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In my campaign we have two, almost identical, charge-based builds tuned to be a duo. These characters totally imbalance the party to the point where encounters four levels higher than the party's level are no threat at all.

Almost every encounter goes like this:

  1. The duo maneuver themselves to good positions with their moves.
  2. They charge the caster, or any other character that has charge-impeding abilities.
  3. The rest of the party watches as the two grind through the mobs to the end of the encounter.

I know charge changed from 3E to 4E and is supposed to still be balanced (as explained here) because it allows only for melee basic attacks. The characters are tuned in such a way, however, that their melee charges do a whopping amount of damage compared to other players' builds, allow them to shift and/or push to favorable positions after attacks, leave them invulnerable to opportunity attacks, and give them multiple charges in a single turn.

What I considered:

  1. Make encounters tuned to block charge
    => leaves the duo useless and starts to reek like meta very quickly
  2. Make the encounters several levels higher
    => renders the rest of the party moot
  3. Houserule the characters to be less awesome
    => a tad lame
  4. Houserule the rest of the players to more awesome and then do any of the above points
    => also lame

[placeholder for character stats as soon as I get my hands on them]

Am I missing something in their build? What has gone wrong? How can I keep encounters interesting for both the optimized builds as the regular builds?

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Some more details on their specific build might be helpful. It may have been errataed, or have known weaknesses. –  AceCalhoon Apr 13 '11 at 22:31
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Yeah, more details are necessary. If possible, iplay4e links would be perfect. Please provide the entire party build, as well as what books you're pulling monsters from. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 13 '11 at 23:32
    
Don't forget about readied actions -- even if they don't provoke OAs, they're still susceptible to an NPC (minion?) defender sacrificing its standard action. –  Snowbody Mar 12 at 19:05
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4 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

I'm not a D&D player, but can't you take some variants of number 1 without it stinking like meta?

  • Why are all encounters in a space large enough to charge in? How about tight quarters? What about bad footing - mud, slime, etc.. They'll impact everyone's base movement, but they should eliminate charge.

Your players are treating this like a game. Why not give them some opponents that treat it like a struggle for their very existence?

  • They're not going to be looking for traps while charging, are they? If the encounter happens on the bad guys' turf, traps scattered or carefully placed are totally valid.
  • Can you charge uphill? How about bad guys that have dug in and have elevation on their side?
  • What about visible deterrents to charges? Like rows of sharpened sticks or pikes stuck in the ground? Or lines of pitch that the baddies set on fire as soon as the chargers get within range to charge?
  • Are they fighting baddies with some sort of special vision that the chargers lack? Are you taking advantage of that?

Remember - if this is a connected campaign, some news about these invincible chargers is going to make it back to someone higher up the chain - and therefore later in the encounter order! They're not morons, they're going to prepare for chargers! That's not meta, that's life in the fiction.

This is the same for any one-trick pony. If they're optimized for one thing, hit them with something else. Put archers in close quarters. Hit dual-weapon fighters with ranged attacks. Put strength against weakness, not against strength, and remember that the PCs are leaving your opposition dead. Somebody notices, somebody cares, somebody thinks.

I refer you this answer for information on the book Play Dirty by John Wick.

EDIT: This started as a reply to a comment, but soon it became clear that it was really part of the answer.

You don't have to nerf their charging every time, but you don't have to let them walk all over you either. Obviously, the chargers want to use their charge - they implied that by building those characters that way! So you can let them, sometimes. But make sure that the non-chargers are responsible for something in the encounter, too.

You can have "split" encounters with non-combat goals. Have you ever seen an old Jackie Chan movie? The best fights are the ones where he has something else to do besides fight. Split the goals of encounters, and the chargers can mop up the opposition while the other PCs take care of other business - while fighting off baddies themselves! Examples I've used in my games include:

  • Protecting someone defenseless
  • Protecting something fragile
  • Containing something that wants to escape
  • Copying information that cannot be moved
  • Disarming a trap (bombs in modern games) that will kill them all
  • Casting elaborate spells / conducting elaborate rituals
  • Cracking safes
  • Fighting fires
  • Helping prisoners escape
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Thanks for the answer. These are indeed valid points. The hard point is not making every encounter about nerfing their charge abilities. It will frustrate them too. But I'm starting to think that's the nature of "one-trick-ponies" as you aptly called them. –  Boris Callens Apr 14 '11 at 8:02
    
@boris callens Take into account that part of the party is already frustrated as they are essentially not needed. Things should be balanced so that everyone is having fun and participating. Hopefully making challenging encounters will be fun for the entire party when they have to think creatively and work together to succeed. –  mirv120 Apr 14 '11 at 16:40
    
Yes, I throw in some different encounters on a regular basis. As a matter of fact because I wanted to make each combat unique I had to come up with quite elaborate plots. So elaborate they became unplayable. That's why recently I tuned it down a little and started to throw in more "regular" encounters. –  Boris Callens Apr 14 '11 at 17:27
    
Also, think I'm going to check this "play dirty" thing out. Thx :) –  Boris Callens Apr 14 '11 at 17:28
    
@boris callens - I certainly hope Play Dirty helps you - it changed the way I thought about not just combats, but GMing in general. –  gomad Apr 14 '11 at 17:44
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Its obvious that these players have invested heavily in charge based builds. If its frustrating to you and the other players you have to start putting them in situations where they can't charge, or where its less effective. Here are some suggestions:

  • It sounds like they are moving away from a lot of creatures. Are they provoking AoO? Make sure you take every one that they grant.

