i hit for 8 damage vs i hit for 48 damage + dazed, weakened, slowed, and he now owes me money

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Starting a thread on helping to balance my party of 4 players without leaving one half or the other bored.  im a bit nervous starting my own thread but i could use help and i didnt want to continue hijacking the thread i started posting in.

Im having great trouble planning games for my party due to their character building preferences.  i have 4 players ranging from the character optimization forum hero to the purposeful stat lowerer person.

first theres the guy who lifts builds right off the charop forums down to the letter which isnt a big problem except his characters lose out a lot on personality because he tries to rely on the build to do it all.  builds characters that leave monster vault monsters crying for mercy and could occasionally take on entire encounters by himself if he wanted.  strongly opposes building anything less than the best whirlwind of destruction that the combined minds of dnd mathemeticians can dream up.

next to him is the girl who comes up with creative concepts and tries to fit them but if you were to check the charop forums im sure all her options would be the highest rated by far.  problems arise when trying to slam the creative concept alongside mechanics and options that fall far outside the concept.  builds very strong characters but she wont go as far as the first guy.  will sacrifice a little bit in favor of concept but wouldnt dream of using a class without a bonus to primary stat or a class deemed useless

next is the guy who prefers a good story.  dislikes optimizing but will choose an option if it wont interfere with his character idea.  prefers middle of the road characters that tend to be somewhat effective but eclipsed by the first two players overwhelmingly strong options.  will optimize when he can but prefers balanced characters that can do a variety of things

finally you have the girl who unoptimizes her character in favor of the story.  this is the person who would choose a dwarven thief with a 14  dexterity because she thinks it feels wrong to have a nimble dwarf.  is aware of all the character optimization options but actively chooses worse options in favor of going against the grain.

so i have a heavily optimized character who wont bring their characters down and tends not to really have many weak points.  the ones he has are able to be circumvented by appropriate status effects and magic item or utility powers.  i have a mostly optimized character that falls only slightly weaker than the first guy.  a baseline character that makes the monster vault monsters feel appropriately dangerous without being party kills.  finally i have a character that does everything roughly equally but nothing well.

these are the general setups that these 4 carry from game to game pretty consistently but with a few changes every couple campaigns.
a party consisting of 4 players chosen from any 2 adjacent players would be easy to challenge. 
super op and mostly op would be a high powered campaign with lots of monsters and huge combat challenges
mostly op and baseline would be a slighty stronger campaign with medium to challenging encounters
baseline and subpar would be a very story driven campaign with a few meaningful combat encounters for flavor but weaker monsters and a variety of victory conditions

trying to plan any game that keeps both super op and subpar both entertained though is a nightmare.     
Okay, first thing that comes to mind for me as a way to bridge all interests is to build your game around set-piece encounters... big budget, awesome encounters with lots going on. By using these, you can satisfy those who want a target rich environment with the story-driven players who want a combat that means something in the context of the narrative.

Just so we can talk more of specifics, can you give us the general race/class/build of the 4 characters in question and an idea of what the tone/theme/style of your campaign is? I wouldn't want to suggest something that makes no sense for your game.

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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I've dealt with this before.  I still don't know how to deal with it but a good place to start is Resist 10 Powergamers
This sounds rather similar to a problem that I have in my group.

Optimized vs. Unoptimized characters and keeping everything interesting for all involved.

I tend to be pretty decent at building encounters, which helps, but its still REALLY hard building things for groups such as these.  I tend to try to build to the specific players.  In my current game, the gap isn't as wide as it usually is, with the "least optimized" guy being a step above baseline.  On the other hand, our most optimized character is the standard Char Op black hole knight that pulls things from 3 squares out right next to him and keeps them permanently prone (flail build and 2/encounter "Come and get it").

I've begun building encounters to match the player's builds.  For example, i'll build a solo that can, as a move action, stand up and move it's speed without provoking OAs with a recharge of 4,5,6....so it can ignore the knights movement restriction half the time (statistically).  It might seem like i'm unduly punishing the knight and basically saying "screw you and your character, i won't let it work"  but the alternative ends up being a solo that the players just stand and beat on for half a dozen rounds while it sits prone the whole time.  My artillery have started getting melee at-wills that deal token damage, but have pushes or dazes built in so that they can get away...i feel better since the artillery isn't completely wasted by being locked next to the knight, and the knight still gets to serve his purpose in taking a hit (if it even lands) that deals 1d8+6 damage (at level 12) as opposed to the artillery shooting his better ranged power that deals 3d8+9 + status effect. 


I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on this thread to see if any gems are useful for my campaign(s).  
I've begun building encounters to match the player's builds.  For example, i'll build a solo that can, as a move action, stand up and move it's speed without provoking OAs with a recharge of 4,5,6....so it can ignore the knights movement restriction half the time (statistically).  It might seem like i'm unduly punishing the knight and basically saying "screw you and your character, i won't let it work"  but the alternative ends up being a solo that the players just stand and beat on for half a dozen rounds while it sits prone the whole time.  My artillery have started getting melee at-wills that deal token damage, but have pushes or dazes built in so that they can get away...i feel better since the artillery isn't completely wasted by being locked next to the knight, and the knight still gets to serve his purpose in taking a hit (if it even lands) that deals 1d8+6 damage (at level 12) as opposed to the artillery shooting his better ranged power that deals 3d8+9 + status effect. 

