Sunday, 13 January 2013

Dealing with High Level PCs

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Conventional methods of adventure design often don’t work so well with high level characters. Because of the mouse-hitting-the-switch-for-more-food-effect, PCs at higher levels tend to be way overpowered. The average high level character has at least a half dozen powerful abilities, and magic items. So, instead of throwing more orcs at them, here are some strategies to stop your overpowered PCs in their tracks.

1. High Level NPCs

Presumably, the PCs aren’t one-of-a-kind super heroes. It’s probable that there are a half million high level NPCs, Villains, and monsters who’ve had the opportunity to level up and gain ten times more magic items and special abilities than the party. Naturally, they probably work in hit squads of 20+.

2. Anti-Magic

Yes, it’s cheap. Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, it’s a miserable cop out. However, anti-magic in all its various forms is like having a giant death ray marked: disable all PCs. 90% of your heroes’ abilities are likely to be magical in nature if only for the reason that magic is so overpowered. Using copious amounts of dispel magic, anti-magic zones, magic eating monsters, magic immune monsters, and permanently magic draining effects is probably a good idea. Be warned, this tactic is often so effective the players will all quit when their characters die because you were so cheap.

3. Invincible Monsters

Who says a monster can’t be utterly invincible? The players certainly have their fair share of cheap magical effects. Reserve actual invincibility for your own creations. These ultra-baddies should also be able to detect invisibility, wield insane magic, and have 200 billion intelligence scores. Inventing at least one way they can be killed, preferably something the players don’t have ready access to, can be a good idea too.

4. Other Dimensions

Other realms and times can serve as great ways to mess around with the high level characters. If they come up against modern weaponry, starships, deities, realms without magic, or dinosaurs; it can be helpful for taking their power level down a notch. Of course, they’re highly likely to grab all this new weaponry so you might want to suck it off them for some whack-o, paradox reason when they eventually get back to their own world.

5. Overpowered Monsters

Take a look at all the character sheets of the players. Then create a monster with all of their stats x10 and ways to counter or abuse their existing abilities. If the party magic is a pyromaniac, consider having the creature feed on flame. If the whole party can time travel, maybe it travels through time and eats people?

6. Use Realism

The players, no doubt, figure they’re invincible. Using ‘realism’ in your favor can be a tremendous boon for taking them down a notch. You can have them: starve, dehydrate, get poisoned, become infected, cursed, hit with a 20 ton stone block, etc. While they might have 1 billion hit points and enough armor to block any known attack, you can always simply have them trip in a 1 foot pool of water and drown.

7. Insidious Traps

More than likely, the party thief can find any trap, unlock any door, and so forth. Don’t use normal traps, use insane traps. Traps which you can’t find unless you specifically look in that one corner of the room with the glass figurine of a chicken. These traps are probably magical, un-blockable, and send all your gear to Pluto while teleporting you naked to the bottom of a billion level dungeon filled with demons.

8. Use Traditionally Cheap Enemies

Yes, there are historically cheap enemies. These enemies can include: demons, genies, deities, Godzilla, etc. All of these enemies share something in common: they’re cheap as dirt. Not only can all of them fly/swim, breath fire, crush cities, mind control people, become immune to everything, and detect/banish/control magic; they also have a logical reason for being there (someone other than you invented them).

9. Have Weak Enemies Get Smart

Who says your kobolds, orcs, and goblins have to sit around and get wasted? Have them all equipped with lethal ranged weapons, magical grenades, insidious traps, killer intelligence, and have ready access to cheap anti-magic powder or something else like that. Generally, weak foes get killed for acting stupid more than anything else. Any orc who stands around with an axe and tries to charge the party is eventually going to get it. The same orc in a tank guarded by 20th level shamans, wearing indestructible plate-mail, and wielding heat-seeking anti-magic missiles might stand a better chance.

10. Be Creative

The players’ power probably comes from knowing the rules fifty times better than you and abusing them. Well, that works both ways. Don’t bother trying to know the rules better, that’s a waste of time. Instead, simply make up whatever rubbish you want and force it on the players. Incredibly powerful monsters, insane traps, and arbitrary effects are all at your disposal and more.

11. Use Overkill

Balancing things against high level characters is almost impossible. They have so much cheapness and magic on their side that any ‘fair fight’ will quickly slide into their favor. Instead, overkill everything by about 50% or more until you hit a good balance. The players should almost have to burn all those special powers just to stay alive. Sending reasonable opponents against cheap PCs is like trying to send storm troopers after Darth Vader. Instead, send 50 Yodas in giant mechs with grenade launchers.

12. Be Cheap

While a good player can be plenty cheap with the rules, especially at high levels, a (good?) GM can be far cheaper and at any level. Without the constraints of following the rules and with ultimate power over the campaign universe, your potential for cheapness far outweighs that of the players. However, it’s your job to refrain from as much cheapness as you can in a game. If you can get away with being completely fair, and still challenge the players; do so. However, if the players get a little out of hand, you can get way out of hand to bring back balance to the Force.

...Ten Ways to Make Treasure Cool

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