I'm playing in the Paizo Pathfinder Jade Regent adventure path and we're having a good time so far (campaign blog and session summaries). However, as my character has gone up in power I'm now confronting a problem with him being just too effective.

As background, I'm not a big character optimizer, in fact I find the process a little distasteful. I'm playing a samurai and deliberately built him as a switch hitter, both melee and archery, specifically to avoid min-max syndrome. However, a combination of just being a strong class and good treasure has made him seem almost too good especially in the arena of dealing damage.

Why do I feel that way? Well, as an example, last session, we knew some master ninja guy was hunting us. And sure enough, he was posing as some normal guy and got in a death attack on me. He did a crapload of damage but I made the death save and he leapt away to disappear into the crowd. I quickdrew my bow and put something on the order of 100 points of damage into him and down he went, encounter over. Which sucked from a dramatic point of view, this was supposed to be a really complex capstone encounter. The rest of the players groused a bit, though several did the calculation and realized that in optimal conditions they could deal out a hellacious amount of damage in a round too, so I wasn't an order of magnitude out of line (after review the other PCs are probably able to deal 30% less damage per round than I am under similar conditions), but still, I don't want to overshadow other PCs (or, frankly, our opposition!).

Here's my samurai character at level 12. I was a bow/sword switch hitter but then we got a bow where I could use my samurai challenge with my arrows - which turned a full bow attack with multishot, deadly aim, rapid shot, point blank shot, and the most common round 1 buffs from my party (haste and bard song) into +20(x2)/+20/+20/+15/+10 for 1d8+29 points of damage per arrow.

I think it's worthwhile talking about this problem from a system-neutral perspective; Pathfinder specific thoughts are fine but I can toss the bow, take crap feats next level, etc. without your help. I've asked a separate question about the system issue, How to mitigate glass cannon syndrome in Pathfinder? The real question here is if I have a character that does or seems to outstrip the other characters in terms of effectiveness, how can I adjust to at least mitigate the resulting problems (over and done encounters, PC envy)?

For an example of an adjustment I already made, back when I only got challenge with my katana, I RPed not wanting to use the katana/challenge on "unworthy" opponents so I could shoot mooks and then just use the big damage on main bosses... But now we've grown past where that helps.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Playing in this game right now... Just did 206 points of damage to an oni with a full-round bow attack! And that's with no crits and one miss. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you try to roleplay your weakness? For example, "learn" that you killed an innocent some years ago, because you were too quick to use your bow, and swear not to use it again (but you'll may fail to keep your promise). I do that for my barbarian: he sweared that'll never use his rage (but does when he's below 30% hp) \$\endgroup\$
    – P. O.
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 1:59

12 Answers 12


A few thoughts:

  1. I had a friend who played a weekly pick-up game, he showed up every week, everyone else showed up much less frequently. They all started at Level 1, soon enough he was level 15, most of the rest were somewhere around level 8-10. It was decided that his character should bow out gracefully and he should make a new one (if your DM will allow this). His character ended up facing off against a major campaign enemy, sacrificed himself so the "greener" party members could escape when the fight got too hot.
    TL;DR, he killed the bad guy but was mortally wounded. Years later the group STILL talks about that "noble" sacrifice.
  2. In the case you name, your character quick-shot his bow. Sure, that may have been in character but if he is THAT good in combat, he's going to be just a little cocky. Next time maybe he shoots his mouth off at the badguy for a round or two taunting him.

  3. It looks like when you showed your math the rest of the party figured that they could do much more damage than they currently were (and if I'm assuming wrong, figuring out opportunities that they miss and helping them to find/use them on their own is a logical step. However, if they are happy, don't try to push unwanted knowledge on the others, they will get annoyed/irritated/mad ). You won't need to nerf yourself if your allies un-nerf themselves!

