How to DM for an OP player


Advice


Iv'e struggled in the past with a player at our table who is an amazing DM and all around great guy because he is super lucky and makes incredibly strong characters. With my turn at the the head of table I've run myself dry planning elaborate encounters in the past only for a level one character to deal 16 damage with a d4. The setting is converted from 5e's Humblewood and I've made races at the player's requests being a Gecko and Monkey respectively. Nothing too special, just very agile creatures who are small. At level 1 he has an armor class of 21, +7 to initiative, and as stated before can deal 16 damage with a d4. I don't believe he optimizes to an extent, as he worked for a while trying to make a certain concept and ultimately decided on an unarmed brawler ignoring most of the racial abilities that might benefit for a more agile and support class. I'm not opposed to some things being one shot, but in the setting, the first level enemies are Bandits and Swarms of Fire Bats. Clearly the bats are supposed to be the more challenging encounters, but I feel guilty throwing swarms at them at such a low level. Even nerfed, the swarms don't stand much chance against him. Bandits, on one hand are mostly throw away enemies, but with that damage output, they can be killed with one strike and are supposed to be sympathised with later in the story. What's worse is that he has a sort of protege who has also made a quite strong character. A samurai with only a d6 dealing the same amount of damage threshold and 17 AC. He plays for story, so I feel like if I can make challenging encounters it will help drive interest for other players, but I don't want the rest of the party being outshined and I don't want a TPK by increasing the difficulty. What can I do to make sure my challenging encounters are not trumped or one shot? They both have +0 to Will saves, but having a spellcaster enemy so early seems very cheap to me. Any suggestions on how I can help make the story up to their level? I don't want to punish them for making good characters, but I don't want them to be bored one-shotting everything.


First thing is start with one thing at a time. How is he getting +16 to damage at level one on a dex character?


The easiest thing to do is to make combat a trivial and unimportant part of the campaign and make other parts more important. Focus on RP and skills, investigations, etc. The player can be super optimized for combat, but if combat is the smallest part of the game then it has very little impact.

But yes, aside from that audit the character and figure out what they're doing.


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Something seems really off about a 1st level character with a damage bonus beyond +10. Stat shouldn't be beyond +5, +6 for a goblin but that means somehow getting dex to damage at first level. Not impossible, but very limiting.

Then you take 1 or 2 feats, plus class abilities. Generally speaking its hard to get +4 at first level out of that.

Another +6? I'd want an explanation. Even if the player can add 2 stats to his damage their combined bonus from 2 stats shouldn't be over +8...unless you roll stats. Point buy hold down the cheese.

All in all though, I'd double the number of creatures in each combat. That way there should be enough creatures to put up a decent fight. Don't adjust xp, don't adjust treasure. If anyone asks about it just tell them that 'encounters are adjusted to provide a challenge without accelerating the growth of the characters'.

This does mean that your boss should have a lieutenant or mate that is as strong as the boss is. If you have one dragon in the source material, now you have a mated pair of dragons. I would include some extra treasure in these sorts of encounters, but only in the form of gear used by the extra boss monster. So if your big boss was originally a big dumb fighter it would be adding similar magic gear for the second boss. I might change the second boss to be slightly different so I can spread the gear to other party members. Like instead of having 2 fighter bosses, there might be a fighter/wizard or fighter/cleric pairing.

For encounters where there is a lot of non-magic gear you could throw in a group of animals. Like if you have bandits ambushing the party, instead of doubling the bandits you could throw in an equal number of trained war dogs.


"I feel guilty throwing swarms at them at such a low level"

"...having a spellcaster enemy so early seems very cheap to me."

--don't feel guilty and no, it isn't cheap. Some swarms are CR1-2. Some spellcasters are low level.

No player should go through a whole game or even a whole session doing nothing but what they're best at. A DM needs to mix up the types of challenges the party faces.

Also, you can try to help the other players up their game to match him, and then increase the dangers they face worry free.

And I know this is a bit off topic, but I need to say this: role playing and acting are different things. Role playing is literally that; playing a role. If a player chooses to have their fighter swing his sword rather than talk the enemy down, that's role playing. Because the player is choosing to participate in the game based on the role they've chosen.
With that said however, encounters that don't involve combat are never a bad thing.

Finally...is this Humblewood you speak of what it sounds like? Anthropomorphic animals, a la Redwall?


If it's a real problem, give all your monsters DR 5 against overpowered characters.

But really consider whether it is a problem. Being capable of doing 16 damage isn't the same as averaging 16 damage. A longbow technically can do 27 damage (Point Blank Shot, x3 crit) at level 1 but the average damage per attack is probably 2-3. It's an unavoidable part of the game that at low levels, both PCs and monsters can get 1-shotted.


My first question:

Do you have an overpowered party, or a reasonably-strengthed party with a single overpowered PC?

If it's the former, you could just ramp up the challenges.

If it's the latter, the basic problem is one of disparity.

Claxon's suggestion is good: run a not-that-kind-of campaign.

