I am new to DMing (this is my first campaign) and one of the PCs rolled a 18 str char and made a 20 str Barbarian.

What is the best way to deal with this at the early levels of the game where his hit rolls and damage bonus are enough to wipe the floor with even special NPCs?

It feels weird to just make everything harder which would have 2 side effects:

  1. the barbarian would be the only character who could compete cleanly

  2. it sidelines a legitimate character trait that the player rolled.

As an example I have a level 4 NPC coming up who is for the most part by himself but the barbarian can take him to near death in one swing (with rage) if he rolls well and his other characters should have no problem finishing him off. There will be 4 level 1 PCs (Barb, Rogue, Wiz, Oracle) entering his house to question him.

More details on this encounter:

It's listed as EL3, but it's going to be very easy for him so I am trying to figure what good options I have for a lonely "loan" shark (see my pun there) and his baboon that makes sense. So there are no wizards or swarms of goblins in this case. Should I just throw a bunch more bystanders into the fight?

The other problem I foresee is doing something like that is going to pump up their XP even faster pushing them ahead of schedule.

The other part of this is with armor and dex bonuses, most of the monsters they encounter at level 1 have pretty poor odds of hitting them. The first encounter they faced, they took 0 damage from NPCs.

Any input on the situation will be appreciated.

P.S.: this is the second darkness campaign

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Just wait until later in the scenario - there are other things happening that will challenge this character more, like slogging through swamps, or bad guys with mind-affecting magic. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 21:11

8 Answers 8



I don't know if you do much role playing as well as combat, but a Raging barbarian probably shouldn't take time to consider if he should chase down the fleeing kobolds.

I had a DM once who loved to do this with kobolds. They'd run in, fight for a couple of rounds and run away. If you chased them there were always one or two traps.

With your loan shark, if they are attacking him on his home ground, like an office, he could have a trap door that takes the Barbarian out of the fight. Or maybe a wall of bookshelves that doubles as damage to the party and an escape tunnel for the loan shark. He tips them over onto everyone and escapes through the tunnel or door behind them.

Maybe, since he is a barbarian, the barbarian has fear of books? :-)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your comments, especially the last one :) I have added a trapdoor and am planning to do the roof mechanics mentioned in one of the other posts. I'll have him try to get some help if the player isn't fast enough to persue him, and hopefully they hit the trap if they are/do :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Kendric
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 20:32

Your issue has nothing to do with your Barbarian and his Strength.

I assume you're talking about the encounter "Flat on Rat Street" from the adventure Shadow in the Sky in the Second Darkness Adventure Path. I ran that for my party too. They killed the baboon in one hit, downed the loan shark in one hit, and spent the rest of the time with him tied to a chair being beaten with a phone book to give up information. You can read the session summary here.

Lymas Smeed

Lymas Smeed, Home Invasion Victim

You seem to be falling into the misapprehension that every encounter needs to be a significant combat threat. That's not the case. I know there's all these CR/EL rules and stuff, but let me tell you a secret of gamemastering.

Balancing encounters is for suckers.

The CR/EL math is there to tell you if you're likely to have a cakewalk, good fight, or TPK on your hands. What it's not for is to tell you not to have a cakewalk, good fight, or TPK as the story demands. You should not have a campaign consisting of nothing but a bunch of balanced "use 20% of your resources" fights. That's lame and boring. And as a result that's not what the Paizo Adventure Paths do. Note that the rules don't tell you "every person you encounter should be a CR-appropriate challenge for the party," but the fact that they provide these calculations can fool people into thinking they do.

In this case, this encounter isn't a combat encounter. Smeed and his pet are not a credible combat threat and they shouldn't be. It's an investigation scene, a red herring. The guy has an EL because everything with a stat block has an EL, not because the combat is supposed to last more than a round. He has levels so that he has some ranks in Bluff and stuff. That's totally fine. Pathfinder is not a computer game. You can and should (and do, in APs) have your PCs encounter stuff they can easily trounce and stuff that they should run from and everything in between.

The point of this encounter is to, unless you are really really sharp, kill this hapless goon and get in deeper water with Saul and the law and the other crime bosses, not to exercise your DPS or tactical acumen. It's basically a puzzle and a RP encounter.

Besides, CRs are an Art not a Science

Having said that, 20 in a main stat is pretty normal for Pathfinder and the CR math takes that well into account. Except where the CR math is kinda wonky, which is against solo NPCs. In my Second Darkness campaign, the fourth level PCs easily handled eighth level NPCs routinely.