I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on this thread to see if any gems are useful for my campaign(s).  



To a certain extent, the solution for your group will be in actually adding facets to the scene rather than trying to take away specific abilities. Your approach with the recharge ability seems pretty fair, but I think it comes at the problem from a direction I tend to find limiting. Like I've said before, this is all about perception.

A couple of specific suggestions:

1. Reduce use of solos. I'm assuming you don't use a ton of them anyway, but it bears mentioning for the purposes of the larger discussion that a couple of elites or an elite plus standard and minion support tends to produce the more challenging outcome. Unless you want to go all worldbreaker on the solo and come up with some nifty mechanics. I only like to do that on a particularly iconic D&D creature or something with big plot relevance.

2. Toys. (My favorite design element.) Design something in the encounter that one or more characters will not be able to resist playing with. Not only is this adding and not taking away, it provides a new choice. Suddenly, the usual go-to power seems really boring when the PC can commandeer an arcane turret and blow those flying gargoyles out of the sky. Or a page from my last game where the PCs were fighting an efreet, a rakshasa, an imp, and a conjured diminutive cyclops bouncer in a posh hotel room with an Arabian theme. There were chandeliers to drop on people and immobilize them, rugs to pull out from under them to knock them prone (and if you fell prone in a square with pillows in it, you could stand up as a minor), curtains you could slow and blind people with, and a big hookah that granted an extra standard action and temp hit points if you smoked from it. As you can imagine, it was a fun combat and people broke from their usual mold.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

toys just don't work for me....at least in this game, the knight would much prefer to lock down any enemy in a 7x7 square than play with toys....and more notably, would rather tell the unoptimized players to hop in the arcane turret.
toys just don't work for me....at least in this game, the knight would much prefer to lock down any enemy in a 7x7 square than play with toys....and more notably, would rather tell the unoptimized players to hop in the arcane turret.



In that case, it sounds like a problem solved... the optimized character does what he likes to do and the unoptimized people get to have fun blowing people up with the turret.

Admittedly, I haven't seen a knight with that build in one of my games so I'm speculating. My first approach knowing what you know would likely be to look at that 7x7 area and see what I could do with it to make it more interesting.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Your party sounds like the cast of Chuck.  1 and 2 are Walker and Casey, 3 might be Chuck or he might be Dr. Awesome, and 4 has her heart set on playing Morgan or Jeff or Lester.


That's fine if everybody wants a campaign that plays out like Chuck, but I'm willing to bet that's not what's going on.  I'm going to bet that 1 and 2 (and maybe 3) want to play a game that's heroic in scope, where capable heroes struggle against powerful villains, while 4 wants to play a game that's much more humble in scope, wherein the heroes struggle to overcome their own failings to achieve some level of personal success.  If I'm right, someone in your group is going to have to settle for a different sort of gameplay than they had in mind.


Right out of the box, this game is best suited to satisfy the expectations of players 1 and 2.  The system doesn't just assume your players are interested in a game of heroic scope; it assumes that they want to graduate from saving the town to saving the world, and then maybe to cap it all off by saving the whole damned universe.  It's built to offer the players challenges that are mostly external to their characters, and grow in magnitude.    It can be modified a bit to offer the sort of play I'm guessing player 4 really wants, but that's complicated by the presence of two other players who seem to like the concept of heroic figures in heroic situations.


What if you put forth a real character building challenge for the unoptimizer?  Is she a Bad enough Dude to make a character that's as narratively down to earth as her clumsy dwarfish rogue, but is also as mechanically capable as Captain CharOp's Shredmaster Nine Thousand?    I'll bet she can.


Let's take the dwarf for example.  The narrative concept is a dwarf who fancies herself to be a master thief, but is limited in that by her native lack of agility.  All she needs to express that mechanically is a dwarf with a set of thieves' tools and low modifiers in Acrobatics and Theivery.  None of that requires her to play the rogue character class - in fact, most of it suggests that she shouldn't.

So what if the character is a shaman or a warlord, or even a bard?  Any of those would offer her the option to portray a dwarf who struggles to be a competent thief, and as a shaman or bard she's even got the tools to be a moderately successful trapspringer and skulk.  They also allow her to carry that portrayal over to the battlefield - the character wants to be graceful and precise and deadly, but her stout frame and the brutal, practical training of her youth work against her.  She holds herself back, struggling against that deeply ingrained fighting style, and her companions have to work that much harder to come together.  In fact, as time goes on they have to develop a fighting style that revolves around it, using her halting attacks as feints to set up their own counterattacks.


Mechanically, that character holds its own in an optimized party.  Its primary role is making other characters more effective, which allows her to play a variety of concepts without any inherent assumption of competence in the narrative.  As far as the story is concerned, she's a humble creature, struggling to keep up with heroic companions.  That might work for her, and could become a major campaign theme if the campaign makes it to paragon or epic.  

