My campaign set in the Faerûn's Sword Coast consists of 5x level 7 PCs:

  • a goliath barbarian armed with his tribe's ancient naginata
  • a human paladin armed with a holy avenger
  • a tiefling samurai armed with Zariel's cursed sword
  • Jaons: an eladrin champion armed with a hideously overpowered Moonblade
  • a soulless human eldritch knight with nothing.

Let me tell you how they got here.

The campaign has seen Jason, due to a magical disease, accidentally (through a random roll on a chart of my own design) transform from a human into an eladrin therefore enabling him to attune to the Moonblade that's subsequently become, in his inhuman hands, a Moonblade that's a +4 longsword.

Later, after defeating an adult red dragon, in addition to boots of haste, a lot of gold, and the holy avenger the paladin now wields, the party discovered a deck of many things. Before I could tell the eldritch knight's player what I'd planted in the dragon's horde for his PC, the eldritch knight drew from the deck, pulled the void, and saw his soul imprisoned.

At one point, thieves tried to take some of the PCs' stuff—they nicked the PCs' bag of holding—, but the PCs tracked the thieves back to their lair and intimidated the thieves into giving the PCs back the stolen goods.

So, now, the party is extremely unbalanced. Specifically, the other players feel that their PCs are overshadowed by Jason the Moonblade-wielding eladrin who deals over 120 points of damage per turn.

I'm considering having an NPC associated with the Moonblade demand it be returned to its rightful owner—that is, the NPC himself—, but I'm not sure how that will go over. And that doesn't solve the problem with most of the other PCs still having incredibly powerful weapons.

How can I keep the the players happy yet take away Jason's Moonblade and the other PCs' overpowered magical weapons and simultaneously reward appropriately the eldritch knight?

  • It's really not clear what you're asking. As written, it seems like an idea generation question, which are generally too broad to be answerable (with no way to deem an answer "more right" than others). It also includes a lot of details that are irrelevant to what you're actually asking. You need to clarify what exactly you want to know before others can answer your question. – V2Blast Jul 9 at 2:46
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    Welcome to the site! Take the tour. Out of curiosity, is this your first time DMing? Also, how self-regulating are the players? That is, do they know that they're overpowered and have expressed dismay at how few challenges the universe holds to their PCs and are anxious to see this imbalance corrected? Or are they reveling in the unbridled power they now possess, running roughshod over the campaign, laughing maniacally? No matter the answers, thank you for participating and have fun! – Hey I Can Chan Jul 9 at 2:48
  • They seem to express incredible dismay as some feel very overshadowed and I can't seem to fix that. Some feel less important to the story because they are overshadowed – Akesh Patel Jul 9 at 3:00
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    Is it safe to assume—because you're asking Internet strangers for help—that not everyone is having fun? (That is, it's possible to feel overshadowed and unimportant and still have fun.) Also, when the question asks How do I fix this? I'm not sure if that's asking How do I bring some balance back to the campaign? or if that's asking How can I repair my campaign so that it's playable again? or if that's asking How can I make the unhappy players happy again without ruining Jason's player's good time? Can that How do I fix this? be clarified? – Hey I Can Chan Jul 9 at 3:19
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    I made a serious edit to this question in hopes of getting it reopened. If it's no longer asking what you want answered, please edit the question further or rollback. Note that not all of the campaign information may be 100% accurate—there were parts I didn't understand—, but I think the question's truthful nonetheless, and I also think the question—and the issues that underlie it—are incredibly important in light of so many new folks giving with the hobby a whirl. So, yeah, good luck and godspeed. – Hey I Can Chan Jul 9 at 12:56

Fix it in the real world

You're already basically off of RAW with a +4 weapon. 5e RAW only has +1 through +3 -- the Moonblade artifact even specifically calls out that you reroll if you roll the 'increase bonus' rune and the weapon is already at +3.

But laying that aside for the moment: This isn't a situation you can really solve in-game. You need to have this discussion outside the game, player to player. At least some of the players are already unhappy with what's going on, so this is the time to stop thinking of yourself as the sole arbiter of the game, and collaborate.

If you try to fix this by fiat, all you're going to do is upset your friends. Putting together a plot that ends with the moonblade and other powerful weapons lost, destroyed, or depowered is fine -- but you're going to have to get player buy-in for that first.

Have a discussion with your players. You don't have to work out plot details, but talk it over. Figure out what THEY are willing to do. Lay out the problem, and ask for suggestions. Not everyone will be excited to lose their cool gear, but only the most childish player will absolutely refuse to give up their awesome sword if it really is causing a problem with the game.

First off, realize that 5e is designed so that nobody NEEDS a magic sword to be perfectly capable. A +2 to attack and damage is nice, but not necessary. It's really not a big deal to be a 7th level fighter with a plain old steel sword. Your damage output is going to be only slightly lower than with the sword. If you really want to get a magic weapon into the Eldritch Knight's hands, that's fine, just let him use a standard weapon until it's narratively appropriate. There really shouldn't be any rush.

