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I have a party of 6 or 7 players all currently level 2 and one of them has just created a new character: a half-ogre (Savage Species p218) barbarian. we just played one session and it feels as if this character is overpowered compared to the other characters (plain humans and half/elves being paladin and cleric and wizard and rogue and druid and psion), particularly at this low level.

the half-ogre is a unique member of the party and quite a party trademark and the player has a nice way of playing the large character. I don't think giving up the character size would be an option. but something should probably change because the other characters are highly ineffective in combat compared to the half-ogre (they score hits of maybe max 11 damage whereas the half-ogre scores hits of max 24 damage and that's not even using rage or power attack). I should probably mention some of the half-ogres final stats at this point: Str 22; Dex 12; Con 16; Int 6; Wis 13; Cha 10; wielding a large great axe, 3d6 dmg. I have a feeling the balance is off for low levels but might be OK once they all get to higher levels.

what can I do to balance out the party?

these are the half-ogre racial traits taken from Savage Species p218:

Str +6, Con +2, Dex -2, Int -2, Cha -2; Large size, results in -1 to AC and -1 to attack rolls and reach 10ft; speed 30ft; darkvision 60ft; +4 natural armor; giant blood: considered a giant wherever applicable; level adjustment +1; favored class barbarian; automatic languages giant and common

for comparison these are the ogre racial traits taken from Monster Manual I p199:

Str +10, Con +4, Dex -2, Int -4, Cha -4; Large size, results in -1 to AC and -1 to attack rolls and reach 10ft and -4 to hide checks and +4 to grapple checks; speed 40ft; darkvision 60ft; +4d8 racial hit dice; racial base attack bonus +3; racial saving throws Fort +4, Ref +1, Will +1; racial skills + 7x(2+Int, minimum 1); racial feats +2 feats; +5 natural armor; level adjustment +2; favored class barbarian; automatic languages giant and common

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    \$\begingroup\$ What are the class levels of characters? \$\endgroup\$ – Momonga-sama Jun 15 '16 at 7:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Seems like the -4 to hide check and +4 to grapple checks due to Large size is missing from Half-Ogre racial traits. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jun 15 '16 at 8:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Momonga-sama all characters net level is 2, the half-ogre is the only one with a level adjustment effectively: half-ogre 1/ barbarian 1. \$\endgroup\$ – mtijn Jun 15 '16 at 10:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme you are correct, Savage Species does not mention those in the description. \$\endgroup\$ – mtijn Jun 15 '16 at 10:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please do not use code tags (with backticks, four spaces preceding paragraph, or <pre> tags) to highlight sections of text. Those should only be used for actual code fragments. While in a typical visual browser, they display as highlighted, on alternative web-browsing technology (e.g. screen readers for the blind), they may be rendered very differently and very inconveniently (e.g. they may be read letter-by-letter). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 15 '16 at 13:02
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Up front, let me just suggest that this character is offensively devastating, but is frighteningly vulnerable (LA does that), and useless outside of combat. Moreover, these low levels are very much the best time to be playing this character. Depending on the pace of the game, it may be best to let him just enjoy it while it lasts. Unfortunately, it likely won’t last long. See an earlier answer about an overly strong barbarian.

But I think we can do better than you have here. You see, being devastating offensively, but shockingly vulnerable and useless out of combat, does cause a lot of problems. LA causes a lot of problems, but the biggest one is exactly this: skew.

A simple improvement, in both directions, by suggesting the LA +1 goliath from Races of Stone—less LA, less power, and the character is less skewed and causes fewer problems. The goliath isn’t Large, but has powerful build that lets them count as Large in many ways—and then the goliath barbarian substitution level, also in Races of Stone, offers mountain rage, and truly-Large size for a limited amount of time per day. Having the player use the goliath’s stats, despite being a “half-ogre,” would be a straightforward solution with WotC support.

But really, I think we can do even better than that. The goliath isn’t a half-ogre, and powerful build isn’t Large size, and while mountain rage can cover most uses, it still isn’t quite the same. And in my experience, having played, played alongside, or run games for goliath barbarians in the past... the goliath doesn’t really earn its LA either, even with mountain rage. So what I propose is an LA +0 half-ogre. True Large size, while very very good, might be possible on an LA +0 race.

