DM Dilemma: My Party Kicks Too Much Ass

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In the last DM Dilemma, we looked at ways to handle PC death in your game. But what if you have the opposite problem? What if your PCs are just too tough for everything you throw at them? Without an element of challenge, D&D can get pretty boring. So, here are a few things you can do to keep those buff PCs awake, alert, and mindful of their own mortality.

Use Traps and Hazards

Some say that having a really tough party is a blessing in disguise, because the DM gets to do cool stuff that would leave a lesser party dead in the dirt. So don’t look at your party’s badassery as an affront to your DMing; look at it as an opportunity to do things like swing a pendulum through the fray, or place the battlefield on a bridge over a pit of bubbling lava. Use fantastic terrains to trip the party up and slow them down on their way into battle. Go on, the PCs can take it! This is your chance to use epic environments to tenderize the party before, during, or after their combats.

Spare No One

Does your group have strikers who stand smugly in the back and blast away at enemies without ever putting themselves in danger? You can wipe the smiles off their faces with some well-placed strikers of your own. Concealed ranged attackers can be like snipers, picking off the party’s spellcasters one by one. If your party is heavy on healing, give them monsters, traps or hazards that do area damage. The cleric won’t be so complacent when everyone gets hurt at the same time.

Send In the Swarms

It doesn’t matter if these are actual swarming creatures, or just a swarm of minions desperate to get in one good slash before they die. The goal is to chip away at the party’s powers and hit points before the PCs reach the strikers who are dishing out the heavy damage. Like area attacks, a tidal wave of minions or swarms will soften up the group before they face off against the real challenge.

Adjust the Difficulty

Encounter levels are guidelines. If your party has learned to strategize well, they can easily romp through encounters of the recommended level. To give them a tougher time, add to the number of monsters or simply pit them against foes a few levels higher than they’re used to. Until you get a feel for the appropriate encounter level, give the party an out in case things get really deadly.

Killing Doesn’t Solve Everything

Sure, your party can trounce the meanest bugbear in the cave – but can they negotiate with him? If your party uses brute force to solve every problem, change up the encounter’s victory condition. Maybe they have to get information, make a deal, or even enter into a strange alliance with the foe. Let the PCs flex those Diplomacy muscles for a change.

Have you had to ramp up your game to suit a stronger-than-normal party? What did you do to bring the pain?

20 thoughts on “DM Dilemma: My Party Kicks Too Much Ass”

  1. I have just been rereading the original article, and I liked the idea of “Killing iusn’t everything”. Make them have to use Diplomacy, Persuasion, Charisma or whatever, because they have to negotiate with something/someone rather than fighting? Have a “Monster” be the only one who knows the way to get through the Maze, or to another, important location; if they have had to fight their way to him/it, they will now have to shift mental gears as they try to figure a way to persuade said whatever to aid them?
    Another one is to disguise a Monster as an ally, for a while at least? Maybe they meet a Golem or the like uder a Geas to protect a certain room in the Dungeon – but the Geas has decayed over time so that the creature can “wander” and he is otherwise benevolent? He could be a useful ally for the Party UNTIL they find “his” room, at which point the Geas comes into play? Another one is the Charmee who seems like a Goodie until a certain condition is met, like a Dispel Magic,and he/she suddenly dons the Black Hat?
    Same could apply to a Polymorphed victim, the Dispel Magic returns it to its original form? Yet another is the old Ogre Mage, who seems to be simply a terrified Halfling (or is that too cliche?) until he decides it is time to strike!

  2. Make your own monsters that have better attacks and change up things w/ an instant death save to scare the shiz out of them and theyll run. Think Galactus on steroids with implants v.s Average joe.

  3. Excellent post! I actually had an issue with one of my recent gaming groups who were too powerful for their own good. Seeing this post prompted me to expand upon it and write on the same topic over on my blog Beneath the Screen. I threw a link or two your way and wanted to stop by and compliment you on the great advice. Thanks for posting this!

  4. Adjusting the difficulty is the surest way to “fix things”, it is also the one you will end up using because you can’t make every encounter on the edge of a cliff, nor turn every encounter into a skill challenge (social or not).

    I ball-parked my players party at their level+2 and built encounters from there. I found that it worked well, but that it was much easier to take it too far and make encounters that were almost too hard. So take care.

    I also mixed higher level monsters with lower level ones, ie: encounters with one or two monsters level+3/4, and the rest level or level-1/2.

    A “smart” party will “focus DPS” on the greatest foes and the rest of the mobs will be simply left-overs…

    No monster (sometimes not even solos) can survive being hit by all the parties daily powers or hard hitting encounter powers…

    For “nova build” characters simply placing an extra “meatbag” monster and placing it prominently in the way of said character(s) works wonderfully. The player is happy ’cause (s)he used his/her cool powers and the encounter ends up being as hard as you intended it to be.

    PS: this was for a party of 7 mechanically “illegal” characters (they had more than 22 points).

  5. A solid Dominate spell from a lone wizard will turn a barbarian standing directly before your party’s spellcasters into the best enemy.

    Also, ambushing with dopplegangers who all look like the party’s cleric is hilarious to watch.

  6. I definitely agree with the idea of giving them a task beyond just murder. Along those lines give them multiple objectives that may be at odds. Send them in to kill an evil overlord, at the same time have a merchant plead that they free his imprisoned son or daughter. Have the overlord use the child as a human shield, or have the child just break down crying as they try to free her, attempting to run from them at the slightest danger, etc.

