View Full Version : An aspiring DM in search of advise

2007-06-11, 05:18 PM
So I've been playing DnD with the same group for two years, and we're an interesting group. We harbor two power gamers who optimize everything they can, two players who just build fun characters and a guy who always wants to play the hero. We've had the same DM the whole time, and the guy wants to play a character for once.

And one of the power gamers (he's the I like to shoot stuff type) is leaving for school, so we're going to be a man down.

So I decided to take up the mantle of DM, sadly to say. And although I have gigantic shoes to fill, I'm hoping that I don't trip over them too much.

I had a test run with the two power gamers at level 7, and let me tell you. They plowed through the creatures I set up for them. I guess the problem is, how do I come up with fights that are challenging without being overwhelming? CR doesn't seem to apply to well, because his sorceror was level 7 but had an AC in the thirties.

And his gear wasn't too armor themed.

Craziness and whatnot.

Other than that, my only problem tends to be I get way into NPC character devolpment, but my party doesn't ask the questions necesary to reveal said backround.

My campaign was moderately undead themed, with vampire, a lich, a vampire spawn pale master.

And a surprise ending.

Involving the NPC character I attached to the party, here's a hint. What he is rhymes with "Bear Wolf."

And incase you were wondering I was a funtime player.

2007-06-11, 05:21 PM
What exactly did the powergamer have that gave his sorc 30 AC?

The #1 thing you should do in response to a powergamer is say "NO" a lot. No, he can't use item X, spell Y, feat Z, or combo A&B.

2007-06-11, 05:31 PM
He was a Gnomish Sorceror

No idea what he had for defensive gear, I should have asked to what gear he purchased (each party member had 16k gold to spend). But I figured I'd let them each work out their gear and whatnot but I'm fairly sure he had bracers of AC. Ontop of whatever armor he gave himself.

So he had a 12 AC base, he proceeded to cast Shield and Mage Armor (+4 each), which would put him at 20 AC.

All in all it made it almost impossible for the monsters I threw at the party to hurt him. And then he would proceed to blow whatever creature it was to helll with attack spells.

2007-06-11, 05:52 PM
He was a Gnomish Sorceror

No idea what he had for defensive gear, I should have asked to what gear he purchased (each party member had 16k gold to spend). But I figured I'd let them each work out their gear and whatnot but I'm fairly sure he had bracers of AC. Ontop of whatever armor he gave himself.

So he had a 12 AC base, he proceeded to cast Shield and Mage Armor (+4 each), which would put him at 20 AC.

Bracers of Armor do not stack with Mage Armor, first of all. Likewise, Bracers of Armor do not stack with
Ontop of whatever armor he gave himself.

2007-06-11, 05:57 PM
You might try enemies with Touch spells, Fort save attacks, energy resistances, SR, and various combinations thereof.

Also, throwing the Gnome Sorc against something large that grapples is mean, but it could work.

Edit 1: And lots of little guys, several of whom use Aid Another actions, though it's hard to prevent them getting nuked.

Edit 2: Level 7 Gnome Sorc with 30 AC? Let's see...

10 base
+1 size
+4 m-armor
+4 shield
+2 Dex 14, a reasonable number, but just a guess
+3 Amulet of Natural Armor, 9000 gp
+1 Ring of Protection, 2000 gp
+1 Gloves of Dex +2, 4000 gp

...Hmmm, that only gets me to 26. Dodge would be 27 if he was crazy enough to take it and his Dex could be higher, though the Dex issue is uncertain if he point-bought an 18 for Cha. Now, you could pump it up higher with buffing spells (like Haste, to which he has access), but I'm guessing that he dropped the Amulet to +2 and threw in actual armor, an actual shield, or Bracers of Armor +2, which--as mentioned--would not stack.

2007-06-11, 06:11 PM
Best advice I can give you is make yourself more familiar with the rules. At first glance I was able to read your second post and know that you're missing a few rules. Your power gamers are going to walk all over you if you don't know the rules.

If you're new to the game another thing I would suggest is limiting the amount of splat books you allow in the game. At your level of play experience you may even want to go core only. That way you only have to worry about becomign familiar with the basic rules of the game first.

Then as you guys get a few more characters and situation lessons behind you, you bring in the Complete series. or races books and let the players start including things from there.

2007-06-11, 06:19 PM
He was a Gnomish Sorceror

No idea what he had for defensive gear, I should have asked to what gear he purchased (each party member had 16k gold to spend). But I figured I'd let them each work out their gear and whatnot but I'm fairly sure he had bracers of AC. Ontop of whatever armor he gave himself.

So he had a 12 AC base, he proceeded to cast Shield and Mage Armor (+4 each), which would put him at 20 AC.

Speaking as someone who plays an arcane caster and who's spent a while looking at cost-effective ways of boosting AC, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that he's cheating.

Base AC is 10. Small size gives +1. Don't know his Dex, but let's guess on the high side, 16, for +3. Mage Armour gives +4. Shield gives +4. About the only other core AC-boosters in his price range would be an Amulet of Natural Armour, for another +1, and a Ring of Protection +1.

