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D&D 3E
Idea for balancing an over-powered party ... 
28th-Sep-2004 03:11 am
At the beginning of this adventure, since it was my first, I wanted to make sure that my players' characters were powerful enough to survive just in case I messed up and was giving them challenges too hard for them. In trying to help them, I overcompensated, and made them too powerful and have given them way too much treasure. As a 3rd-level party of 5, they have been destroying all of their encounters which have ranged from 4th to 6th.

They are going to have to travel down-river to make decent time to get to a certain area, so I'm wondering; would it be unfair for me to have them smash their boat up and end up in the water, losing most of their gear, so that they ave to start all over? I don't want to discourage anyone, but I also don't want this campaign to be so hack-and-slash and so disinteresting people just don't bother to show up becasue they know there isn't a challenge.

Any comments?
28th-Sep-2004 12:32 am (UTC)
One idea might be to give less experience because they are basically using whatever gear they have as a crutch. They might catch up slowly to their gear. Don't let them find anything of greater power until that time.

An idea might be to allow them the opportunity to give up their stuff of their own free will. It belonged to someone else at some point, right? Maybe it was taken before that from a certain organization or person who could make things very uncomfortable for them if they aren't forthcoming with the loot. Perhaps the goodly characters in the party will feel remorse because they are trucking in "stolen goods".

Have something manifest a curse. The curse might be bad enough to either balance the power of the item or make the character think it not worth the effort.

They might even draw the attention of a high-level rogue who coveteth their ice-cream bars and takes something (or some things) from them.

The use of Sunder (feat) or Rusting Grasp or a nice Rust Monster (possibly with a template) can alleviate some offensive item issues. Don't go crazy with this one as the players will catch on. They are funny that way. ;)

Have things "run out of power" or "charges". Perhaps an item that they formerly thought was permanent is actually powered by something and must be recharged before will will work again. Maybe it needs to taste the blood of an Adult or older Red Dragon? Maybe that Ring of Fire Resistance needs a good couple of days buried in the snows of the Great Glacier? Have it start to get hot and unbearable.

You can combine various ideas to get rid of or balance the offending items. Don't just use one sweeping gesture. That would be way too obvious.

I never liked that mechanic in which the DM just said, "Oh. You are in X situation (locked in a cell, ship-wreck, and so on) wherein you have lost all your stuff." That sucks and they will look at you with a knowing gaze that makes you very uncomfortable.
28th-Sep-2004 12:35 am (UTC)
Oh...and maybe you can start scaling up the encounter difficulty to reach a point where they are challenged. Don't give as much experience for these encounters as you would, normally, as they are using their crutches. Let them build up to their equipment, as I mentioned before. At the same time scale back a bit on the rewards. Make it worth the effort but balance it for their levels. There are tables in the DMG to give you a good idea of what a certain character of X level should have.
28th-Sep-2004 02:52 am (UTC)
I'd have to see exactly how kitted out they were, but instead of outright 'stealing their stuff', I'd probably focus on tougher encounters and an encounter (or trap) every once in a while that was meant to sunder, destroy, disarm (and then steal), snatch away, or 'use-up' an item. Read up on the tactics pages of the PHB and you'll see a few things. Large and huge creatures are very tough to grapple, for example. An ogre with a couple levels of barbarian that rages and then tries to snatch away a weapon or item from a character is very likely to going to be successful.

Rust monsters, and the like are good for that. Once they really get off the hook you can always whip out a Nightwalker.

28th-Sep-2004 09:14 am (UTC)
Disenchanter from MM2
29th-Sep-2004 12:23 pm (UTC)
Displacer Beasts too. I hate those damn things
28th-Sep-2004 05:12 am (UTC)
I agree that stealing their stuff might be a little off-putting. You are allowed to scale the XP down a notch. You said that there were 5 characters? The XP charts were designed with 4 characters in mind. So right off the bat, an EL3 fight is not going to be tough enough. Or throw an extra monster into a fight. I've found that multiple mid-range baddies are usually more effective than one big baddie.

One thing I almost always do is fudge the numbers during play. The players can't see your sheet with monster HP and saves on it. Many times I let monsters go quite negative in HP before they actually fall. If a saving throw is close and you want it to go one way or another, then give it a little help. Give your baddies a little bonus to their own attacks.