For the rest, the easiest answer is to just retcon the overpowered weapons into less powerful, but similar, weapons.

For the moonblade, I assume you rolled it as specified in the book, with d6+1 runes, with the first giving it +1 and the rest rolled on the power table. If so, then maybe the player will be willing to hand-wave away a few runes. If you rolled 6 runes initially, and it's messing stuff up, maybe your player would be willing to cut it down to 3 runes, with only the initial +1 giving it the damage boost, and the others giving powers rather than more plusses. Just retcon the whole thing to a less powerful version of the item, agree out-of-character that it's always been that way, and move on. (Moonblades are specifically useful that way since they can scale.)

The holy avenger might become a slightly less powerful 'holy sword' or some such thing, say a +2 weapon that deals +1d6 radiant damage to fiends and undead, but doesn't do the whole save bonus thing.

I don't know what a Zariel's cursed sword is but I imagine you can do the same sort of thing there.

If you and your players are unhappy with a simple retcon, then I'd suggest going the route of coming up with a reason the weapons have to be relinquished or destroyed, but again, you need to have at least some part of that discussion at the table, not just spring it on the players. In this situation, I'd collectively come up with a story that you can all be happy about, and then play it out (rather than you as DM running off to plot and plan and come up with a surprising story) -- but if you really don't want to do that, at least get player buy-in on you going off to develop a plot around removing the weapons in some way. If you end up destroying the weapons, it might be worth it to let the players keep some shards of their original weapons (or some such thing) that let them forge weakened versions of the weapons, as I discussed above.

But I suggest getting the players to help craft the story of why the weapons are gone (if you don't just retcon them). That's how you keep the players happy -- because what's happening isn't being done to them, but by them.

Plus that avoids the biggest problem with a fiat removal of the weapons -- somebody trying to weasel out of it. Worst case, somebody manages to succeed at a roll or comes up with a plan you didn't expect, and you're forced to concede that they managed to save their weapon from destruction, which negates the whole point (often supported by liberal use of 'My Guy syndrome' -- "My guy wouldn't just let that happen! He tries to escape!"). If the players made up their own fate, there's no motivation to try to dodge it. It was their own story.

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    +1: Worth re-iterating that 5th edition is designed to be balanced without magic items. i.e. magic items are a "nice to have", not a "must have" in terms of balancing encounters (assuming you're using the DMG or Unearthed guidelines on encounter building). Plus, 5th ed generally balances due to the idea of "bounded accuracy". This means "don't let the numbers get too big". Its why you'll find 5th ed magic items are more restrained than previous editions. The DMG pg 135 also has guidelines on item rarity and the level PCs can expect to acquire such items – PJRZ Jul 9 at 18:37
  • As it's a moon blade, explaining the change in runes with that rare happenstance "a blue moon that is also a lunar eclipse!" might be a way to flavor the change. – KorvinStarmast Jul 10 at 14:49
  • Sure, there are a lot of potential story reasons for magic weapons to misbehave, get depowered, or fail entirely. But that's not the point of the post. :) – Darth Pseudonym Jul 10 at 17:46

Time for a Sidequest

So first of all, I think you and the Eldritch Knight learned a valuable lesson: the Deck of Many Things is a trap.

To restore some balance to your situation, I would recommend a plot hook that focuses both upon the Moonblade as well as the Eldritch Knight whose soul has been lost.

By RAW, the EK is incapacitated, but I can tell you now that's a crappy story for your situation and your player. I recommend a DM ruling that is similar to applying the Death Curse in AL, whereby the EK has to be extremely careful about dying lest his death be very permanent.

I recommend you deploy a plot hook to recover the EK's soul driven by whatever BBEG you want. I don't recommend the arc take more than a level or two to complete. As part of completion of the plot hook, obligate that to release the soul, the player with the Moonblade needs to sacrifice some (or all) of the Moonblade's power to release the soul back to the EK.

Perhaps the soul is trapped in some sort of special box that requires immense magical energy to open that can only be fueled by an artifact like the Moonblade. Within the box, you can also include an appropriate item for the EK.

This is also an excellent opportunity to utilize lair effects to enhance your story. If your BBEG exists in a lair that represses excessive magical power, the Eladrin may find that their Moonblade's power (and other artifacts) is suppressed during this quest. Lair effects can be whatever you choose, so given your overall goal on this quest, this may not be unreasonable, and will help to mitigate the Eladrin blowing out the other players during the quest.

This solution does require that the players at the table be of a collaborative mindset. If you suspect they may not be, I would recommend a brief discussion regarding the issues you raised here prior to your next game and indicate that you intend to rebalance things in-game. This lets the players know they need to trust you, but doesn't let them know how or what is going to happen.