  7. I have to agree with Expy. (Because he’ll eat me if I don’t.)

    These are great suggestions. I like how you guys think. ;)

  8. Simply split the party up and let them figure their own way around things.Not for long just a session or 2 to challenge them and yourself as a DM.
    a fighter, mage, and cleric are a powerful combo. but split them up and see how the mage deals with a anti magic room with too many goblins swarming her, a cleric that fights an unseen foe beneath the waves of a churning current, and a fighter that cant seem to lift his sword against a seemingly weak mage(or 2).

  9. Beef up the Mooks. In other words give some advantage to lower level opponents. Flying, missile weapons, strategy and tactics (Evil is not the same as Stupid!), ambush, surprise (short term invisiblity or camouflage) shortrange Teleport/Jump, (Players aren’t the only ones with Fey Step?), attacking from the rear or flank, limited magic resistance or powers of their own, great numbers (dozens of small attackers can be deadly!) use terrain by attacking on a cliff or bridge, of from a position the characters can’t reach.
    Bear in mind re the small attackers that using Feats or great magic to kill one Goblin becomes overkill!
    Frustration is great too, have the person that directed them to come this way have sent them into an ambush, but now he is out of reach! “If we ever get back to that Monastery that damn Monk is gonna have some explaining to do!”

  10. If they take extended rests too often for your liking, drag out the old reliable “random encounter” table. Just as they start to nap, have a bulette dig up their campsite. Or, create an adventure where time is of the essence, and every moment they spend on their laurels is a moment closer to the bad guys winning (whatever that win may be). Keep track of time on a piece of paper off to the side that they can plainly see. Mark down the time until the big finale, and make sure they know what is at stake.

  11. Another fun thing to do to your party based on their strategy

    Always exploit the weak. For Example for my campaign I used a monster card creator to make my own monsters, They are mages that deal low damage, however their attacks slow enemies, this keeps the melee players humble while the support characters are forced to take the main role in your party. The wizards and/or archers will need to kill the monsters because the fighters simply can’t and the aura(aura 5) of the creatures also slows down people with their high speed they were very annoying to my melee characters. In the end it turned out that the party won by spreading out to avoid the area attack that slowed them. While the support characters kept them busy The strikers began to move in and attack. This provided a change of rolls that greatly surprised everyone on the battlefield.

  12. I have to agree with Ameron, keep up the pressure and don’t let them take an extended rest after 2-3 encounters. If you throw a few small hazards/traps between encounters, they will slowly find their reserves in healing surges depleted. Stretching the number of encounters will tax their abilities.

    I’d also throw a bit of randomness into awarding action points. After the 2nd encounter I roll a D6. On a 4-6 they get an action point, otherwise I award one after the 3rd encounter. It helps lower the metagaming a little and helps curbs some of the group’s resources.

  13. Attack the party’s strengths. A party that punch above their weight usually do so because they’ve got a good tactic, synergy or routine going. Work out what it is, and pull the rug out from under it; they’ll be in a whole lot of trouble when their trusty attack strategy fails them. Do they even have a Plan B? Multiple Strikers dishing out huge amounts of damage? Have a couple of Controllers lock them up, forcing everyone else to take up the slack.

    And don’t forget the beauty of the skill challenge/combat combo. A few sessions ago one of my PCs triggered a trap that shot a necrotic dart at the Rogue which, upon hitting, animated and began burrowing toward his heart. And then a group of cultists jumped out and ambushed them. The party’s trusted group tactics didn’t work too well when the Cleric and Rogue were on the ground, trying desperately to stop the dart from reaching the Rogue’s heart (Heal-based skill challenge to ‘surgically remove’ the dart), yelling for aid from the Fighter and Wizard … who were trying to hold off the attacking cultists.

  14. I find that the reason the PCs seem tougher than they are is because they rarely take on more than 3 encounters before taking an extended rest. As the DM I try to push the PCs to go for 4 or 5 encounters before resting. If they know that they’re going to need to go through 5 encounters they’re less likely to use all their Daily powers in the first encounter. By holding back on a few daily powers and item powers the battles seem more balanced. When they only do 2 or 3 encounters then rest they have too many resources at their disposal for every battle and the result is that they ARE tougher then they should be for that level.

  15. Have them fight mirror images of themselves(or at least villians with similar stats). Duel wield and sneak attacks are not nearly as cool when they are directed at you.

  16. Against the wizards: Antimagic areas, wild magic areas, magician illnesses (ie conjuritis causes spell failure)

    Against their equipment: Acid spells may cause permanent damage to armour/rings/cloaks, dispel magic spells cause their defences to drop or weapons to be useless. Don’t forget rust monsters!

    Against Melee Fighters: Attacks from the air, ambushes etc. What if the king of the land has heard about a fabulous sword the front line warrior carries, and asks for it. Would they refuse?

    Against Clerics: god stuff can often get in the way. Where is your faith if you have no healing? Ravenloft had lovely sinkholes of ultimate evil

    Boosting monsters: Troll with ring of fire/acid resistance, Nilbog (Goblin spelt backwards, that get bigger with each hit until you cast cure spells on it)

    Also, don’t let them sleep or recharge between encounters. Time limits on quests may prevent such.

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