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This is my first time asking a question here, so forgive me if my question is poorly worded or formatted.

I have been GM'ing for a group for the last 3 years and have started to encounter some issues with a party member. Our group had been playing 2 years prior to the current adventure, and eventually delegated me as the best GM, and because I enjoyed it I did it. My grasp of the rules were not as strong as they should have been back then, and one of my concerns was getting the players past the early stages (levels 1-3, because before then the party had just changed GM's and played one-two sessions of new adventures). Because of these factors, I was quite lenient on having the PC's have strong stats.

However, one of the members of the group intentionally took advantage of it to a much larger extent than the rest of the members. They chose to become a half giant for the size bonus and psionics (this was not mentioned when making the character, and I, in my naivety, allowed it without complaint.) This, along with shockingly high roles for stats, 13 being the lowest and two 3 17-18's, has created a bit of an issue to balance.

Fast-forward to today and there is a high level of power disparity. Currently the party is level 6-7, with the slight differences being caused by side quests and such. The party each has about 5K GP and similar levels of gold spent between the members (about 6K GP). Using the size bonus with half giants and their natural strength, they won 90% of grapple checks, leading to changing to 5e ruled for grapple checks, which has helped a bit. As well, they have recently multiclassed from fighter into a psionics warrior, using the natural psionics strength of half giant and the enlarge spell to grow another size class. This has caused most of the party to feel outclassed. The barbarian, Druid, and rogue feel outclassed as they do less damage and take less damage. The only player who has not been outclassed is the wizard, who is used for their AOE on smaller boards of enemies.

Is there any way to deal with this without just doing an out-of-game discussion to directly take away stats? I have tried a few in-game options, such as curses (failed due to the player eventually finding a way to end the curse, as I didn't want them to feel permanently weakened through a plot point) and giving enemies that can avoid grapple (his raw stats compensate and still allow for them to make the biggest impact.) I have talked to them about it casually while the group is together, at times set aside for players to voice their concerns, and they seem adamant towards direct nerfs, offering solutions such as sitting out half of the fights to drink ale, which fails when I prepare encounters for the entire party and they allow the party to nearly die from a simply encounter. I am running out of solutions and was wondering if the more experienced community could help me deal with this in a way that will make all players involved happy, or at least accept the changes with little complaint.

Thanks :)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the links and help with clarifying my question :) \$\endgroup\$ – DMate May 10 '18 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you've already broached the idea of nerfing the PC with the group. How did the half-giant's player react? Did the player offer any suggestions, or did the player—for lack of a better word—blame you for this issue? (Also, 3 years to reach level 6? Does your group only meet rarely? Only curious and Not a criticism!) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 10 '18 at 22:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Our group meets pretty rarely, I would say maybe 1-2 times a month for a 3-6 hour session, so time has been a bit of a constraint. When the issue was approached they did acknoledge their character's strength, but they just enjoy that power and don't want a direct nerf. I think he has taken it so that his character is an extremely powerful, very tall person who can interact with NPC's in a way that will make them feel overpowering. They tend towards the evil side, and enjoy having NPC's flee in terror at their presence, and they feel like direct nerfs would take away from that aspect they enjoy \$\endgroup\$ – DMate May 10 '18 at 22:44
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Well, if this is a significant problem (and it appears to be), then you have a few options. But I'll tell you beforehand, it's probably to nerf the big guy directly or indirectly.

Whatever you do, make sure you talk it through with your party. The overpowered player is probably going to object no matter what you do, but *do whatever is best for the fun of all players and you

1. Retroactively use a point-buy ability score system

I personally don't like to roll for ability scores, because of this exact issue. I feel like point buy systems distributed the power between the PC's more evenly. You could tell the party to recalculate their ability scores using 32 (or whatever number you prefer) point-buy

2. Nerf the overpowered player directly

This option is straightforward, just knock some of his ability scores down. The difficulty lays in nerfing him enough, AND not too much.

3. Buff the other players

This solution is not without its own issues though. If you make the whole party overpowered then the power is distributed evenly, but you'll soon find that you need to give them really powerful opponents compared to their level as well, which probably results in everyone one-shotting everyone.

4. Start a new campaign with new characters

You've gained 3 years of experience since you started dming. If you think you can handle character creation better this time than this might be a good strategy. Players will hate losing their current characters, but they'll grow attached to their new ones in time.