You can target the OPPC with more misfortune and harder challenges, some within game, and you can cheat a little: the orcs are all level 1 fighters, but duuuumb luck, the ones on the OPPC just happen to be level 6.

You can buff the rest of the party to catch them up. You can let them take levels in forbidden classes or take forbidden feats. You could place treasure just for other party members. Then you can ramp up the challenge for everybody.


Quote:
I've made races at the player's requests being a Gecko and Monkey respectively. Nothing too special, just very agile creatures who are small. At level 1 he has an armor class of 21, +7 to initiative, and as stated before can deal 16 damage with a d4. I don't believe he optimizes to an extent

Why does he want to be a monkey or a gekko? I'm sure he has a BS roleplaying excuse, but the real reason is because he's talked you into some mechanical cheese that makes his homebrew race even more dope than what a stock goblin with a +4 dex bonus can do. And, on top of that, he's apparently talked you into giving him dex-to-damage at 1st level (and even that accounts for only half of "16 damage with a d4").

IOW., he has a super-optimized & cheaty (since the race is made-up) character while playing under a GM who "doesn't believe" he's optimizing.

Putting it bluntly, you're inexperienced, and he's taking advantage of you.

Claxon wrote:
The easiest thing to do is to make combat a trivial and unimportant part of the campaign and make other parts more important. Focus on RP and skills, investigations, etc. The player can be super optimized for combat, but if combat is the smallest part of the game then it has very little impact.

You'll find out that such characters are somehow strangely super-optimized at everything.

This reminds me of my old Star Wars games: One of our players, who was also the most experienced GM with a ton of personal charisma, would always play the same sort of character is every game, setting, style, theme, genre, whatever: a Mary Sue with undeniable gift-of-gab who also had magical- or force-powers, was a top-notch mechanic, a crack shot, etc. And of course the bad guys would never kill her because she was alluringly beautiful, which just catered to her strength in talking her way out of anything -- and that player talking ended up occupying two-thirds of every session, whether it was his character, or him personally cajoling the GM.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

While intelligence is useful in GMing, wisdom is mandatory.


I'm guessing he made a snake bite brawler with power attack. 1d4+1d6+2(power attack)+4(stat). If that's the case, you shouldn't expect that kind of performance all that frequently, and it shouldn't figure into the game balance in the long run.

If anything, I'd look at the other players and make sure you have a plan for spotlighting their abilities as well.


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Well, he didn't specify full-attacks. (Any garden-variety TWF sneak-attacker can dish out a ton at 1st if he connects multiple times.) From what the OP has listed so far (e.g., homebrew small races, Init+7, I think I'm on the right track that we're dealing with a dex-raper impatient that Songbird of Doom takes more than one level to get off the ground, and the first step toward that is crying to an inexperienced & gullible GM about how Weapon Finesse is a hated "tax feat", and how all the cool kids are getting it for free in their homegames now, as well that dex-attackers should get attribute bonus to damage for free just like the strength guys.

-- This, of course, completely blows to hell d20's game-balance (or its tattered remnants, anyway), since dexterity factors into far more than strength, what with initiative, a saving-throw, and armor-class all riding on it, as well as the fact that most small races receive a dex-bonus (permitting them to double-dip attack-bonus versus a strength-based medium-sized fighter).


I don't think I said anything about full attacking. A brawler doesn't get 2 weapon fighting till 2nd level, so that wouldn't be relevant either way.
What is a dex-raper impatient exactly? I'm assuming it's an autocomplete error of some sort.
Comparing this damage output to an off the shelf two handed fighter makes it pretty obvious that the damage isn't really a problem, or even unusual. 2d6+3 just from a greatsword and power attack gets you one point shy without even involving stats. Minmaxing for it and grabbing Tengu for our snakebite brawler gets us 3d6+3. Heck, if you can get an off the shelf occultist a +1 greatsword at first level, they're looking at 4d6+5 before stats. First level is just a wonky level where the front loading of certain classes makes the game appear unbalanced in ways that don't last. People can one shot and be one shot without warning or optimizing.


Tengu occultists taste like chicken, right?


Thank you for all of the suggestions. To clarify, he was averaging around 16 damage. Not a +16 damage bonus. I admit that 16 average damage is not impossible, but it is concerning to combat as most things will be killed upon taking that much damage.

He actually did pick the Snake Style thank you for reminding me. He is a very big fan of the swashbuckler Parry and was excited to take this style because I believe it allows the unarmed strikes to be piercing.

Again I'm confident he was not optimizing, as the races requested were literally just a gecko and monkey and I had tried to create the races to be accurate to the setting with only 8 RP.

Should I consider dividing the starting wealth in order to set back a little? It doesn't really affect the damage as he uses his fists, but perhaps he can't start with such expensive armor or have a considerable amount of gold to sit on.


Starting wealth should be about nothing at level 1, and I would recommend against allowing much more. 1d6 sneak attack and 1d4 unarmed strike is 6 damage, so there’s another 10 we’re missing to hit that ‘average damage’. Again, step 1 in addressing an optimization issue is knowing exactly what mechanics are involved.