That gives 24, and that's assuming a quarter of his wealth and several spells. Nowhere near the 30s. He can't afford good Bracers of Armour, and they don't stack with Mage Armour anyway. Neither would normal armour. Similarly, shields/bucklers wouldn't stack with Shield. If he really is a powergamer, then he probably knows the rules pretty well, which is why my guess is that he was cheating rather than just making a mistake.

Lesson to learn from this: When you're DMing for powergamers, doublecheck everything. EVERYTHING. Until you know the rules very well, you always have to check their numbers, because they always make little errors, and the errors are always in their favour.

This won't be enough on its own, though, so you'll also have to up the monster levels and stats until the fights start becoming as difficult as you want them to be. This can be done by sending them against higher-CR monsters or just by increasing the stats and abilities of the monsters you have already. If you're worried about making fights too difficult, here's a simple way to check it:

1. Have any PCs died yet?
2. Have any PCs been one die roll away from dying yet?

If the answer's no, your fights are probably too easy. Up the difficulty until the answers become "yes", then use that as a baseline.

- Saph

2007-06-11, 06:19 PM
As DM you need to be better aware of what you give or allow your PCs. I allow my PCs a lot and have dealt with power-gamers. I've had to kill off power-gamers who crossed the line too. For now stick with the basics.

You need to have the easy encounters as well as the encounters they can't beat. When they are Epic level, those encounters are called gods. You can't let power-gamers control you, though let me tell you they are hard to control even for experienced DMs.

I am really into background for the NPCs too. All I have to say on this is that you can't be attached to them too much. Some of my most well-designed bad guys died in one round of combat after a slew of bad rolls. And some have become the most interesting villains with only stats to guide them in an encounter.
My highly storied Ogre-King died in one round, whereas, in a recent on-line game a lizard-man ranger that attacked a party has now been able to make two appearances, and I'm planning a third.... he'll get more interesting as time goes on.

2007-06-11, 06:20 PM
Bracers of Armor do not stack with Mage Armor, first of all. Likewise, Bracers of Armor do not stack with

Seconded. People trying to stack bonuses that don't stack is a very common cause of characters seeming to be way more powerful than they should be.

As far as armor class goes, you get:

One (1) item or spell that gives armor bonus
One (1) item or spell that gives natural armor bonus
One (1) item or spell that gives deflection bonus
One (1) item or spell that gives shield bonus
One (1) size bonus or penalty
As many dodge bonuses and unnamed bonuses as you can come up with, so long as each one comes from a different source

You should have a good long look at this player's character sheet to see if he's doing the same kind of thing with, oh, for example, his stats. Just one enhancement bonus there, lads... no stacking eagle's splendor on top of a cloak of charisma.

Edit: The highest I can get for AC on a 7th-level gnomish sorc with standard WBL, assuming he doesn't do something truly outlandish like use Combat Expertise or walk around in full plate, is:

10 (base)
+1 size (Small)
+5 Dex (base score of 18 and +2 gloves of dexterity)
+6 armor (greater mage armor, a 3rd-level spell from the Spell Compendium)
+3 deflection (shield of faith cast by 7th-level cleric buddy)
+1 natural (+1 amulet of natural armor)
+1 dodge (Dodge feat)
+4 untyped (monk's belt with 18 Wisdom)
+4 shield (shield spell)
Total: 35

So you can make it to the mid-thirties, but it takes two 18s in stats that aren't Charisma, and your entire starting wealth invested in AC-boosting items. Hope you're not planning to cast any fireballs, because you don't have enough gold left for a spell component pouch.

2007-06-11, 06:29 PM
To address your first problem, remember the rule of thumb: the same type of bonuses dont stack, unless they're dodge or circumstance kind. With the rest, ya take the best.

I agree with Damionte that you need a firmer grasp of the rules and core basics may be best to start with.

Further, I say you have an excellant resource in the other DM that has entertained you guys for two years. Pick his brain to learn the trade. Run solo scenarios with him and see what he says about your strengths and weaknesses.

Shift focus from the NPC's background to their current schemes, these form the plot. Who they are isnt necessarily as important as what they do.

2007-06-11, 08:20 PM
Yep, I agree with Saph and company. You need to get a firmer grasp of the rules and you need to be absolutely familiar with what the Player Characters strengths and weaknesses are (including their misunderstandings and outright cheating).

...or use a Dragon against them.

2007-06-11, 08:34 PM
I have to echo what other people have said about knowing the rules. This is the only way you're going to be able to deal with power gamers, especially if that's not your cup of tea.

Also, something to remember - You control the world. Not every town has stores that contain the esoteric items from the various splat books. Make sure you know what's being bought and how it works. If your party will allow it, try keeping the rules simple, only using the Core Rulebooks and then expanding to use expansion books when you get more comfortable.

And watch out for when your cleric comes in wanting to buy a Candle of Invocation.

2007-06-11, 09:46 PM
Idiot post; sorry.

2007-06-11, 10:01 PM
Your powergamers are going to walk all over you because you're not familiar enough with the rules. You're probably sick of seeing it in every post, but it bears repeating. There's a huge difference between knowing the rules as a player and knowing the rules as a GM. You need to know them well enough to know when to bend them. This is one thing that a huge number of people don't understand. Nearly every GM's guide I've looked at, for any game (D&D included), has been an instruction manual on how to make the rules work for your game. For example, the Marshal's Handbook for Deadlands:

Characters need all that detail because they can't cheat. But you're the Marshal. You can do whatever the Hell you want to, and that's official partner.