"When Friday comes, we'll all call rats fish." D&D Outsider
to kaganfindel
i disagree that the game out of the box correctly suits players 1 and 2.  the game out of the box is sheer boredom for players 1 and 2.  a standard combat with 5 standard monsters of the characters level could be handled by my first player on his own most of the time.  listening to tubamans issues and looking at that knight build i bet that that character could probably handle a normal fight with normal monster vault monsters on his own and after looking at the defenses its possible to get the character could probly even do it without getting hit.  that isn't much of a heroic game.  it feels more like an expert halo player playing through the game on beginner.

it seems like my fourth player just wants some fun out of the combats before everything is dead and since she doesnt want to play build number 17 from the forums.


to iserith
we are between campaigns at the moment.  our last game had player 1 playing the unkillable avenger.  player 2 played a rageblood barbarian that exploded round 1 and tended to kill one and a half monsters.  player three played a brawler fighter.  player 4 played a wilden shaman.  The defender and leader might as well not have existed.  by round 2 there were usually 1 or 2 monsters left standing unless the fight was extra hard.  the shaman ended up contributing to combats merely by making healing surges count for more after everything was dead if the monsters managed to land a lucky hit or two.  It was a campaign loosely based on the movie legend with a lot of fantastical creatures.  the plot involved saving the princess and thwarting the evil upper heroic level demon king.         
Since the 1st player is the uber-killer when faced in a straight fight, don't give him a straight fight.  Make the encounter occur in a foggy swamp that slows his movement and gives a miss chance.  Think about the characters' strengths and weaknesses and play on them.  
- If one of their strengths is they all have darkvision, give them gloomy partial lighting (flickering torches) where darkvision is useless.  Fog is a hinderance for the fighter but a boone for the rogue.  
- Have them have to climb a steep, gravelly  hill while being attacked by tiny, monsterous centipedes.  "Dex check! Don't slip and tumble down!!"  
- Put their skills to use with physical and mental tests, make them lose all their food in the middle of the forest while having a band of orcs doing hit and run attacks on them.  They will have to hunt/search for food inbetween fighting while maybe having to search for traps at the same time.

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/23.jpg)

bwoodfield your highlighting the obvious solution perfectly but also highlighting why that solution cant work

your saying i can increase the fun of the worse optimized characters by ruining the fun and gameplay of the optimized ones.

punishing one player so the others can have fun isnt enjoyable for the person being punished.  turning off the powers and abilities that my first player picks or making him worse with extra penalties will just feel like im out to get him and im not.  i want all 4 of my players and myself to have fun.     
Split the party.

If those characters can really handle fights on their own, let them. Come up with something else that's going on somewhere else, arranged so that even if the optimizers kill the creatures by rolling initiative, they won't be in a position to handle the other event. Have the other event calibrated to the other players, and just flip between the two.

It's not ideal, and you can't use it all the time, but try it.

You're right about them playing on beginner mode. Have you talked to them about this? I understand that what they want is to smash the monsters, but there's this other way of playing in which they still smash the monsters, but they have to put a little thought into it. Any chance they'd be willing to try that for a couple sessions? What would they do if you just said "I'm running a delve tonight, here are your characters, roll initiative"?

What about the idea of something that ramps the monster power way up, and requires the optimizers just to hold it at bay while the others sabotage its forcefield, or whatever?

I really think combat somehow needs to be deemphasized. This is not a punishment for the optimizers, but they've shown that they've "solved" combat, so what is the point anymore?

What about story solutions? Some in-game stricture like a curse or geas that inhibits the optimizers? Again, not a punishment, but close involvement with the story that makes their victories that much more amazing? Best to discuss this with them first, I suppose.

Try some different games for a bit, at least to cleanse the palate. What I'm thinking of are so-called "story games" in which optimization leads not to overpowered gameplay, but to interesting situations. Spirit of the Century, Fiasco (for a mature group), Dungeon World (I think. Iserith?) and the like might show these guys that they can have fun even when they're not over-the-top powerful.

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

trying to look at this from my players point of view gives me a pretty good analogy to answer your question

they solved combat wo whats the point anymore?
i think they look at it like a different game.  if they solved bowling and score between 250 and 300 points every game i still dont think they would want you to change the game around.  i dont know what to do.  they want to win dnd each combat but you can tell theyre going to do that without problem each week before they roll dice.  i think theyll eventually get bored with that but it hasnt happened yet.  
This is not a punishment for the optimizers, but they've shown that they've "solved" combat, so what is the point anymore?



I hear this said often here, I think everyone's kinda repeating it off of each other, but I think it's only fair to point out that it doesn't work that way. The players don't see it as having solved combat, they won't agree with your reasoning to "move on" to other things because of that, etc. To them every new fight is a new occasion to feel cool, and they will not like it when you take it from them.

It's like telling someone in a shooter, half-way through: "Ok, you've shown you've solved shooting people in the face, so, euh, why don't we not do that for the rest of the game anymore?" It doesn't work.

Rest of your post is pretty sound, except for the Geass part. I don't think they'll see that as anything else than a punishment, no matter how you turn it. There's plenty of ways to get people closely involved with the story, the players know you specifically chose the one hurting their character, when you didn't "need" to. They'll react accordingly.
It sounds like everyone needs to step to the middle. The wide range of mechanical abilities makes is too hard to balance any encounter. It's basically a math issue at this point, and everyone needs to move slightly out of their optimal comfort zone a bit.

Full blown charop guy needs to back off a bit  (ie force them to start with something non-optimal, and then allow them optimize the crap out of it, pick an off stat race or something) Self-penalizer needs to not directly nerf themselves. How you RP your character does not need to affect combat mechanics. The other middle of the road folks are probably just fine to stay where they are.
It sounds like everyone needs to step to the middle. The wide range of mechanical abilities makes is too hard to balance any encounter. It's basically a math issue at this point, and everyone needs to move slightly out of their optimal comfort zone a bit.

