For those of us who have ever DMed a game of 3.0 0r 3.5 at a gaming table we have all heard “well that’s not within my level!” when a player complained about the fact that you were putting a monster up against them that they felt was too mean, nasty and would eat their lunch. While we can somewhat respect the player’s feelings we should always remember that it was the player who decided to go up against whatever it is to begin with. If they feel, it is really to powerful they can run. In addition, while it is true that you as the DM are responsible for setting up a fair game it is not true that every foe has to be a pushover.
My players know me as a DM who likes to pile on lots of little monsters or who likes to toss in some very hard challenges from time to time with little regard for CRs. So long as the official CR of the monster or beastie I am using or making is somewhere close to the party within a few levels I usually run with it. Hence, at level one, you CAN find yourself face to face with a CR3 ogre and I will not bat an eye. Why? Because I have seen players take them out without any problems and I have seen them all but decimate a party.
I can demonstrate repeatedly when I have used monsters that are higher than the party’s level and the party triumphed over their foes. I believe this is largely because my parties tend to run higher than four people but equally important are the types of encounters that they face and how they are structured. See. While it is true that I have put party members up against an ogre at level one, the party was six strong and contained several mage type and gunslingers as well as healers. They also knew what they were getting themselves into when they heard the ogre and were given the opportunity to run before the fight began as the ogre did not notice them right away.
The fact that one swipe of the ogre’s maul could put a player into permanent retirement was not lost on me and I put provisions in place to ensure that they would not ‘die’ from one hit as the ogre was handicapped in his ability to maneuver around the sewers. At first, the party did complain and call me mean names they did overcome the ogre and it brought them great satisfaction to bring the guildhouse an ogre head in addition to the multitude of goblin and other beasts.
For me in the end I guess it is about telling stories that are truly epic and while goblin bashing can be fun it is much more fun to say “at first level I slew an ogre” even if it means that the party has to use some serious resources to do so.
What about you? Have you ever challenged the PCs with something ‘above their ability’? What happened? I’ll bet that they all remember the story!