There are some really powerful burst damage builds out there that can pretty easily one shot the biggest threat in the room.

As a DM how do I counter high burst damage builds so that the main threat is not over in 1 turn?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question isn't likely to be answerable without knowing where you get these attack rolls. Could you edit that in? \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Jan 22 '19 at 8:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you spell out what the actual problem is? As of now, you are just asking us to solve a ... build? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jan 22 '19 at 9:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question started out as under-detailed, and now it's got even less detail. We can't really guess at solutions toward an OP build if we don't know what that build is and even if you are playing the game correctly (which I doubt, since 6 attacks per turn consistently at level 10 is highly suspicious) \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Jan 22 '19 at 9:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related question on How can a boss enemy prevent being the most obvious target \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 22 '19 at 14:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a ton of demand for build specifics here in comments but I think there's a general, answerable question here without such fine detail - "How do I plan encounters around a party that can kill things really fast?" (Or something like that.) Answering that more broad question would answer many more finite questions of "How do I beat orange-flavor-build? How do I beat classic-grape-flavor-build?" instead of having a whole lot of fractured responses that are made to ruin a particular playstyle instead of the problem as a whole. \$\endgroup\$ – Ethan The Brave Jan 22 '19 at 20:42

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

Most high burst damage builds are only dangerous against a single target. They require careful setup and burn through a huge number of resources for the sake of taking down that target. To take that away from the player is overly harsh. They invested in gaining the items and abilities required to achieve this, let them have their moment.

How can we find a way to let them have their moment, while also not letting them break combat. This is basically the inverse of how to solve burst damage from group initiative, some of the techniques there help to know what issues you may encounter. However, you are on the other side and can't control the players actions, so we need to find another way to solve it.

The Tank

This is the easiest solution to implement, but probably the least fun at the table. You know how much damage your players are capable of putting out, allow for it by making your enemies tougher. How to do this:

  • Increase HP: Give them additional hitpoints. I typically use the maximum value of the hit-dice for enemies rather than the average to compensate for a large group.
  • Damage Resistance: Give the enemies resistance or immunity to one of the burst damage types. Resistance to piercing/slashing to negate assasinate sneak attacks, or resistance to radiant damage to protect against divine smite. Don't use this all the time or players will feel like you are deliberately blocking them.
  • Increase AC: Getting hit less often means less damage taken.

The effect of this is that the enemy can survive one or two of these burst round and combat goes longer, there are a few problem though:

  • It can feel like a grind to wear down enemies.
  • Players don't get their 'cool' moment
  • If they don't use their burst abilities the combat may be too difficult

You may find you need to include this technique to a lesser extent as well as some of the others I will mention. It is the best way to ensure survival for a single target.

The bodyguard

A good technique to keep one target alive is to give them an ally with the goal of keeping them alive. How they do this can vary but some options are:

  • Physical defense: Stand in front of the target, provide cover. Feats like sentinel and polearm master can help with this.
  • Healing: Some level of healing ability can keep your enemies on their feet for a long time. This lets your party get off those huge hits, knocking down the enemies but doesn't end the combat right away.
  • Being a bigger threat: Sometime the second-in-charge is actually the dangerous enemy. A good way to keep attacks and damage off your boss is to provide a second, more dangerous threat the players need to deal with first.

Spread the attacks

There are situations where you don't need to keep a single particular enemy alive, but want to prevent the players from quickly taking the numbers advantage. At times like that the best method is to try and prevent the players from focus firing on a single enemy. Some ways to spread the attacks:

  • Hit and run: Move your enemies around the battlefield, try and stop your players from flanking or triggering sneak attack. Give your enemies movement abilities, such as the mobile feat or the rogue's cunning action disengage.
  • Get in the way: Use minions to engage with the players, force them to choose between taking attack of opportunity or wasting a round killing this low level goon.
  • Take the high ground: Use terrain to your advantage, particularly when fighting on the enemies home turf. They know where the pit traps, difficult terrain and secret doors are, your players will have to find them. That can give your enemies the mobility advantage they need.
  • Magic: Spells like shield, blink or misty step grant the ability to deflect or avoid burst damage entirely. Clever use of these spells, potentially combined with legendary actions will keep your enemies alive.
  • Use more enemies: Simply increasing the number of enemies makes burst damage against a single target less influential to the overall battle.

Eggs and baskets

When running for a party that you know can deal a high amount of burst damage when they choose to, you need to prepare for them to do in any given combat. Some combats it won't matter. They just finish the encounter faster but it cost them more resources, that's a fair trade. Other times it can completely destroy the session, these are the situations were we need a backup plan.

Say your whole session has been leading up to this epic monologue by you resident evil guy. Typical bad-guys spiel where he divulges all the clever details and reveals the important plot point that ties this dungeon into your overall campaign. Then there's going to be an epic battle. Unfortunately, through clever play the players have set up a way to deal enough burst damage the second they see him that you won't get a chance to deliver your carefully written speech, is all that plot wasted and combat averted? Absolutely not.

So they took out the bad guy, good thing you were prepared for this to happen. Some ways you can keep the fight going:

  • His sacrifice was exactly what the dark ritual needed and now they have to fight the creature he was summoning instead.
  • Instead of fleeing his allies are now enraged and will fight to the death.
  • His death triggers a chain of events that brings down the building. Instead of combat the players now get an encounter where they have to get out alive.

Whatever option you choose the important part is to identify the likely target of the burst damage and have a plan for what will happen if the players do this at the start of the fight. Remember the three clue rule there is always another way for the players to get information missed by killing a boss too early.

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There are multiple solutions to this problem. Here are a few that I have seen used to great effect:

  1. First BigBad is decoy, Looks scary and has high HP/AC but is overall low dmg ... your glass cannons wail on it, and when it eventually dies the GM brings the real BigBad into the fight. This should be a wakeup call to your PCs that maybe they scope out the situation before blowing everything they have at the biggest thing in the room.
  2. Hand-wavium homebrew rule that BigBads can not loose more than 25%-33% of total HP per round ... any dmg beyond that gets silently ignored. EG your BigBad starts with 3 hp and the party's assassin sneak-attacks it for 127dmg, Warrior Blows all his action surges for another 83 dmg, and the wizard lobs a bunch of crazy at it for another 93 dmg. Start of round 2 BigBad has 2 hp and you let the party he doesn't look any worse for wear. Party gets to see huge numbers go out ... and yet sweat a little bit.
  3. Hand-wavium hombrew rule that the enemys have spirit link, which takes the dmg any one of them takes and divides it evenly between multiple bads.

Though while you can do this ... the real question is should you? Is the table having fun playing this way? Is there need for this balance?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments removed, "I don't personally like this" is not what comments are for. Reserve comments for constructive actionable feedback: concrete suggestions for improvement, requests for clarification, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 22 '19 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like a few of these suggestions. I have used the third one before and it became a big deal for the party to try to prevent minions getting close enough to absorb damage for the BBEG (there was a visual cue). The tank and support kept minions away while the hard hitters focused down the boss. It was rewarding for all members as they all played a critical part. \$\endgroup\$ – IT Alex Jan 23 '19 at 16:08

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