  4. Take up another weapon. What I mean is that when Myamoto Mushashi got sick of killing guys with a sword, he would show up to duels carrying a bokken and still win. When that got boring, he would show up with a stick. Yes, a tree limb. Inigo Montoya also stated that he would only be satisfied if he killed the man in black using his left hand (see the cocky part above). Maybe you should start looking into different combat moves. Call a shot to the bad guy's feet (stick his feet to the floor!) Maybe staple him to the wall with arrows, simple things like that. Do things that show you are a badass, without putting yet another mook in yet another coffin.
  5. Like you mentioned, take an interest in other things. Maybe in adventuring you hear the tale of some almost forgotten hero, start looking up the local history to find more lore/details about this hero.

This is not a great answer

This is a very general question, with a specific example given, and this answer addresses the example very specifically. I think there are lessons that can be drawn from this answer, and I think this answer is probably useful to the question-asker, but it may not be as helpful to others with the same question, which was part of the intent in asking the question. I hope to see other answers that address how to handle the more general problem of intra-party imbalance in ways that do not focus too heavily on the specific example. I may also attempt to write one myself.

For now, though, this answer sort of straddles the line between the two questions. I’m answering in a very 3.x-specific manner, but that is because I think there are some issues based on the system that are worthwhile to look at. Primarily, determining whether you truly are the odd-man out, and if so why (from a system perspective).

First, just to put it out there: This is just reality in 3.x

The game, particularly at higher levels, becomes rocket tag. The ninja master failed to land his rocket (unsurprising, as Death Attack usually has low DCs and he was targeting a good save for you), so your rocket took him out. In reality, looking at your numbers, they are actually low for that level – as you say, you specifically avoided optimizing him.

Addressing intra-party imbalance

This is the more serious potential problem, if it becomes more and more difficult for the DM to challenge all characters equally at the same time. If someone you cannot kill in one round is all-but-impossible to kill for the other players, then you have a problem.

But you do comment that “they could deal out a hellacious amount of damage in a round too.” So if you are worried, the first step is to try to look at what they are doing. Can they keep up? If not, why not?

I suspect that the key, within 3.x, comes from your condition on that statement: “in optimal conditions.”

Power in 3.x comes less from whether or not you can one-shot opponents at high level (most people can), it’s more a question of how easily you can take your shot. In your case, you need to apply Samurai Challenge, but you can do that at range. Do the other players have similar capabilities? Are they all melee? Are the spellcasters familiar with the concept of attempting to target vulnerabilities (weak saves, touch AC, etc.), or do they rely too heavily on one spell or one type of spell?

These are systemic issues with 3.x, Pathfinder included, but I think the answer is not that you do too much damage: if anything, it’s that you can do your full potential damage more easily than your allies.


Your potential damage doesn’t look like a problem

More likely, the issue is that you can reach your potential more easily/frequently than your allies can

Without seeing the full character sheets, I cannot really give specific tips on how to fall in line with them, but for your own analysis of the situation, I think you should look less at the actual damage numbers – you are, after all, a primary damage dealer – and more at how easily your allies can actually follow through on their potential damage or effects.

Random other thought: hold yourself back, in character

A lot of players like to play a high-power character that they specifically do not use to its full potential unless or until things become truly dire. Support casters are a favorite for this: by focusing largely on buffs, you can let your party shine. Keep a few magic bullets in reserve in case something just needs to stop now. That sort of thing.

You could apply a similar strategy with your character. Samurai are notably honorable: perhaps your character feels dishonored for shooting a fleeing foe, even a dishonorable one, and resolves to avoid using his bow in favor of the more honorable sword duels. Restricting yourself to melee will drastically reduce your flexibility and ability to reach your full damage potential. You can hang on to the bow, however, and pull it back out when things are really rough: then using that bow becomes far more interesting from a story perspective, because your character was driven to do something he had foresworn.

Quick Explanation of Chat

In the comments is a link to a chat @mxyzplk and I had about the characters in the campaign, based on the sheets he’s linked. Basically, my conclusion was that his character, as the only pure-damage-dealer, deals an appropriately-larger amount of damage, and is not really mechanically overshadowing the other characters. Some player choices does lead to some characters not living up to the potentials of their mechanics, but it does seem that the group has concluded that mxyzplk’s one-shot kill is an expected outcome of the system and the fact that it was a glass cannon vs. glass cannon duel.