The Dungeon Master's Guide is no exception. The first fifty or so pages is chock full of variant rules. All of the prestige classes in the back are variant rules. The purpose of the book isn't so much to provide secret tables that the players aren't supposed to see, but rather to show a new DM how the rules are mutable. Knowing what the rules isn't anywhere near as important as knowing why the rules are. You need to familiarize yourself with the rules a little more, but you also need to familiarize yourself with how and why they work. There's no help any of us can give you for that. The only way to get it is to practice.

Don't take on too much at once. Just run the core rulebooks to start with. The fewer rules and feats you have to work with, the less chance you have to screw something up and let the game get away from you. Secondly, do not, under any circumstances, start them at any character level but 1. Do not have them roll level 7, level 5, or even level 2 characters. Start of fresh. Start off level 1. Part of the problem you encountered was that you didn't know what items and effects your player was using to get his AC up above 30, because you gave him a gold piece total and free reign of the magic items list. Start them at level 1, and give them starting gold for a level 1 character. That way they have no magic items that you do not know about. Everything they get, you will have given to them. Any magic item they wish to purchase, you'll have to approve. I'm looking over some of the conjecture about what items your player had, and I'm seeing a monk's belt and +3 items - neither of which should be on a level 7 character. Period. That's mentioned in the DMG as well - just because they can afford it doesn't mean you should let them have it.

And yes, I am suggesting you run your game with an iron fist. You're a new DM, and it clearly appears as though your powergamers are trying to take advantage of you (something you appear to have suspected, because you told us upfront they were powergamers). Put your foot down. Unlike a lot of other games, D&D can easily get out of control with the wrong magical item placed in the hands of the PCs, and powergamers know that. You might have to be a hardass about that. You need to keep some control of what magic items get in their hands, and what feat/spell combinations they take. On the same note, talk to those guys about the rules - powergamers know them. It's faster to ask them than to look it up in a rulebook, but first you have to get some trust established. You need to make it clear that you're not allowing them to abuse the system.

You also need to keep in mind that your players know all about the monsters you'll be facing. That is D&D's biggest class balance issue. Your powergamers know what spells to cast against which foes. They don't need to make a knowledge roll to learn anything about the monster. The monsters are all published online somewhere and your powergamers have most of the books. The player has read this monster's stats, knows its weaknesses and special abilities, and he will metagame that knowledge. Experienced players will subconsciously metagame. Always. You can take that to the bank. You can also use it to your advantage.

First, randomize monster hit points a bit. Don't use the number listed in the SRD. Take the monster's hit dice and roll it. If you don't like it, reroll. Remember, you're the DM - you're allowed to cheat. Also, rolling dice for no reason gets players nervous.

Second, tweak a monster's stats a little bit. Customize some stuff. Shuffle stat points around. It will change some bonuses around a bit to suit some nefarious scheme you might be plotting.

Third, don't tell them what they're fighting. Describe it. Don't show them the picture in the Monster Manual, because they'll recognize that right off the bat. Don't read the flavor text when you give the description, either - the power players will probably recognize that, too. Instead, think up what the monster looks like in your mind, and describe that. They'll still figure it out eventually, but it might take them a few rounds first.

Fourth, throw an obscure monster in every now and then. Either something that's always overlooked in the monster manual, or an oldy but goody that everybody just forgets about.

Fifth, catch them with their pants down. Have your monsters and NPCs use their stealth skills when appropriate, and make your PCs roll their spot/listen checks.

Sixth, you know all of the target numbers and modifiers that are relevant in the encounter. You know what the PCs need to roll, and you know what you need to roll. You know everything about their character sheets. Fight smart. I'm not saying go straight for the throat (not unless they deserve it anyway), but go for the pain. Go for the hurt. You'll start to notice what the players fear the most (maybe energy drain, maybe being confused, maybe being turned to stone, etc.). Get inside their heads a little. If a creature is smart, make it fight smart. You can make them sweat bullets without them ever being in any danger. Don't worry if the save DC for the monster's special ability looks a little low, either. Those save DCs are intended for the PCs to be making them some regularity. Then the cleric with a 22 wisdom fails a DC15 will save because he rolled a 1, and the fun times start.

2007-06-11, 10:05 PM
Great answer and great post.

2007-06-11, 11:09 PM
Well I appreciate all the advise, and it looks like I'm going to have to hunker down and have some persobal time with the DM guide. And I'll definantly have to take a long like at equipment, keep in mind it was more of a test run than the actual campaign.

But seriously, thank you for the help. And not yelling "Burn the newb at the stake!"

I was a little afraid I'd run into that. It's very different running a game rather than playing the game.

Besides my powergaming gnomish friend went back to the CG academy, so I won't get to see him for quite a while.

And on the topic of Metagaming, it's tough when you only have the first MM on hand. I think everyone is guilty of a little metagaming, in the last campaign we had our party fought a Nightwalker. I knew what it was when he said there was a permiating aura of darkness that we apparently couldn't dispell (the DC was too high).

