How to deal with overpowered PCs


Advice


I haven't been GMing for that long, and I'm currently running though Curse of the Crimson Throne. The problem I have is that it feels that a couple of the PCs always seem to have a way to instantly break any encounter.

One is a fighter who is, for most of the combats, almost impossible to hit, deals a lot of damage, and the other PCs can't see the need for them to be involved. We had one four hour session where as GM I didn't make a single damage roll, and the majority of the time was spent in combat.

The other is a druid with a tiger. The tiger suffers from the same problem as the fighter and, especially early one, just ripped all opponents to shreds without taking any damage. The druid also always seems to have just the right spell to break other encounter e.g.

Spoiler:
In a building that is set on fire, the PCs need to find a certain item before the house burns down. Druid: I cast Ice Storm. I tried having another fire upstairs, but the druid had that spell prepared twice. Encounter over. What should have been an interesting race against time turned into a search through a load of sleet.

The other two PCs are a cleric and a bard. The bard has basically given up contributing to combat as he's just wasting his crossbow bolts and I can tell the player is getting a bit frustrated at being so sidelined. Combat may take up only a small percentage of in game time, but it can take up a lot of actual play time.

I'm not trying to kill PCs, nor do I mind too much how they solve the problems posed to them, but quite often encounters just appear to be minor inconveniences with these two PCs around. It's also getting a little frustrating as a GM having all encounters that I've spent time preparing ending with little or no challenge to the players.

I've been trying to figure out how to add challenge back into encounters in a sensible way. What advice would anyone give in this situation? How can I go about adding challenge back into encounters?


Can you provide a little more numbers? Like Level, AC, etc. pp.?


Cleric and Bard are very versatile classes, but aren't gonig to outshine a fighter in direct combat without buffs, most of wich they can use on the figther or tiger for better effects.

Most classes have different spotlights, in social encounters the bard is king; buffers don't shine in combat, but are incredibly useful; etc.

Unless you post more details I don't see how else can we help you.

Humbly,
Yawar


Incorporeal enemies are generally a nightmare for martial characters. However, incorporeal enemies are susceptible to magic attacks (which your Druid seems to cover).

Heavy amounts of Damage Reduction also are not a warrior's friend.

And both the Fighter and Tiger should have horrible Will saves.

An Incorporeal Undead with Energy Resistance 10+ would deal with your Druid if he focuses on ice - your Cleric would be much-more useful at that point because of Channel. Making it fly would further take it out of Melee range. Spell Resistance would also make it nearly-immune to the Druid, while the Cleric's Channel and vs. Undead abilities would help.

You could even have the Undead attempt to use an ability which takes control of the Fighter and/or Tiger - never doubt the power of an Enchantment-school spell against a warrior.

Throw SEVERAL of these guys at the party, and you'll all-but force the two munchkins to have to have the assistance of the party.

The other option is run much fewer encounters. If half the party rips through combats while the other two feel useless, just don't have too many.

Basically, design the sessions around the strengths of the weakest players, and design the encounters around the weaknesses of the strongest players, as it were.


Jeremias wrote:
Can you provide a little more numbers? Like Level, AC, etc. pp.?

I second this, also, as my answers are based only on speculation and generalizations of 7th level Characters (the minimum level for a Druid to cast Ice Storm).


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Curse of the Crimson Throne in general seemed kinda...wimpy when I read through it. One of the easier APs just from what I browsed of the first two books. Maybe ramp up the difficulty just a smidge. Giving all the monsters max HP and the Advanced Simple Template will make everything just a bit tougher without making either the Druid or Fighter feel like they're being singled out or punished for building well.


First thing you need to do, is double check their character sheets. I didn't think I had to when I started as a DM, I figured they'd follow the rules. Then I noticed them doing their things wrong, when I checked their sheets, I noticed at least three errors in each character (and a few of them where game-breaking). Since then I always check, just in case (it's also good for you, as a DM, to know what your players got).

This can solve the fighter: He may have miscalculated his AC/to hit bonus/damage. Otherwise, make buffer enemies. Problem with this is that maybe the other characters won't be able to stand against them. You can also increase the number of enemies. That way the fighter can't take ALL of them at the same time and will need assistance from the others.

As for the Druid: That's the way of the caster, they can do that. Do some regular checking in on him, ask him what spells he prepared every now and then (just to make sure he does prepare spells and not just casting random as he pleases). Make sure you all know the rules for animal companions, as well.

As for the Bard, he seems to not have built his character in a combat optimal way (or he wouldn't use a crossbow). Make sure he gets to do things that isn't combat. You could also advice him to try to do some other things during combat than damage, like crowd-control.