Now with all of this, do be sure to keep it in check. A power-tripping DM is worse than a power-tripping PC. Plus, the extremes make it more fun. The mighty dragon bites at the paladin before it. At the last moment the paladin dives out of the way and the dragon bites its own tail/leg. (rolled a natural 1)

You can also use fudging in the other direction. If you know a PC only has 3 HP left and you just rolled 14 damage, scale it to 10. Putting them at -7 is scary enough to give them a little humility without being mean. But all that depends on the people you're playing with. In the last 4 years or so, I've yet to actually kill a player (or provide a true res). They've "gone negative" quite a bit. But I also know that some groups are not like that. In some groups, if they know they can never die, they get cocky.
28th-Sep-2004 06:09 am (UTC)
Sounds like you need an enconter level adjustment. They have 5 characters, so you have to up the challenege by 25% for that. On top of that, they have extra powerful stuff. Depending on the stuff, that could make them twice as powerful or more. I might take away a key item or two, but for the most part, explain to the players that they are going to be facing encounters that are more difficult in order to make it a challenge for them, and then scale things up. You can do that without hack-and-slash by making monsters that are intelligent and skilled, who use effective tactics.

My favorite enhanced monster was the maxitaur. He was a minitaur, who was also a 6th level fighter, with some good combat feats. Wearing armor. With an up-sized magical axe of throwing and returning. The size of the thing gave it more damage, and had the added benefit that if the players defeated him, they couldn't turn around and use it. He was the chief guard in an evil temple that had been constructed with him in mind. Hidden alcoves for him to jump out of, branching corridors for him to run through, loops so that he could get behind his foes, that sort of thing. His by the book ECL was fairly high, but his actual effectiveness was higher still.

Just an example of a hard opponent to battle, without going the 8 ogres, 27 orcs, and 53 kobolds route.
28th-Sep-2004 02:26 pm (UTC)
So, say that 2 ogres is a good EL 3. Should I go with 4 ogres and keep it at EL 3 XP-wise?
28th-Sep-2004 02:59 pm (UTC)
You will have to feel it out for exactly what is the right balance, but you have the idea. All the encounter level system does is try to scale the reward to the level of danger and effort involved in handling a situation. If it's not corectly measuring the threat, change it. It's especially screwy in terms of magic items. The game designers clearly aren't operating on the same scale I am. They expect a 5th levle fighter to be excited about a +1 sword and a healing potion. I expect a first level fighter to obtain himself a CLW potion, and second level fighter to have that +1 sword. So as you go up in level, if you use a more "fun" distribution of items, you have to adjust the system. I guess I'm curious. What have the players got? If you are handing out artifacts at this point, I'd say you are off. At third level, if I were running the game, a fighter would have a +2 magic primary weapon, a +1 secondary weapon, some moderately magic armor, and one of those things would have a minor special quality. Additionally, he would have a few potions. Potons are good magic items for low level characters because they do something more colorful than "+1", but they are one shot, and the potion bottle can get shattered, and the monster may consume one or more before the item becomes "treasure".

I prefer to toughen and smarten up the monsters rather than add numbers. An ogre fighting dumb is a lot easier than an ogre fighting smart. While ogres aren't known for their brains, a little savage cunning might not be out of place in their leader. Also tactics. Two ogres who get one party member by himself and beat him down, are a lot harder to deal with than two ogres who stand out in the open and let the party take them down as a team. I do tend to give the bad guys magic as well, but that has the down side of escalating the parties power level. Never never never give them something cool for free. If they get a +2 frost mace, one of them needs to get hit with a +2 frost mace a few times.

28th-Sep-2004 06:13 am (UTC)
If you ask me, if the PC's are breezing through everything that you throw at them, you have to throw something better at them.

Presumably, if they're following a set series of adventures that they've picked out or decided on before-hand, you're a bit limited in what you can do, but there's -always- something you can do as a DM:

