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