And Cheating a bit as the DM... I had a specific NPC character in mind, in terms of fighting and backround, and to create him I ended up with 4 levels of fighter, 2 of ranger and 2 of Duelist. And I still had to give him a bonus feat to make it work.


Which brings me to my next point.

My players know the majority of the monsters in the DnD universe, so it's difficult to surprise them. So I'm planning on throwing characters at them as "bosses." All the climactic fights, for the most part, will be with NPCs. How many levels higher should the NPC be than the party average (considering there will be a four man party, moderately balanced).

I guess I just want my friend who DMed for us all those times to have a fun and interesting time playing for a change. Because for the past two years I've played and maybe the year before I joined the group, he has always been the DM.

Not that he doesn't like DMing, he just never gets to play.

2007-06-12, 02:24 AM
Just bear in mind, when you're learning the ropes, it's best to keep things simple. The simplest way to run D&D is to start fresh with brand spankin' new level 1 characters. It gives you an idea how a character really develops over play. Sometimes people wonder why a player would ever run a character that wasn't optimized - when you watch them grow from level 1, you suddenly understand why. Those useless skills and feats that prevent you from being optimized seemed like a damn good idea when you needed them every session.

You may want to see if you can borrow some books from the guy who usually runs the game. If not, it's actually worth buying some of the other monster supplements so that you've got some surprises in store.

I would be careful about cheating in the form of giving a bonus feat to a character. This goes back to what I was saying about understanding why the rules are what they are. If a character can't have a certain combinations of feats at a given level, with a given build, there's usually a good reason for it (even if it doesn't seem apparent at a first glance). Fudging rolls is one thing, but if you need to give an extra feat to the NPC, why not just make him a few levels higher so that he can get it legitimately? Either that, or drop something he doesn't really need. This, of course, depends on what you're doing with the NPC. You're looking at a level 8 NPC... why not just bump him to 9 and give him the feat? That's a rhetorical question, by the way. I don't need to hear the answer - that's purely your call, but it's something you do need to ask yourself.

Now, you need to be careful with making all of your climactic fights NPCs. In order to ramp them up to make them a decent challenge, you have to give them decent magical items - stuff your players will be winning as the spoils of victory. A monster has special abilities to make it a challenge, but an NPC doesn't. The NPC needs some treasure to use against the party. If you're throwing NPCs at your players often, they're going to be well above the wealth by level guidelines. Especially if you're tailoring those NPCs to be challenges. Those magic items are going to be good, useful stuff. For example, your NPCs aren't carrying around a bag of tricks and a quaal's feather token. Rather, he's likely to have a +2 sword, +1 armor, a +1 shield, and a ring (just an example). That's going to create further problems for you down the road with making monsters a challenge. A good NPC can be a memorable encounter, and they do make excellent climactic encounters, but at the same time you have to realize what it's going to do to your campaign. Don't overuse them. Furthermore, everything's a bit of a challenge for a low level party. If you throw six goblins at them, someone could quite possibly die. In fact, it might be to your benefit to try to make the monsters a challenge despite the fact that your players know their stats. The low level stuff is a challenge anyway, because your PCs are weak. That gives you a few levels to get used to being on the other side of the DM screen. You'd be surprised how much you can challenge your party with standard SRD stuff once you get the hang of playing the monsters.

Remember, you can customize monsters with templates, too. That can give you a lot of room to make even the most mundane monsters seem different.

Another thing to keep in mind, and this is one that I sometimes lose sight of mid-session, is that just because they seem to be plowing through everything doesn't mean they're not nervous. Sometimes minor little hindrances can really unnerve a player. It doesn't always take the big nasty with sharp teeth to get them terrified. Usually it's the unknown element that does the job best. A lot of time the challenge comes in when they get scared and start making mistakes.

2007-06-12, 05:26 AM
If you really want to liven things up, turn the tables on the PCs. I had a bit of a powergamer Evoker in a campaign. So I sent them into a place where they were arresting criminals and got a bounty for every one captured alive. Suddenly hurling fireballs was costing the entire party money, and the wizard spent a few fights as not the best character in the party. Trying a few different things can leave all the optimization in the world counterproductive. The Evoker had dropped Enchantment and Illusion, making himself totally useless. If they min-max, hit 'em in the min.

2007-06-12, 07:01 AM
Corolinth, you're posts have a lot of wisdom behind them, and I have learned a bit.
Thank you.

2007-06-12, 07:49 AM
Hmm... well, first off, remember that you can change the fluff around on a monster. I often take a monster straight out of the MM, maybe change an energy type or two, and present it to the PCs with a description that's totally different from what the MM says. I once had them fight an "undead angel." They were utterly bewildered as to what it was. In fact, I just took the sample lich and clapped a couple of wings on at the shoulders.