And the Cleric will get much more to do as soon as the fighter starts taking damage and stops doing so much (healing and buffing).

Scarab Sages

Rub-Eta wrote:
As for the Druid: That's the way of the caster, they can do that. Do some regular checking in on him, ask him what spells he prepared every now and then (just to make sure he does prepare spells and not just casting random as he pleases).

A good rule of thumb for prepared casters: have them write their spells down on an index card for your reference.


You've got a guy trying to be a significant part of the battle, except he's a bard with a crossbow (the most reviled weapon of the early development stages of the d20 system, where even "exotic>martial>simple" gets ignored in favor of screwing it up the ***).

So he's not getting to add strength to damage like he would with a bow past character creation (maybe two sessions at most). He's a 3/4 BAB character as well.

The fighter is almost inexplicably better than the others right now, by sheer virtue of your other players not really having any clue what they are doing. It's like if we were comparing a juggler to myself attempting to juggle. The problem's not with the juggler, even though I might need an ambulance.


i wouldn't use lone powerful foes, which favors the tiger and fighter, i would use multiple slightly smaller foes, to give the bard and cleric something to help with

first, i would give the bard a magic adaptable composite shortbow with something like the ability to produce energy arrows and a magic cestus, because they need help

second, i would give the cleric access to a weapon favored by their god, unless the proficiency sucks, where i would give them a magic longspear and cestus instead

so the fighter doesn't feel so left out, i would give him something that doesn't boost melee damage and doesn't boost armor class. adaptable magic composite shortbow that matches the bards

so the druid feels like he is getting something, how about a cloak or resistance for his tiger and a suit of wild carbon full plate for the druid. because Graphite isn't technically metal


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It's hardly a surprise that a challenge like a burning house didn't pose a problem for a mid level full caster. Sounds like a problem with the adventure design. Create Water makes 2 gallons of water/level and that's a cantrip.

If the Cleric and Bard aren't contributing, it's because they don't know tactics or they built their characters wrong. Point them to some optimization guides and help them rebuild their characters. Then, you have everyone on roughly the same footing and can scale up your encounters.


ThunderMage wrote:

I haven't been GMing for that long, and I'm currently running though Curse of the Crimson Throne. The problem I have is that it feels that a couple of the PCs always seem to have a way to instantly break any encounter.

One is a fighter who is, for most of the combats, almost impossible to hit, deals a lot of damage, and the other PCs can't see the need for them to be involved. We had one four hour session where as GM I didn't make a single damage roll, and the majority of the time was spent in combat.

The other is a druid with a tiger. The tiger suffers from the same problem as the fighter and, especially early one, just ripped all opponents to shreds without taking any damage. The druid also always seems to have just the right spell to break other encounter e.g.
** spoiler omitted **

The other two PCs are a cleric and a bard. The bard has basically given up contributing to combat as he's just wasting his crossbow bolts and I can tell the player is getting a bit frustrated at being so sidelined. Combat may take up only a small percentage of in game time, but it can take up a lot of actual play time.

I'm not trying to kill PCs, nor do I mind too much how they solve the problems posed to them, but quite often encounters just appear to be minor inconveniences with these two PCs around. It's also getting a little frustrating as a GM having all encounters that I've spent time preparing ending with little or no challenge to the players.

I've been trying to figure out how to add challenge back into encounters in a sensible way. What advice would anyone give in this situation? How can I go about adding challenge back into encounters?

My first suggestion is the same as others. Check their character sheets and keep track of all HP rolls. I have accidently given myself some extra HP before because I forgot about a character change. In addition, have them right down the spells they prepare in the morning or at night. If the druid thinks he can spontaneously cast then you do have a big problem.

Unless you are playing pathfinder society I suggest switching out some of the monsters or NPCs that have touch attacks. Although, tigers can have good AC at level 3-6.

Maxing HP is another possibility, this essentially increases their HP pool by 65-75%

Use things that fly...typically fighters aren't that good again aerial assaults.

What part of Curse of the Crimson Throne are you at?

What is the level of your characters?

What is their estimated WBL?

Dark Archive

In summation with a few of my own ideas:

Flying enemies- the fighter is less valuable against these.

Use enemies with touch attacks- lots of classes like sorc and oracle and various monsters get these. The fighters ac may be high but it won't or shouldn't be high versus touch.

Use multiple enemies: single enemies vs a party is generally not a good idea. In this way, more enemies means more opportunities for everyone-gm and player.