5. Force the OP player to make a new character

He's not going to like this one, but chances are he prefers this over being nerfed. Consider giving him the option, at the very least.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I will bring up these options to my party, and will most likely enact the first option, as our group tends to be the type that likes to follow one adventure with the same characters throughout \$\endgroup\$ – DMate May 10 '18 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ These are fine general suggestions, but which of these have you used, and what's been the result? Has one or more of these suggestions worked better than the others? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 11 '18 at 9:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can approach #5 by asking the player to "retire" the character, with a backstory and everything. The disparity might be fun for one player, but it makes DMing twice as difficult for you. The argument can be "Well, you allowed it!" but the answer is, simply "Yes, and it was fine to start with, but it's now untenable. I didn't know the rules then as well as I should have, and allowed things that, down the road, just can't work. You have two options--either accept a major level knock down, which we will handle in-game, or make up another character." \$\endgroup\$ – Erin Thursby May 11 '18 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan read my above comment. The secret to DMing is that your job is to make as many people have fun as you possibly can, while also knowing that YOU ARE IN CHARGE. Not that you're unreasonable, but that what you say goes. You've changed your mind--ok--so be it, that's what's happening. Your power gamer had a good run with a highly illegal character because of your fine benevolence. That's the take-away here, not that you're a big meanie DM nerfing his ass. \$\endgroup\$ – Erin Thursby May 11 '18 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ErinThursby That sounds like a fine standalone answer. If you can back it up as a successful technique with your experience, I'd upvote it. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 11 '18 at 19:24
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It's much easier to boost the rest of the party rather than taking away one player's toys. While he may feel shorted out if you start doling out buffs to the party (class/race specific items, or other boons that are useless to his character), just remind him that he remains the strongest, or make sure some of the rewards/spoils the party finds are in material wealth (or non-combat/fun buffs) so they can argue for a bigger share of that.

In my experience, lifting everyone else up involves a lot less friction than pushing a single person down. You can then re-balance encounters around this stronger party.

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Disclaimer: I'd like to challenge the frame of the question.


Spotlights and characters

The Barbarian, Druid, and Rogue feel outclassed as they do less damage and take less damage. The only player who has not been outclassed is the Wizard, who is used for their AOE on smaller boards of enemies.

No matter how well balanced your party, no two characters will be equally suited for a specific role. I find it extremely unlikely that you could manage for 4 characters in your party to withstand and dish out damages in equal proportions.

In my experience, it is better instead for each character to specialize in fulfilling different roles. If we review the archetypal party: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue & Wizard, for example, we could attribute the roles as:

  • Cleric: buff/support spellcasting & melee tank,
  • Fighter: melee tank & damage dealer,
  • Rogue: skill monkey & glass cannon,
  • Wizard: debuff/control spellcasting & knowledge repository.

In this archetypal party, while multiple characters can successfully wade into melee, one of them is best suited to the task and will likely outshine the others in this role. This is fine! The character has been optimized toward this role, at the cost of not being able to fulfill any other role satisfactorily!

The point here, however, is that it should not matter that a character is much better than the others in a specific role, as long as the other characters have something to do.

Or otherwise said, at the end of the encounter, every character should have something to boast about.


Spotlights and your party

Your party roster is slightly different, of course. The Barbarian is of particular concern to me, so I'll quickly get the others out of the way before coming back to it.

First of all, you mentioned that the Wizard is not outclassed. Their player found a role the character was uniquely suited for (in the party): awesome!

Next comes the Druid. The Druid is an extremely versatile class, it feels hard to believe that there is nothing the Druid can do which the Fighter could not do better. My experience has been that Druid were pretty good in crowd control for example: immobilizing or separating parties of foes, or providing summoned animals to distract/occupy the mooks.

Then comes the Rogue. The Rogue has extensive out of combat utility. They make great scouts or spies, for example, which a clunky Fighter with no social grace cannot hope to achieve. To balance that, the Rogue in combat utility is reduced; which should be fine unless the campaign is combat heavy...

Having been the Rogue in such a combat heavy campaign, I can tell your heartily that it can work out so long as the DM cooperates1 (or at least, avoids meta-gaming). Specific examples of roguish utility include:

  • laying down simple traps (trip-wires) on the flanks to avoid/delay flanking maneuvers from the foes; just one or two can be quickly laid down between the time the foes are spotted and the time the fight breaks out.
  • hiding in a recess/behind a tree to backstab whoever charges the Big Stupid Fighter as they pass, or trip them; or wait until they're engaged to spring on their back.
  • springing on the grappled foes, they are at a disadvantage being grappled making them easy targets.
  • sniping from a hidden spot; then boasting how the fouls didn't even spot you in the whole fight.
  • and of course, finishing off the foes the Big Stupid Fighter brought within an inch of their life; and rile up such Fighter who clearly cannot do anything by themselves :)

Certainly, on a pure damage for damage, a Rogue may not do as much as the Fighter, and will certainly not be able to sustain as much as the Fighter. This calls for a different fighting style, one laced with shadows, and arsenic.