Therefore, I present an LA +0, Large size, half-ogre race. Races are relatively simple parts of the game, and I have designed races professionally for 3.5e and Pathfinder; I am reasonably confident in my design here. It goes off the established rails some (LA +0 Large size is verboten under WotC design guidelines, and even powerful build always came with LA +1), but I’m going to build in a lot of downside. Moreover, I have played (with) plenty of characters that were Large—it isn’t that big a deal. Even in gestalt games where the LA could all be put on one side (greatly mitigating the effect of the LA and making half-ogre et al. far cheaper to use), the Large size was only “good,” not “broken.” (The large ability score adjustments were far more problematic.) I am confident that the drawbacks of this race are at least as costly as the effort expended by those characters in becoming Large.

Half-Ogre Racial Traits

  • Starting Ability Score Adjustment: +2 Str, −2 Dex, −2 Int, −2 Cha.

  • Large: As Large creatures, half-ogres have a −1 penalty to Armor Class and a −1 penalty on all attack rolls. They also have a reach of 10 feet.

  • Speed: Half-ogre land speed is 30 feet.

  • Darkvision: Half-ogres have darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

  • Giant Blood: For all special abilities and effects, a half-ogre is considered a giant. Half-ogres can use giant weapons and magic items with racially-specific giant powers as if they were giants.

  • Automatic Languages: Giant and Common. Bonus Languages: Draconic, Gnoll, Goblin, Orc, and Abyssal.

  • Favored Class: Barbarian.

  • Level Adjustment: +0.

By drastically reducing the ability score bonuses and removing the natural armor, we reduce a lot of the skew in the character. And because the ability score adjustments turn out sharply negative, and the race really doesn’t have much of anything else going on, we attach some very heavy drawbacks on the Large size. I considered losing the darkvision (after all, ogres have both that and low-light vision, and Savage Species saw fit to toss out the low-light vision), but in my experience darkvision is minor in most cases, and the race block just looked bare without it. But it might be a target if you want to remove more.

Ultimately, this race ends up being very, very good for a barbarian, and several other classes (the lack of Wisdom penalty opens up interesting opportunities for, say, psychic warrior), but it doesn’t end up being necessarily the best option every time. That is, it joins the top tier of race options for melee characters, but it doesn’t establish an entirely new tier over and above a few of the best existing options. Dragonborn, human (and human variants), warforged, water orc are each competitive, for examples. A dragonborn half-ogre could be a problem (since you keep the best thing about half-ogre and then get real racial features from dragonborn), but no more so than a dragonborn warforged—so you should probably just ban both of those combinations (or allow both, but recognize that they start to look like the only reasonable melee options).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks for this strong answer, I have changed the accepted answer to this one because it addresses the core issues better and it matches my experiences and insights with this party and character and the involved mechanics better \$\endgroup\$ – mtijn Feb 7 at 8:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately this seems to fall in the category of “untested homebrew made up off the cuff” and isn’t considered a good kind of answer on the site, unless you can add some relevant experience or at least demonstrating another LA+0 race it’s analagous to? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Feb 7 at 12:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Correct—which is why I mentioned the goliath as a tried-and-true option. I’ve highlighted that more, since it was just an offhand mention that deserved more. I’ve also discussed where I’m coming from with the new design—I haven’t tried exactly this, but the only part of it that is out of line with existing options (LA +0 Large size) is comparable, when combined with these drawbacks, with other characters I have seen. It absolutely represents what will be one of the highest-tier race options for many types of character, but it will have company in that tier. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 7 at 18:21
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Note: for 3.5 edition, the Half-Ogre has been reprinted in Races of Destiny (p. 96), in which it has a level adjustment +2. Since LA is generally inflated, sticking with the Savage Species edition is probably better.

You are not telling how many levels of Barbarian this Half-Ogre has; with a level adjustment of 1, an ECL 2 (Effective Character Level), the character should be Half-Ogre 1/Barbarian 1.

He is indeed, at this level, a brute (and will remain a brute):

  • AR +6 (BAB +1, +6 Str, -1 Size)
  • 3d6+9 (or 19.5 average damage) per hit, without Power Attack or Rage
  • AC 18 (Touch AC 10, Flat-Footed AC 17), assuming a Mithral Chainmail
  • Reach 10 ft.

However:

  • he only has 1 attack (and 1 attack of opportunity) per round
  • he only has 15 HPs (12 from HD, +3 Con)
  • his defenses are not that great: Touch AC 10, Reflexes +1, Will +1

At low-level, he may indeed excel at close combat. Given that the Barbarian is THE close combat class in the Player's Handbook, that's not too surprising and certainly matches my experience.