  • Find monsters with auras. When they enter the aura they are slowed. If they have already moved 2 squares they are SOL. Another thought is to find a monster or two who can restrain your characters (spiders are great for this). This will lock them into a place for a turn or two while they attempt to escape.

  • Difficult terrain is something to consider as well. This will slow the characters to half their speed.

  • Traps, monsters that mark and monster with reach are other good ways to deal with these players.

  • Swarms. Pain in the ass, but characters who can perform area and blast powers are especially effective, characters who perform melee attacks not so much.

  • If your chargers can only target AC think about adding some higher AC lower NAD monsters. (Maybe even run some to hit percentages and find a sweet spot where they are hard to hit for your chargers and easier for your character who target Ref, Will or Fort).

  • Ranged critters (archers, other artillery monsters) can be quite useful if you put them up in some trees or up on a cliff while the players are in a valley. If the party composition includes some ranged PCs then this is a nice effective way to give them something to target while the chargers are taking care of the ground forces.

But remember, that these players have invested heavily in their charge builds, its what they primarily do and if you take that out of the game to too much of an extent then their carefully constructed characters won't be as useful. Show them that the same trick doesn't work every time, but also don't let it become so heavily penalized that they regret their builds.

Finally look to design your encounters so that everyone has something to do. If you have a wizard who specialized in area affects look for lots of minions. If you have 2 charge characters find something that ties them up. If you have ranged characters give the other side something they can target most effectively.

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They have feats that make them immune to AoO during charge. They also rely heavily on shifting before and after charges, so that sadly rules out the AoO rule. –  Boris Callens Apr 14 '11 at 17:20
    
Does an aura keep them from charging? Sounds logical. I'll have to look that up. –  Boris Callens Apr 14 '11 at 17:21
    
Diff terrain is indeed something to consider as it not only slows them, but makes charging illegal. –  Boris Callens Apr 14 '11 at 17:21
    
How exactly would you use marks and reach? –  Boris Callens Apr 14 '11 at 17:22
    
@boris remember with the shift that a charge requires at least 2 squares of movement. Make sure they don't shift away 1 square and charge against the same enemy again. –  wax eagle Apr 14 '11 at 17:35
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The traditional defense versus a charge is using a spear, halberd or other long weapon. Equip your NPCs with weapons that have reach and the chargers will draw attacks of opportunity before getting within melee range. Stack your npcs two ranks deep then the chargers will have to pass through two attacks of opportunity zones before engaging in melee. In addition because the NPCs are in formation with weapons with reach they will be able to get multiple attacks on two chargers even if two of them die right away. And if the chargers are far enough. The NPCs can envelopment to gain combat advantage for many of these attacks.

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Wielding a reach weapon doesn't give you threatening reach. –  J. Strange Apr 14 '11 at 13:32
    
I too thought it would be logical that reach weapons would have a larger threat reach. But PHB says they don't ;) –  Boris Callens Apr 14 '11 at 17:18
    
NPCs don't play by PHB rules –  generalhenry Apr 15 '11 at 2:06
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I would try to take care of it in game. The locals bad-guys have heard of your antics! I'd watch out! The next encounter in front of the controller is a covered, well concealed 3x3 pit, 30' deep, filled with any baddies they could get their hands on.

Keep coming up with tricks for a while--based on the fact that the bad guys are all fascinated by their skills and are all trying to come up with ways to counter it. The bad guys may even offer rewards and bounties. (This could actually become a big part of your campaign... I mean really, wouldn't such a killing spree attract attention???)

Some enemies may practice a technique like setting spears--add a new type of basic attack (for opportunity attacks) that if anyone charges within 2 squares of this defender, he quickly sets a spear (with threatening reach) that does 2x or 3x damage against a charging enemy, and knocks them prone. This lets the other party members "Help" the chargers by fighting groups that the chargers can't fight. Note, the skill makes the reach of the spears threatening, not the spears! Last thing you need is a bunch of PCs running around with threatening reach! Also the attack should not be subject to powers that "avoid opportunity attacks". If this works, pretty soon word spreads and the technique becomes wide-spread. Doesn't it make sense that something like this would happen?

Encounters of animal-level intelligence should still exist and be unmodified--why not let them have their fun?

If it remains boring for the rest of the party, the next 3x3 pit (note, 3x3 would completely disallow charging--could be bigger and still discourage charging) contains something that would be a serious challenge for two "balanced" characters. Since yours are unbalanced and you have removed their "plus", they should be all "Minus"--you kill them but it's their own fault.

If they are the type to get all butt-hurt at the thought of their characters dying, drop two other party members in an identical pit at the same time and show how they survive--it's not the encounter being overbalanced, it's your characters being under-balanced. too bad, so sad.

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I like the idea of putting a name on their heads :) –  Boris Callens May 3 '11 at 12:12
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