I have a party of 4 freshly minted level 7s for an upcoming game. 3 of the players have been playing for a while and one person is a relative newcomer to the group.

The problem I'm having is that 2 of the regular players tend to min/max quite a bit, and while I don't think that's a particularly bad thing I don't want combats to be completely walked over. Looking at the only two character sheets I have at the moment I can see that they will be hitting the majority of my encounters with a roll of 3+ at worst.

Now I know I can easily up the armor of my encounters to compensate but I don't think that is the best solution, nor would just making the enemies walking bags of HP. I don't want these encounters to be a cakewalk where they are hitting all the time but I also don't want to make it seem like the players that aren't min/maxing are completely useless and only hit on a 19 or 20.

How can I balance my combat encounters both for the min/maxers and the other player characters?

  • Hi, currently I have a bunch of cultists, around 4 to 5 groups of various sizes with melee weapons and crossbows for range and being led by a cleric. Standard tactics I tend to use are a couple of guys run into melee while the remainder provide support with crossbows. For the main boss, being the cleric, he has an array of spells with a crossbow and sword if needed as well as his channel negative energy. I was intending the cleric to be fought solo so his AC and hp are a bit higher then the regular cultists. – Yorik Oct 11 at 5:23
  • As for what I have tried in the past is pretty much as I said, raised AC, raised hp. Tried adding more guys at one stage but that effectively just made combats longer with similar results – Yorik Oct 11 at 5:23
  • What is the difference in to-hit bonus between the best and worst characters? – frodoskywalker Oct 11 at 5:43
  • At the moment I have two players with +14/+9 with one going to +15/+10 within 30 and +16/+11 is it's a magical beast or abberation – Yorik Oct 11 at 5:55
  • I am not sure on the new guy yet as he hasn't made his character yet – Yorik Oct 11 at 5:55

This question, sooner or later, come up in mind of all GMs. The answer? You can't balance the encounters in the situation you described us. The reason? Your "problem" aren't the encounters but your group of players. You can properly balance an encounter only when the players have similar characters power but you will never balance a group with 2 character hitting 35 AC and a +20 to hit at level 8 (for example) and the others with the same stats 10 lower or more (25 AC and +10 to hit in this case). You just can't. If a character is way more better than another...well it is not your fault. So, what can you do?

  • Ask the 2 players who are min/maxing to lower a bit the power of their characters (not the best thing to ask usually in my opinion)
  • Ask the 2 players who are not min/maxing to build stronger or usefull character (or help them if they are new to the system)
  • Always do a session 0 before starting a campaign and, in that session, you, as GM, explain yourself. What do you want in this campaign? Character focused on the story you provide them? You need strong characters? Give them guidelines and let them talk together on what to build and how.

Finally, never (NEVER), up monsters stats. Your encounters will be boring, not harder. Try to pick the right monster instead of having a gelatinous cube with 100 HP. Another Tip: Use MORE (maybe little) monsters instead of one giant monster with pumped HP. As the previous example a 100 HP gelatinous cube is STILL a single gelatinous cube. Try to put 2, 3 of them without any stat pumped up. In this game, action economy is key to win. Last tip: diversify your encounters. Try to avoid group of 4 orcs fighter. Make them 3 fighters and 1 sorcerer...or 1 cleric, for example.

  • 1
    Most min/max'ers like the challenge of producing powerful characters within the constraints of the rules. A good way to spin a reduction in power to them is by suggesting that they min/max a weak class (which would bring them up to average) rather than starting with a strong one. Anyone can be effective with a strong class, only truly skilled players can create the "Lethal Joke Character" a reality. – Kyyshak Nov 13 at 11:23
  • I always played with players who optimize very well their characters...the fact is they are pretty much homogeneous (not sure about this term) in building the party. The problem, for me, is not about min/maxing (which is a stupid thing in comparison with well done optimization) but is about group of player with differents goal in mind. From my personal experience my answer is still the same: you can't balance a game where you have players with differents goals in mind. You can mitigate one aspect or another but the problem will remain. Anyway this argument is complex to be treated in comments – Mouza Nov 13 at 13:43

The question is asking for a way to balance encounters for the min/maxers and the new player, but I think the answer is that you don't.

Matthew Colville has some wisdom to share on min/maxers. He says that (with some trimming and emphasis from me):

Fun for [a power gamer] is knowing my character is as badass as he can be. They see your game -- and the rules -- as opportunities to do this. They engage with the rules because they see the rules as a problem to solve... It's easy to engage a player like this... Let them be badass.

Let your min/maxers be themselves. Find out what the new player wants to do. Then, make sure there are opportunities for the new player to have fun as well. If the new player wants to min/max then they have two teachers. If the new player feels they are falling behind in combat, is that really what they wanted out of the game, or is there something else you can do to include them more?

As per your "cultists and cleric" scenario.. I would recommend having a reserve of enemies if the encounter goes "too well".. Maybe a few Hell Hounds get released or maybe the Cleric has a bound demon.. Maybe he gets released, depending on how things go.

Have them use the magic items you were going to include as treasure. Just one low-level spell from a half-used wand can swing an encounter (hold person, glitterdust, etc)

And if you have underpowered characters in the game just allow the players to change them or even switch them out at the right time. They might not mind playing underpowered characters either, maybe it's not even a problem.

  • Bringing in more enemies just makes the fight harder as a whole. How does that address the problem of some of the party being optimized? – Mark Wells Oct 12 at 17:03

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