That said, a few guidelines to making NPC villains:

#1. Don't use the stock NPCs in the Dungeon Master's Guide. They're pathetic and any halfway competent party will stomp them flat.
#2. Every two levels is roughly equivalent to a doubling of the NPC's power. So if you've got a 6th-level party of four players, a 10th-level NPC should be about an even match. (And remember that "even match" means "50% chance of a TPK.")
#3. I find one good way to stat out NPCs is to start out by building them exactly the way you'd build a PC, complete with PC wealth by level. Then, in order to avoid handing out too much treasure, go back and assimilate a lot of their bonuses into their "natural" stats. For instance, if your NPC has +6 gloves of dexterity, change that to +2 gloves of dexterity and increase her actual Dex score by 4. You've just reduced the loot from this encounter by 32,000 gp without changing the difficulty in the least.
#4. Recognize your own skills and limitations as a player, in a tactical sense. One DM I play under hates playing casters. He never plays them and isn't good at them. So his NPC casters are always incompetent and use their spells poorly. On the other hand, his melee NPCs are brutally effective. If you're not good at playing a certain class or type of character, don't use that type of character for a major villain.

2007-06-12, 08:05 AM
it looks like I'm going to have to hunker down and have some personal time with the DM guide.

Oh yeah - and then some

Lots of good advice here (especially Corolinth) so I won't repeat that, except the bit about starting at first level, and restricting the splat books. And make sure they remember they are dealing with a newb here - and someone who is not only not as experienced as their regular DM, but not their regular DM. You will have your own style, your own quirks etc - some of which could be a real surprise for your players.

Don't worry about the metagaming - that's always going to happen. And you don't have to try too hard to surprise your players, though one of the sweetest sounds a DM can hear is his players going 'Oh, they're only kobolds, what harm can they do?'

Good luck with it - and remember, you're supposed to enjoy it too!

2007-06-12, 08:12 AM
My players know the majority of the monsters in the DnD universe, so it's difficult to surprise them. So I'm planning on throwing characters at them as "bosses." All the climactic fights, for the most part, will be with NPCs. How many levels higher should the NPC be than the party average (considering there will be a four man party, moderately balanced).

As opposed to NPC's as such, monsters with class levels get nasty pretty quick.
VT's monster advancement thread can give even the toughest players the heebiegeebies. ...(where did it go VT, have you quit the MA?)

Anyhow the wonderful denizons of this board may well help you out if you have anything specific in mind.

I have had excellent help from the goodly folk here abouts, some of them sadly departed... (You know who you are, and thanks again my players are still living in fear of those Hobgoblins)...[/digression]

Citizen Joe
2007-06-12, 08:14 AM
I had a test run with the two power gamers at level 7, and let me tell you. They plowed through the creatures I set up for them. I guess the problem is, how do I come up with fights that are challenging without being overwhelming?
And in case you were wondering I was a funtime player.

First, did they complain? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It is not the job of the DM to kill the player characters, please don't fall into that trap. Play to your strength. If you're a fun time player, be a fun time DM. Give the players what they want. If one guy is optimizing, give him an opponent that is also optimized, have it mysteriously go after the optimized guy. For the hero, provide a maiden to extole his virtues. For the rest, just give them some fun stuff to do.

2007-06-12, 11:06 AM
Besides the good advice of varying monsters and NPCs with stat customization, its good to also practice impression management. The principle for this is "Show, dont Tell".

Telling is when you present things in your game by giving 'free' conclusions to players. By free I mean they dont have to actively make deductions for themselves. Describing things with familiar labels reduces them to data and removes lots of mystique. "An old man sits next to you at the bar." Blah.

Showing is giving only the details their senses can glean without connecting the dots for them. It draws in the players to actively interpret the world around them and makes your narration more sensational.

"A hunched man with a heavily creased face, weary cloudy eyes, and a bedraggled shock of gray hair carefully eases his fragile frame onto the barstool beside you." Interesting. Is he merely old? Beaten down by life? Sick? Level drained? Emphasize the uniqueness. Notice that you can elude to a his background this way without a lengthy monologue (Telling).

Describing monsters this way can greatly stretch the utility of a single Monster Manual by fluffing the fluff.

2007-06-12, 11:40 AM
My advice?

Start off everybody at level one.

At that level, they really can't have anything that would break the game. Further, level one characters are so easy to kill that they will almost certainly try to do some interacting before they commit themselves to combat, and if they don't, you won't have to feel to bad about killing the for being stupid, since they won't have much invested in those characters yet.

It also allows you to learn the ropes of DM-ing using less complicated monsters and situations. As you watch which way the power gamers are developing their characters, you can adjust your campaign to keep them challenged.

In a nutshell, starting off at level one gives you time to get through the DM learning curve.

2007-06-12, 02:15 PM
Here are some other things to keep in mind, and this came up in a conversation I had with some other guys I game with after a session.

There is a sliding scale between a mechanical game and an interaction game. A mechanical game is going to emphasize the numbers, while an interaction game will emphasize the role-playing and the story. How you apply the rules will greatly influence where your own game falls on that line. By the book, D&D is highly mechanical (although not quite so much as it was in first and second edition). This gives rise to a lot of misconceptions concerning game balance and class balance. Without looking to count, I'll bet at least 1/3 of the threads on the front page bring this up in some form. You don't have to look far at all to find someone going on and on about invincible spellcasters.