Full blown charop guy needs to back off a bit  (ie force them to start with something non-optimal, and then allow them optimize the crap out of it, pick an off stat race or something) Self-penalizer needs to not directly nerf themselves. How you RP your character does not need to affect combat mechanics. The other middle of the road folks are probably just fine to stay where they are.



I'm in Tubaman's group(the knight player). We've tried going with that solution and the optimizers resent being limited on character building options while the non-optimizers resent the need to step up their character mechanically. Will it be different for the OP's group? Maybe, but i really doubt it.

From a personal point of view as an optimizer I like running over encounters. It damn sure makes me feel like the hero of the story. However from a story perspective it's still one tiny step on the road towards whatever our objective is. Spend time concentrating on the roleplay and getting your other players invested in that and then just toss in an easy encounter that your optimizers can feel cool spending 15-30 smashing then get back to the story. Hell center the story entirely around the non-optimizers character, as long as I get to smash stuff and have a small say in conversations I don't care. If you really want some cool combats then make your big story centric battles important by throwing alternate terrain, or a device to deactivate, or disrupting the wizards ward while his minions attack you, or having to fight your way across a bridge as it crumbles behind you, or the castle is on fire and you need to make your way out with the stolen object while the guards try and stop you. Toss in minions or standards to slow your party down as they try and accomplish some other objective during the combat, have a couple maps drawn so you can quickly move from super weak encounter to super weak encounter continuously so while each encounter is super easy their sum total drains the party and makes from a cool moving sequence. Don't give them time to rest, they kill the monsters and THIS happens, whatever "this" happens to be for that senario.

I hope some of that rambling made sense. Basically don't make the combat strictly about combat so players 3/4 get to have fun in a cool story event and 1/2 get to smash stuff and look awesome along the way.

Personally, I prefer to play TO character strengths then to play around them. My party has a gouge wielding optimized charger (slayer). Most (not all) combats are designed to give him enough mobility to do what he does best. We have a blaster mage who does ridiculous amounts of damage. Most (not all) combats are designed to give her a chance to set a bunch of bad guys on fire at once.


If you have a character that is built to be strong on social skills, incorporate some social challenges into the combat etc. And as several folks on these forums often bring up, build encounters where the objective is not to kill everything.


Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but have you discussed this with your players? Is everyone having fun the way things have been? If the answer is yes, then you don’t have much of a problem after all.


BTW, one of the best thread titles ever. Smile

bwoodfield your highlighting the obvious solution perfectly but also highlighting why that solution cant work

your saying i can increase the fun of the worse optimized characters by ruining the fun and gameplay of the optimized ones.

punishing one player so the others can have fun isnt enjoyable for the person being punished.  turning off the powers and abilities that my first player picks or making him worse with extra penalties will just feel like im out to get him and im not.  i want all 4 of my players and myself to have fun.     



Yes but what you're looking for is a battle situation that is going fit every game play.  There isn't one when you have such a broad spectrum of players.  At the same time when I've played ubber killers I got bored when things just ran up and I killed them.  When there is no challange it's boring, and I don't just mean super monsters or swarms.  That also doesn't mean that the whole encounter is going to be the same, you can flip back and forth.  

I also thought of something last night that you could apply although it will require some mechanics and thinking.  Create/modify a monster class where is has a high armor rating in the front, yet susceptible to sneak attacks.  Describe it in someway that they plays could get an idea of what it's defenses and weaknesses are like.  The ubber fighter can get his smacks in while the two mid lines assist, and the dwarven rogue can come around and get a couple hits in as well, ALL making a major contribution.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/23.jpg)

to iserith
we are between campaigns at the moment.  our last game had player 1 playing the unkillable avenger.  player 2 played a rageblood barbarian that exploded round 1 and tended to kill one and a half monsters.  player three played a brawler fighter.  player 4 played a wilden shaman.  The defender and leader might as well not have existed.  by round 2 there were usually 1 or 2 monsters left standing unless the fight was extra hard.  the shaman ended up contributing to combats merely by making healing surges count for more after everything was dead if the monsters managed to land a lucky hit or two.  It was a campaign loosely based on the movie legend with a lot of fantastical creatures.  the plot involved saving the princess and thwarting the evil upper heroic level demon king.         



Layer skill challenge(s) on the combat to represent specific goal completion - or something the PCs can do to prevent the monsters from completing their own goals. I've gotten to the point in design these days where there's not a single fight you can't beat "some other way" and it really changes the game. (You should have seen the game I ran last night... jeez, I didn't see any of that coming!) Focus those skills around the trained skill array for the defender and the shaman. Have those skill checks have an actual affect in the battle, same as using a power, but also counting towards the pool of successes. Have plenty of things for the avenger and barbarian to slay.

Use lots - I mean lots - of cool minions. I'm a big fan of minions who cause problems just by being around, whether that's by supporting the main enemies or who have auras the interfere with the PCs completing their goals (penalties to skill checks, for example). "Guys, we're not going to win this unless we take out the minions," is not an uncommon refrain at my table. Whether you do 100 damage or 1 damage, you can take out a minion. That's a great equalizer right there and if it really matters in the context of the scene to take out minions, nobody will care about the extra damage "going to waste."