Target all 3 saves- fighters suck at reflex and will saves. If you keep focusing on his ac and fort expect him to always shine and always dominate and don't ever complain. If you have enemies use terrible remorse, hold person, murderous command, suggestion, fireball, create pit, etc on him, he'll be a lot less of a problem than he was before. Same applies to the animal.

Check their sheets- Sometimes players cheat. Sometimes they make mistakes and miscalulate. The fighters ac should be unhittabke -and- he has a super high attack bonus -and- he deals super high damage. Usually there is a tradeoff in there, especially at the level we suspect (around 7). Is he using a tower shield? Combat experise? Fighting defensively? Did he upgrade his gear properly? Did he pay the right amounts? Stats calculated correctly? It all matters.

Know those spells- keep up with your casters. Start now because it can get really crazy later and you want to develop a system while you can. The index card idea is good.

Immersive encounters- sorry, but a burning building shouldn't be much of a challenge for 7th level characters necessarily. Depends on preparation. I nearly tpk'd my group of 4-6th levels through smoke, suffocation and heat damage in conjunction with the actual fire. No one effect would ever cause a problem but all together it created an important timer with limited visibility, falling debree, innocents needing to be saved, avoiding being trampled, and so on. Sure, sleet storm would probably have solved that whole mess. But the point is that combat and non-combat encounters should be like that in general, multilayered so that there often isn't a single, simple solution. When there is one (cough-sleet storm-cough) and the players have it, yay. But in general they won't. If encounters are involving enough, the fighters hit and ac nor the animal companion will steal the show. Everyone will have to participate.

some ideas:

Maybe the bard has to make several different perform checks and even use a couple he doesn't have trained. The dc's are just difficult enough that he can pass them all but has to roll well to do so. However, failure sets him back so it really is just a matter of time. As the bard males his checks, the fighter and animal have to keep goblins or whatever at bay. If too many get through, the bard can't perform at all and fails the encounter.

An evil necromancer cleric threatens the group and his army of minions are ready to kill. He has a henchman who has the death domain (just like him) and heals from negative energy. But spam negative channels, healing one another while harming the PC's. The cleric is needed to vaporize the swath of undead so the fighter and animal can close in on the clerics. If the leader has a focus on great ac the fight could be a good one.

Not sure how closely you are sticking to the ap. But maybe these
Ideas will help reduce the problems you're facing.


Since you mentioned CoCT and from your post sounds like you're at Escape from Old Korvosa.

Spoiler:

-Depending on how your party has acted in previous adventures the villain may have a good sense of the PCs strengths and weaknesses. Meaning a few encounters with the Red Mantis that know what they're up against allow you to tailor a few 'mean' encounters.

-The Emperor is pretty easy to deal with though the Rod of Wonder can make for a memorable encounter. the gnome barbarian I remember can be pretty deadly if the dice are hot.

-The rakshasas on the other hand need bump up. Max HP is a must. Defensive buffs like Displacement and Stoneskin are handy. Again the raks should have a home field advantage and some of their minions are pretty deadly (the flying fungal skeletons in the pit I remember being nasty).

-As a 3.5 adventure everything needs to be bumped up a bit for Pathfinder characters which have more resources/power. A good rule of thumb might be to add to 2HD to opponents and up the CR of encounters principally by adding monsters. A lot of beasties in my campaigns have siblings as a result.

-Re the druid with ice storm prepared twice. Assuming the player didn't just pull a fast one, wouldn't worry about it. It happens especially with spell casters and the player should get some measure of satisfaction of having the right spell for the job.


Spoiler:
Wouldn't Ice Storm have destroyed most unattended objects that weren't made of metal in the area of effect? While the building itself would likely survive one or two castings it would be very damaged (although any area already damaged by the fire would likely have collapsed) and most of the interior furnishings smashed by falling ice. I have no idea what they were looking for but unless it was metal it is probably damaged or destroyed. And they shouldn't have had to search through sleet... all that ice and water vanish when the spell ends.

As for challenging them... I would definitely give the enemies max HP and go from there. I do recommend bumping up in steps... because if you go too far too soon you will just get a TPK.


Triple check character math. Pathfinder is a game that is VERY easy to make a mistake that can be game breaking.

My best advice is to NEVER try and get around pc choices. By and large you can't make a unhittable character without being seriously short in other areas. This is why doing tons of damage AND being unhittable sets off so many alarm bells.Check the math!!

If the mobs wail away at the fighter and can't hit him..have them ignore him,knock him into pits or whatever is handy.

I just think bypassing player strong points in order to "Get Them" should be discouraged.