A lot of things in the game are balanced, not by additional mechanics elsewhere, but by the flavor text of the abilities. The so-called "fluff" balances the "crunch". One problem arises when players want to ignore the "fluff" because they think it's irrelevant. The argument generally boils down to, "Well, why can't I just use the same mechanics with a different flavor? It's the same game mechanics!" The player wants the goodies without the associated drawbacks. "Paladins" of a non-LG alignment are a prime example of this. Another problem arises when the GM (that's you) doesn't pay enough attention to details. I've seen a few threads popping up about how broken and overpowered Complete Champion is. The flip side is that your character packing those tasty new divine abilities had better be stopping at a church or temple in every town you visit to roleplay his devotion to his religion, or he can kiss those fancy abilities goodbye. People like to gloss over that last part, and oh the bitching that will ensue if you ever take away feats and abilities from a character because he's not keeping up with the roleplaying requirement that's associated with it. The argument I already see coming is, "But it doesn't say you have to do that in the book!" You're right, it doesn't. Your GM also doesn't have to let you take any of it (sort of like how I told one of my players last week that I wasn't going to let her retcon her character just because a new book came out). Suck it up and seek atonement - just be ready to have to go on some sort of quest to get it, because if your GM just jacked you for your feats because you weren't roleplaying, chances are he's not having clerics handing out Atonement for $9.95 plus tax. As a GM, you have to be aware of this. Don't be afraid to make your players roleplay their characters if they've got a particular ability you're a little worried about, but make it clear upfront that you'll be requiring that. I had a brand new player join a while back who wanted to be a paladin, and I spent a good three hours explaining what a paladin is and what's expected of them before I even let him roll his stats. I wanted to make sure that's what he wanted to play before I started holding him to the paladin code of conduct. You may have to do the same for some of your characters.

If you ignore the roleplaying aspect of a roleplaying game, then a lot of balance issues are going to pop up. That's just what happens when you ignore half of a game. What you need to do is figure out how you want your game to run. Do you want it to be plot-driven? Do you want it to just feature lots of treasure hunting and dragon slaying? That's a question you need to answer for yourself. If you want it to be very plot-driven, you're going to fudge some die rolls to ensure that important events happen. There will also be times when you're caught by surprise. I had a group of PCs save an NPC that I had scripted to die. They got 2,000 bonus exp for it, and they were level 6 or 7 at the time (I'm not kidding when I say she was scripted to die). If you're running your game to be mostly mechanical, you're going to be letting the dice fall where they may, and a lot of times important villains are going to get swatted like bugs because they bombed a save vs. Bad Thing.

Another way this decision will influence your game is in how you apply the miscellaneous rules. If the game is purely mechanical, and there's not a lot of story going on, some stuff like poison isn't going to be getting used. A disease is going to be dealt with by resting and casting remove disease. If you're running more of a story based game, they might have their food poisoned at some point. A disease might require they find a consecrated resting place before it can be healed. Other things might get trumped up and become terrifying, even though they're only minor hindrances (such as lighting). You might want to take a peek at some Ravenloft supplements or d20 Deadlands if you can find them, and look up fear, horror, madness, and other such checks. Heroes of Horror and Unearthed Arcana have similar stuff in them. Those are a good way to get under your players' skin. A -2 penalty isn't terrible from a mechanical standpoint, but it's damn frightening when you don't know why you have it or how to get rid of it.

There's other tricks you can use to keep the suspense. Have them roll a die but don't tell them what it's for. Have them make spot/listen checks when there's nothing to see. Make them roll a save when nothing is happening to them. It keeps them guessing. You already know they're going to metagame a little bit, so use that against them. Make them start drawing up plans to tackle an empty room. Basically, you get them jumping at their own shadows. That way when there is a real threat, they'll actually be suitably surprised. If you can get them to feel like their characters, they'll start playing like it.

2007-06-12, 03:28 PM
Even if you're not trying to catch them cheat, you should look at character sheets just so you know what your players are capable of. I'm sorry, but theres no excuse for not knowing one of them had an AC above 30. We all forget things PCs are capable of from time to time. Let them have their little victory but remember how it happened and don't let them win that way again. If 30 AC is too much for CR 7 monster manual NPCs, start hitting them with something other than normal attacks. Touch attacks or reflex saves ought to whittle that sorc down to size.

2007-06-12, 03:47 PM
One more bit of advice:

Ask your former GM if he can help you out a bit as you're getting started, in particular, with keeping track of his fellow players. Ask your players to police themselves (ie, not cheat), and ask the other guy to point it out if he thinks something sounds wrong. That can be useful in both directions -- I have 2 experienced players in my game, and they'll often tell one of our new players "I think you forgot to add in your ____ bonus", keeping the new player from accidentally being underpowered.

Also, make sure every player tells you what they do whenever they level up, buy items, etc. Make sure they tell you what feats, spells, and items they pick up, and be willing to veto something if it sounds broken to you. (Also, if you run a DMPC or similar, make sure you have someone else who you run your decisions by!)

2007-06-12, 04:31 PM
Whoa. I can't add much to Corolinth's excellent little essay. :smallsmile:

Just this: If you're a storytelling Gamemaster trying to run a game for powergamers/hack-n-slayers you already have an incompability problem.

And powergamers WILL cheat. Trust me on this. Doublecheck their sheets if something looks incredibly overpowered.

