A few questions

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I've been DM'ing for about 4 months now. The group has just reached level 4 and I am seeing a significant disparity in the quality of the characters.

I have two players who have really thought out the mechanics and rp of their characters and they definitely carry the lion's share. Then I have 2 players who seemed to just grab some things, throw them together and call it a day, and they spend most of their time whiffing or getting smacked in the face.

How do you DMs handle this? I'm worried if I up the challenge level to meet the 2 better suited characters, the other 2 pcs are going to die horrible bloody deaths and be quite unhappy. I have casually tried to offer some build advice, but so far no takers.


Now my second question - The group is going to be attempting an assault on a heavily fortified garrison. I want to make it as realistic to how someone would actually plan and act out such an assault so I'm thinking about terrain for them to take advantage of, guard patrols, a variety of routes to try and enter from, etc.

I'm also looking at putting siege weapons on the towers of the garrison that could be turned and used against its occupants.

What are some other things I should consider, and how would you go about it? The force within the garrison is significantly more powerful than the PCs, probably a 5:1 ratio in numbers.
Regarding the first point: do your players consider this to be an issue? If they're bothered, allow them to rebuild their characters a bit so that they get better. Essentially the only thing that really matters is accuracy, you can probably shift their abilities a bit and swap a feat for Expertise and be fine. If they don't care, just keep going I guess. It doesn't really matter if nobody really cares.

For the second, it would depend a lot on the garrison in question and the characters you have. With such a large number of enemies, I would suspect a frontal assault would be a no-go and your party would probably need to have a lot of allies or they'd need some kind of trick to overcome it.

It shouldn't be possible to assault a fortified location that outnumbers you 5 to 1 and win. Otherwise fortifications would be pretty pointless.
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I've been DM'ing for about 4 months now. The group has just reached level 4 and I am seeing a significant disparity in the quality of the characters.

I have two players who have really thought out the mechanics and rp of their characters and they definitely carry the lion's share. Then I have 2 players who seemed to just grab some things, throw them together and call it a day, and they spend most of their time whiffing or getting smacked in the face.

How do you DMs handle this? I'm worried if I up the challenge level to meet the 2 better suited characters, the other 2 pcs are going to die horrible bloody deaths and be quite unhappy. I have casually tried to offer some build advice, but so far no takers.



Let them have what they like. The DM controls the encounter design, so them dying a horrible bloody death or not is on you if you're not adjusting encounters to be challenging but appropriate to the party's power level. I don't think players should be penalized for not being the best at building characters. All characters are cool in my opinion. You just have to dig a little.

Look at their sheets and find three things each PC can do that is interesting. Every other encounter going forward, include at least one element that one of those PCs can interact with that will make them shine. It might be a skill, a feat, a power, or class feature - whatever it is, design a way for that one thing to turn the tide of battle or otherwise give the rest of the party a leg up in context. One of the PCs took Skill Focus: Heal? Well, it just so happens that you can't make saves against the BBEG's Nasty Ray of Death and Tummy Aches without first making a moderate to high DC Heal check as a minor action. This will allow them to do some cool stuff and allow you to make dynamic encounters that sing to the PCs.

Now my second question - The group is going to be attempting an assault on a heavily fortified garrison. I want to make it as realistic to how someone would actually plan and act out such an assault so I'm thinking about terrain for them to take advantage of, guard patrols, a variety of routes to try and enter from, etc.

I'm also looking at putting siege weapons on the towers of the garrison that could be turned and used against its occupants.

What are some other things I should consider, and how would you go about it? The force within the garrison is significantly more powerful than the PCs, probably a 5:1 ratio in numbers.



Long running skill challenge with a few sporadic, goal-oriented skirmishes (e.g. "Capture the Siege Weapon Position" or "Storm the Dungeon and Free the Prisoners," etc. Break it down into small, exciting and achievable goals that build toward a climactic conclusion.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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As for your first question: I have run into much the same problem. The solution that I find that satisfies everybody is to change the difficulty just a little for the tougher players. For example, say for your 4 characters you devise an encounter. To even things out a bit, maybe each of the more powerful players each recieve an extra foe. Or, maybe the more powerful characters recieve a foe that is 1 level higher than the monsters fighting the less powerful characters. If you decide to go this route, do NOT tell the players, as this would encourage a mentality that its "two heroes and their lackeys" If this is not your type of DM'ing, then i suggest a loot compensation. Maybe for a few quests/levels the party finds gear more suitable for the less powerful players. This would help even the odds. Both of these solutions, however, are contingent upon the situation actually being a problem. If nobody has come forward to complain/state a problem, then there's no need for a solution.

