GM struggling to balance overpowered martial characters.


So I'm a GM in a home-brew campaign. I really thought that, because it was a home-brew, that I would be able to adjust and balance the game (combat wise) as I saw fit. I encourage my players to balance their own characters, but... they have a little power-gameyness to them, which I don't disagree with. Why make a weak character when you can make a really strong one, that still has all the role-play potential, right?

The party is handling CR encounters above their level at a steady rate, to which I applaud them, but my problem is that I feel like my spell-casters are feeling inadequate, which I don't want. I always read that spell-casters easily trump martial brutes, but I am seeing the exact opposite. Even with some minor but specific boons to spell casting abilities.

At level 6 my wizard and cleric have limited spells with DCs of 15, 16, 17 etc. But my Fighter and slayer have unlimited and multiple attacks that are hitting at +13/+8 and doing stupid amounts of damage that is devouring my DR/5 magic. I'm not super worried about creating challenging threat to the whole party as I am having my casters feel like they are seriously contributing in combat. I can always knock the casters unconscious and dying, but i'd like for them to be the party's savior sometimes.

What enemies, spells, or elements of combat would you suggest that I apply.

I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about disparities between your players' character builds. There should be situations where the martials shine and vice versa for the casters. If the martials are dominating EVERY encounter you throw at them, then you need to vary your encounters a bit more.

Trying using swarms or troops from time to time. Throw in a haunt every now and then. There are endless combinations that can be used. Published adventures are very good at varying encounters, whereas homebrewed GMs might lack the experience to mix things up so well.

If you try mixing things up without success, then I highly recommend picking up a proper Paizo written module or adventure path and running it. They'll do the hard work for you and you can still have fun customizing it to challenge your group.

Spellcasters will generally excel at dealing with large hordes of monsters. But martial characters are really good at dishing out lots of damage to a single creature. If you want to spellcasters to be more effective send large numbers of weaker creatures against the party. Sure the martials might drop one or two per round but the spellcasters have the potential to kill off a lot more than that in the same amount of time.

Also, martials will generally out strip spell casters at low levels. Clerics don't even get flame strike until 9th level. 5th-6th level is when a non-optimized arcane caster will start to catch up since it's when they get all of the really useful spells that stay useful for a long time.

This is a situation that will correct itself. Spell casters don’t do as well at the lower levels, but at higher levels dominate the game. At first level the stats are more important than class anyways. About 4th to 5th level class abilities including spells start to become more important. Around 9th level your class abilities are much more important. Also physical stats are more valuable in the early part of the game so martials end up dominating at the beginning.

The usual stable of "things melee hate dealing with so throw a wizard at them" goes something like this:

1: Swarms. You need AoE damage to deal with them. Most are immune to weapon damage.

2: Enemy Casters: What is worse than having an enemy cast Hold Person at the party? When you can't hit them because they have Mirror Image! So much fun! Don't bother throwing damage, just do control spells and the party will hate the caster. Oh, and the enemy caster's first 3rd level spell should be Fly. Because melee types love ranged combat.

3: Talking about flight, flying enemies are always fun. Almost as much fun as...

4: Invisible opponents. Nothing like fighting a creature that can cast invisibility at will. You spend half the fight playing Marco Pollo.

5: and then there are trolls. Trolls aren't exactly a hard fight for melee types, but they need someone with a ready source of fire/acid damage and if trolls see someone with a lit torch, guess who they mob? Yep, the torch bearer. Trolls are dumb, but not so dumb they don't try to get rid of the obvious source of fire and acid damage.

In a few more levels if you're casters can't make themselves useful its their choice of spells. Well, actually you should throw some spells their direction in treasure. You can think of it as a suggestion from you to them on what a wizard should cast. If they aren't the spellbook type of caster, well nothing you can really do about that. Getting to 5th level is your first taste of real ability as a wizard, and really once you get access to 4th level spells (7th level for a wizard) is when you start to come into your own because you've got enough 3rd slots to be more free in using them, and 4th level offers some very good spells that can majorly affect an encounter.


At Level 6, +13 to hit is perfectly appropriate. It might be an issue if they were +17 or higher, but as it stands, +13/+8 is a fairly reasonable number for a martial character. They should be doing between 17.5 and 35 damage per round (average). Anywhere above 35 and they're basically min-maxed - below that and they're reasonable.

(This doesn't include bonus damage from things like Haste. That should be counted as damage by the caster supplying the buff.)

Casters should definitely start to come into their own soon, especially if they're smart about how they use their spells. It also helps to remember that different classes have different roles in the game. Basically, figure out what your casters want to be doing and look for ways to include that.