I had a test run with the two power gamers at level 7, and let me tell you. They plowed through the creatures I set up for them. I guess the problem is, how do I come up with fights that are challenging without being overwhelming?


1) ...start them at Level 1, do NOT have the whole story revolve around combat encounters, and tell them you want written character personal background beyond "grew up, parents died, because an adventurer", and that you will reward XP for roleplaying. Run a monster-light city-based game where they have to talk to NPCs, and if they do rewards them (lightly) with little goodies like membership in a cool guild or a mentor (once they've paid the requisite feats, see Unearthed Arcana and DMG2) or reputation.

Or run a film-noir genre game, with little puzzles they cannot solve with a sword, Although if they're powergamers with a bit more brain, they'll build not an optimized slaying machine but an optimized rogue or something and beat every challenge with their incredible skill checks.

2) ...or best of all, do not run a D&D game at all. Who says you have to play D&D?

Are there any other games you like, books you own? Play something fast and fun, where coolness and heroics are more important than maxing stats, like Star Wars (no Jedi PCs!). Or Ninja Burger (the official PDF download of the rules is only $10 or so). Call of Cthulhu. KULT (and they're not allowed to play children of the night, or learn spells, or they'll find out what "damnation" really means in KULT).

I would heartily recommend PP&P (Plüsch Power and Plunder) for the sheer fun and wackiness (and making a character takes less than 5 minutes) but it's a German RPG and I'm not certain if it's ever been translated into English.

How about Inspectors RPG?

Wholly diceless games are not a good choice at this point I think because they might abuse it by inventing a superüber-character, and stuff like Castle Falkenstein or Fading Suns takes too much time to get into the setting background at this point. World of Darkness or anything by White Wolf is not recommended because I've seen powergamers abuse Vampire or Mage and it was not a pretty sight, amnd frankly speaking, settings like Exalted are already a powergamer's wet dream. We want them to look at NPCs as more than either cannon fodder or enemies.

Or if you don't mind them playing superpowered characters, why not let them play superheroes? Then they get to have cool powerz, and you can have some fun with fast-and-loose rules, and if they lay waste to whole cities in their carelessness, make sure a few of their characters' relatives or former friends now view them as villains, or die as a consequence of their actions. Win-win.
Use GURPS Superheroes for rules, or stuff like this
I recently read a review for a new Superhero RPG, everything you needed to play in one core book, but infortunately I forgot the name.

2007-06-12, 07:36 PM
Or Ninja Burger (the official PDF download of the rules is only $10 or so).

That's an RPG? :smallconfused:

2007-06-12, 08:50 PM
2) ...or best of all, do not run a D&D game at all. Who says you have to play D&D?This little gem here is possibly the best advice in the thread so far concerning dealing with experienced and jaded players who already know the stats for every monster you're sending at them.

2007-06-12, 11:59 PM
Don't play Dnd... that seems a bit harsh.

I'd rather not be exiled from a game I love.

And the extra feat was less of cheating, and trying to make a character I envisioned into the game. He was in no way broken, and infact underpowered. It was a weak attempt to make two weapon fighting work.

But oh well, I think I know what I'm going to do.

I'm starting them out as you said, at level one. Iron Fist time!

I changed my campaign idea, it's going to be a needlessly complex storyline, with leveling handed out at my discression. Thatway I can keep track of where they're at instead of being surprised.

Thanks again for all the helpful advise.


2007-06-13, 12:15 AM
I think you miss the point of that comment. If you want to keep some surprises in store, the best way to do that is play by an entirely different set of rules.

2007-06-13, 12:19 AM
Not much point in playing D&D if you're not going to play D&D. No one has everythign memorised. Besides you add character levels to monsters in the boko they cbecome completely different.

In this thread though, I mean your test runs are blunted by you guys not using the rules correctly. Chances are if you're using the rules in the right manner, or as close as you can then the stuff in the book will be a challenge.

2007-06-13, 07:18 AM
I changed my campaign idea, it's going to be a needlessly complex storyline, with leveling handed out at my discression. Thatway I can keep track of where they're at instead of being surprised.

No, no, no! Don't do that. Keep the Xp rules the same. You keep track of them by keeping track of them. You have to put in a bit of work, but basically you make sure you know what they are doing every time they level up. They shouldn't be able to suddenly say 'Well, since I took that level of sorceror my Will save is much higher'. You will know all the kit they have, so you can make sure they don't have game breaking ACs or anything. It's not actually that difficult - they just have to accept that their character sheets are not a secret from the DM

2007-06-13, 07:24 AM
I have 2 experienced players in my game, and they'll often tell one of our new players "I think you forgot to add in your ____ bonus", keeping the new player from accidentally being underpowered.

You actually need specific players for that? In our tabletop games we're always scrabbling around for that extra +1 to hit. No-one needs an invitation to shut things like 'Is the bard singing? Did you count the Bless?' etc etc

2007-06-13, 07:44 AM
I have a small bit of advice for the familiar monsters problem....

Our GM (and myself when I run) NEVER use the monster stats fom any of the books that are available, we tend to create our own things, or if we use an existing creature we change its weaknesses and attack style. Also, try not to give the players the name of the creature, if you tell them "it's a Bugbear" it'll be much clearer to them than giving them a rough description of what they face.