As for your second question: I've had this problem as well. It does good to remind your players that although they are heroes, they aren't gods. Generally I tell the players that are less than level 5 that they aren't much more powerful than average Joe. I make it very clear that its a foolish action, but I do NOT prohibit them from performing the action. If they decide to still attack, there are several things to consider:

-Garrisons are NEVER unguarded. However, if the party can watch the patrols for a few days, they might notice that statistically the last half-hour of any given shift is the most...relaxed, seeing as how the guards on-duty are tired and bored.

-Any legitimate military garrison will have some kind of siege machine to defend against a coordinated attack. I find your idea of using it against the garrison intriguing, but I might also suggest to the party that most siege machines hinge upon a single mechanism; usually a small, easily broken mechanism...

-In the heat of battle, soldiers sometimes fight simply based on sight. In the rush of battle, maybe the soldiers attack viciously anything not in their uniform. So, if say the party..."acquired" some uniforms, then somehow started a battle, and slipped in acting as soldiers, they might then trot back to the garrison incognito.

All these are logical points that can make a fight go from impossible to difficult. However, if the party succeeds, remind them in-game that no action has no consequence. Maybe a messenger comes to the garrison and when he sees the strewn bodies of the garrison, he goes and tells a more powerful superior?

Quo usque pro roma ibis?

If your players are getting frustrated with it, encourage the two whiz-bang players to assist the others. Our 8-man group (with 5 or 6 coming to any given session) has three "content masters" in the group. The three of us help the other five.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
I've been DM'ing for about 4 months now. The group has just reached level 4 and I am seeing a significant disparity in the quality of the characters.

I have two players who have really thought out the mechanics and rp of their characters and they definitely carry the lion's share. Then I have 2 players who seemed to just grab some things, throw them together and call it a day, and they spend most of their time whiffing or getting smacked in the face.

I find that hard to believe. The difference between a "thought out" and a "thrown together" character isn't that significant in 4th Edition.

But I recommend following iserith's advice, right up to his final suggestion, which I'm not sure I understand well enough to advocate. Take the focus of smacking or getting smacked and put it on the accomplishment of some other goal. Leave the monsters there, to keep the pressure on, but set up the situation so that even if they kill the monsters they might still lose, and on the off chance they themselves are killed they might still "win." For example, opening a gate for a larger force to enter an area. There will probably be some killing, but if they focus on killing to the exclusion of the mission, then the mission might fail. If they are overwhelmed, but still manage to complete the mission, it's a heroic win.

Now my second question - The group is going to be attempting an assault on a heavily fortified garrison. I want to make it as realistic to how someone would actually plan and act out such an assault so I'm thinking about terrain for them to take advantage of, guard patrols, a variety of routes to try and enter from, etc.

They'd gather information, do some scouting, engage in some practice runs, etc. Watch some heist movies; those are going to be as realistic as you're going to want to get. Often, such scenes don't play out step by step, but assume that the infiltrators make some progress until they come upon something interesting or cool which is worth focusing on. So, don't describe them dealing with every single patrol. Establish a couple of interesting patrol situations and play those out by way of demonstrating that the players are able to deal with the patrols.

Absolutely do not play it out using the combat rules and the niggling details on Stealth and Perception. The mechanics that the game offers for things like this are skill challenges. The level of abstraction is high, but that leaves room for you to take the dice rolls, modifiers and bonuses, and describe the situation however makes sense to you, rather than being straitjacketed by a grid and barely-workable rules.

The bottom line is to make sure that whatever failure modes you have in mind are interesting. Being caught is hard to make interesting, and players usually hate it. Having to leave and come back is lame. Dying is generally pointless. I recommend making success assured, but with a twist depending on how well they do.