Do encounters in waves. If everything is mostly dead by Round 2, send in another group to deal with the PCs, except now they change up their tactics or refocus on a specific goal that the PCs must stop them from completing or complete before the monsters do. Or send in tons of monsters, especially minions. Perhaps a skill challenge can stem the tide where direct violence can only hold them back for a time.

Give strong consideration about monster goals and needs and how it interacts with the PCs' goals and needs. A few minutes of thought on that will see you changing your encounter design to include layers which not only make them have more depth in play, but offers the characters multiple paths to victory (or multiple paths to defeat) which might be particularly interesting to those players who do not find the thrill of combat very thrilling (relative to the optimizers).

I also agree with Kaganfindel and Antillious on the player who makes a mechanically "unfit" character. An 8 Charisma doesn't mean you're a jerk or ugly all the time. It doesn't mean you can't talk to the king or hit on barmaids. It just means you're not particularly good at it when success or failure is on the line. Same goes with the dwarf thief. There are much better ways to represent limitations to a character's Dexterity without actually having a bad Dexterity and undermining your own ability to compete with the math of the game. The rules will simply work against you in this case. This player's reasoning is what I would call a "legacy" issue. It was okay to think about characters that way in previous editions because it made sense to and the mechanical impact was lessened. That's not the case in 4e. It's simply a different tool and needs to be used differently. I'm a strong proponent of examining every assumption I have about D&D. If I find that my line of thinking is firmly rooted in a philosophy that was based on the rules of the past and no longer has a place in a 4e game, I divest myself of it. Different tools for different jobs... if I wanted to play a game like the example dwarf thief player, I'd go with a more narrative rules set like Dungeon World. It's not that one is better than the other. It's just that each is good at creating a certain kind of game.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

If this scenario is fine with the players, then its fine. But it sounds like it's starting to be a pain for the DM. At this point he CANNOT create a combat encounter that involves everyone equally.

If the charop player is completely unwilling to tone it back, boost the anti-combat one. They need to get their mechanics back in line. Just give them a combat boon that bumps their to-hit back to the expected norms.

Simply saying combat is only for these two chars, and these other two just get skill challenges seems odd, but if it's what the players want, than go ahead. Just check to see if that what the players REALLY want. It could be the case that since the charop player is completely overpowering everything the other players have become bored with combat, but if they were able to actually participate in it, they might enjoy it.

To the charop character: It may be the case that your sense of fun is ruining everyone elses fun, DM included. If this is the case, you are the one that needs to change. If you peruse the charop forums in greater depth, you'll see that even the most hard-core charop builders don't typically bring their crazy builds to the table, for just this very power disparity reason. Or on a more practical side, be a fully optimized enabling leader instead. Make your teammates awesome so you can ALL over-run the combat, not just you.
If this scenario is fine with the players, then its fine. But it sounds like it's starting to be a pain for the DM. At this point he CANNOT create a combat encounter that involves everyone equally.

...

Simply saying combat is only for these two chars, and these other two just get skill challenges seems odd, but if it's what the players want, than go ahead. Just check to see if that what the players REALLY want. It could be the case that since the charop player is completely overpowering everything the other players have become bored with combat, but if they were able to actually participate in it, they might enjoy it.



It helps to stop thinking of things as "combat encounters" and think of them instead as "scenes." This will cause you to question things and change your design. You'll consider different stakes, motivations, terrain, and challenges outside of (but still including) slaughter. At my table, I frequently say, "Killing everything is one way to do it, I guess." And rarely (very rarely) do any of the scenes I design end with everything dead. It's those extra layers that will add depth to the scene and give BOTH the combat-heavy characters and those less interested in that aspect things to do that have parity in effectiveness. That's the key - effectiveness. One path to victory should be just as valid as the next, but non-annihilation victories should be (in most cases) designed to be more interesting. Just last night, a combat heavy character did 166 damage in one scene and in a different scene, he talked a green dragon into a tenuous alliance. He could have just tried to kill the dragon as we were already engaged in fighting (since he does god awful damage, that's what he should do, right?). But talking made more sense, he did it, and he was rewarded for it. The party still "won."

As far as the skill challenges go, most people see skill challenges in combat as being something they're "stuck" doing instead of combat because that's how it's most often presented in published materials (unfortunately). I can tell you from experience that it can be much more interesting than that. You just have to examine the scene and find an opening to add that extra element. And again, it has to be as effective as smashing things to bits in terms of success or plot advancement. It also helps if that element is so cool that even the combat-heavy characters just have to give it a try.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

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to kaganfindel
i disagree that the game out of the box correctly suits players 1 and 2.  the game out of the box is sheer boredom for players 1 and 2.  a standard combat with 5 standard monsters of the characters level could be handled by my first player on his own most of the time.  listening to tubamans issues and looking at that knight build i bet that that character could probably handle a normal fight with normal monster vault monsters on his own and after looking at the defenses its possible to get the character could probly even do it without getting hit.  that isn't much of a heroic game.  it feels more like an expert halo player playing through the game on beginner.

it seems like my fourth player just wants some fun out of the combats before everything is dead and since she doesnt want to play build number 17 from the forums.


to iserith
we are between campaigns at the moment.  our last game had player 1 playing the unkillable avenger.  player 2 played a rageblood barbarian that exploded round 1 and tended to kill one and a half monsters.  player three played a brawler fighter.  player 4 played a wilden shaman.  The defender and leader might as well not have existed.  by round 2 there were usually 1 or 2 monsters left standing unless the fight was extra hard.  the shaman ended up contributing to combats merely by making healing surges count for more after everything was dead if the monsters managed to land a lucky hit or two.  It was a campaign loosely based on the movie legend with a lot of fantastical creatures.  the plot involved saving the princess and thwarting the evil upper heroic level demon king.         