I think this might be your best middle ground since it'll be a story you write focusing upon 2 characters in the party, but everyone can assist on. If done right, it could be something your players talk about years after the fact.

  • Alright so I really like that plan. – Akesh Patel Jul 9 at 23:42
  • I do have something different I was thinking about doing. So... The Eldrtich Knight's mother was a chosen of mystra who when Mystra 'died' prior to the spellplague used his mother as a vessel for her energy so that magic was fucked up but not destroyed. I was thinking of doing some simple roleplaying as the Eldritch Knight soul in the void is seeing pitch black for what feels like days until a sudden blast is heard and what felt like nothing feels like everything, blinding white light begins to fade as he see's blue crystalized energy (the weave) Basically mystra informs the knight – Akesh Patel Jul 9 at 23:48
  • Of what happened with his mother and that he was birthed while Mystra was vesseled in her mother causing the eldritch knight to be a chosen of Mystra – Akesh Patel Jul 9 at 23:49
  • As for the Moonblade it is the moonblade of the royal Moonflower family of evermeet, The Sad queen who once ruled Evermeet is missing and earlier in the campaign a Werepanther appeared in the mist of a orc raid on Neverwinter, where the party was able to flee after Jason's GF Keylara died in his arms and he was teleported away. The blade is 'Keylara's moonblade' As she used to to try and defeat the elf-eater hundreds of years ago but the elf-eater took her memory and her identity before she was able too flee (The party doesn't know that part) So it ties into the time they get to Evermeet – Akesh Patel Jul 9 at 23:52
  • They do have the well of many worlds so they can get to evermeet and Keylara could wield her moonblade once more as she is now the queen as the werepanther is known as the kittenlord, was able to save her life and take her back to evermeet. – Akesh Patel Jul 9 at 23:54

Game Balance isn't as important as Party Balance

IMHO, the problem might not be what you think it is. A sword is a tool that fixes a very specific problem: there's something that needs holes poked in it until it stops being alive. Jason has a very good one, so he's always going to be good at fixing that problem, but even if you take his sword away there's still the fact that EVERYONE HAS SWORDS.

In a game with a balanced party, the solution to one player being overpowered becomes relatively easy- you simply mix in encounters that a sword can't fix. You put in traps for the rogue to deal with, or a magical effect the wizard needs to counter. Ideally, you have some encounters where all of these things are happening at once- Jason is chopping limbs off a badass monster, while your assassin is getting in position to backstab the evil priest, your paladin is racing to save the sacrificial puppies from the altar of ultimate evil, and your wizard is deciphering the magical runes before they trigger an explosion in three rounds. Everyone has a chance to be part of the action, and Jason's powerful sword can be compensated for by choosing the right opponents for him to face (not to trivialize that part- it's challenging, but it can be done).

This party limits you a great deal because it looks as though everyone is primarily a melee specialist. That means your encounters will almost have to be stand-up fights, which are fine in small doses but problematic if that's all there is: someone in the party will always deal the most damage, regardless of the magic items they have, and everyone else will naturally feel overshadowed. You're missing out on the chance to have varied encounters, because your players are all competing to fill the same role.

I know it's difficult, but if this were my campaign I'd be considering a reset. I'd discuss the problem with my players and explain that the game gets much more interesting when everyone has a different skill-set, and that you can provide a chance for everyone to shine if they're not all trying to fill the same role. If any of your players agree, offer them a chance to have their characters ride off into the sunset and have them generate new ones, with a better mix of classes.

'Tis better to give than to take.

The problem isn't "this PC has a super-OP sword." It's "The party is unbalanced, and the other characters are overshadowed." If you had ways of buffing up the lagging characters a bit, you could just crank the difficulty level up a notch or two, and everything would be a lot closer to balanced. For the barbarian, this is easy. Tie into his backstory a bit, get some further blessing from the ancestor-spirits of his tribe (or whatever) and improve the stats on the weapon he has. For the Eldritch Knight, give him a side-quest (either group or solo, depending on how the soulless bit is being played out) that gives him back his soul, gives him a good weapon somehow tied in with the process of being not as soulless, and possibly attached a few terrible plot hooks that the party now has to struggle to avert (thus giving them exp with relatively little loot, and letting them catch up with their gear a bit).

Once you've done all that, you'll have a party where everyone has a somewhat overpowered weapon, except for the moonblade guy, whose weapon is still a few notches too far. That's a case where, yeah, you're better off talking it out with him. Apologize, acknowledge that you made a mistake in giving him a weapon that was a bit too game-breaking, and dial it back a bit... to the point where it's on par with the somewhat OP weapons that everyone else has. Still, you won't have to dial it back as far, and the party members in general don't have to swallow as much.

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