My biggest advice to you as a new GM is to basically forget about the questions you're currently asking on this site, about how to perfectly balance CRs and stuff, and step back and look at the bigger picture of the story in the campaign. CR work really is simply "look at the book number, eyeball if that looks high or low given your party and their history, and roll with it." But it obscures the more important question of what kind of scene a scene is, and the answer is not "balanced combat!" all, or even necessarily most, of the time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not only that, but balancing encounters is futile. It just doesn't ever happen precisely because the math doesn't capture every variable, and even when you get a nail-biter encounter at the table, was that a unicorn-rare instance of getting the balance juust right, or luck? You'll never know because you have a statistical sample of 1. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 0:07
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "balance is for suckers". Balance is a tool, not a goal. \$\endgroup\$
    – lisardggY
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 5:58
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I think I like this answer even better than the one up top, because it introduces a concept I didn't even know about, and also puts my own mind at a bit of ease in considering my own future DMing endeavors. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 13:03

Play to your other players' strengths

Your barbarian, as you have noted, is very good at dealing high damage to a single target. Maybe even two targets if he took cleave. The aim now is to play to the strengths of the other party members as well. A swarm of 8-10 rats would be easier for a mage with burning hands or sleep than the barbarian. An incorporeal enemy like a shadow would have to be killed with magic missile, the barbarian wouldn't be able to hurt it at all. Likewise some kind of flying animal like an eagle could easily stay out of his reach and need to be shot down by a character focusing on ranged attacks with a bow or whatever else.

Pathfinder is a team game, and no one character can fill every role. Certainly, some classes are more versatile than others, but barbarians are not considered to be among the most versatile ones by any means. They are exceptional at their role though, so when it is his time to shine, that's great! Just make sure that other players also get some time in the spotlight.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 because you should ALWAYS do this anyway. Learning the key strengths of each member of the party and playing to those strengths is a great way to give everyone a chance to shine. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 17:22
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Adding to Eric's comment, as well as playing to the other characters' strengths, make sure you play to the barbarian's strengths as well. The barbarian can cleave mighty foes in twain with a ridiculously oversized sword? Cool! Plan an encounter that celebrates this awesome combat prowess. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 21:50

Level 1 is, by far, the best time to be a barbarian. This issue will almost certainly go away quickly after you get a few levels. It may be appropriate to allow the player to be very strong now. While that doesn’t mean the other players should be bored (and there are a lot of good suggestions here about things for them in other answers), don’t take away the barbarian’s time to shine away from him.

For an easy illustration of this, consider the fact (more or less) that what the barbarian is good at, is killing things. This is a pretty important skill in the world of Pathfinder, so right now that looks overpowered. But if you had him fight a swarm, or an incorporeal creature, or something with a bunch of DR to a material or damage type he lacks, and so on, he would not be good at killing that. In a few levels, casters can easily get themselves into the “not easily killable” category as well, what with mirror image and greater invisibility. When things start casting solid fog, he might just be done.

So just be aware that, for better or worse, Pathfinder implements a scheme known as “linear warriors, quadratic casters.” Casters will grow in power massively, and soon. In reality, a well-made caster at this level could actually be better than a warrior, though that does take a fair bit of system mastery. You may find that around level 7 or so, you have the opposite problem.

And, of course, some classes are just more powerful than others. The barbarian is, overall, a rather weak class (though at level 1 that is much, much less true), but there are plenty of weaker classes; it’s one of the better mundane warrior classes, and mostly better than the “half-casters” (e.g. paladin and ranger) as well. For more information on class power differences, see the (3.5) Tier System for Classes as well as (more importantly), Why Each Class is in its Tier. Though Pathfinder changed things a little bit (see Pathfinder Tier System), the reasoning (and a lot of the specifics, truth be told) remain the same.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ +1. Please let the barbarian get his few seconds to shine. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 4:22

Magic is your friend against Barbarians.

He has a huge initiative buff? That's nice. Your wizard pre-cast haste on himself.

He has a huge modifier to hit? That's nice. Your wizard has Hold Person (or any other number of disabling 2nd level spells)

He can slay hordes upon hordes of monsters with his battelaxe? That's nice. Your wizard has a few goblins under his sway that will keep him from reaching him in any timely manner. And is casting from the air.

If you throw wave after wave of level 1 monsters at a barbarian, he will shred through it and shrug it off, because that's what Barbarians do best. To beat that, put him against something that he can't plow through with an axe. Make him make Will, Reflex and Fortitude saves, saves that don't just bounce off if they make the check. Make him depend upon the wards of your cleric, the equally important ranged fighter in your party, and whatever it is the Rogue does.

In short, if your PC is particularly good at close-range combat, put him in a fight where that isn't an immediate option.

Or send your PCs to a grand ball and see how well he handles THAT encounter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "I do… *rolling* 21 damage to the crabcake WITH MY FACE. Is the Duke impressed yet?!" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was more looking for thoughts on this perticular encounter with a level 4 expert and his baboon companion. Its listed as EL3 but its going to be very easy for him so I am trying to figure what good options I have for a lonely "loan" shark(see my pun there) and his baboon that makes sense. So there are no wizards or swarms of goblins in this case. Should I just throw a bunch more bystanders into the fight? The other problem I forsee is doing something like that is going to pump up their xp even faster pushing them ahead of schedule. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kendric
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 18:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You could consider rewriting the encounter, make them go up against this "level 4 expert"'s 'henchmen' rather than the man himself, or put the environment into play and get him a high perch from which to shoot arrows down at your barbarian (if he has good ranged attacks). The Baboon likewise could throw rocks at him, if you feel so inclined. Or you could have the Level 4 expert prepare some traps ahead of time to create problems for the forward-leaning Barbarian, if you know he always takes up the front. It really all comes down to how you structure the encounter. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 18:34

These types of characters tend to have their niche, and a some very glaring weaknesses. There are four words such characters tend to always dread hearing. Use these words to your advantage.