I didn't mean five equal level monsters in every fight when I said "out of the box."  I meant that the game system assumes that the group wants to play a game that's about capable heroes battling mostly external hazards, and that the scope of those external conflicts increases as the campaign goes on.  I was barking up the wrong tree, since you're specifically looking for an encounter design solution, and your problem on that front is that your optimizers are winning fights on the first round and your unoptimizers seem to be feeling like they're stuck with cleanup duty.  

  
What sorts of monsters did you use in the combat you described in your last paragraph? I think that group needed a larger number of lower level monsters than you gave them.  Optimized characters mean more when you use fewer, higher level opponents to meet your encounter budget.  Using fewer creatures with better individual stats makes your less optimized characters less likely to hit, and it makes the increased accuracy of your optimized characters stand out.  It also lets a good nova build take more of your budget off the board in the first round.

The group you described has a lot of single target mojo and should stand up pretty well to attempts to deny actions.  I'll bet that if you ran the same party through the same adventure, using the same encounter XP budgets, but used creatures two or three levels lower that the fights would be more challenging.


Shoot for using creatures of a low enough level that your unoptimizer can hit the skirmishers and lurkers on an 11 or better.  That should limit you to creatures with a low enough experience point cost per figure that a strong first round doesn't decide the outcome.  Try using lots of minions as well, and use their placement to keep the heavy hitters from being able to ingore them and go straight for the priority targets.
"When Friday comes, we'll all call rats fish." D&D Outsider
to kaganfindel
i disagree that the game out of the box correctly suits players 1 and 2.  the game out of the box is sheer boredom for players 1 and 2.  a standard combat with 5 standard monsters of the characters level could be handled by my first player on his own most of the time.  listening to tubamans issues and looking at that knight build i bet that that character could probably handle a normal fight with normal monster vault monsters on his own and after looking at the defenses its possible to get the character could probly even do it without getting hit.  that isn't much of a heroic game.  it feels more like an expert halo player playing through the game on beginner.

it seems like my fourth player just wants some fun out of the combats before everything is dead and since she doesnt want to play build number 17 from the forums.


to iserith
we are between campaigns at the moment.  our last game had player 1 playing the unkillable avenger.  player 2 played a rageblood barbarian that exploded round 1 and tended to kill one and a half monsters.  player three played a brawler fighter.  player 4 played a wilden shaman.  The defender and leader might as well not have existed.  by round 2 there were usually 1 or 2 monsters left standing unless the fight was extra hard.  the shaman ended up contributing to combats merely by making healing surges count for more after everything was dead if the monsters managed to land a lucky hit or two.  It was a campaign loosely based on the movie legend with a lot of fantastical creatures.  the plot involved saving the princess and thwarting the evil upper heroic level demon king.         




I didn't mean five equal level monsters in every fight when I said "out of the box."  I meant that the game system assumes that the group wants to play a game that's about capable heroes battling mostly external hazards, and that the scope of those external conflicts increases as the campaign goes on.  I was barking up the wrong tree, since you're specifically looking for an encounter design solution, and your problem on that front is that your optimizers are winning fights on the first round and your unoptimizers seem to be feeling like they're stuck with cleanup duty.  

  
What sorts of monsters did you use in the combat you described in your last paragraph? I think that group needed a larger number of lower level monsters than you gave them.  Optimized characters mean more when you use fewer, higher level opponents to meet your encounter budget.  Using fewer creatures with better individual stats makes your less optimized characters less likely to hit, and it makes the increased accuracy of your optimized characters stand out.  It also lets a good nova build take more of your budget off the board in the first round.

The group you described has a lot of single target mojo and should stand up pretty well to attempts to deny actions.  I'll bet that if you ran the same party through the same adventure, using the same encounter XP budgets, but used creatures two or three levels lower that the fights would be more challenging.


Shoot for using creatures of a low enough level that your unoptimizer can hit the skirmishers and lurkers on an 11 or better.  That should limit you to creatures with a low enough experience point cost per figure that a strong first round doesn't decide the outcome.  Try using lots of minions as well, and use their placement to keep the heavy hitters from being able to ingore them and go straight for the priority targets.

Oh absolutely, encounters as scenes. But it shouldn't always be; you guys do the combat, these guys do the skills portion during an encounter. I just want to make sure that the players don't feel pigeonholed into these roles.

A mechanically gimped character as self-fulfilling prophecy; I haven't been contributing much into combat because I'm so overshadowed, so it doesn't matter if I'm not up to basics mechanically, but now I CAN'T contribute much into combat. And similarly for the charop character; the others aren't up to it, so I HAVE to take over the combat or we'll all be killed, but now I'm so overpowered their contributions are negligible.