Silver Crusade

The longer I play casted the more I realize that damage is secondary to them. I dish out heavy dmg too but overall its helping the party with out of combat spells.
Since I hate save or suck spells helping the materials to shine is very rewarding in itself. See invisibility, glitterdust, telekinetic charge etc are beautiful useful spells. There is also nothing more sinister entrapping an enemy caster with wall of stone with no chance with no way to escape, shattering the evil cleric focus or letting goblins be happily disintegrated by a fireball

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I feel your pain, bud. Ran into this issue myself many times. Even at high level, a well optimized martial character can do unreal damage relative to casters. Casters are unparalleled at battlefield manipulation and control, but blasters just don’t seem to keep up. Couple of suggestions I’ve used or heard off.

1) Modify your mobs. DR is a good start. Also max their hit points and add the simple advanced template (basically +2 to everything). Simple and not perfect, but it helps a bit.

2) Give all caster damage spells free empower spell metamagic. This was the first fix I tried. Works okay, but just means everything dies even faster. We used this until we started using #3.

3) My group has modified damage on iterative attacks and AoO’s. To be simple say you do 2d6+17 damage with a greatsword. In our system, you only get the +17 once per round (you pick which hit it applies to). All your other iterative attacks, AoO, etc. only get the 2d6. This has been the most effective we’ve tried so far, but be ware it greatly modifies the game. It becomes more important to at least hit once than hit many times. Size increases and weapon size increases specifically become huge benefits. Stoneskin and DR become complicated if not nerfed entirely (only get it on big hit or get reduced benefit on lesser hits). Dragons become really scary because the rule is, different attacks each get their +X damage once per round (so bite, claw, wing, tail, etc. each get the +X once). Martial damage becomes more parabolic in its consistency with this system and combats take more rounds. This has been the most effective change we’ve tried but it’s not perfect. Your results may vary kind of thing.

4) Haven’t tried it but am thinking we might soon: Armor converts some damage to non-lethal. Simplest way to apply this is take a character’s flat-footed AC, subtract 10, and that’s how much each hit gets converted to no lethal. This means heavily armored characters can take more hits and are more likely to be knocked unconscious rather than killed outright. Avoidance based tanks get hit harder when they do get hit. Healing becomes more effective in this system as it heals both lethal and non-lethal at the same amount at the same time. Likely will make undead scarier as they are immune to non-lethal. High natural armor creatures such as dragons may be scarier too. This system makes magical damage more potent as it cannot be converted to non-lethal by this. The stalwart feat chain may become ridiculously strong under this system. Haven’t tried this system modification, but it appeals to me in that it mitigates some of the martial damage problem while making different tanking styles have different benefits and may make tanks more desirable overall.

I know you asked for assistance in what creatures to run and not home rules, but I’m hoping some of these might help anyways.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Are your casters trying to do damage?

Once upon a time (many editions ago), casters ruled damage along with everything else. The way the game has scaled though, that is no longer true. A fireball still does 1d6 per level, but hitpoints are higher than they used to be (larger dice for many classes and bigger bonuses from CON among other things) and martial damage has scaled even faster (higher bonuses from STR, more abilities like weapon training, damage adding feats, etc.)

What that all means is that unless a caster is really focused on blasting, the can't compete in DPR. Casters though can do things that others can't that don't have anything to do with HP damage. Control of the battlefield and support to increase the effects of the martials efforts are the most obvious.

Those two things are mitigated if the encounters are too easy. If a maritial is going to take down an opponent in one action, more support isn't going to really help them very much. Similarly, if opponents die to quickly, their is less utility in battlefield control since that is all about damage mitigation, and downed opponenets don't do any damage anyway. Buffing the opposition will likely make support and control more useful, thus making your casters more useful. I'd start out with giving everything the advance simple template (without adjusting XP gained) and see how that works out.

Are your players unhappy? Complaining? Before you start "fixing" things, make sure that everyone at the table thinks there is not only a problem but has the same definition of the problem.

If there is a problem, most likely its on you, the GM. As several commentators have noted above, martials kick out more hp damage per round than casters pure and simple. And it's not going to get better as they advance past 6th level, it's going to get worse. How are your martials kicking out so much damage? Probably some build min-maxing - some kind of crit accelerating scimitar wielding specialist who is death to anything within 5 feet (just an example.) If most enemies/NPCs deliberately engage in melee or make it easy for Mr. Scimitar Death to do so, that's on the GM. Because that situation will make Mr. Scimitar Death shine like nothing else.

