Players steamrolling everything


Hi, i'm the DM of a homebrew game and my players just tend to steamroll through every fight i send at them, even the ones that are meant to be threatening. They are currently level 6 and we have an Telekineticist from the playtest and a Catfolk rogue. I'm having serious issues making an encounter that they don't annihilate in 2 rounds. Please help.

Is it just those 2 characters? If not, what is the rest of the party? What kind of encounters have you been throwing at them, and what do they use to steamroll them?

Could you list the entire party composition. It may help us play to their weaknesses.

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More information about your group and their tactics, as well as your campaign in general, would be helpful for giving you concrete ideas. However, these are some general strategies that see use:

1. Multiple opponents.

Due to the way the action economy works, a lot of weaker opponents are much more of a threat than one strong opponent. One good way to do this early on (before you're confident in getting the numbers right between "challenge" and "TPK") is with waves. Four opponents come from X direction in wave one, three rounds later wave two shows up with five opponents from the rear, another round and wave three appears, etc. If the fight is challenging enough, stop bringing in waves, if the fight is too easy, merge waves three and four together.

2. Time limitations/Endurance runs.

If your group likes to nova through a few encounters and then rest, recharge the Wizard, and go forward to nova some more, give them a quest that has to be completed within a day, or no safe place to rest between their current location and their objective (or both).

3. Upgrade the monsters.

Either grab higher-CR opponents, or template some creatures up, or the combination of the two. Another thing I've seen pitched is to make the BBEG a low-tier Mythic character.

4. Terrain and Tactics.

On a fundamental level, a great deal of time the PCs are an offensive force, while their opponents are a defensive one. This means that while the PCs can pick when to engage, the where of it is left to the defenders. They can use that to their advantage-- difficult terrain, chokepoints, fortified positions, and the like work just as well for NPCs as they do for PCs, and the NPCs often have more time to set them up.

Alternately, flip the book on them. If the party likes to take their time to set up the battlefield/buff themselves, an ambush with rush tactics can quickly shut that down and leave the PCs on unfamiliar-- and unfavorable-- footing.

5. Known PCs.

Higher-level PCs are likely to be some of the more dangerous people on the continent. The enemies-- at least the intelligent ones-- should be making note of this. And so they fill their lairs with a lot of bright lights to make Sneaking harder for the Rogue and place plenty of Alarm spells around. Some mooks with the tools to counter the PCs' normal techniques can go a long way.

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yazo wrote:
Hi, i'm the DM of a homebrew game and my players just tend to steamroll through every fight i send at them, even the ones that are meant to be threatening. They are currently level 6 and we have an Telekineticist from the playtest and a Catfolk rogue. I'm having serious issues making an encounter that they don't annihilate in 2 rounds. Please help.

Throw them into the Tomb of Horrors without their realizing.

That dungeon eats steamrollers alive.

chbgraphicarts wrote:

Throw them into the Tomb of Horrors without their realizing.

That dungeon eats steamrollers alive.

What is the Tomb of Horrors and how does it eat steamrollers?

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It's a dungeon module, originally created by Gary Gygax sometime in the later part of the last century. There's an updated 3.5e version floating around on the interwebs somewhere.

It goes like this: A lich designs a dungeon. His end goal is not to create an epic but winable challenge appropriate for high-level murder-hobos. His end goal is to murderkill any murder-hobo, regardless of level, who has the audacity to think they can get into his tomb.

It goes like this: DM: There's a doorway.

P1: I enter the doorway.

DM: You pass through the doorway. You are teleported to the start of the dungeon, naked. You come out through the eye of that nasty-looking statue from before.

P1: I go back into the eye to rejoin my party!

DM: You die. Roll up a new character.

P2: I walk to the other end of the room to search the wall.

DM: You fall into a pit trap. You take 2d10+10 damage, make a fort save dc 25 or die from poison.

P2: *Rolls Dice*. *24*

There are no clues. There's no rhyme, nor is there reason. You just die.

HyperMissingno wrote:
chbgraphicarts wrote:

Throw them into the Tomb of Horrors without their realizing.

That dungeon eats steamrollers alive.

What is the Tomb of Horrors and how does it eat steamrollers?


From a purely literal perspective, not only is it quite likely that the dungeon actually EATS them, they're also going to be quite literally steamrolled (though not by a steam-powered steamroller, more like a golem-powered one).

My opinion is that the tomb of horrors is actually too evil. You need to play it with a bunch of players who've made character specifically for the occasion OR with players who are both prepared AND have experience with this type of dungeon.