Some extraneous factors also appear to mitigate some of the larger issues with mxyzplk’s build. First, his sacrifice of Constitution in favor of Strength and Dexterity has not resulted in as large a loss of HP as it would otherwise entail, because he is allowed to reroll low HD rolls (and therefore has about a third more HP than he would otherwise, closer to the expected value of Con 14 than Con 10). Second, the campaign has tended to focus on a few, big enemies, rather than encounters consisting of enemy parties similar in size and level to his own. This has made the severe limitations on the Samurai Challenge much less than they would otherwise be.

So in conclusion, I maintain that in mxyzplk’s particular case described in the question, there isn’t really a problem at all.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Most of our character sheets are on our campaign blog I linked (a couple only at certain levels, but many at each level). geek-related.com/session-summaries/jade-regent I think there's about a 30% disparity - I put that in the Q now (I had put it in there before but had some kind of SE hiccup that lost my last 5 minutes of edits before I posted, alas). \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 17:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for holding back in character. The rest is really good too, I just particularly like that point. \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 21:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ let us continue this discussion in chat \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 16:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I've tried to add a quick summary of the chat to the answer; feel free to edit it if you think I've misunderstood or misrepresented anything about the campaign there. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 5:08

If I have a character that does or seems to outstrip the other characters in terms of effectiveness, how can I adjust to at least mitigate the resulting problems (over and done encounters, PC envy)?

Here's a different point of view: It is not your problem but that of the GM. They are the ones that should provide interactions to challenge your character. If LotR were a game, would playing Gandalf be any more rewarding than playing Sam or Golum? Why not? Because the story was tailored to all the protagonists. Another example, the combat abilities of the seven Samurai are very varied but they are all very interesting characters that work in combination. You have seen Seven Samurai, right?

In any case, you can change your character's focus to help guide your GM. Make your character more than just the strong skill set they have. Look at how to generate much more drama out of your current character. Then, with the help of your GM, you should set onwards to a new path which will (hopefully) lead to some interesting drama.

Now, to be specific to your samurai. There are three brothers seeking the help of a sensei who lives on a mountain inhabited by ferocious venomous snakes. The first bother goes and kill the snakes on his path because that way he protects the rest of the world from evil. The sensei welcomes him as a student. The second brother goes and avoids the snakes on his path for they have the right to live and who is he to dictate who is lives or dies. The sensei welcomes him as a student . The third brother goes and teaches the snakes not to use their venom in anger. The sensei refuses to take him on as a student. The sensei has nothing to teach him.

Maybe a goal for your character? Of course, if you are playing a tactical board game (read: rollplaying) my answer is utterly useless. ^_~

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with Sardathrion, if you're basically in the same power set as the party then its your GM who needs to make sure he's building monsters, encounters, and quests that challenge you and the party. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 19:34

"The answer is already within you, Samurai-san."

Pardon my fortune-cookie wisdom; however, you do seem to already know how you can fix the problem, as you applied it to your character at creation. On top of that, I believe another member, Pulsehead already said the same thing.

Pick up another "weapon".

I mean this in a more general, "old world wisdom" sort of sense, much like my opening statement. If you were to start using skills that you were purposefully not designed for, and averaging out your character more-so towards skills that create items, or more intellectual pursuits to help support the party, you may find that your increased damage coupled with party assistance changes your niche from "sore thumb" to "trump card".

A very simple, but slow, way to start the change of your character from "almost too good", to "just right" is to stop investing in those abilities which continue to increase your personal power and invest in abilities, feats, or skills that help the party as a whole increase their chances of succeeding at various non-battle tasks. IF the options are not closed to you, I would recommend pursuing more skills instead of increased damage feats. For instance, you could be more intimidating, instead of more lethal. Intimidation and Persuasion do not do any damage. Working on these skills will prevent your overall damage from rising. Pending your compatriots focus on damage for that level, yours will have gone down by comparison.