Now since it's bothering other players IF the math turns out to be right"Don't think it will based on what I have seen in games" then you can simply ask the player to change some things about the character.

Before I was that drastic however I would simply make sure the math is right and add fun encounters for the other guys. Might be its only a issue because you have been running more encounters that stress that players specialty instead of the others?


These days I add a "System Mastery Adjustment" of +1 to +2 when determining CR. I do this for my veteran parties; no, I do not award extra XP for this adjustment.

Starting with a high point buy sometimes causes these issues, there's not much you can do about that in play beyond beefing up monsters. The Advanced simple template is your friend! Again, don't award extra XP for that, until your party starts feeling proper challenges again. (I know this makes me a jerk, but it is for the greater good).

When running a 3.5 AP like Crimson Throne for Pathfinder PCs, I often let them trail the level of the AP by one or even two whole levels.

The best thing you can do is forget about CR, eyeball the character stats vs the monster stats, and spend some time thinking out encounters (as a kind of dress rehearsal) based on what you've already seen the players do. The more you do this -- even if the players break your expectations -- the more you will be able to anticipate their capabilities, and make certain that the monsters have a fighting chance.

I aim for the moment when at least one member of the party nearly dies, and I make peace with the fact that it may be slightly harder (character death) or slightly easier (run of the mill combat).

Read up a bit on the "phases" of Pathfinder/3.5. The game has massive changes as the players go up in level, and new GMs are not adequately warned by the rulebooks. Around 5th-7th level, you have to stop using the types of challenge that worked from 1st-5th (unless you want to showcase how the players are crushing old challenges). Timers, no-win situations and the occasionally wildly inappropriate CR should appear. Around 8th level, your challenges need to read as "X-Men" level comic book heroes. Ice-man will put out a burning building, you need another source of dramatic tension to make it work. Around 13th, you're crossing into Justice League territory. At 17th, you're talking about Superman challenges -- as a GM you should be creating impossible obstacles because a 17th level party will overcome the impossible.

If you fail to make the switch when one of these campaign/level changes occurs, it will deeply impact the role of challenges in your game.


Hmm...anything to add?

Ah, I got one: keep practicing.

Ice Storm to put out a house fire: interesting idea, not too bad, but depending on the house and the fire there are ways to screw with it.

For starters, if it was cast outside the house, it would limit the effectiveness of the cold damage and all the hailstones would be smashing the house. If it was cast INSIDE the house both would apply, in full, to objects, possibly ruining them. Second, depending on the size of the fire, it might not put it out. The spell is a 20-foot radius and the hail and cold start 40 feet up. If it's a big house that is on fire it won't work.

Not to say you have to find a way to make each casting not work, of course, sometimes players are smart/prepared/lucky and have a way of bypassing challenges. That's fine. Just remember that the Devil is in the Details, and as an NPC the Devil is played by the GM.


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The best advice I can give any GM is to define winning creatively. Since you define what winning is, there is no such thing as a team that is too strong and you don't even need GM fiat to challenge your PCs.


I think the problem you should focus on is the other 2 players that feel left out. Start with a solid understanding of their issues--it could be a lot of different things:
Did they build buffing characters and the party doesn't need buffing?
Are they buffing, but they don't see that as contributing?
Are the other 2 players grandstanding and shutting them out (the classic "I go into the room..." "Me too! I'm there!" problem)?
Are all the encounters combat-based when they have social characters or skill monkeys?

Once you understand what their feelings are, you can adjust your game to solve that problem first. Some of that adjustment could help out the overpowered feeling, too.

Some common mistakes to check for on the fighter: armor applied to touch AC, armor bonuses stacking when they shouldn't, speed not being slowed from armor, adding more Dex bonus to AC that the armor allows, and not applying armor check penalties. If he uses a shield, make sure he's not keeping the shield AC bonus when he shield bashes and is not still adding the strength/Power Attack bonus for wielding a weapon two handed.

And if you need a way to shut down a fighter and animal companion, I have two words: Will Saves. Avoid fear effects if the fighter has bravery: Go for dazed, stunned, sleep effects, and confusion effects.


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First drop the bard an awesome magic whip so he doesn't feel sidelined. Like a +1 Dueling Spell-Storing whip, that will allow him to participate more in combat.

Then up the difficulty, as others have suggested, by giving everything the advanced template and extra hp.


Oh, something I totally missed. You are running a module. Sometimes the players own the module as well. They are surprised by nothing that you are throwing at them. They are prepared with spells that are going to work in a given situation. They may have even built their characters to destroy the module.