And the big elephant in the room is... the Barbarian. It's quite unfortunate, really, to have two characters vying for the same role in the party.

I've played (part of) a campaign as a Fighter with another Barbarian in the party, and we just focused on slightly different aspects of melee combat: I picked up a reach weapon and focused on reaction/control/toughness while the Barbarian focused on pure damage output. We made quite a good team; I'd stop the foes in their tracks, killing the mooks outright, and the Barbarian would jump on the stronger ones, hacking them apart2.

Normally, I'd have recommended to establish such roles beforehand, but it's never too late! You can sit down with both the Barbarian and Fighter, and discuss with them how they'd like to proceed, with luck they both have different goals for their characters.

Using the size bonus with half giants and their natural strength, they won 90% of grapple checks, leading to changing to 5e ruled for grapple checks, which has helped a bit.

For example, letting the Fighter focus on grapple (So what if they generally win? It's only one foe out of the fight!) and have the Barbarian dish out damage. Or let the Fighter focus on 1-on-1 combat and have the Barbarian become a menace for crowds. Or...


Building awesome fights

In parting, I recommend The Angry GM serie of articles The Angry Guide to Kickass Combats, and specifically the 3rd article: Let’s Make Some F&%$ing Fights Already!.

As you'll gather from the title, the writing style of the author is full of expletives. Even if this is not to your liking, though, I really encourage you to read the articles if you wish to improve as a DM.

The author breaks down building the encounter in a serie of steps. Of particular importance here:

  1. An encounter should be design against a standard party, unless your foes (a) have prior knowledge of the party and (b) have the intellectual acumen to tune their strategies for such a party. Avoid overspecialization.
  2. If you force some members of the party out of their comfort zones (say, by using flying foes...), make sure that said party members have a viable fallback strategy open to them.

Remember that you design an encounter to challenge your party because everyone comes here to have fun. Challenging the party may mean shutting down some characters to force them to think out of the box, or simply providing a whole lot of foes. Whatever you do, however, it's up to you to ensure that every character has something to do.

As an example, imagine the typical James Bond villain and its doomsday device. The party finally corners the villain in its lair, and obviously, the villain is on the brink of firing the device! The villain's henchmen charge the party, a few minions work in a frenzy to get the device in firing position, and the villain flees as its bodyguard takes position in front of the escape door intent on crushing anyone attempting to follow its boss... and starts firing bolts from its crossbow.

Your Big Stupid Fighter outdamages anyone in the party? Cool. But unless it can both fight the henchmen, disperse the minions, disarm the device, take down the bodyguard, and catch up to the villain... it will need help. Lots.

Luckily, it's got a party with it.


With all that said, you could always talk to the player about nerfing its character a tidbit. The most obvious being reducing its statistics a bit. Or you could boost the others' statistics. However I'd be wary of the precedent this sets; and encourage you to try to achieve harmony at the table without setting up the players against each others. It's a party, not a competition.


1 If the DM is meta-gaming, however, with the foes always attacking from the other (trap-less) side, or always figuring out where the hidden rogue is within the first round of combat "somehow" (negating the rogue's sneakiness), then it's not gonna be fun. Not at all. I've seen both; the latter is ugly.

2 You'll note that the roles were quite suited to the class archetypes, the Fighter acting for tactical advantage and the Barbarian tearing foes apart in a frenzy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ you can also add room too small for enlarge someone already large :) Also the big guy is the priority target for the crowd control spells ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Alkano May 18 '18 at 9:32
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There seems to be way too much agreement over nerfing here.

All the while, you yourself stated, in no uncertain terms, that it is precisely the playstyle your problem player enjoys. You'd be removing (one of) his primary incentive for playing the game.

I'd like to strongly advocate against that. It will likely damage the health of the game/group.

As the DM of a gestalt game, where one of the PCs does not have an ability lower than 20, I am intimately familiar with this problem. By comparison, the issue you face seems almost trivial.

The solution I have found is this: Clever encounter/challenge design. No matter how high their stats, they will not be able to do everything. They will not be able to solve every problem or face down every foe. Keep in mind stats matter significantly less than class features. Being big also makes him a rather obvious focus for their foe's attention. Beasts are likely to target him as the greatest threat and intelligent enemies have the benefit of tactical acumen.

As the DM you also have the luxury of numbers. You can play a ton of mooks, while the players are usually always limited to a small group(barring any miniomancy). Even if your cannon fodder hits only on a high roll, you can still deal damage if they swarm the party. By the power of probability, 1 baddie that hits about half the time is roughly equal to 6 mooks that hit only a 19-20. The "Aid Another" action is your friend.