The solution is to make combats vary by tactics - some enemies should be incorporeal (say hello to my friend, 50% miss chance, Mr. Scimitar Death) or invisible or flying (good luck, Mr. Scimitar Death.) Make sure the enemies use ranged weapons and exploit terrain advantages (why sure, Mr. Scimitar Death, you could kill us easily if only you could get to this ridge from which we are turning you into a pin cushion.) Martials tend to be one-trick ponies. With weak Will saves. Are you occasionally hitting them with charms, hold persons and the like? Oh, he's been dominated. Now his friends get to face Mr. Scimitar Death. Good luck to them. Are the pc's enemies using buffs or defenses such as mirror image, grease, stinking cloud, etc.? These things make it harder for martials to engage or neutralize their numerous attacks.

The key is to know what situations favor casters and make sure they show up frequently. Casters typically have two advantages over martials - they know a lot more about the world (knowledge skills, linguistics etc.) and they have the power to change reality. So make sure the group can't succeed without the wizard deciphering the ancient riddle or the cleric destroying the haunt. Add physical challenges only magic can solve - chasms without a bridge, magically held doors, etc. And make sure that when the cleric casts protection from evil to prevent Mr. Scimitar Death from being charmed and the wizard casts haste to give him more attacks, it's understood to be a team victory not a Mr. Scimitar Death victory.

Also, as suggested multiple times above, make sure there are plenty of mobs and swarms - enemies casters excel at dealing with. I mean that's why BBEG's became BBEG's - so they could boss people around and have fodder/minions to sacrifice in their own defense.

One last observation: it's harder to min-max casters than martials. It just is. So don't be afraid through either indirect (treasure placement as suggested above) or direct, sidebar conversations to make suggestions to players of casters.

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Chances are, your casters aren't playing to their potential. The solution, put them up against casters that ARE playing to their potential. It'll definitely make the martial's lives miserable, and the casters will get ideas of the sort of stuff they can do, too.

lol... game balance is a huge thing. I think it takes years of experience and playing in high level games to understand the system well. Physics and math knowledge are invaluable.

One thing you should understand is that your challenges mold the party and their responses. Players want to win and often expect to win.
Thus you want various types of challenges such as social encounters, puzzles, games, traps, choices that affect plot, and of course combat. Once you vary the challenges the players will figure out that smacking everything around is not the best way to win. You'll also provide a background for roleplaying scenes where characters can develop.

Use season 7, 8, 9 Scenarios as examples. Adjust the combats as necessary. DR and Fast healing generally don't do anything but drag combat out for one more round unless the the DR covers more than 50% of the damage output.

This is common in lower level play. At 6th your martial has +6 Bab and atleast +4 attack stat. Throw in some feats or abilities and +13 isnt too bad. Your casters could boost their casting stats to raise their dcs and take feats as well. Martials start to experience diminishing returns around 7th as their bonuses don't keep up with encounters and casters get more access to spells. This is also when gishes activate and outshine the pure martials. Don't hurt Martials anymore then they deserve, they are already low tier.

You're not doing anything wrong as a GM. Honestly, the melee classes typically dominate the lower levels and the spellcasters dominate the higher levels. It is what it is, and I honestly wouldn't change that dynamic because it's highly realistic.

One thing you can do at the lower levels is provide "opportunities for awesome" for each individual character. Create challenges that only the Cleric can overcome, or only the Wizard can overcome, or at least mitigate.

I saw Swarm combat suggested earlier in the thread, and that's a great way to go. Melee characters have almost zero response to swarms.

Likewise, your spellcasters who are lvl5+ "should" have fly, or at least some way of dealing with a flying combatant. You can have bad guy flyers in just about any encounter you want. Such as, what if the party comes across an enemy Witch/Shaman/Wizard/Sorcerer, or even a pack of Stirges?

I think you really need to re-evaluate the encounters you're addressing your PC's with. Provide at least one type of mob that each of them will have an "opportunity for awesome" in dealing with this. This is true for spellcasters, melees, or even skill monkeys.

Like, do you have a skill monkey in the group? Provide a combat scenario that when the skill monkey is doing his thing, can actually thwart a Surprise Attack upon the group. Or, if you have a PC with the Throw Anything feat, the PC's encounter a room with a bad guy and there's a weapon rack and an alchemist's table with lots of weird potions.... or something.

Seriously, re-evaluate your encounters based upon the party's strengths and weaknesses, and try to provide your players with opportunities for awesome.

Your casters will (hopefully) immediately recognize what they're good at, and perform accordingly.

Alternatively, encourage your casters to scheme. The time I'm having the most fun as a caster is when I'm throwing around some questions that will trivialize future encounters.

DM: ok before you lies the caves of xarathor, home of the deadly blue dragon ajdac....

Druid: I cast insect spies and insect scouts. Can someone pass a DC 42 perception check in there ?

DM: looks at notes.... Hum ... No....except the dragon boss.

Druid: ok can you draw the map and where the ennemies are leading up to the big boss please, we're gonna discuss which buffs to cast in the meantime.

