In our 5e game, I was put on the spot for some loot the players were promised by a Hill Gnome. When it came time for their reward, I made up a dagger that can paralyze whatever it stabs, gave it to our Dragonborn Fighter, and it really threw off the balance of the game. It's all he ever uses anymore, and I need to find a way to get rid of it, because whenever something is resistant to paralysis, he gets mad saying I made it so that he can't do anything in the fight. Is there some way I can get rid of it in a fair way? Maybe a monster, or spell?
Use the established guidelines available in the Dungeon Master's Guide to alter the item and restore game balance.
In fact, you don't even need to create the magic item's characteristics entirely from scratch; the book offers an example Dagger of Venom that could be trivially modified to satisfy both you and your player while also restoring balance to your game.
Dagger of Venom (DMG, 161)
You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.
You can use an action to cause thick, black poison to coat the blade. The poison remains for 1 minute or until an attack using this weapon hits a creature. That creature must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or take 2d10 poison damage and become poisoned for 1 minute. The dagger can't be used this way again until the next dawn.
Simply replace the 2d10 poison damage and poisoned condition on a failed save with the paralyzed condition and called it Dagger of Paralysis (or whatever you or the player want to name it).
Dagger of Paralysis
You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.
You can use an action to cause thick, black poison to coat the blade. The poison remains for 1 minute or until an attack using this weapon hits a creature. That creature must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become paralyzed for 1 minute. The dagger can't be used this way again until the next dawn.
Also, it would be wise to keep in mind in the future that 5th edition D&D is balanced around the premise that magic items are both exceedingly rare and significantly less powerful than in previous editions. If you are put on the spot and don't have carefully thought out loot ready to hand out, instead of just inventing something on the fly with zero playtesting, consider using the DMG's random loot tables to provide your players with something less likely to put you in this position going forward.
Talk to the Player
You can talk to the player about it, and discuss the usage of the dagger. Explain to them that it's throwing off the game, and needs to be removed. If they agree, then problem solved, and you can discuss the best way forward.
If they don't agree with you, then unfortunately, for the sake of the game, and the rest of the group, you'll likely have to put your foot down. In this instance however, removing it entirely will likely seem too harsh, so compromising by simply nerfing it (maybe giving it a limited amount of charges, or a 1 in 10 chance to paralyse, etc.).
Develop a scenario for it.
This is kind of dependant on whether or not you talk to the Player about it first. If you do talk to the Player, and they decide they don't want to get rid of it, you'll have to handle it a bit differently.
But, in the case where the player agrees with you, and you do decide to remove it, perhaps a scenario where the original owner of the dagger wants it back. A powerful being has come for it (the PCs can try and keep it for themselves, you know... RP it out a little), but ultimately, the owner takes it back, and vanishes, or perhaps at twist ending, the owner is killed by the party, but with it, the power of the dagger also dies.
The options for how the dagger is removed are endless, and can be built to match your campaign (stolen, dropped down a ravine, etc.).
Alternatively, as user Darq was kind enough to provide, replacing the item may be a better solution. As in their comment, this can also be RP'd into the game, making it a more enjoyable experience
"You bury the dagger into the heart of the immortal beast, and while you cannot truly kill it, the paralytic power of the dagger holds it fast, trapping it until a future fool pulls the blade from its chest. Conveniently, this also lets you pry the sword from its hands."
Ultimately though, it sounds like the PC isn't going to just accept losing such a powerful weapon, especially when they complain about enemies with resistances. The underlining thing about D&D is that it's meant to be fun for everyone, including the DM, and the rest of the players, and having such a powerful item in the game is ruining that fun.
Alter the item
Just getting rid of it will be no fun for the player. They'll feel robbed, and understandably so. You gave them the loot, so simply taking it back in any way will feel bad.
I think you'll have a much better experience if you re-balance it. That way he still gets his awesome paralyzing dagger, but in a way that doesn't break the game.
