Author Topic: Need Help with Powerful PCs  (Read 11892 times)

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kevin_video

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Need Help with Powerful PCs
« on: October 27, 2011, 09:10:49 AM »
I'm getting beaten by them. I took some adventures from various sites, and even advanced them when it looked like the PCs would be more than a match for them. It doesn't seem to have helped. My players seem to be better optimizers than I am, or that of WotC and Paizo. Short of making the creature CRs twice that of the party, I'm not sure what to do. They even went after a hoard that they never should have gotten. I made it hard enough that it shouldn't kill them, but at least make them think twice about challenging something so hard. They walked away from it with only the animal companion dying, but not dead. The paladin was able to do a lay on hands to save it. Now they have the wealth of characters four levels higher. All I got in response was that the encounter annoying, but not difficult.

They average ECL 7, and now have the wealth of a 10th level character. Granted they're going to level up pretty soon, making them ECL 8, but still. The next major encounter is going to be the adventure, An Eye for an Eye, by WotC. They've pissed off an assassin guild, as well as multiple fey (even killed a fey assassin), and know they'll eventually have to deal with a god's own variation on the four horsemen. You'd think that'd worry them, but no.

I've already gone through the adventure and advanced everything except the phase spider. As is, it's supposed to be challenging for an 8th level group, but I already know they won't be able to defeat the PCs who are one level short of the "challenge". They have see invisibility to find the assassins, and the PCs have a higher AC than what the attacks of the mercenaries can possibly hit. And even if I went for that route, only a couple of them have a chance of making a successful UMB check for wraithstrike.

It's like we're playing 4th Ed. I've played that where anything short of CR 20 can't challenge a PC once they hit 11th level.

Short of purposely party wiping them, I'm not sure what I can do to challenge them. I don't want to take them out because they're enjoying their characters, and liking the game, and they're not purposely trying to break my campaign world.
« Last Edit: October 27, 2011, 08:28:33 PM by kevin_video »
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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2011, 09:43:45 AM »
Optimized Party... a Paladin  ???

Well, Paladin jokes aside, knowing what their characters are and their strong points/what aspect they have optimized might help.
That aside, don't rely too much on premade encounters of premade adventures, they're targeted mostly to beginners of the game I guess, all the encounters are waaay to easy even for a non-optimized party (and by that I mean a bunch of people that just took stuff that made sense without any excessive research, combos, absurd PrCs or strange sheanigans). ESPECIALLY because adventure encounters (obviosuly) aren't custom tailored to your party classes and skillsets.
This might help, but if you want more specific advice you might want to tell us their builds.
Lastly, if it wasn't obvious already, a good suggestion is to look at every nook and cranny of their builds and all aspects of their character sheets: you want to calibrate the challenges to their actual abilities and give them a fair share of opportunity to shine with their strengths and get smacked in the face by their weaknesses.
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Rejakor

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2011, 10:06:20 AM »
Published adventures assume blaster wizards, Toughness fighters, two weapon dagger rogues, and healbot clerics.  They also assume staggering incompetence on the part ofthe adventurers.

They're also pretty boring plotwise and I rarely use them for anything else other than inspiration-fodder.  For interesting/hard encounters, keep in mind that something that has a 5% chance to plink an adventurer for 1d4 damage is not a threat.  Also that one big monster, no matter how scawy, is not actually a threat ever, unless it has the kind of immunities, SLAs and movement options a Balor does.

kevin_video

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2011, 11:16:43 AM »
Hey, don't laugh, Bard. He took a variant paladin and has a stupid high AC.

The characters are:
-half-elf Ehlonna-touched prodigy (DSP) ranger 5/wizard 1
-human thunderchild Kord-blooded divine warrior 5 (3rd party; fighter with cleric domains)
-half-giant cleaving soulknife 6 (3rd party; full BAB with some psychic warrior powers)
-half-celestial aasimar ranged smite paladin of freedom 4/gun fighter 2
-halfling ranged rogue 4/fighter 2 with large size viper wild cohort
-human emerald half-dragon warlock 6
-dwarf earth elemental bloodline cleric 5

Took a look at the link, and I never let the tarrasque only have just Toughness. It has Improved Toughness, and a bunch or other feats to make it better. Then I add fiendish or half-fiend so it can at least try do damage against incorporeal.