And yes, 16 damage is easy at level 1, vital strike with a butchering axe or whatever. I guess that’s 27 average damage, unbuffed/unoptimized, but in a dex build things are much harder at level 1.


Vital Strike requires BAB +6 though.


Balacertar wrote:
Vital Strike requires BAB +6 though.

true, my stupid. I guess power attack/butchering axe barbarian would be...23? Sorry to derail.


I agree with a lot of the above posters. You need to every few sessions include an encounter that will challenge this PC's weak points: it's part of the game and it's realistic that not all challenges are in their wheelhouse. You need to see the character sheet to know what those weaknesses are.

Swarms are a natural in, well, natural settings. Use them now.

Spell casters should occasionally target his poor saves.

Mook bandits should have a sniper who targets whoever's revealed as the biggest threat.

Mook bandits should have someone who can sunder or disarm--they'll be plenty of replacement weapons when the party defeats them, so it will be fine if you sunder.

Bandits should have defenses like a rough camp wall and primitive snares and pits strategically placed.


RandomNigel wrote:


He actually did pick the Snake Style thank you for reminding me. He is a very big fan of the swashbuckler Parry and was excited to take this style because I believe it allows the unarmed strikes to be piercing.

I've mentioned snake bite striker as the brawler archetype as a way to get both power attack and a sneak attack die at first level. Snake style is a different thing entirely, and typically requires level 3 to get the required 3 ranks in sense motive. You can get around that by being a master of many styles monk, and I'm sure there are other options. I can't think of one that gets both a bonus die and full bab and a free style feat though.

I'm stumped. Could you give us a run down of his class, archetype, feats, stats and racial abilities? I'm starting to feel like there may be an error here.

Grand Lodge

Just attack him with 5 hp goblins or similar. Then his damage does not matter...

Grand Lodge

I might fancy alternating encounters to accomodate the characters, with others to make opponents partly impervious to the character style.

It's a good tactic to see whether there's a valid plan B, or if the character is an OTP. In the latter case, the player might be in a world of pain ...


Both Color Spray and Sleep are first level spells. So is Charm Person.

With such a poor will save, he is an easy target. Using this against him, should be done with caution, as GM vs. PC is a one way street and can be unfair. If the encountered situation is suitable, then it is OK.

You can use a Fungal Stun Vial as a non-caster way to attack a poor will save. It is also cheap enough for a 1st level bandit to have.

/cevah


You probably are better talking it openly with him if you can bring him to talk alone.

He might be doing just that because he feels he has to do that to ensure his character survival or even he feels the responsibility for the party survival. If you look for ways to make him feel weak, as some are trying to advise, you will just push him to improve the math of his characters and add countermeasures that will start to take space on the fields of expertise of other characters, driving him to outshine even more the rest of the players.

Perhaps this is a signal you are pushing your players to the limits? If it is rare you finish a campaign with all your original characters, this might be likely the case.

Silver Crusade

Run the group through Strange Aeons — lot's of "unfair" things there. :)

@RandomNigel: Can you post a breakdown of how he's getting those numbers? If you don't know exactly how he's doing it, that's a problem. It's possible that there's a mistake in his build, or that problematic house-rules or 3pp are being exploited.


RandomNigel wrote:
... so I feel like if I can make challenging encounters it will help drive interest for other players, but I don't want the rest of the party being outshined and I don't want a TPK by increasing the difficulty. ..

Hi Nigel,

Having an optimized character is never a problem for a GM, it always a problem for the other players having less optimized character.
Unless playing two different games, the purpose of RPG is in most of the case to create a homogeneous team that fit together, combining different skills and being able to challenge greater threats that couldn't bear each individuals.

Having One only optimized character is unbalancing your group, if the group is ok with it, create the challenge according to the level of the group. Of course the level is raised by the optimized character.
If the group is not ok, make them create characters they agree with.

If the team agrees to have one character with a greater responsibility than you could challenge his tactics, offer him choices, attacking to one shot or defending his mates, multiply the enemies, some long distance threat combined with low harassing melee attacking the weakest. No one will stand fighting in front of him if every one knows he is that dangerous.

You may challenge him with a really strong enemy he can only take down using the talent of others, having to spend some research to discover the weak point, having a character doing a bait etc.

Your only limit is your imagination.


If every battlefield is a flat, level plane, advantage is always to the PC. Always vary the fight; uneven terrain, heavily wooded, enemies have the high ground, add concealment, poor vision situations, spread the fight out and have enemies do other things (attacking PCs, raiding a house down the street, groups moving on to a different scenario).

Have ranged and melee attackers, use reach, add teamwork feats.

Enemy spellcasters! So many options with them. I mean, can your PC do anything against a levitating/flying wizard?

Again, if you set up all the scenarios for your PC to excel without any facing any of his drawbacks, then he'll always faceroll and you and others could get bored playing.


Erpa I agree with you, playing with the environment is the best way to challenge PCs without rolling any dice.

As PF can be played with squares you can create path, block easy charge or Line of sights, requires the PCs to works as a team to bypass field elements.

A CR + a field element is a way to avoid having to upgrade your NPC too much.

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