1) A low-level party is invading a goblin warren, but have equipment as if they were 8th level? Not a problem: slap a fiendish template on the goblins. The rumors that goblins were about were indeed true, but nobody knew the -whole- truth.
2) A 4th level party is raiding an enemy encampment? Throw a nasty little surprise in their way that was in none of the recon-reports. Maybe the campaigning warlord never unleashed his Black Dragon, but anybody foolish enough (:P) to walk into the camp just might stumble into it. Tough luck.
3) Aw, crap, look at that, your item was actually intelligent and now it wants to do something entirely different than what you wanted. I guess you'll have to deal with your sword holding back and trying to fudge your die-rolls, Fighter. Sucks to be you.
4) All that glitters is gold, and gold belongs to Pixies. Little Fey are annoying tricksters and steal things (and usually give 'em back if you beat 'em up a bit) after they con you out of them. Throw a bunch of the little sprites at them, acting in unison to have a good time. Even "buy" the items from them with a heaping pile of Pixie Gold---leaves aren't good on the open market, you know.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. :]
28th-Sep-2004 06:27 am (UTC)
So 1 extra party member is probably worth shifting the XP down a bit, and if they are massively overequipped for their level, that sounds like a reasonable justification for another shift down. The XP chart assumes a party of 4, with the 4 primary roles filled, and level appropriate gear (see the chart in the DMG). Basically I'd user CR-1 or CR-2 when looking up XP rewards on the chart, depending on how overbalanced the party is... When their geir matches their level the tone that down to whatever shift you feel is appropriate for the extra party member. :)

On the other hand... If you go by the Wealth By Level guidelines, your players generally never have particularly cool gear. Their weapons tend to be less powerful than the players can improve them too with greater magic weapon, their spells tend to be more powerful and frequently usable than their wondrous items, etc. You'll end up not handing out an artifact until long after its game effects aren't terribly cool anymore. And part of the fun of the game is hacving items that the players incorporate into their identities because they make them cool. The Fighter with the really kick ass +3 Flaming Burst greatsword, the Wizard who is inordinantly proud of his Staff of Power, etc.

Watch out on destroying magic items, particularly ones charactes have had for a long time. I used Mordenkainen's Disjunction on my party once. Only once. In the aftermath of all their magic items being wiped out I decided to eliminate the spell (well to rework it into just Even Greater Dispel Magic). Losing their trademark items hurt the players, and not in a fun way. It took away part of their characters' identities. Items that they had had for years of real time, hundreds of hours of actual gaming time, were instantly destroyed. Mass destruction/removal like that is just too devastating.

OTOH, breaking the occasional weapon or item can be ok (though be careful, once people see how easy sundering is, they start wondering why their gear ever lives... plus they'll use it on their enemies), and giving the players a reason to sacrifice items can be quite effective (ex. I gave my players an epic level intelligent weapon during an adventure. Later in the adventure they were able to activate an Adamantine Golem to side with them by transfering the intelligence from the weapon to the Golem, destroying the weapon. Later on when the Golem fell in a massive battle, they were sad to lose a companion, but not traumatized in the losing gear sense. Silly, but losing a companion is cool roleplaying, tragedy and all that. Losing gear is just taking away toys, it doesn't have the cool pathos, and it makes the players feel you are taking their stuff away. Now you can only do that particular trick once or twice, but... Make the players need to destroy an evil artifact, make it turn out that a piece of their overpowered gear is the only thing that can do it, but it will be destroyed too, give them a long quest to do it and see if they destroy it at the end).

Anyhow, I wouldn't super worry about getting rid of the gear, just reduce rewards till the players catch up to it. :)
28th-Sep-2004 08:51 am (UTC)
The short answer is "yes, it would be unfair." Players get attached to their gear, just like they get attached to their characters, and I think it is unfair to fix your mistake by penalizing them. On the other hand, it's perfectly okay to start throwing tougher opponents than they "ought" to be able to handle at them, since it sounds like they're tough enough to handle it. It's also perfectly okay to not let them find more powerful items until they "catch up" to their gear.

Get creative - find opponents that have high resistance or who have ways to deal with the most powerful gear. If there are one or two items that are really overpowered, well...maybe someone might come after one or more of said items. That kind of thing can be a really fun addition to your story arc, and it can actually really help flesh out the characters and their world.

Your other option is to have an honest talk with your players. Admit you screwed up, explain why, and explain why it's a problem now. They may even agree to give up some items voluntarily - or they may agree to start facing tougher opponents. It depends on your party and their maturity level, but sometimes honesty and giving them some options to work with can get you surprisingly good results. Even if the results aren't great, it will probably go over better than an obvious, contrived taking away of their stuff.
28th-Sep-2004 09:19 am (UTC)
Maybe give them some low-action challenges, like searching a city for a noble, or uncovering a murder plot, maybe infiltrate a cult, stuff like that that doesn't involve teh h4xx0r.
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