The average AC for each member is between 23 for the ranged PCs and 30 for the front liners. Also, the divine warrior almost never misses with her +15. She does 1d8+1d6 shocking+12 with a warhammer. She's got Power Attack, Cleave, and Great Cleave. She's already been fighting lots of things that are resistant or immune to lightning just so she doesn't do even more stupid high damage.

The only things they've had trouble fighting so far are lycanthropes, and fey with DR 10/cold iron. However, with their new wealth, they've got ways around that weakness.

The main things they've all optimized is being able to hit, and their AC. The damage isn't really there, but they can most definitely hit their targets without issue. Concealment and cover don't really mean a whole lot to them anymore either. They now have items that get around that. Cloud cover like fog cloud or stink cloud doesn't mean anything for the divine warrior who can see through it perfectly.

The published adventure, after I updated it to 3.5, gives you a human fighter 8, a human rogue 5/fighter 1/assassin 1, a half-elf rogue 5/assassin 1, a doppleganger rogue 3, an elf sorcerer 7, and a phase spider (CR 5). The rogues have an average of +8 to their attack, but it's assumed that they're invisible so they get the bonus plus no Dex to help aid their attack. Kind of hard to do when the party wizard has a wand of see invisibility. He didn't like it when the fey kept disappearing. However, these assassins are smart. They have an excess amount of cash that's supposed to be specifically used to buy better arms, armor, and potions that'll combat the PCs. I've already done that. Got stuff to increase their AC against arrows and bullets, potions of resistance against electricity and sonic, and stone salve (which the PCs have as well). That'd actually mean something if three of the party members didn't have ways around that already.

They have ways to get around DR adamantine, cold iron, silver, good, evil, magic, incorporeal, etc. About the only thing most of them can't get passed is DR X/-, and even then they'd just have the spellcasters do it, or just do more damage than what's there.

About the only "weakness" they have is that the players don't roll very well. Minus one player. She almost never rolls a natural 1. Everyone else has their moments from time to time, but sometimes I get lucky enough that they can't roll over a 10 on that particular night.
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Bloody Initiate

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2011, 12:23:56 PM »
That's a big party. Their size is probably the biggest reason you're having a hard time challenging them. Also looks like a lot of templates and things without a lot of level-check abilities making them pay for it. A lot of the spells and abilities that affect targets based on their HD would slow them down a bit. Just generally hitting them with things that trim groups would help probably.

Really though, that's a lot of actions they're able to throw down. My D&D group used to be larger and we'd steamroll things on our size alone. You get a few characters who feel particularly awesome, but that's also partly a result of the larger party (More characters increases the chances of having awesome characters. Sounds silly, but it ends up working). We'd bring the whole crew to game conferences whenever possible, and action economy is something that translates throughout most RPGs. We'd take 7-8 turns for every 4 or so we were expected to take. Games are almost never designed for groups that large because it's difficult to keep that many people engaged.

You're also dealing with 7 minds attempting to disassemble the game you crafted with 1 mind. DMs think they're getting away with a LOT more than they are actually. There are always more eyes on you than you have on them, and usually when you think you've pulled a fast one, really they've just let you think you've done so for the same reasons you let them embellish descriptions of their actions. You're both playing the game, and most people don't see a need to attack each other's fun. More players isn't automatically super-difficult or anything, but you have to keep in mind the obvious results of them having 75% more people than what the game expected.
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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2011, 12:32:43 PM »
Ah, its not PC optimality, just party size and the usual rocket tag.

