow bolt. To this day, they still get haunted looks whenever I admit a monster ‘only has one hit point left.’

Does any of that mean that I should have scaled down future encounters? Maybe. But the very next combat for that group was against a “deadly” mini-boss. If memory serves it was some kind of a giant black monster vulture. What I do remember clearly is the outcome. My very-dangerous monster didn’t make it to its first turn before it was dead.

So before you decide that your party is overpowered or underpowered or anything of the sort, I would encourage you to wait another couple of sessions and see if things even out. You might have an overtuned party, but chances are that you’re just “fighting the bell curve.”

That of course brings us to our question of the day! Tell us all about the biggest upset you’ve seen in one of your games. When did a weak monster give you more trouble than it should have? Share your stories of scrappy kobolds and invincible goblins down in the comments!


ARE YOU THE KIND OF DRAGON THAT HOARDS ART? Then you’ll want to check out the “Epic Hero” reward level on our Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Like the proper fire-breathing tyrant you are, you’ll get to demand a monthly offerings suited to your tastes! Submit a request, and you’ll have a personalized original art card to add to your hoard. Trust us. This is the sort of one-of-a-kind treasure suitable to a wyrm of your magnificence.