I personally don't see any problem with you giving out levels at your discretion, our group doesn't use experience points anymore at all. I'm not saying that using the D&D experience charts is bad, just that they don't suit every game group.

And that's where my last point comes in. Every game group is different. If your powergamers and other players like the way the game currently goes, then it's better to leave it that way. GM's run a game for the enjoyment of themselves and the players, if you bring in a whole new and radically different regime it may meana quick and unhappy end to the campaign.

All in all, I think you probably need to sit down with all your players, one-to-one or as a group, and see what they want out of the campaign. If powergamers are willing to tone it down for a different gaming experience, by all means make all the changes it will take to make you enjoy GMing.

2007-06-13, 12:40 PM
You actually need specific players for that? In our tabletop games we're always scrabbling around for that extra +1 to hit. No-one needs an invitation to shut things like 'Is the bard singing? Did you count the Bless?' etc etc

In this case, I wasn't talking about temporary buffs... I was talking about the barbarian forgetting to add in his strength bonus to his base attack, so he has +22 written on his sheet even though he's a level 19 barbarian with a +12 strength bonus and a +5 weapon (+36 to hit), and stuff like that. Everyone reminds the other players of the +1 from bless or the +2 from flanking, but it's nice to have experienced players sitting where they can see every other person's character sheets and notice that some of the numbers on their sheet are off.

This goes both ways. If you have twinky/cheater players, you're likely to have someone with a 30 AC who really should only have a 20 AC. If you have sloppy players, you're likely to have someone with a 20 AC who should really have a 30 AC. Either way, if you have an experienced and trustworthy player in your group, it helps to have them at least glance at the numbers for you.

2007-06-13, 09:21 PM
Originally Posted by Tobrian View Post
Or Ninja Burger (the official PDF download of the rules is only $10 or so).That's an RPG? :smallconfused:


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2007-06-14, 12:12 PM
DMing is a lot of work. Keep it simple. Have fun but let the PCs have more fun. Level one leveling up campaigns or a few one shot low level games are great ways to familiarize yourself with everything particularly with something like 32 point buy and average or full starting gold. Learn the rules. Be very familiar with the PC character's abilites. DM approval feats are probably a bad idea initially as they are very abuseable in game under the rules.

Since you know and have played with most of the players for a few one shots ask them to play level one lesser optimized PCs. A great fighter player usually doesn't make a great wizard player. Don't let the barbarian PC tell the wizard PC what to do spellcasting wise. At low levels you you make the group roll knowledge checks against new monsters as they have never seen one of these before and picture books were a rarity. Some kind of big scary looking monster is attacking you. Kinda like an orc but bigger or smaller. It looks like some kind of lizard humanoid. It reminds you of a.......

Roll the dice a lot for no reason. Ask the player's their marching order and spacing again out of the blue and where their PC position is in the group again or who is in back or what is your PC doing exactly or how far ahead of the group is the scout again? It keeps them interested and on edge. Give clues to prompt skill checks and keep the PCs on edge. There is an unknown rustling off to the side of the road. Roll a dice your character thought he heard something but can't hear anything now.

Have copies of all your player's PCs and your spellcaster's known and memorized spells for the day.

Make them give you an updated copy you can match against the previous old copy from the last game. This really helps keep them honest.

Track and note the magic and resources used in each battle by the PCs and mark it off magic that they use in game as it happens initially after every combat. You are only one person and generally outnumbered. It is amazing how often spellcasters forget they already used that spell or hadn't memorized it or excede daily spellcasting if it isn't tracked or keep healing themselves with the same scroll or potion.

Don't reinvent the wheel. Creating an adventure is a lot of work. Consider using some of the free pdf adventures from Wizards and tweaking them to taste or borrowing one or two from your old DM and tweaking it a bit. You can always buy some adventures down the road. Spend some time a few hours familiarizing yourself with them and making those personal notes. One reason PCs are so effective is players generally spends hours learning about their PC abilities or are very familiar with that PC type.

I found keeping a few notes or note cards ready helps along with improvising. Fudge a few rolls for the BBEGs and NPCs if things are going wrong to badly as a few extra hit points do not change the CR. You are not really trying to kill the players you are trying to give them a good time.

Give the BBEGs a non PC treasure boost by having them sucking down that temporary potion just before dying or getting boosted with a spell before someone runs aways. Know what random treasure the BBEG NPC had beforehand and have them utilize it in the encounter and Do Not roll it up afterwards. Make it in gear that they can resell for half market price but can be to bulky to transport all away safely. At low levels most of the coinage should be in coppers with a little silver and some occassional gold and gear. PCs are walking treasure hoards compared to most of the populace and should take some basic steps to safeguard their gear. Not leaving a valuable spell book back in the inn unattended or always carrying it with them on their person. Fighters shouldn't clank around town in heavy armor all day or should have that role played. Not being able to get a seat in a fine restaurant. Maybe they leave it with their mentor or hire a temporary watch or party henchmen or have a guard dog.

The Fighter type should not have Wizard treasure he can't utilize and the same for the wizard with the magic sword (Interesting he could be a level 5 wizard working on a paid commission and the PCs have irritated a BBEG who wants it back).