I wanted to bring up two points about the show and how they link back to the challenge level of the encounters. I'm coming at it from the angle of the player's experience (how fun and fair does this feel?). I felt like posting because JP's frustration was very evident at the end of the show, and it seemed to me like his frustration wasn't addressed by pointing out the challenge rating of the fight.
- The players familiarity with their characters and each other
This three-shot arc threw four people together with brand new characters that are pre-leveled to 5. By pre-leveling the characters, none of the players have learned all of the ins and outs of their character to allow them to play with maximum efficiency. This is compounded by the fact that most of the group is also new to playing with each other, although I think to a lesser extent. When I look at this new group of characters, playing with each other for the first time, and entering their first combat encounter; I think their estimated CR should have a handicap. If I was DM'ing I'd ask myself, is this group REALLY a functioning 4 member party of level 5 characters? Or are they still trying to get a feel for their group mates and their own abilities?
- The staging of the encounters
I mainly want to discuss JP's second character, his introduction to the episode, and his death. JP spent time creating a character with some sort of backstory, rolling stats, getting set to re-join the game, and was met with death an hour into the game. Early on in the episode, JP was prompted whether his character would be located inside of the cave or outside? JP gave a quick answer that he was inside of the cave having been captured by the mushroom creatures. After I watched the whole episode, I felt like this quick answer, which seemed like a roleplay oriented prompting, turned into a punishment for JP's character. If he had answered that he was outside the cave, would he have been naked without gear and spell components? Would the party have been ambushed without resting if they had retreated outside the cave? I don't get to see behind the curtain of the show, but as a viewer I felt like this little bit of roleplaying and DM/player-interaction turned into a harsh negative for the player. To get back to question of is this fun for the player, Should he have had to mull that decision over and made a roleplay decision with game-mechanics in mind? It seemed like JP was trying to push the action forward with the show in-mind trying to keep the players inside the area with action.
The group as players are also going to try to get JP back into the action as soon as possible. They proceeded through the cave to what ended up seeming like a trap. A new group, interacting under a time crunch from a broadcasted show, with new characters, trying to bring their fourth member back into the fold were ambushed by a deadly encounter, in a location that compensated for the weakest aspect of the monster, with the challenge calculated against four normally equipped 5th level characters, while the new character has been left un-equipped possibly due to an earlier roleplay response.
These combining points made the fight and the result feel... not fun? I felt JP's frustration as a viewer.
Re-reading my post, it sounds very critical. I'm posting this as a fan of the show who doesn't want to see it end due to mounting frustrations. I hope it can inspire you to think about the encounters and their presentation in ways outside of challenge rating numbers and the thought that this world is a cruel mistress that needs to kill, kill, kill. Should a new group get a bit of a soft-ball to learn how they interact and get a chance to use their abilities in the real action of the game?