Hence my suggestion for the charop character to play an enabling leader. Help the others contribute and be successful in combat. Which is diametric opposite to the current char which is "I draw ALL combatants onto me, and then *I* fight them by myself". Everyone needs a chance to shine in combat, not just the one player.
Part of the reason for the addition of the magic item rarity system was to give DMs more control over the power of their PCs. I don't imagine these PCs are as powerful as they are just by virtue of their powers and feats, so apply a little throttle to the items they receive and when they receive them. This might seem a bit punative, but I think it's fair. Or, if you fully intend to give them the items they want, make them seriously quest for them. Once someone is very powerful, it often takes a lot of work to incrementally improve, so it's fair to make them work for it.

And I'll mention again that action points are at the DM's discretion too. If the encounter was too easy for them, it doesn't count as a milestone. I think you could even count it as a milestone for some and not for others.

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

checking back into the thread.  Hiya Droma - i'm sure you can see why i'm following this thread eh?  it's really close to our issue, but probably a little worse with only a 4 person party.

As i said before, and it sounds like others are saying too, when combat is presented (which, regardless of whether or not you consider combat to be the encounter, or part of the scene, some players are still looking forward to the "down and dirty" part of combat), it is often considered to be its own thing by many players.  Plenty of people have already mentioned that with GOOD encounter design, using clever terrain, clever monsters (i design my own monsters COMPLETELY now, using the suggested defenses, to-hits, and damage expressions, but mixing various mechanics liberally), clever tactics, and the OCCASIONAL removal or compensation of a "kill everything" player tool.

With all the work i've been putting into encounters in my most recent campaign, i've noticed a LOT of success.  The encounters are interesting, and everyone is having fun (i do occasionally catch one of the less optimized characters with a 1-shot action removal trick that may have been designed for one of the more optimized characters - such as a hidden pit trap or a triggered shot that prones someone on a charge).  But even with all the careful work to let everyone shine in encounters, it doesn't always work (and Droma can certainly attest to this).  In an effort to make the encounters fun, i DO put in mechanics that are BEST suited to the less optimized characters, but the problem is in order to challenge the optimizers and make the combat fun for the rest, they can backfire with a little bad luck (or good luck on my rolls) or a bad tactical choice.

(we have a hunter in our current party, and i designed an encounter with a nasty elite enchanter up on the third floor of a tower with an open floor, so 3 floors of a tower were included in a single combat.  The enchanter was able to wreak havoc from out of range, but he stood on the edge of the third floor over the opening, with no railing, and unbeknownst to the players, had a ring of feather fall so he couldn't make a save if he was slid.  The players loved the idea of him having the ring, and liked getting the item later, but the fight was a LOT more damaging then it needed to be.)

(in another situation, i flavored a MM3 Fire elemental into a solo.  He kept the 5 damage to everyone adjacent whenever he got hit, and ALSO had an aura 2 that dealt 10 fire damage at the start of a player turn, and got 2 turns per round.  i knew the fight would be long and would deal a lot of damage, so i introduced and repeatedly hinted (turned the rule of 3 [hints] into the rule of 5) a few potions of fire resistance.  Due to the players not getting the potions, but MORE due to lucky solo rolling with area attacks, the combat was terribly deadly, and the party BARELY got the solo down before all succumbing....no deaths, but probably 6 or 7 unconscious party members through the fight in a party of 5)

I'm all for the "build your encounters for your group" but the higher powered characters you're building encounters for, the easier it is for bad luck or tactics to QUICKLY obliterate the party.  Lets be honest, there are only so many combat encounters in the courseof a campaign where it makes sense to do something other than killing the party when they're all knocked unconscious.

Finally, some people are saying to mix it up with combats that are tailored to let certain people have fun, and then combats or other events that then let the OTHER people have fun next...

if 2 players are having fun 50% of the time, and the other 2 players are having fun the other 50% of the time.....that means there are still 2 players that have no fun ALL the time (the other 2 have no fun when the first 2 have fun, and the first 2 are bored when the OTHER 2 have fun).

I'm firmly opposed to the "everybody gets a turn to have fun" style of DMing....EACH scene, and even each "encounter" or event of the scene should involve EVERYONE meaningfully...all of your players AND the DM are there to have fun, and while its really hard, or even downright near impossible to keep everyone happy all the time, it should always be a GOAL          
As i said before, and it sounds like others are saying too, when combat is presented (which, regardless of whether or not you consider combat to be the encounter, or part of the scene, some players are still looking forward to the "down and dirty" part of combat), it is often considered to be its own thing by many players.



It also helps to understand that combat is a reward. So players that love combat are players that like to be rewarded in that fashion. Knowing then that combat is an incentive, you can arrange your adventure/story design to reflect that, rewarding PCs with combat when they have done the necessary things to interact, follow the story, etc. This will please both the optimizers and those that prefer more story-based scenes (not that optimizers and roleplayers, nor combat and story, are mutually exclusive) and has the added side effect of making it so those combats you're putting out there really matter to the plot. When you get to that point, you start adding those extra elements I've been speaking about because it makes sense to and doesn't seem tacked on.

I would add something I failed to mention previously - those extra elements, be they skill challenges, puzzle encounters (which is to say, encounters that can be "solved" through particular tactics or actions outside of total annihilation), or what have you should be optional. You should be able to have multiple paths to victory in any encounter such that nobody in the party is forced to do a thing in lieu of direct combat. This removes the possibility that some players feel "stuck" disarming the bomb or interacting with the Giant King while the combat-centric characters wreck shop.