But I'm not sure what you're trying to have them do. You say "an assault." Are they really trying to do a number on everyone in the garrison? Or are they trying to disrupt something going on in the garrison, or retrieve a prisoner or some other MacGuffin?

I'm also looking at putting siege weapons on the towers of the garrison that could be turned and used against its occupants.

Sounds good. Do that.

What are some other things I should consider, and how would you go about it? The force within the garrison is significantly more powerful than the PCs, probably a 5:1 ratio in numbers.

A direct assault would be suicide, except in my game failure would not result in death, but in something else that keeps the story going in an interesting way. If they attacked, they'd fail and we'd move on. In some ways that's preferable, because it saves us a lot of time. If they realized it was not going to work to assault the garrison, I'd then give them some skill challenges to represent sneaking in.

I'd give them a skill challenge to learn about the fortress. If they succeed, they'd get a bonus on some later skill checks. If they fail, the later skill challenges would get more complicated.

For actually getting in, I'd probably give them two concurrent skill challenges, one to make forward progress and one to keep them undetected. Or maybe there would be a skill challenge each for one or more separated teams engaged in a different part of the infiltration.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

This can be a huge issue in 3E, and sometimes pops up in 4E.

What I do as a DM to deal with it may be technically unfair, but here goes.

I will usually arrange for a 'weak' character to find a powerful magic item or two that 'patches up the weak spots'

For example, a Fighter that is performing poorly because they wanted high Intelligence and low Strength might find a magic sword that is high level.
This sword will have some plot based feature that only allows that particular charcter to wield it.

If for some reason another player feels they have been 'cheated of equal rewards' I let them find an item that seems great but is not quite as uber as it might appear.
Such as 7 arrows of Demon Slaying that kill a demon outright on a crit, and do half their max HP on a regular hit. 


  


I've been DM'ing for about 4 months now. The group has just reached level 4 and I am seeing a significant disparity in the quality of the characters.

I have two players who have really thought out the mechanics and rp of their characters and they definitely carry the lion's share. Then I have 2 players who seemed to just grab some things, throw them together and call it a day, and they spend most of their time whiffing or getting smacked in the face.

How do you DMs handle this? I'm worried if I up the challenge level to meet the 2 better suited characters, the other 2 pcs are going to die horrible bloody deaths and be quite unhappy. I have casually tried to offer some build advice, but so far no takers.

Maybe your advice was too casual?  I can tell you from years of both the business world and the DM world that just being straightforward and direct works wonders and gets things done quickly and painlessly.  Don't avoid confrontation, embrace it in a positive manner.  I can't tell you how many times I've seen a DM asking for advice when all they needed to do is say to their players what they say in the forums.

"Hey guys, I think we are starting to see a signifcant disparity in the quality of characters.  Let's see if we can tweak these two a little in a way you like so that they can catch up with the other two."
Many thanks on the replies.

As to the first issue, I think maybe an uber magic item of some sort would be a good call. The main character I see struggling is a Changeling Psion and as the party may be soon coming up against a significantly powerful caster type, perhaps he will have a super powerful orb.

To the point of 'throw together' being relatively equivalent to the more deeply constructed character. The Psion is +7 v Will. I think he has a 17 in his primary, including his racial, and recently spent money to pick up a Spiked Gauntlet so he could go into melee.


The Assault:
Basic premise is that a huge invasion took place and our heroes are being sent to seek out the source of the invaders and need to free and airship for travel. The airship is being held at a garrison that was overrun and then fortified by enemies.

My problem is that my players and I do not think alike. Where I would scout around and check my options before planning and making a move, they like to rush in. And while I know this tends to be the DnD primary mode of play, I want to give them space to think outside the box but am uncertain how best to encourage them in that direction.

Now it could come down to me just needing to play more to my players strengths and likes/dislikes, but I don't want everything to dissolve into 'Kill it with fire!' I even had a local resistance group run into our heroes. But the group told them they were stupid and would die which didn't garner much love so the resistance offered no help.