Another approach is that instead of nerfing him, play to his strengths instead of targeting his weaknesses. Tie up his particular strengths with unique challenges only he'd be able to overcome, while leaving the rest of the party to deal with other problems. If he's strong, drop the occasional ceiling on him. While he's busy holding it up, the rest of the party may be engaged in trying to clear a way out of the trapped room. It is not something any other party member is likely to be able to solve, and you've effectively removed him from the rest of the party's encounter.

The general point I'm trying to make is that the game offers a toolset deep enough(by a wide margin) to solve your perceived problem without resorting to meta solutions which will are likely to backfire.

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There are various options you can look at, that won’t make a player feel targeted (hopefully), that come out of adventuring and the game world.

I’d advise against increasing the party’s power level, as this can lead to Monty Haul/power gaming.

I’d also advise against direct “nerfing”: the game is meant to be fun and this can seem like you’re punishing the player. So for these to work, you have to plan them into a campaign and into your world: if you do any of these as a one-off, it will look like you’re targeting one player.

Disease: A plague develops in the area where the players roam, and some PCs are affected. The plague is magically enhanced, but natural, so Cure Disease and the like are ineffective. The plague attacks physical stats: Strength, Constitution and Dexterity. Your target PC is struck hard, and begins losing ability scores. But other PCs are struck down as well. When they recover, their physical stats are much lower. This is best done as a part of a campaign, and over a long period of time (ie, stats don’t suddenly drop, but lose one point every week of infection).

The Gunslinger Dilemma: Anyone as powerful as this half-giant appears to be will attract attention - like “The fastest draw in the West”. And some of that attention will be from people intent on taking him down - and they’re really powerful too.

Nullify his advantages: If he’s massive, drop him in the Underdark - see how being 9ft tall helps when you’re in a cave system. Giants need huge amounts of food: pity there’s a famine right now. And armorers don’t stock XXXXXXXXXL gear, so everything has to be specially ordered and is expensive. He’s psionic: introduce him to su monsters , Githyanki, illithids, or NPCs and monsters that cancel psionic powers. People just don’t like him: he terrifies everyone he meets so encounters are hard. Big means slow: he has an initiative penalty and everyone attacking him gets a big bonus. And everyone attacks him first: why go for the halfling when there’s that monster coming down on you?

Tactical NPCs: Have the PC’s opponents change tactics when fighting with this guy - his knees and ankles will be particular vulnerable, so enemies target them to cripple him. Enemies don’t do stand-up fight him: they hit-and-run and deal out death with a thousand cuts. Enemies start using liberally coating weapons with various kinds of poisons. Wizards start keeping levitate spells handy to (literally) keep this guy off his feet. Other try to confuse, disable or distract him, so he attacks his allies, is unable to do anything or is unaware there’s trouble elsewhere. (See Tuckers Kobolds.)

Cheap shot: He gets hit by polymorph or a shrinking spell, or picks up a curse item, and is turned into something of a more manageable size. It’s best if this occurs due to the player’s actions and naturally out of game play - the player pisses off a wizard known for cursing people, or they have to accept the curse to save another PC’s life, rather than they just pick up a random thing.

The Buffy solution: the writers of the TV show Buffy The Vampire Slayer had a problem with Buffy. As a super powered vampire slayer she was virtually invulnerable to attack. So instead the writers physically attacked her friends and family, and attacked Buffy emotionally.

Get the other players involved: If the other players insist on having picnics when the big guy is fighting, let them. Then while Big Guy is fighting, they get surprise attacked.

Undead… everywhere: force the party to start battling undead. Liberal use of energy draining undead will bring the giant down a few pegs.

Dark Sun: See if you can dig out the AD&D Dark Sun Monstrous Compendiums and adapt creatures from them into your game world. Those creatures will make your giant seem a lot less powerful.

Talk to the player: The real-world fix is to talk to the player directly and explain their character is unbalancing the game, and work out a mutual solution - like NPCing the PC and giving the player a new character of the same level. Then speak to the entire group. When you do, make it clear you want the game to be fun for everyone - including you - and that dealing with the giant means you aren’t enjoying the game.

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First off, you're about to step on someone's toes. You need to talk to them. But it can be fun too. Let me propose the following solution:

  • Talk. Pull the player aside after a session and explain the situation. Let them know that the power disparity makes creating compelling and fulfilling encounters difficult.
  • Propose. Ask them if they're okay becoming the key part of the next leg of the campaign. Perhaps the next magical item they acquire is cursed, transforming them or sapping their strength. Make it an opportunity to start a new adventure.
  • Bargain. Let them know that it was your bad and you're willing to sweeten the pot. Maybe if they agree they can have a talking monkey or something. Give them something fun that won't unbalance the game in return for taking the hit.

If you can get the player in question onboard, then your options become a lot greater.

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