Some ideas for adjusting balance:
- Give the paralysis effect limited charges. It regains 1d4 charges at dawn, and can hold a max of 4 charges. This keeps the effect powerful, but limits it to a few clutch moments rather than every hit of every fight.
- Lower the DC on the save. If you make the effect subject to failing a DC 5 CON save, monsters won't fail very often. This has the added benefit that weak monsters will fail every few turns, but stronger enemies will rarely or never fail (so he doesn't ruin boss fights).
- Change the effect so that once an enemy makes one successful save against the paralysis, they shake it off and are immune to that effect for the next 24 hours. This behavior is found in many spells, items, and abilities. It allows a powerful controlling effect, but prevents that effect from permanently locking down an enemy.
Any one of those (or other options) could allow him to keep his fun effect without dramatically imbalancing the game.
Consider converting the weapon to a sentient weapon. This opens an avenue to additional roleplay and story opportunities as well as allowing you to introduce new restrictions to the weapon for balance purposes.
The weapon could have been granting the fighter power thus far to show what it was capable of only to desire payment for the power in the future.
One example of how this could be implemented in a Forgotten Realms-esque setting:
A powerful Uvuudaum wizard unleashed a swarm of mutant Carrion Crawlers on Kara-Tur. A powerful elf noble traveled to the Far Realm and battled the Lord trapping his essence in a dagger which eventually made its way into Faerun via a merchant on the Golden Way subject to the distant subtle murmurings of the Lord. As the Uvuudaum wizard increased in power the dagger was imbued with some of the properties of the strange magic that he had used to create the Carrion Crawlers and his personality as projected into the world (perhaps he could serve as a patron for some Great Old One warlock NPCs). For the fighter to continue to use its power he must carry out the process for his resurrection. Every week (or so), the dagger bids him fulfill a small quest towards the Uvuudaum's end. Until it is fulfilled, the paralysis power is disabled, but when the quest is completed the power returns for a week and for the next 24 hours the dagger provides +1 to attack and damage rolls.
This type of method helps to allow for the decreased potency in the dagger (especially if they are engrossed in a major quest that the paralysis would be too strong and the story forces the fighters full attention, possibly with a time constraint ;) and even gives the fighter a chance for increased power if he explores the roleplay opportunities. The player will likely not feel as upset than if you simply removed some of the power of the weapon.
I would make the paralysis go both directions. It could start as a weird tingling feeling on the fingertips after fighting. If he continues to using it, an annoying numb sensation on the hand for several hours after every time he touches it. If he insists, it could get worse to the point of losing dexterity temporarily. The symptoms get worse and take longer to dissapear every time he uses it. If you feel really evil, roll noisily some dice beneath your master screen with your best evil grin each time to feed their paranoia.
I think it could become an interesting narrative tool, a last resource weapon they can use when everything else fails, risking getting paralyzed forever...
Talking to the player is a good start. Fess up that you did something that turned out to be a mistake in retrospect and that you (you as the GM and the player) need to do something about it. Yes, it happens, no one is perfect. Character-wise, his actions make sense, using the most effective means of overcoming an obstacle at hand, but game-wise, it makes things boring.
Retconning the item may be difficult. It would make explaining away the ease of the last battles quite daunting and it involves a leap of faith from the other players.
My personal 'best choice' would be to provide an ingame means to limit the power of the dagger from now further on. Again, talking to the player beforehand helps rather than simply jumping a Rust Monster or suchlike on him. Agree on a means to restore game balance to avoid the risk of ticking off the player.
Possible ideas which don't involve retconning:
- The dagger has charges, which weren't apparent beforehand. (Like, 10 uses maximum, then it 'charges up' one use per week, up to ten again)
- The dagger gets 'damaged' by a spell or an effect, limiting its usefulness
- The dagger is an integral part of a bigger plot, requiring the player to relinquish it, maybe in exchange for a 'lesser' version - or the dagger itself, albeit in a diminished state
- It isn't the dagger that paralyzes, but the poison in a hidden compartment, which is now used up and needs to be refilled.