Of course there are several other, less mechanical means to alter your damage output. For instance taking a selective vow of peace will obviously lower your damage, as there are some targets you do not strike; perhaps you do not use the really dangerous weapon in certain situations (Culturally, a certain weapon could be "peace bound"). This does not prevent you from assisting your party, however, grappling the target to the ground, or pushing them into position for an ambush could still be allowed. In the case I am speaking of, a character's honor prevented them from using the bearded axe that did much more damage than his regular weapon because that weapon was only reserved for monsters, and the target he was facing was human, limiting his total damage severely.

Getting into situations where you are unarmed (roused from sleep), unable(tight quarters with low ceiling), or unwilling to draw a weapon on a target will also bring your average damage down. I see on your character sheet, as linked, that you have plenty of feats for increasing damage with a bow, sword, and have means of increasing your initiative. If you get into situations with a hand-to-hand mentality, it is my understanding that those feats and abilities may not apply. This is a way to limit your potential damage on a situation-to-situation basis that does not limit your growth, but it DOES endanger the life of your character if you do not take the proper precautions.

Finally, and with much bias, you can always take on an additional profession within the game that either flaunts your ability and turns it into a trope (ex: "Come see the Marcos the Magnificent! Able to slice the wings off of a housefly!") which lessens the importance of your damage, or turns it into a disadvantage (ex: "You have just received a letter from the embassy, requesting your immediate aide for a purely diplomatic mission on behalf of your home country regarding a recent massacre by a samurai swordsman"). (This is the method I used as a GM to corral my near-superhuman players into acting more responsibly instead of more explosively. I still use this method to this day if I encounter a new player who wants to kill an entire town, or blow up a children's hospital.) Certainly, with GM assistance, you can come up with a reason as to why you cannot do maximum damage to a single target, or specific type of targets for any duration, which will allow your remaining party members to increase their damage, as that stipulation does not apply to them.

And because I started this post with a very cryptic and vague suggestion, and it is heavily encouraged to be consistent,

"When you look deep within yourself, Samurai-san, do you see a man who has reached the top of the mountain, or has only just began to climb it?"

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is the second most helpful answer after its edit but languishing at the bottom so I'm giving it the bounty! \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 1:57

I agree with Sardathrion. This is really a GM'ing problem. The GM doesn't know how to challenge a high level character.

Why, for example, would a single Ninja walk right up and diectly engage a high level Samarai? That'd be suicide. A 'master ninja guy' would know you were a serious threat with a bow because he would have researched his target, and would have taken precautions against it.

Instead, he could have kidnapped the town's children (or one of the weaker party members, or whoever you serve), and demand you commit seppuku in the town square if you want them to live. Or rather than engage you, teleport you someplace where you are outnumbered. Or use poison (even if it only weakens you). Or struck at night with multiple attackers... one of whome goes after your bow before you can grab it. Or frame you for murdering your lord.

The point is, the GM needs to step up and challenge your character. When dealing with very powerful PCs, a GM needs to apply the same level of planning and trickery that the players would use if they were planning to attack a high level NPC.


I played GURPS for over 30 years in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign. What important to remember that a 200 pt character is not twice as effective as a 100 point character in combat. He could be but in the end it depends on the exact abilities and skills the player buys for his character. My campaigns often wind up with characters of differing combat capabilities or magic capabilities. I wouldn't expect any different with the options available to Pathfinder.

It not an issue because along the way the players collect a web of friends, allies, people who owe them favor, people who they owe favors too. At the mid-levels the campaigns shifts to establishing a legacy away from pure adventuring. All those elements become a means or a complication towards that goal (whatever it is). And it has the virtue that it doesn't really matter what the character can do, because now what more important is who the character knows in order to accomplish their goals.

