I tried my hand at creating an encounter last night using the guidelines in the 4e DMG – and I have to say, I found it a lot more intuitive than it was in v3, and none of the random guesswork and knowledge of creatures required in 1st and 2nd edition.
We’ll see how it plays out when the party meets the bad guys. I can see that it could turn out a little formulaic, but then it’s based on a formula so there’s always going to be that risk, the difference will be how well a DM can turn things around to give the same results without always ending up with the same encounter structure.
I created a 4th level encounter for a party of 5 1st level characters, which makes it a pretty tough encounter. I love minions, in older versions of D&D you’d end up to 2 or 3 tough creatures and the fight would feel small, with 4e the encounter has 11 creatures and feels much larger and epic even if 6 of those have essentially 1hp. I tried to make sure the terrain played a role, giving the enemy cover and adding some terrain which slows movement, and then picking creatures which could take advantage of that (don’t want to say *too* much since my players are reading!)
I certainly feel more confident that the encounter will at least be appropriate, without having to test it too hard or run through too many details, and that leaves me more time to think up exciting situations and more encounters. I’d love more electronic tools for doing this, but I’m not going to pay Wizards for theirs, I may have a go at putting some basic creatures values into some spreadsheet tables and just giving myself the option to quickly build encounters and add the XP totals as we go, which is the only non-creative hard bit.
I may post the encounter was the players have defeated it.