- Any means which would divest a player from his equipment (well, that's the last possible option)
The idea should be clear - provide an explanation why the item isn't as powerful as imagined or a situation that limits the power of the item over the course of the game.
Who thinks the upset balance is a bad thing?
Is this something that you are thinking because being too powerful is wrongbadfun? Does everyone else in the party get upset that the balance is screwed, or jealous and are now waiting for their item?
Sometimes people don't really care about balance and being powerful is fun (Been there). Now your party have experienced this taking it away and going back to a more down to earth game might actually cause more problems than it fixes.
So rather than simply working on ways to get rid of this item I think you need to understand the psychology of your party members now they have this item.
It sounds like your one player is certainly loving the feeling of power and you could take your game that way where the challenge level drops and you let your players take on that level of power. Hand out more items, screw the balance and simply enjoy the carnage.
If you are not going to be able to have fun this way then it is still an issue however, because your fun is equally important.
So actually answering the question
Don't do anything to take anything from the players without being certain that it is going to be understood by them.
Tell your players (All of them) that you feel the game is unbalanced, that the only way you can restore balance is to remove this item and get agreement before you proceed.
I suggest talking to them about my frame challenge first, maybe don't offer it as an option, but tell them you understand why it is appealing.
Your options then become:
Switch the item with something less powerful (Just effectively retcon that it has always been that way)
Story line: The weapon becomes weaker the more it is used and the party have to find a way to recharge it. Maybe they get limited charges, maybe that method is evil, maybe it is doomed to fail - but the story is epic and provides replacement loot.
Story line: Someone comes back for the weapon and either steals it, wins the fight and takes it, or explains to the party why they need it and the party hand it over willingly. Either way this can lead onto the next part of their epic adventure tracking the thief or helping the being that they gave it to.
There are many more ways and as this question stays open I am sure you will get some brilliantly inventive suggestions, but if you have not talked to the players and explained yourself you are likely to engender resentment.
Everyone is talking about altering items, or making them lose the item. Making is sentient is nice, and all, but you don't need to change specifically the item to rebalance the item itself. Changing the item, removing it, having it "stolen" or "disenchanted", specially if you mentioned with players that it is an issue from your POV, is literally the worst option. It breaks the fun entirely. What's the point in a reward if it being good means it being removed? This gives a feel that whatever you party earns, will NEVER ever be strong.
Some things actually should be strong beyond the average item, but if you really think you overdid it, removing it is a game killer.
My suggestion? Make the weapon less useful, without touching it. Paralysis is a somewhat common status, and several creatures are resistant, or even immune to it. He might get mad, but it's not made up by you, it's a commonspot in balancing. Even weak undeads may be entirely immune, some demons, constructs in general, oozes, and others are resistant or immune to it.
Make a part of the campaign with a majority of creatures immune or resistant to paralysis for a WHILE, but be cautious not to make EVERYTHING immune to it - it sounds as much as a hard balancing than removing it. And then your player is correct at getting mad.
But having something immune is not a balancing issue. Otherwise your fire-specialist mage can get pissed out because you didn't throw them ice/water enemies, and the warrior pissed out because you have a batch of enemies resistant to melee damage, and soon it will be a snowball out of control for everyone. And it becomes a game about putting things exactly weak against your characters, always fitting their build, and that's boooring.
It's a game about strengths and weaknesses. If you little dagger had it's strength already, and it seems it shined a LOT, there is literally nothing wrong with making creatures resistant to it.
I actually recommend you into doing it. Prepare your players for immunities and resistances, for as they level up, almost any damn creature gets resistant vs. status or elements. So will the player characters. And almost all of their old items also WILL get inefficient and unused, eventually, from their +1 longswords to his neat dagger of paralysis.
tl; dr; Don't change it, change the setting around it so it is less useful. (But still slightly useful!)