Firstly, ignore given CRs, they aren't demonstrative when your party falls outside the range. What you can do is increase the number of enemies, especially melee foes with thrown weapons(so they can get in an early wave of attacks) and Diehard(which lets them at least get an action off).
You'd probably find this works nicely. Make use of stealth and terrain, split the attackers into two groups and come at the PCs from opposite directions.
2x CR 5 special effect type, like a bard, or any kind of caster. Their job is to stonewall PCs or boost the monster attacks, mostly stonewall PCs, since the latter can be swingy.
6-8x CR 4s focused on one attack form or beatsticks. They die in one hit, but that is the point of bringing many, so they can swarm past the frontline and tackle those they can hit.

Won't kill the players, they'd just take long enough to actually make the PCs take notice.
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Empirate

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2011, 12:34:02 PM »
To me it seems like you've tried to counter brute force and brute toughness with more brute force and brute toughness. The problems you describe revolve around dealing HP damage. This is not the way to approach your problem. I expect where you're really struggling is tactics and encounter composition. Your PC party is composed almost entirely of warrior types, and they lack a dedicated full caster. If you want to challenge them, make sure they cannot benefit too much from what they're good at: a) hitting things, and b) not being hit by things. Also make sure that c) you challenge them in more miscellaneous ways than outright combat.

a) Stop giving them opportunities to approach their foes in melee, at least without having some trouble getting there. Highly mobile, ranged attackers are the simplest solution: a large part of the PCs can't really catch up to them, so they must rely on the ranged element of their own party to take down the threat. Flying, teleporting, burrowing etc. enemies will also mix things up quite a bit. Remember: what the party can't reach they can't destroy.

Even better is throwing in some battlefield control abilities. A Druid with Entangle or Sorcerer with Web can make sure around half the party is unable to move, or forced to move very slowly. Solid Fog, Black Tentacles, Wall of Ice etc. are spells they should be encountering at the levels they're at. Other abilities that provide nice BC either mimic such spells (Assassin Vine's Entangle, Bone Devil's Ice Wall), are available as feats (Earth Devotion, Entangling Exhalation, Improved Trip), or are miscellaneous monstrous abilities (Air Elemental's Whirlwind, spiderwebs).

One resource for not being hit are available to a wide range of enemies: miss chances. Blacklight, Blink, Blur, Displacement, Mirror Image, Pyrotechnics, and the fog spells are spell solutions for this. Incorporeality is a good defense, as well. Also, there's environmental conditions (namely, fog or dust in the air, dense foliage, a hailstorm etc.) that even darkvision doesn't negate.

Finally, some monsters are outright immune to a wide range of attacks. A Hellwasp Swarm may be just the thing to scare them. A Black Pudding can also take away excess equipment...

You might want to start with a bunch of Arrowhawks (or Blink Dogs with a Warlock level each), accompanying a Sorcerer-Druid-couple, and work your way up from there.


Another route you might want to go are debuffing tactics. A bunch of Rays of Enfeeblement plus Rays of Exhaustion will cut the melee department down to size. A Dragonne can accomplish similar things with its Roar. A horde of undead Shadows (or a Greater Shadow) will put the fear of god into even mid- to high-level parties. I expect their Fort saves to be pretty good, but at their level, poisonous creatures might still be an option that scares them. Other debuffs, like the Glitterdust, Slow, Unluck and Enervation spells, provide fantastic options as well. Rust Monsters? Good... debuffers, to say the least.


b) You want to get away from attacking their strong point (AC) and target some weak points occasionally (weak saves, touch AC) or rely more on attacks that outright do some kind of damage (area attacks, damaging auras, no-save-no-attack-roll spells, even environmental conditions). I don't need to go into too much detail, but consider any or all of the following attack forms:

breath weapons
(dragons, cryo-/pyrohydra, chimera)

area spells
(monsters with SLAs, casters)

other area damage abilities
(Medusa, Destrachan, swarms)

trip/disarm/sunder
(warrior types; even better with very large creatures such as giants; best done at huge reach)

grapple (plus constrict/rake/swallow whole)
(Tendriculouses and Behirs are tough)

touch attacks/incorporeal touch attacks
(Lamia, Spectre; touch spells)