Switch things up a little. Maybe don't rely on modules altogether once you become an experienced GM. If you do, you can mix and match different parts of different modules.

Grand Lodge

@Auren, the first thing you said made sense. Then you went all into 'it's a candy store so let's give away candy to everybody'. Were you even trying to address the issue at all at that point? Giving the bard more combat power is fine. Giving it to the cleric who doesn't need it is OK, too. Giving the druids pet more survivability in and out of combat so he doesn't feel left out and tossing in good armor for the casting druid seems unnecessary and now makes both more tedious PC's to deal with in any given circumstance. Tossing the fighter who clearly is not in need of anything, an item that enhances his out of combat versatility or in-combat flexibility sounds like you're going out of your way to making the problem worse.

How about the fighter gets nothing and the druid gets nothing. This way, when you attempt to close the gap by giving the cleric and bard something, the gap actually closes instead of widens or stays the same?

And handing out more powerful gear for a group that is dominating encounters is ultimately going to lead to more overall dominated encounters. Nobody will be challenged but everyone might get to participate in the free for all monster buffet.

Speaking of which, I wonder what Terrasque tastes like?


Thanks for the advice everyone! I have had a go at building a bard (haven't changed the name, though - Extravaganza!) with a bow and have got a much better fighting character. I'll see what I can do with the cleric next.

I did try to start from scratch writing some of my own scenarios, but quickly realised that I was a bit over my head with encounter design etc, so I got hold of the modules as an easy way to get into GMing. All the players are new to pathfinder too (I had played a few PFS scenarios online), so everyone is learning still!

I've asked for everyone's character sheets to check through. I'm also going to buff up the next few encounters, and run through them on my own to see what effect that has.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I read some of the reviews for Curse of the Crimson Throne. It appears that this AP tends to have a few skill based encounters as well as the usual gamut of fights.

The skill-based bard should really be shining in those encounters compared to the rest of the party. Fighters, clerics only have 2 points/lvl. The druid is somewhat better at 4. Aren't the players negotiating, persuading, or other interacting in a social manner?

Or is the entire party just killing everyone?

Regarding combat, it looks like you've already changed the bard into a ranged-combat one, that works a bit better and doesn't overlap with the melee fighter.

I doubt the cleric (if he's core) needs any tweaking.

If the build was perfectly legal, I'd first recommend you have THAT player help optimize the other characters, provided that is the style of campaign everyone wants. I think if everyone is awesome is > fun than 1 awesome PC with his cheering section.

Oh interesting trivia regarding the Create Water orison when used to put out fires. At 7th level he's creating 14 gallons every 6 seconds or 140 gallons per minute.

A modern-day FIRE HOSE shoots approximately 125 gallons per minute.

So my take on that example above. Instead of using a 0 level spell, the druid used 2 of his top-tier spells (4th) to end an encounter. That is close to what I'd say is on par for that level of play. Granted ice storm would have also done damage to all the unattended objects in the area (hope there wasn't anything fragile, like a glass bottle!) or for that matter if there were any innocents (trapped villagers?)

In addition if there were searching while the spell was still going on, it's difficult terrain and -4 Perception checks. That would have been quite a slog.

And if at that point some enemies noticed that the druid has just burned 2 of his possibly biggest guns...that's the time to ambush the PCs.
"Hey thanks for finding this MacGuffin for us, we'll take it off your hands now."

On combat:
If you are really having trouble challenging the party with combats, the aforementioned advanced simple template AND doubling all the minions usually works when facing a party that is slightly optimized.

I would be careful not to overdo it. You don't want to make some players feel useless, you want them all to feel useful. So avoid selective targeting. That said if you are having trouble giving the fighter and the druid's animal companion trouble...

Even if the fighter's AC is astronomical...his touch AC is probably a bit lower. Or for that matter, his Will save. Same goes for the animal companion. Have some minions throw tanglefoot bags and alchemists' fire against the fighter/animal companions. Even if they make their save, they are still entangled...making them easier to hit and messing up their reflex saves (hello fireball.) If lucky the 2 are now immobilized and cannot leave their square until they break out. Meanwhile the 1d6 firebombs (plus another 1d6 on the next round) are adding up quick.

I wouldn't drop them with this tactic...but I'd probably have them at a point where they are calling out for healing.

If you want to be mean...there is a whole host of Will save-based spells to bring on the pain. Or special attacks that have will-based saves...such as the harpy's song. The bard has spells that allow PC's to re-roll saves and even (though hardly used) his countersong ability.

Good luck whatever you decide and hope everyone has fun!

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