My thought was:skill checks to scout and learn about the garrison, checks to study the surround area, checks to move in (maybe cause distractions, reasons for patrols to leave the walls), etc. Just not sure how to get them there...
To the point of 'throw together' being relatively equivalent to the more deeply constructed character. The Psion is +7 v Will. I think he has a 17 in his primary, including his racial, and recently spent money to pick up a Spiked Gauntlet so he could go into melee.

The attack bonus doesn't mean much, since I don't know his level or the others' attack bonuses. Anyway, that might be plenty for certain monsters. Controllers can often attack several different defenses.

A 17 in his primary ability score is more than adequate.

Let him run into combat and suffer for it, but don't go for the kill on him or the party (make the monsters' goal something else). Spending a few rounds out of it will encourage him to rethink his tactics and his build.

The Assault:
Basic premise is that a huge invasion took place and our heroes are being sent to seek out the source of the invaders and need to free and airship for travel. The airship is being held at a garrison that was overrun and then fortified by enemies.

My problem is that my players and I do not think alike. Where I would scout around and check my options before planning and making a move, they like to rush in. And while I know this tends to be the DnD primary mode of play, I want to give them space to think outside the box but am uncertain how best to encourage them in that direction.

Now it could come down to me just needing to play more to my players strengths and likes/dislikes, but I don't want everything to dissolve into 'Kill it with fire!' I even had a local resistance group run into our heroes. But the group told them they were stupid and would die which didn't garner much love so the resistance offered no help.

My thought was:skill checks to scout and learn about the garrison, checks to study the surround area, checks to move in (maybe cause distractions, reasons for patrols to leave the walls), etc. Just not sure how to get them there...

Don't bother, just let them assault it. If your intention is for this not to work, then either make it really hard but be prepared for them to somehow manage it, or just decree that they're stopped and they fail. The story continues but they'll have to do it without the airship. They might learn from this (and perhaps subequent failures) that there's more than one way to approach things. Or, they might not mind these failures.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

My problem is that my players and I do not think alike. Where I would scout around and check my options before planning and making a move, they like to rush in. And while I know this tends to be the DnD primary mode of play, I want to give them space to think outside the box but am uncertain how best to encourage them in that direction.

I'd take the opposite approach of the post above mine - don't let them assault it.  Make it clear that a just-rush-in-frontal-assault is suicide, which sounds like a pretty reasonable expectation anyway.  Then they will be forced to think more, check their options and come up with a creative plan. 

Take note of their reactions and outcome to that situation - maybe they won't enjoy it as much as the rush in approach, but maybe you are training them to be more creative players and they will enjoy it more.
Make it clear that a just-rush-in-frontal-assault is suicide, which sounds like a pretty reasonable expectation anyway.

How do you make it clear? PCs are always doing things that are supposed to be suicidal. Heck, they might just do it to see if the DM will really kill them, so I'd avoid putting it in terms of deadliness.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Look at their sheets and find three things each PC can do that is interesting. Every other encounter going forward, include at least one element that one of those PCs can interact with that will make them shine. It might be a skill, a feat, a power, or class feature - whatever it is, design a way for that one thing to turn the tide of battle or otherwise give the rest of the party a leg up in context. One of the PCs took Skill Focus: Heal? Well, it just so happens that you can't make saves against the BBEG's Nasty Ray of Death and Tummy Aches without first making a moderate to high DC Heal check as a minor action. This will allow them to do some cool stuff and allow you to make dynamic encounters that sing to the PCs.

Good concept, HORRIBLE and badly-forced example.

Look instead to alternate ways of resolving a combat encounter (besides killing all the bad guys). 

Like... same thing, a high Heal score... they need to go *through* a room. They can kill all the monsters, then have all the time they need to deal with the locked door on the far side.  But there's this one area of the room that all the monsters skirt around nervously (make sure some of them start on the far side of it) and there's an occasional moaning noise from the middle of it. Go in there, find some guy lying unconscious with a couple splattered monster corpses around him. Heal check, he gets somewhat better, you can help him out of the room. With your party AND him, the monsters flee; he has a key for the door; the next room is where he was going. Once in the next room he offers you some minor reward for your assistance in his quest. Then he pulls some small item out of a pocket, secures it in a vault, turns around, and turns into a guardian statue. 