"Make A Will Save"

There are quite a few Save or Suck abilities and spells, even at low levels, that very easily lock this type of character down, or inhibit their usefulness in some way. Ray of Enfeeblement doesn't even give them a save. I would limit how often you rely on stuff like this, because obviously your Barbarian wants to be really effective at bashing skulls and they deserve to be really effective at that most of the time.

Dominate Person, with Caveats

Your characters are probably several levels away from fighting anything with Dominate Person, but there are few sweeter sights then the looks on the faces of players when their big bruiser gets turned against them. I would use this one very sparingly, but it can be really effective if pulled out once or twice. It forces the party creatively problem solve in a number of different ways:

  • They have to subdue their friend, hopefully nonlethally
  • They need to simulataneously deal with the rest of the combat without their most combat-ready bruiser
  • They need to figure out what they can do to prevent their own strengths from being turned against them the next time (and there should be a next time, few villains with access to Dominate stick around to fight their own battles).

There are ways other than Dominate to temporarily turn a party member against the rest of the party. I had a whip fighter that was not so much powerful as he was obnoxious. He was cursed by a trickster goddess at one point, so I started messing with his mind in subtle ways, then threw a bunch of halfling zombies to attack the party. Due to his curse, he and only he saw them all as human children. Hilarity ensued.

In general though, a villain who is able to turn the party against one another, either through magic or through manipulation and trickery, makes for an incredibly frightening foe.

Use caution and discretion if attempting this. Manipulating PCs can be an intense moment in a campaign, but manipulating players can lead to hurt feelings.

Worthy Opponents and other Shiny Objects

Another option is to distract the Barbarian with something equally buff and scary and let them test their strength against each other while the rest of the party deals with the meat of the encounter. This has the upside of letting your Barbarian feel super tough and powerful, but also make it clear that he isn't always the biggest and baddest on the block. Mowing through waves of paper-thin minions can be fun for a time, but he's going to eventually want a challenge as much if not more than you would like to challenge him. So give it him. Build him some evil counterparts to test his might against.

You can also use distance and space to seperate your Barbarian from challenges more appropriate for the rest of your party. It's likely that he's got a faster speed than the rest of the group. Design encounters with multiple goals, and make the part you want your Barbarian to deal with farther away. Now he has to race to deal with something only he has the speed to reach effectively, and the rest of your party gets to learn just how effective they can be (or need to be) in combat.


Alternate tasks for the party than just killing things would allow the Barbarian to shine in non-combat areas (or be revealed as kinda min-max'y and let other characters shine), and you can just fudge the results if you've got narrative things that depend on him not one-shotting.

In particular, the Oracle can get some really cool utility magic, though the Wizard certainly can too (I like Oracles for this because I've run some ones that turned out really interesting). In fact, everyone else, if built right, can actually be pretty interesting in terms of doing things that aren't linear combat, so at least for early levels you can toss them a bone by giving them an investigation or something to do and let the player who's rolled the combat monster off the chain for a while now and again.

I'm not familiar with the campaign you mention, but usually you can throw in some skill-based challenges and use them. Heck, the barbarian can probably use some skills too, giving them a role outside of Conanizing everything they touch and giving you a deeper environment.

It's also fallacious to assume that just because one character does really well the other players are going to feel left out. I ran a Barbarian in a magician party once, and as soon as they hit exponential power levels (in particular, a magical amulet that allowed them to cast fireballs with a simple "tap tap"), I got left in the lurch, but was able to utilize my resources to play field denial and skills-based roles as a barbarian. Now, remember, that was when I wasn't aiding a rogue or anything, so my Perception was unique in the party (especially since the mages were CHA and WIS based and dumped INT). No longer did I dominate combat, but I was our wilderness expert, trap finder, and general guide, filling a more nuanced barbarian role than merely a traditional combat frontliner.


If you really don't want to give him that much in Str, you could get him afflicted with a disease. Try this:

Lich Dust

Type poison, ingested; Save Fortitude DC 17
Onset 10 minutes; Frequency 1/minute for 6 minutes
Effect 1d3 Str damage; Cure 2 consecutive saves

or this:

Dragon Bile

Type poison, contact; Save Fortitude DC 26
Frequency 1/round for 6 rounds
Effect 1d3 Str damage

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take a look at the tour and the help; they're a useful introduction to the site. And once you have 20+ rep, feel free to join the chat! This doesn't seem to address the question very well, as what if he makes the save or gets healed? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! If he makes it, he might still be affected by it and still have to make a saving throw or maybe he's far from civilization. \$\endgroup\$
    – h313
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 0:47

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