ranged touch attacks
(Efreeti, Gauth beholder; Warlocks; ranged touch spells)

mind-affecting nasties
(Formian Taskmaster, Mindflayer, Succubus)


c) Finally, you need to make sure they understand how much they've pigeonholed their party by staying away from problem-solving in favor of combat prowess. I can't tell you how to do this in a few short paragraphs; just make sure that there'll be some puzzle locks to pick, disgruntled nobles to placate, ships to get safely through a storm, businessmen to swindle, underwater caves to navigate, magical traps to unravel, mountains to climb, Lord High Priests to impress, city defenses to plan, women to woo etc.

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2011, 12:40:09 PM »
Some observations.

You have 7 characters + 1 cohort. Most published modules assume a party of 4. Your party has twice as many actions as the average party. That'll mean team monster'll be raped. Improving the monsters won't work much. You need more bodies I think.

The party is not very heavy on casters. I'm not familiar with the 3rd party classes you mention but they seem to be partial casters. They'll probably use their casting to improve their melee capabilities. That's a plus at least. It'll probably mean that they have no clear cut answers to statuseffects and stat damage. How are their saves?

You'll probably need to add caters to the adventure anyway. I've found that most adventures feature mostly melee brutes.

How is their spot? A hiding assassin with darkstalker (and maybe hide in plain sight) is not detectable with see invisible. Add in undead type if they have lifesense or something.

Getting past all DR types means having lots of different weapons and switching around a lot. How do their characters know what sword to use or are they metagaming? If they are metagaming then just change the DR around. "No, no no, werewolves are immune to cold-iron. Not silver. Didn't you know?" Multiple immunities are good as well. Silver AND Good.

Ask your players to return some of their wealth. Tell them you have trouble challenging them as it is. The extra wealth, which they weren't supposed to get, is just making your job worse and will detract from their fun.

 +15 to hit is pretty nice at ECL 7 but not great. That's a 50/50 chance to hit AC 25. AC 25 is not so hight for a carefully crafted monster, let alone a boss or miniboss. Doing on average 20 damage a hit. If she went into the cleave tree she's not pouncing, leap attacking, dungeaon-crashing or shock-trooping. Doesn't sound very optimized to me.

Need more input! How are their saves? How did they get their AC this high? How do they get past invisibility, miss-chance, concealment, cover, lack of vision, DR. How about SR? Can they fly? How? Can all of them do all those things? With passive abilities/items or activated?

Edit: ninja-ed on some parts but posted anyway ;)


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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2011, 02:57:13 PM »
I think the others have already covered it nicely, but here are a couple more suggestions:

1. get more bodies in there; summons are a great way to do this - have one of the enemies be a malconvoker - porting in 2 demons/round with good SLAs can change the board rapidly
2. Animated objects are another nightmare for most groups, they keep their hardness, which is much more difficult to bypass than DR.  
3. in general, throw more magic at them; if their high AC is giving your beatsticks fits, then target other defenses.  
4. go raid the handbook area for real optimized NPCs to throw at them.  

I think there was a thread recently in Min/Max about dealing with a high AC PC a little while ago, you may want to check out the suggestions in there as well.  

Aside from that, Empirate's post = gold.

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #10 on: October 27, 2011, 03:40:37 PM »
It sounds like a well-placed Confusion spell would wreak havoc in that group.  :D I think you have your answers already in general, though. Crowd Control and/or more enemies.

Those guys don't look particularly optimized as a party, either. I think it is mostly just a numbers thing (i.e. actions), as already stated.
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Monotremeancer

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #11 on: October 27, 2011, 06:53:51 PM »
And make sure they are flat-footed before you deliver those touch attacks
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kevin_video

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #12 on: October 27, 2011, 08:28:08 PM »
Two of the players are going to be taking Leadership. They want more clerics in the party for healing and buffing. So there'll be three cohorts. This'll make life even harder come next level. That'll make 10 on their side.