DM: euh.... Ok?

Have your caster drop Mad Monkeys on enemy martials, and watch wacky hijinks ensue.

Try varying the battlefield. Employ obstacles, difficult terrain, and other features that inhibit mobility. Deploy monsters in tactical positions with cover, etc. An encounter with many monsters is usually more exciting than one with just one big monster.

For example, many goblin minions in the open, a bugbear brute holding down a chokepoint, hobgoblin archers in fortified positions, and a hobgoblin cleric providing buff support. The martials might get bogged down getting through the goblin mob, or trying to take out the bugbear to get access to the archers and the cleric who are peppering them from behind the defenses, while the casters can get to the ranged and caster enemies more directly, or provide support for the frontliners. Or one casting of Color Spray can take out a swath of those goblins, opening up a path.

Some have suggested tailoring occasional encounters so that different players get to shine. This is a good idea and in general I support it but form personal GMing experience you should be prepared for the player or players that you expect to be able to solve the encounter to, for what ever reason, not. I had a kineticicst who wasn't feeling useful/confident in her character, so I inserted a swarm that only she could deal with but she didn't and so the other party members set the priest on fire and used him as a giant flaming club. So what I'm saying is that sometimes no matter what you do there's no helping some people.

GM Rednal wrote:


At Level 6, +13 to hit is perfectly appropriate. It might be an issue if they were +17 or higher, but as it stands, +13/+8 is a fairly reasonable number for a martial character. They should be doing between 17.5 and 35 damage per round (average). Anywhere above 35 and they're basically min-maxed - below that and they're reasonable.

Hijacking the thread a bit, but can you give me a sample build that would be achieving this at level 6?

JiaYou wrote:
GM Rednal wrote:


At Level 6, +13 to hit is perfectly appropriate. It might be an issue if they were +17 or higher, but as it stands, +13/+8 is a fairly reasonable number for a martial character. They should be doing between 17.5 and 35 damage per round (average). Anywhere above 35 and they're basically min-maxed - below that and they're reasonable.

Hijacking the thread a bit, but can you give me a sample build that would be achieving this at level 6?

If you assume a fighter with 18 STR to start, a +2 belt of giant strength (4000 gp), a +2 weapon (83xx gp, say greatsword), weapon training +1, weapon focus, and weapon specialization. Would still have 5-6 more feats to spend.

+6 BAB
+5 STR
+2 Weapon
+1 Weapon Training
+1 Weapon Focus
-2 Power Attack

+13/+8 2d6+16 19-20/x2

For a Fighter at Level 6, with 18 Strength (16 from Point Buy + 2 Racial), a +1 Weapon, the Weapon Focus feat, and Weapon Training with their preferred tool of mayhem (we'll use a Longsword for this), a Fighter can be dead-on for +13/+8 accuracy. That's not exactly min-maxing investment.

(+6 BAB, +4 Ability Mod, +1 Weapon Enhancement, +1 Weapon Focus, +1 Weapon Training = +13/+8)

They might also have a Belt of Giant Strength +2 and they'll definitely have the Power Attack feat. With Power Attack on, that gives them +12/+7 accuracy and 1d8+13 damage. Assuming everything hits, they do 35 damage, but because they're only getting one attack at +12 (which is dead-on for viable at this level), they'll have enough misses to drop the average damage down a little and keep them below the point of min-maxing.

I don't think anything about such a build is particularly unusual or over-the-top. They've also got a bit under 10,000 gold left over and aren't exceeding the recommended wealth distribution by level in any category.

Didn't read through all the posts here, but spell casters strength doesn't come from dealing damage.

If you're casters are trying to keep up with martial characters in terms of damage they have set themselves up for failure, unless they make incredibly specialized builds. Casters should be using their spells to do things other than deal damage (for the most part).

Also, casters biggest strength is their ability to control narrative of the game outside of combat, in ways martial characters cannot.

Rather than focusing on reducing the martial characters, I would instead focus on your spell casters and what they're doing.

Are they trying to use spells to out DPR the martials? That's a mistake. Encourage them instead to do other things.

The wizard should be casting spells like hold person, haste, and stinking cloud to take a monster out of combat, buff the fighter into doing better, or control the battlefield.

As far as spell DCs go... they should have DCs around 17/18 for their 3rd level spells. 10 + 3 (spell level) + 4/5 (from int). Monster saves for CR 6 creatures vary from about 4.5 to 7.5 depending on type of save. Your casters should be using knowledge checks to identify creature types, and asking what saves are their poor save type so they can use an appropriate kind of spell. Creature has a strong will save and weak fort save? Don't use hold person, use Stinking Cloud. Casters are amazing when played intelligently, but you have to prepare and think things through. You can't really go in blindly and expect it work.

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