I think it is important however to note the large number of weaknesses:

  • he is largely useless at anything else than combat; this includes tracking, infiltrating, gathering information, haggling, ... that is all the daily life outside combat
  • even in combat, an inaccessible foe (flying, perched, ...) is safe from him; furthermore, a sneaking foe is likely to get the drop on him (and thus the initiative)
  • an intelligent foe is likely to recognize him as a threat (being Large, he stands out) and take appropriate counter measures (pit traps, greasy surface, marbles, ... or distractions (illusions))

For example, your Ogre facing a Wizard 2 (Int 18) using the level 1 Color Spray spell faces a Will DC 15. With his measly Will +1, he has only 35% chances of resisting the spell. And if he fails: he will be unconscious, blinded, and stunned for 2d4 rounds, then blinded and stunned for 1d4 rounds, and then stunned for 1 round. That's at least 4 rounds of inaction (average 8 rounds). By the time he's up again, the fight will be ended (one way or another).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate this strong answer, but I feel it focusses too much on the individual and his strengths and weaknesses rather than the party and the mechanics of the system \$\endgroup\$ – mtijn Feb 7 at 8:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mtijn: Fair enough. The intent was to demonstrate that the character was not as overwhelming as you thought it was, being essentially a "Glass Cannon" :) \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Feb 7 at 8:29
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Usually, LA races are considered very strong in early levels, and weak in late ones. To even out this phenomenon, you can use the Pathfinder method: Put a larger LA in early levels, and reduce it as the whole party becomes stronger.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For 3.5 there is also the Unearthed Arcana LA buy-off method available in the SRD. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jun 15 '16 at 9:03
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Thanks for the great answers, they really helped me to put things into perspective. However, I decided to tackle this differently based on the following findings:

  • the half-ogre from Savage Species is LA +1, but that book came out in Feb 2003. Races of Destiny came out in Dec 2004 and has the exact same template with LA +2. I expect the latter to be playtested better and I always view later similar publications as an errata on the original. Therefore in my view, LA +1 changes to LA +2 for the half-ogre template.
  • though ogres are LA +2 they also have 4 monster hit dice making them ECL +6. half-ogres on the other hand are LA +1 without any monster hit dice making them only ECL +1 while not even sacrificing that much compared to their fulblood cousins.

This led me to believe that yes, the character is currently unbalanced. he is close to getting to level 3 so I decided to not let him level up as the LA +2 takes effect. that doesn't remedy the current situation, so for now he'll be strikken with a disease or handicap that eliminates his strength bonus for now. he will soon recover from this after the LA +2 takes effect. then the party balance will be better and he will still kick ass in close combat compared to everyone else, for now.

UPDATE

After years of gameplay with this party, LA skew (as mentioned in one of the fine other answers) seems indeed at the heart of the problem here. So as the party level increased I had to lower this character's LA from +2 to +1 to balance him with the party and I wouldn't rule out having to lower it again in the future. I am now accepting the answer that best addresses the issues of balance and LA skew.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, your assumptions about playtesting in Races of Destiny are very unlikely to be true. More likely it was just eyeballed and (as usual for LA outside Savage Species), they went too high rather than risk going too low. LA is really bad for the game; adding more will basically never improve matters. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 16 '16 at 12:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are much better answers present than your assumptions and not marking them as correct just seems wrong to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Silverclaw Feb 6 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ afaik on SO the OP accepts the answer that he/she feels best answers his/her question(s) and not the answer that is "correct" (even though it might be, to whatever varying extent). however, this question is now 2.5 years old and meanwhile I've gained new experience and insights while balancing this character and the party and I must admit that the other answers match these new experiences and insights better. so, thanks for the trigger and I will update my own answer and also select one of the others instead. \$\endgroup\$ – mtijn Feb 7 at 8:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you are modifying your acceptance criteria, that shoudl be part of the question, not part of a self-answer. Better still, since this question is about 2.5 years old, refine a new version of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Feb 7 at 18:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden the acceptance criteria have not been modified at all, rather my perception of the answers given, to me the question and the answers all remain valid \$\endgroup\$ – mtijn Feb 8 at 6:58
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Although not what you asked for, something important to consider, before altering what sounds like a really good thing is the challenge rating of monsters.

The challenge ratings on monsters although very helpful are at the end of the day subjective (as can be seen in the WoTC website and the Angry-DM blog). I would consider maybe throwing one larger enemy, maybe with a higher challenge rating for your ogre-player to grapple with, while littering the battlefield with other smaller characters that way everyone has appropriate portions. XP is also at your discretion so one of these bigger foes would be worth the xp of lower cr monster.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's not a solution to this problem. Increasing the CR can work if the whole party is more powerful: they all will have to struggle together. When you put just one stronger monster specifically for one PC you either stop doing team battles or you make it very hard for the other members of the team. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Feb 15 at 11:14

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