With regards to a couple of solutions:
- They are just as good ranged as they are melee.
- Their saves are all stupid high so Web does nothing. I only ever caught the paladin in the spell because he rolled a 1.
- Cleave and Great Cleave gets through mirror image.
- Their AC is high because of their LA and the wealth was pretty much all spent on reinforced mithral armor and dastanas.
- Four of them have legacy weapons of their own design.
- I let them have a free level adjustment, and am allowing the LA buy-off for the rest.
- Three of them have a spot of +17 before rolling.
- Swarms don't bother them much anymore because they now have area affect/splash items. They bought some after their last encounter with a swarm.
- We're using the MIC rules for magic item slots, so they have a lesser fiendslayer/true death/demolition crystal, and use a mithral weapon as its base to get passed silver. For everything else, they're made into arrows and bolts.
- The players won't give back any of the wealth. As it was they were complaining that I didn't give them enough because one guy was short almost 200 gold for getting the best possible armor upgrade, and ended up borrowing from another player. They want more gold now. They're already planning on getting feats and up their skill checks so that they'll be able to negotiate with sellers for 100% of the cost value of items they sell, and get at least a 25% discount on stuff they buy. They'd like to have 800k by 12th level, and they're striving for that. A few of them anyways. The others are fine. Just three of them are insanely greedy. That's how it got to this point in the first place. They don't want me to not give them the standard amount of treasure from creatures just because they've gone passed the WBL table. They want me to ignore it and continue as usual. They consider excess amounts of wealth to make the game more fun.
- How do they get past invisibility, miss-chance, concealment, cover, lack of vision? LA abilities, spells, wands, magic items.
- DR? Weapons and spells.
- How about SR? Most of them don't care about getting passed that, but the ones that do have feats to get passed it.
- Can they fly? How? Two of them can. Spell, racial ability, and items.
- Can all of them do all those things? With passive abilities/items or activated? Not all of them can do this, no. Most of them can't fly and don't do well in rough terrain. I use that to my advantage. It's why the divine warrior isn't pouncing or charging in any sort of way. They're getting smart to that and looking for ways for her to get around it item wise.
- Four of them can't be caught flat-footed due to uncanny dodge. There's a splat book that puts that in a ring, and two of them has that, while the other two have it from class abilities.

Spellcasting may be the only way to go about this.
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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #13 on: October 27, 2011, 08:36:09 PM »
Two of the players are going to be taking Leadership. They want more clerics in the party for healing and buffing. So there'll be three cohorts. This'll make life even harder come next level. That'll make 10 on their side.
Tell them no. You have too many PCs already. If they want healing, they can buy it or play it.

Quote
- Their saves are all stupid high so Web does nothing. I only ever caught the paladin in the spell because he rolled a 1.
Re-read the Web spell. They're still screwed if they make the save, just not (quite) as badly.

Quote
- The players won't give back any of the wealth. As it was they were complaining that I didn't give them enough because one guy was short almost 200 gold for getting the best possible armor upgrade, and ended up borrowing from another player. They want more gold now. They're already planning on getting feats and up their skill checks so that they'll be able to negotiate with sellers for 100% of the cost value of items they sell, and get at least a 25% discount on stuff they buy. They'd like to have 800k by 12th level, and they're striving for that. A few of them anyways. The others are fine. Just three of them are insanely greedy. That's how it got to this point in the first place. They don't want me to not give them the standard amount of treasure from creatures just because they've gone passed the WBL table. They want me to ignore it and continue as usual. They consider excess amounts of wealth to make the game more fun.
They have absolutely no say in this. You're the DM. You place the treasure. Tell them just to consider themselves lucky if you don't start sending guys with Improved Sunder, or rust monsters after them.
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kevin_video

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Re: Need Help with Optimized PCs
« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2011, 08:41:39 PM »
Re-read the Web spell. They're still screwed if they make the save, just not (quite) as badly.
Quote
Oh I know the spell. I thought I'd finally have something over them because of it. Then they lit it on fire, and took a bit of damage because a couple of them had fire resistance from spells or their ring.
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Re: Need Help with Powerful PCs
« Reply #15 on: October 27, 2011, 09:17:30 PM »
In the Leadership description:
Special: Check with your DM before selecting this feat, and work with your DM to determine an appropriate cohort and followers for your character.


