I hate titles that use the phrase “Zen and the Art of X” because it sounds pretentious. That leaves me without an adequate way to describe what I just experienced, though, because I swear I just solved a potentially difficult problem without thinking about it, effortlessly. I saw a thread on the Brilliant Gameologist forum asking about balancing mobs and units for combat encounters, and I knew, when I read it, what the best answer was.

Encounters are abstract: as a DM, you decide from the outset whether you want an encounter to be easy, challenging, or difficult, and you design it accordingly. Generally you want to have one obstacle per player, unless you want an obstacle that a couple of the players have to team up on, or an obstacle that you want the whole group to focus their efforts on. It all works out this way, no matter what you want to do.

If the guy in the thread here wants a mob that threatens the whole party at once, it’s a “solo” mob. If he wants to split the attention of the party, he makes two or more “elite” mobs, and if he just wants a bunch of gangs to take on the party (each one roughly the equivalent of say, six to eight people), he just makes them brutes or whatever and slaps the swarm subtype on them, and makes them “standard” monsters.

And that’s all there is to it. It wasn’t even difficult. It just materialized in my head. There needn’t be any of this “what would be appropriate” garbage, it’s a game and the encounters are challenges. They exist to challenge the characters, and while it’s nice to have “realism,” who is the final judge of reality? Any scene the players describe well enough becomes the reality of the game. What matters most is that it’s fun.