As a player what is your samauri's legacy? How does he want to create that is permanent and lasting? And then figure out how your fellow players can help and also how they can realize their own goals.

Then start talking to your gamemaster and tell him this is what you and the group want to do. You will find the issues you are concerned to be largely mitigated in face of the larger complications in achieving your goals.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well in this case the whole campaign is about him installing his sister as the rightful empress of fantasy-Japan... But as it's D&D, the path there is over a highway of corpses. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 2:28

Warrior's rest

Due to my inexperience as a ST, I had a game in Vampire the Masquerade in which we had the same problem. I awarded too much XP, and there was some special objects that was a mortal combination.

When some characters died, and other players joined, the new characters had problem keeping up to the group. What happened them is that the players who still had overpowered characters ended eventually retiring them.

No one asked them. Just one day one said he was tired of his character and wanted to play something weaker. The other followed in the pace of months.

Giving your characters a heroic death is a very cool finale for him, but sometimes you don't want to be too drastic. They simply looked for other plots that took the characters away from the group. Some even returned once the other characters had grown more powerful.

For instance, maybe you are too fond of your samurai to kill him, or maybe killing him would be the end of some plots. Then, the GM can have your character kidnapped and made prisoner. It is up now to the characters your samurai used to shadow (and your new one), to rescue him. They get the lampshade.

Maybe when you finally manage to get your old character out of prison (which doesn't have to be soon if that plot is mixed with others), everybody has leveled up, and the imbalance is less serious, and you can recover the samurai and play with him again, filled with nostalgia.


One of the reasons that we play RPG is because we want to be heroes and we want to overcome heroic challanges. Your problem is that the challenges you face and overcome are not making you feel heroic.

In the specific instance, @GrandmasterB has hit the nail on the head, what could have been a great encounter was ruined by a stupid NPC. Have a look at @Lord_Gareth's excellant Q&A (including an answer by yours truly!)

Where were the sensible precautions that a reasonable assassin would have taken if his big all-or-nothing assault failed? Where was the Protection Against Normal Missiles spell? The potion of Dimension Door or Ethrealness? Where were the backup cannon fodder (assassins are evil after all)? Where, in fact, was the plan?

This NPC was not a mindless construct this was an (un)real person with hopes and dreams who decided to throw their life away for no gain. Why? Unresolved tension with the NPC's significant other? Rush of blood? Arrogance?

Why oh why do so many GMs insist on attacking the PC's strengths when every soldier, sportsperson and politician in the world knows that you attack your enemies weaknesses and protect your own?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, while I agree with you about this one specific encounter, please don't obsess on it specifically, it's an example of the kind of thing that happens frequently as damage output gets so high. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 17:38

The short answer is just go ahead; trade in the items that give you the consistent boosts and ask your GM to swap any abilities that feel too effective for other options.

When choosing items, feats and abilities, aim to get your character making roughly the same number of attacks and with the same amount of average damage. You can use anything freed up to explore skills and other non-damage related options.

You may need a short bit of side-plot to explain why you are suddenly giving up something useful and/or coming out less effective. Supernatural curses and poisons work very well for the latter, and give you an out if you find yourself well behind the group in future.

Unless you want to start rewriting the effects of the choices you've made, there is little more you can do by yourself.


Despite his disclaimer, Kryan's answer really is great. But it is 3.5 specific and tailored largely to the example. I'll try to give a broader perspective.

Is it really a problem?

Having one character truly outshine all the others is a horrible problem. But having one character outshine the others in a specific area can be a good thing. Combat gets a lot of attention in RPGs, but I think a game where one character is a combat master, but another masters face to face interactions and strategies, and a third handles scouting and dealing with security can be well balanced. Each character gets their time to shine.

In a group like that, I would expect them all to be able to fight when the time came, but the combat master would outshine all the others at that moment. And that is fine, as long as the others got a chance later.

Advance the other characters rapidly.

Other answers have mentioned nerfing the "too powerful" character in a number of ways. I think those have potential.