You can say no.

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Re: Need Help with Powerful PCs
« Reply #16 on: October 27, 2011, 09:18:59 PM »
In the Leadership description:
Special: Check with your DM before selecting this feat, and work with your DM to determine an appropriate cohort and followers for your character.

You can say no.
The problem is I already said yes when they first asked two levels ago. Although, I could now say that at the time it fit because we didn't have seven players, but now we do.
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Re: Need Help with Powerful PCs
« Reply #17 on: October 27, 2011, 09:20:09 PM »
In the Leadership description:
Special: Check with your DM before selecting this feat, and work with your DM to determine an appropriate cohort and followers for your character.

You can say no.
The problem is I already said yes when they first asked two levels ago. Although, I could now say that at the time it fit because we didn't have seven players, but now we do.
That seems like the best approach, yes.
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Empirate

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Re: Need Help with Powerful PCs
« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2011, 11:00:03 PM »
This may come across as a little harsh. Read on with care.

To me it sounds as if you threw a ton of candy at a bunch of whiny, spoiled brats. They ate it all up in a matter of minutes and are still crying for more. And all you're doing is wonder whether it will be good for their teeth, and how you can smuggle a trace amount of vitamin into their diet. That is not the way. Man up.

It's time to lay the smack down, hard. You made absolutely, positively sure that your PCs are each about three levels ahead, power-wise, of where they should be. Also, you're facing a party that is about twice the size a normal party is supposed to be. This is not the time to play fair. It's certainly not the time to even consider throwing more pearls before the voracious swine. Rust Monsters, thieves in the night, social disgrace, level-draining undead, Baleful Polymorph - it's on.

kevin_video

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Re: Need Help with Powerful PCs
« Reply #19 on: October 28, 2011, 12:01:56 AM »
This may come across as a little harsh. Read on with care.

To me it sounds as if you threw a ton of candy at a bunch of whiny, spoiled brats. They ate it all up in a matter of minutes and are still crying for more. And all you're doing is wonder whether it will be good for their teeth, and how you can smuggle a trace amount of vitamin into their diet. That is not the way. Man up.

It's time to lay the smack down, hard. You made absolutely, positively sure that your PCs are each about three levels ahead, power-wise, of where they should be. Also, you're facing a party that is about twice the size a normal party is supposed to be. This is not the time to play fair. It's certainly not the time to even consider throwing more pearls before the voracious swine. Rust Monsters, thieves in the night, social disgrace, level-draining undead, Baleful Polymorph - it's on.
No, what I'm asking for is how to lay down the beating. At no point am I wondering if it'll be good or not for them. I won't want to party wipe them, but I do want them to realize that they're not invincible. I purposely let them have their way when they wanted to dungeon delve for more money so they could become rich. I thought I had the perfect boss for them to fight. It caused the cohort to nearly bleed to death, and the rest of them were dying slowly (wounding plus vile damage), and somehow they still managed to pull victory from their @$$ with four consecutive 20s. They should have died. I thought it was perfect. Nope. I don't need to man up, I need to find a strategy to let them know I'm still in charge. However, I refuse to be a dick DM that TPKs. That just shows I couldn't handle it. I've had those types of DMs before. I won't be like them. It's why I'm DMing in the first place.

But no, summons, negative energy drains, and anything else I can think of will be used. Even if I have to cheat by using a CR 15. Going by the standard rules, a CR 10 is supposed to be a challenge for them (total party levels (57) / # of PCs (7) + 1 for every 2 more than standard 4 characters (2) = challenge CR 10.14). Considering I used a CR 9 last time, and it almost won, I'd say that's probably accurate. Might need a CR 9 next time with some minions because a single CR 10 wouldn't last being surrounded by these guys. It's too bad you can't summon rust monsters.
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