But there are three more open vaults and three more vacant places for guardian statues.

Sometime in the not too distant future, they get involved in helping another guy collect an object. He won't explain why he trusts the party. Once he has his object he wants an escort - back to this same place. He places his trinket in a vault, pays the party off, and turns into the ... third ... guardian statue.

(Hey, something happened when the PCs weren't around!)

And then much later they can have some dealing with the fourth. If you like. 
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
Make it clear that a just-rush-in-frontal-assault is suicide, which sounds like a pretty reasonable expectation anyway.

How do you make it clear? PCs are always doing things that are supposed to be suicidal. Heck, they might just do it to see if the DM will really kill them, so I'd avoid putting it in terms of deadliness.

Let it be known that the garrison includes a very highly regarded archery corps.

When they are 40 squares away they come in range of the initial 10 archers, and the number of archers increases by 10 every round. The archers are all level+2 artillery and not minions.

Any of the party who go down before fleeing are dragged unconscious into the garrison, bound in chains, and then healed for questioning. Now the challenge is how do they escape.

"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
Make it clear that a just-rush-in-frontal-assault is suicide, which sounds like a pretty reasonable expectation anyway.

How do you make it clear? PCs are always doing things that are supposed to be suicidal. Heck, they might just do it to see if the DM will really kill them, so I'd avoid putting it in terms of deadliness.

Let it be known that the garrison includes a very highly regarded archery corps.

When they are 40 squares away they come in range of the initial 10 archers, and the number of archers increases by 10 every round. The archers are all level+2 artillery and not minions.

Any of the party who go down before fleeing are dragged unconscious into the garrison, bound in chains, and then healed for questioning. Now the challenge is how do they escape.

Which proves that a frontal assault isn't suicide. It might even put them in a better position to capture the airship.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I have two players who have really thought out the mechanics and rp of their characters and they definitely carry the lion's share. Then I have 2 players who seemed to just grab some things, throw them together and call it a day, and they spend most of their time whiffing or getting smacked in the face.

How do you DMs handle this?

Have the optimizers assist the non-optimizers with optimizing. Optimizers typically love doing so, and non-optimizer are usually happy to get a power boost.

The group is going to be attempting an assault on a heavily fortified garrison... how would you go about it?

I personally would repurpose LFR's ADCP3-2, but since that is not publicly available, you might look for a different, pre-made castle assault scenario and repurpose it.

Also, Mage Knight castle pieces are dirt cheap over at Troll and Toad: 1 Gatehouse, 2 Keeps and 2 wall pack2's (about $12 total) make for an incredible castle wall, and can be re-used for many things (a Sharpy permanent marker can be used on them to create evenly spaced dots to represent the battle grid)

How do you make it clear? PCs are always doing things that are supposed to be suicidal. Heck, they might just do it to see if the DM will really kill them, so I'd avoid putting it in terms of deadliness.

Actually, my experience with players sounds quite different from yours.  Mine seem to always think of things that are too damn clever - often coming up with ideas I haven't even considered.  I think if a character actually does something suicidal, they should die.  That player learns from his mistake and (hopefully) doesn't make it again.  You probably just meant foolhardy, and not actually suicidal.  Foolhardy PCs can be a challenge some times.  If the character is foolhardy but the player is just RPing him that way and knows he is making bad decisions, that can be a lot of fun.  But if the player is the foolhardy one, I think it's the DM's job to teach him that fantasy worlds also have cause and effect.  *evil grin*

Creativity is the only limit on making it clear to them that a frontal assault on a castle is suicidal, and I'm sure you are a creative guy (that's genuine, not sarcasm).  Heck, doesen't just the phrase "frontal assault on a castle" sounds like a bad idea?  Archers, a drawbridge, porticulus, gatehouse, murder holes, burning oil, a moat with crocodiles - that's before you even start getting into anything fantasy-related.  The OP already had some good ideas in that regard. 

You could always use an NPC as a last resort.  "You guys are going to steal the airship?  Impressive!  A frontal assault would be suicide - how are you going to sneak in?"