This dungeon is full of things like this (and in order avoid any direct spoilers, this is a parahprase):

"There are two buttons. If the players press the right button, they die instantly from being teleported into the elemental plane of fire. If they press the left button, the bronze door opens"

And this one

"If the players approach the door, the floor opens and they fall into lava die."

If they ever survive to the final encounter of the dungeon, whatever they find there will basically kill one character per round.

There are also almost no battles.

Silver Crusade

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Here is a Giant Poster of one not unusual Tomb Of Horrors Walkthrough:

Warning: If you read this poster you can never play the Original Tomb of Horrors. That's OK, though, because you're better off that way ... Note that this poster does not spoil, perhaps enhances, the fine sequel adventure Return to the Tomb of Horrors.

It's a big poster, and takes time to grok.

My personal experience first playing, then GMing Tomb of Horrors was not like this poster in detail, but quite like to it in spirit. It was one of only 2 full TPKs I've sponsored. Brutal!

Be warned this poster is quite large, perhaps 10 MB. If you like the poster please + like this message, so more people see the poster.

I have realized that I hate this adventure, and will stab any DM that proposes to run that game for me, or it is discovered that I'm playing in that. (Barring the availability of sharp objects) :/

If I wanted to play HOL I would have picked up HOL.

I dont want them to die, I just want them to be challenged. They are the only party members and I regularly throw them up against hordes of difficult monsters but they just destroy everything.

Post their sheets. Also you may want to look at the rule-book again to make sure that everything is kosher.

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Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Just throw Will saves at them. Any Will save will do.

Builds may help, but I'm more curious about how you're designing your encounters, and exactly how the pair are overcoming them.

Liberty's Edge

Well, the class features for the Kinetecist means that the more fights they get into, the more burn they're bound to have built up, and less Hit points they have before they go down, so increasing the length of the adventuring day might do it.

I've never really seen a rogue be a problem, especially at 6th level it's too early for the surprise round claw pounce to decimate a target. And there's lots of ways to make sure a rogue doesn't always get sneak attack. Just trying to eliminate the chance to flank is one thing. Concealment is another, send a shadow mastiff after them in anything but daylight, and they're going to have a bad time of it. Or just throw an ooze in every once in a while.

In fact, I'd probably have more of a problem not throwing too much at them, I don't like running small groups just for this reason. The difference between challenge and TPK is just too close, in fact one crit from a greataxe would probably end this adventure real quick.

Minions... Always minions...

A good minion is meant to die easily (but pull an attack from the main guy)...

It can be:

A tank blocking the way to the BBEG caster...

Archers shooting from halfcover

Casters throwing magic missiles /grease etc. ...

Illusions... Have the real BBEG hide behind an illusionary wall...

Also remember to ask your players what they want... Suddenly changing all encounters from easy to challenging may have them call foul...

Whatever you plan to throw at them, throw two of them instead. If they're too powerful for the encounters you are giving them, add more opponents or increase the power level of the ones you already plan to use.

Take APL, multiply by 2 and add 3. Use that as the base CR for encounters. Then force at least 5 encounters in a row without a night's rest. Let them steamroll that!

To be more serious, you have to adjust encounter CRs for your party makeup, build, and tactics. A 25 point buy usually warrants +1 CR to all encounters. If the party is built to synergize, that can add another +1 or more. I'd up the CR's by 1 and force attrition - if the party tries to rest too often, send in random monsters to disrupt it.

However, if your party is built for offense (they should be, it is the best defense), there isn't much you can do about how long combats last. If you bump monster hp, it will make the combats longer, but not make them more challenging - it might get boring. If you up the monster power level, the combats get more challenging, but you get closer to rocket tag - one side is going to stomp the other very quickly.

Your primary consideration should be: is everyone having fun? And: what will cause everyone to have fun?

make it hard for melee to melee and ranged to range. Set your bad guys up on a ledge that requires at least 3 climb checks with high winds. High wind will make it impossible to hit with arrows and make it hard to fly. During the meantime the bad guys can drop large rocks on climbers (seeing how large rocks usually are catapult ammo and not affected by the wind as easily as arrows). Also while the are waiting for the pcs to get to em have spellcasters buff your bad guys so when the pcs get to em they are more powerful. Oh and use those casters to dispell the pcs just before they get to your bad guys.

then sit back and laugh manically.

Main thing is don't forget controlling the battlefield controls the battle and as a GM you basically get to dictate what the battlefield is like.

Environment can be a huge factor. If you're doing wilderness adventures, don't forget that Pathfinder has environmental provisions for weather, forest, marshes, and deserts. Don't feel bad about enforcing these. Are you players on horses? Enforce the riding rules.