With all the work i've been putting into encounters in my most recent campaign, i've noticed a LOT of success.  The encounters are interesting, and everyone is having fun (i do occasionally catch one of the less optimized characters with a 1-shot action removal trick that may have been designed for one of the more optimized characters - such as a hidden pit trap or a triggered shot that prones someone on a charge).  But even with all the careful work to let everyone shine in encounters, it doesn't always work (and Droma can certainly attest to this).  In an effort to make the encounters fun, i DO put in mechanics that are BEST suited to the less optimized characters, but the problem is in order to challenge the optimizers and make the combat fun for the rest, they can backfire with a little bad luck (or good luck on my rolls) or a bad tactical choice.



It almost goes without saying that not every encounter is going to be a win in the design department, so anyone giving these methods a try shouldn't feel discouraged when the players give what you thought was an interesting challenge a serious beatdown. If you did it right, it'll still have been fun for everyone.

Finally, some people are saying to mix it up with combats that are tailored to let certain people have fun, and then combats or other events that then let the OTHER people have fun next...

if 2 players are having fun 50% of the time, and the other 2 players are having fun the other 50% of the time.....that means there are still 2 players that have no fun ALL the time (the other 2 have no fun when the first 2 have fun, and the first 2 are bored when the OTHER 2 have fun).

I'm firmly opposed to the "everybody gets a turn to have fun" style of DMing....EACH scene, and even each "encounter" or event of the scene should involve EVERYONE meaningfully...all of your players AND the DM are there to have fun, and while its really hard, or even downright near impossible to keep everyone happy all the time, it should always be a GOAL          



I agree with that style. It should be the goal to have something for everyone. It's not always the outcome in actual play - no big deal, it happens. In some cases depending upon whether the scene is "for" a particular character, there can be some wiggle room on spotlighting a particular PC more than the others, provided it's very much rooted in the story and makes sense in context.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I'm all for the "build your encounters for your group" but the higher powered characters you're building encounters for, the easier it is for bad luck or tactics to QUICKLY obliterate the party.  Lets be honest, there are only so many combat encounters in the courseof a campaign where it makes sense to do something other than killing the party when they're all knocked unconscious.

Depends on the set up, and whether even knocking the PCs out is a good use of the monsters' time. My players failed an encounter recently and none of them ever even became bloodied.

Most DMs don't like to bring in specific tactics to counter tough PCs, but at some point it becomes perfectly plausible that the PCs' preferred techniques would become somewhat known and researched by those who plan to oppose them, and counters would be devised.

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

To the charop character: It may be the case that your sense of fun is ruining everyone elses fun, DM included. If this is the case, you are the one that needs to change. If you peruse the charop forums in greater depth, you'll see that even the most hard-core charop builders don't typically bring their crazy builds to the table, for just this very power disparity reason. Or on a more practical side, be a fully optimized enabling leader instead. Make your teammates awesome so you can ALL over-run the combat, not just you.

+1

It helps to stop thinking of things as "combat encounters" and think of them instead as "scenes." This will cause you to question things and change your design. You'll consider different stakes, motivations, terrain, and challenges outside of (but still including) slaughter. At my table, I frequently say, "Killing everything is one way to do it, I guess." And rarely (very rarely) do any of the scenes I design end with everything dead. It's those extra layers that will add depth to the scene and give BOTH the combat-heavy characters and those less interested in that aspect things to do that have parity in effectiveness. That's the key - effectiveness. One path to victory should be just as valid as the next, but non-annihilation victories should be (in most cases) designed to be more interesting. Just last night, a combat heavy character did 166 damage in one scene and in a different scene, he talked a green dragon into a tenuous alliance. He could have just tried to kill the dragon as we were already engaged in fighting (since he does god awful damage, that's what he should do, right?). But talking made more sense, he did it, and he was rewarded for it. The party still "won."

As far as the skill challenges go, most people see skill challenges in combat as being something they're "stuck" doing instead of combat because that's how it's most often presented in published materials (unfortunately). I can tell you from experience that it can be much more interesting than that. You just have to examine the scene and find an opening to add that extra element. And again, it has to be as effective as smashing things to bits in terms of success or plot advancement. It also helps if that element is so cool that even the combat-heavy characters just have to give it a try.

I wish you wrote campaigns for WotC, sounds like great D&D is being played at yer table.

I'm very much reminded of 3.5 Ravenloft's Strahd when I read this (I've not played any updated versions, so perhaps it is still the same). The campaign started with him being able to destroy the PCs, and in order to make him more managable the players were presented with a dozen sidequests that made him more manageable. If you do decide on "setpiece" actions that are hubs that the story revolves around, I would let the powergamers have their head, and instead tailor the building action routes towards story elements and roleplay encounters. Do not strive to balance every single encounter, but rather to balance the campaign.  
I wish you wrote campaigns for WotC, sounds like great D&D is being played at yer table.



Thanks, that's kind of you to say. I doubt WotC pays enough for me to want to "follow the dream."

I dare say if you do something long enough and constantly question your own designs while remaining receptive to others' ideas, any DM will continually improve his or her skills. It's forever a work in progress. I played in a game on Saturday and the DM did something I have never done and liked a lot. I gratefully stole it.

As for a table, well, I do all my games online these days, so if you want in, it's just a matter of keeping an eye out for the next adventure I'll be running for the community...

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith