[RPG] safe way to determine how powerful an opponent is


I'm playing with a DM that usually makes us encounter strong enemies in the middle of nowhere. That's fine since we can choose to fight or not, but the real challenge is determining how strong the opponent is so we don't die a miserable death. If the enemy is a beast, it's fairly easy to determine the encounter's difficulty, but, when it comes to spellcasters, it's hard to determine how difficult they'll be to take in a fight at a glance. I tend to look for items the enemy has for hints, but that's not very effective.

Is there another way (or, at least, a smarter way) to determine an opponent's level or how strong it is?

The party is a human ranger, human paladin, half-elf rogue, and elf necromancer. All are level 5.


First of all, thank you for the comments, questions and advises!! I think RPG is great because of discussions like this one! I came with some conclusions myself after reading everything you guys posted, but there's a background here I think I should share with you guys before start it. Me and my party had this 1-year-long campaign that ended tragically after a silly bar-fight against high-leveled guys we came to encounter and occasionally didn't know their reputation. In fact the DM alerted us about the danger, but it doesn't seemed something deadly.. at a glace. That was fast, and painful. But it was our fault.

Since that episode, I've been trying to be more careful and think before engaging into senseless fights. So I thought it would be helpful to be able to check the level of the threat before we choose to do something (something we see in movies or cartoons when the opponent emanates something like an dark aura…). And after hearing from you guys and talking with our DM I end up concluding it's just not fun to be able to control situations in that way. Like some of you guys wrote above: the best way to approach this "problem" is by role-playing (talking, looking, interacting) and perhaps that's why abilities like Know Your Enemy and Insightful Manipulator are made for more leveled players. Such a way to check the opponent is not as easy as it might look like and that makes sense!

By the way, the threat my party encounter yesterday (the reason why I wrote the question) end up been something beatable! By having the conversation with the NPCs, we decided to fight and that was actually part of DM's plan to make us choose to change the course of the history or not.

Thank you again!

Best Answer

This sounds less like a combat issue than a roleplaying issue.

If the DM is having a wizard show up completely randomly and they are attacking you, then you need to discuss with the DM. How are they tied to a story, why are they attacking you, where are they supposedly coming from etc.

However, if the DM is having a Wizard show up completely at random but the players are the ones immediately attacking then that's a problem with you guys. Try talking to the wizard. See if you can defuse the situation (if there is one) without violence. You may also get better clues about their background and capabilities through conversation.

Essentially the easiest way to know how strong someone is is to ask them. You have a Paladin who's presumably got decent charisma. Try talking.

If conversation and role playing through this issue doesn't work then the most obvious spell to me is Detect Thoughts:

For the Duration, you can read the thoughts of certain creatures. When you cast the spell and as your action on each turn until the spell ends, you can focus your mind on any one creature that you can see within 30 feet of you. If the creature you choose has an Intelligence of 3 or lower or doesn't speak any Language, the creature is unaffected.

You initially learn the surface thoughts of the creature - what is most on its mind in that moment. As an action, you can either shift your attention to another creature's thoughts or attempt to probe deeper into the same creature's mind. If you probe deeper, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. If it fails, you gain insight into its reasoning (if any), its emotional state, and something that looms large in its mind (such as something it worries over, loves, or hates). If it succeeds, the spell ends. Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind, and unless you shift your attention to another creature's thoughts, the creature can use its action on its turn to make an Intelligence check contested by your Intelligence check if it succeeds, the spell ends.

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