You might also consider throwing at your players a series of encounters that aren't straight-up battles. If local bandits (for example) have learned that your players are mighty warriors, they could spend a whole day doing hit-and-fades that lead your players to exhaust their resources, then attack them at the end of the day. Additionally, monsters could have an agenda other than attacking your players. Perhaps they steal the PCs' food and water, or injure the horses -- something that makes PCs' lives (and the next encounter) more difficult.

You might also look at your map if you're running a module. If your players are steamrollers, then the monsters might leave their designated areas to gang up on the PCs later .. or the baddies might deliberately lead a trail that points the players in the direction of the BBEG (say, a lich mime), and then ambush the PCs from behind.

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One opponent that deals 16 damage per hit and blocks one space is not as dangerous as two opponents that deal each 9 damage per hit and block two spaces. First and foremost, a single opponent can't flank. So even if it's the toughest creature on the block, if he's on his own, he gets an effective penalty to hit compared to a pair of less powerful flanking buddies. Furthermore, all you have to do is surround him and his movement is locked down; he can't even run.

Second, if you have a single creature that can attack, heal, and cast spells, he can still typically only perform one function per round. By contrast, a well balanced party of four can cover all bases each round.

Third, consider the power of choices. Give them ultimatums. Give them two tasks that must be done at the same time but, also, in different places; the Fork Tower scenario. This forces them to split up the party if they want the reward.

Fourth, force them to be on the defensive for a change. Force them to pick the place but the enemies to pick the time.

Fifth, theft. If you really want to throw them for a loop, have an NPC thief rob them. That's a good way to get them to go somewhere you want them to go if they absolutely won't go. They will chase that thief to the ends of the Earth given half the chance. It will also make them reckless. Mind you, this trick will probably only work once with any particular group.

Sixth, if you can't overpower them, have enemies retreat. Many groups will get overconfident and try to follow them to "get the kill". This will lure them out of position.

Seventh, bait them. Try to get them to become reckless against what they think is an "easy win", then spring a "creature trap" where a bunch of archers spring out of cover when the party is out of position.

Eighth, social traps. If they are optimized for combat, give them situations that combat simply can't solve. Force them to go through social interaction acrobatics in order to get information or special items. Given their combat focus, they probably aren't as prepared for social interaction.

Kazaan wrote:
Eighth, social traps. If they are optimized for combat, give them situations that combat simply can't solve. Force them to go through social interaction acrobatics in order to get information or special items.

+1 to this. I'd also say throw in some occasional skill challenges and such -- basically things that force your players to change up their usual routines.

The Social Combat cards are a good tool for this, and it's possible to model other challenges off of them. (See this thread for an example).

In a similar vein chase encounters are a great way to challenge your players. Paizo actually has a couple decks of GM cards that you can use to build these. it turns out, interestingly, that combat monsters aren't always stacked in the skills department.

Terrain and environments make encounters more memorable and interesting than just flat floors. What if the PCs have to make Acrobatics checks to cross a narrow bridge? What if the floor is deep sticky mud and they can't charge or take 5' steps? What if it's all foggy and the range attack guys can't see anybody (but the dragon knows where they are and can breathe on them?) What if the room is full of fiery pits that they have to avoid (or maybe knock foes into?)

Dark Archive

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Do your players want to be challenged?

Mergy wrote:
Do your players want to be challenged?

Consider this question, some few players really don't want to be challenged.


Assuming they do, I usually find when someone has much of a problem with this it is one of 2 things.

1) The GM is trying to run published material as written for experienced players. (I used to be very bad about this.) Published material is usually written assuming 4 players, nearly complete noobs, 15 point buy, only core materials, and low grades of optimization. Most groups have more players, experienced players, 20 or even 25 point buy, most materials allowed, and high levels of optimization for combat.
For anything other than a small group of noobs, you just plain have to upgrade serious encounters.

2) Most encounters get to be very similar and so the PC’s know exactly what is needed and have the capabilities to handle it. Recently our group got done with a mini-arch that was almost entirely a particular class of undead. By the end of that, it was nearly impossible to challenge them. They recognized when the situation was likely, knew what capabilities they faced, and what tactics were needed to win.

I usually try to avoid ongoing similarity (though the current module really pushes trip builds). Variety of encounters, goals, tactics, environments, resources, etc… will fix this.

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The biggest one could be that the party has become famous enough that their competition knows about them and has taken steps to counter their known tactics. If they have fire blaster, the enemy have a scroll of communal resist energy fire. If they have SoD caster, there is a couple of counter spelling specialists to oppose them. If they have a heavily armored hulk, the enemy have wands of shocking grasp. Etc…

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