But advancement tends to be more fun than nerfing. So, the GM can deliberately work in ways to advance the other characters. If done right, it won't be holding back the over-powered character in any direct way, just providing opportunities for the others to catch up, even if that involves a bit of GM fiat. The easiest way is to hand out targetted treasure instead of random drops that specifically targets the other characters to help them catch up.

Another is to use plot points to hand out truly unique rewards. Perhaps the cleric gets an assignment from the church. Of course, the other characters come along and they get experience and teasure out of it. But at the end the cleric gets a massive boon dropped personally on his head. Along the way some or all of the others also get opportunities to massively benefit in ways that help them catch up that are tied into their particular characters.

Retire the character

Especially if this is a high level character, if he is unbalancing the group it may be time to retire the character. That could mean going out heroically. Or it could mean he literally retires and raises a family while enjoying the fruits of his adventuring career.


The way I see it, there are two possible solutions:

Make the Character less powerful: The easiest way would simply be forcing the character to hold back, and making him give up the items that make him so powerful.

However, the better way to do this may be to allow the character to grow into his power, instead of trying to fix it immediately. Spend some time giving up the better options, in favor of allowing the character to diverge into other areas. It won't fix the problem immediately, but it will likely yield better results.

In this specific case, try taking non-combat feats as you level, and don't upgrade your gear until it becomes obvious you need to. Your character feels that he is potent enough at battle; as an honorable warrior, he realizes that he should strive for perfection in all areas, and not just in battle, which he already has great skill in. Now, he must seek perfection in other areas, such as art, diplomacy, and knowledge.

Reach higher, until you fall: Ultimately, the goal here is to achieve the first option, though indirectly. Instead of trying to make the character worse, try to make him better. Try to make him so good, that he falls all that much harder when he fails.

He does too much damage? Make him humiliate his opponent, as well as defeat him. Aim for armor, weapons, vital points; anything that would still hinder the enemy, without actually harming him. As he likely doesn't have the skills necessary to maximize his effectiveness in these areas of combat, he will begin to shine less.

Worried he keeps beating too-big big-bads? Make him fight the Biggest Bad. Pick a target he obviously couldn't beat, and have him march right up to it and shoot it in the face. He does not have to die from this, but the resulting defeat will likely leave him crippled, mentally and physically.


if I have a character that does or seems to outstrip the other characters in terms of effectiveness, how can I adjust to at least mitigate the resulting problems (over and done encounters, PC envy)?

That seems to me like it should be the GM's responsibility, rather than yours. If you are trying to reduce your PC's effectiveness, then you might even be masking the issue from the GM's attention. If the GM seems to be having problems with the situation, you might want to bring it up with him between sessions.

The assumptions of the players, GM, and the game system may be out of sync.

As the GM, it would not be hard to make the situation more interesting and challenging in the face of a party with one deadly character. For example, in the situation you described, your character was actually nearly taken out, but the situation lacked any other challenges. That would have been a great time to introduce some other challenges for the other characters, since I assume you would need to heal or at least be brought to some healing magic (which can be its own kind of balance problem if that's too easy and immediate). Basically the GM just needs to come up with situations that are still interesting even against your party, and that give the other players challenges of their own and chances to use their own abilities rather than duck for cover while you use yours.

If what you and your group are interested in, however, is a game where balanced and detailed combat situations remain interesting despite differences in power levels, you might want to think about playing a different combat system that's not so much just a contest of who's more powerful. One where if you've just been nearly killed, you would have a hard time responding immediately with a super-accurate shot from a bow you didn't even have ready. (I'm thinking of GURPS, except I think it has its own issues which are difficult for new GMs, so an easy game system with similar features would be Legends of the Ancient World, though I don't know if that's a match for your group either.)

As a player, you could also counter with in-character roleplaying techniques. For example, if your character only fights for honor, maybe he won't deign to attack unworthy foes, and will instead try to give the other characters opportunities to gain honor, by letting them handle the unworthy opponents.


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