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I am GM'ing an A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying campaign for a handful of friends, and though my group appears to have fun most of the time, the sessions have become more or less the same: the group investigates dodgy happenings and uncovers vague clues of crime and conspiracy here and there, they make some risky or even unwise choices, they get in trouble, and they try to fight their way out.

Most of the party members are not terribly skilled fighters. They are decent at best, with most of their points put into the more social- or utility-oriented skills. However, they do have one competent warrior in their midst; in fact, he is so competent that he survives even those encountered designed specifically to outmatch the group (that is to say: when a group of guards led by a skilled knight attempted to arrest them for stirring up a great amount of trouble).

Thus when I create combat encounters meant to pose a challenge to the group, they become quite drawn-out and even boring, seeing as all the party members are knocked unconcious quite early on, except the super-soldier who ends up standing there with 1hp and blood up to his elbows.

Now, I do not want to kill the guy, however there is no real consequence for the PCs commiting tons of crimes (including breaking into the mayor's house, robbing him, binding and beating him, as well as forcing wine down his wife's throat, effectively giving her alcohol poisoning), because they can always rely on their own Sandor Clegane to fight their way out of it. Additionally, there is not really anything else the OP warrior guy can do, because he has only allocated experience points into killing and not getting killed; I sort f feel I "have to" create crazy combat situations for there to be any point in him showing up at all.

How can I create engaging and balanced combat encounters for my players without the combat ending up being one guy against a small battalion?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "there is no real consequence for the PCs commiting tons of crimes" and everybody is fine with that? \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Mar 9 '17 at 11:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ During the first session they talked with the mayor of their village. They were able to tell he was a deceptive cretin, but they had no real proof. Thus two of the players snuck into his house, beat him up, tied him to a chair, cut off a couple of fingers, and hanged him. When they saw someone on their way to the mayor's house they tried to fake a suicide note before they left. They rejoiced when they rolled a crit. A couple of the other players found it irritating, but the group in general found it amusing \$\endgroup\$ – Arizan Mar 9 '17 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 11 '17 at 4:48
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How can someone fight their way out of crimes?

There is no real consequence for the PCs committing tons of crimes (including breaking into the mayor's house, robbing him, binding and beating him, as well as forcing wine down his wife's throat, effectively giving her alcohol poisoning), because they can always rely on their own Sandor Clegane to fight their way out of it.

So let me get this straight. The party has done breaking-and-entering, robbing, assault, torture, and murder.

And there have been no consequences because this one warrior can fight his way out of it? (Add "resisting arrest" to the list of stuff he's done!)

Why hasn't the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms already declared all of the party members wanted outlaws, and sent some kind of an army against them? Clearly they're a threat to the well-being of everyone.

I just can't imagine anyone talking and/or fighting their way out the crimes you've described. The social PCs would have to pull off some pretty hefty intrigue if they wanted to avoid the consequences of murdering a mayor's wife in such a brutal fashion.

If they got caught, their reputation suffers and they make enemies, period. What comes after is just damage control.
If they didn't get caught, well that's a plot well executed.

It's okay to have a killing machine PC

In SIFRP, it is very easy to make a combat-invincible character. Fighting 7 + 3B gives the character an average result of 30.09, standard deviation 4. Against an "average" Combat Defense like (say) 12, that means four degrees of success. Quadruple damage against most foes means instant death. This is just one example of how deadly combat-optimized PCs can be. Of course, if they're up against similarly optimized NPCs, the situation is a bit different.

But fighting against the laws is much more difficult than fighting against enemies.

(...) He is so competent that he survives even those encountered designed specifically to outmatch the group (i. e. when a group of guards led by a skilled knight attempted to arrest them for stirring up a great amount of trouble).

And? What happened after he won? What is expected to happen when a troublemaker resists arrest? If this happened within city walls, there'd be consequences. Next time they send a bigger group of guards. His reputation is tarnished after all the trouble he's made. And as we know, reputation and status are very important in Westeros (and SIFRP).

The battles of SIFRP don't just happen on the battlefield. They happen in discussions, debates, negotiations, courtships, what have you. That's why the rules of intrigue are in abundance: because they play a major role in the game.

So if this Sandor Clegane does whatever he wants because he thinks he can fight his way through it... he's going to die a knave's death. He'll die an honorless death, with no allies to defend him.

(To drive a point home: Imagine if, in our modern world, someone was armed to the teeth with guns and explosives, and performed crimes because he thought he could fight his way out of consequences. Yeah, good luck with that. He can try, and may even pull it off, for a few hours. Eventually, he'll be killed with no trial.)

Most of the party members are not terribly skilled fighters, they are decent at best, with most of their points put into the more social- or utility-oriented skills. However, they do have one competent warrior in their midst (...)

Sounds like a good party balance to me. The rest of the party surely appreciates the great warrior amidst them, and the warrior relies on his allies in settling the problems he can't solve with violence.

Challenging this PC in combat is a lost cause

So how can this PC be challenged? You said it yourself. He's put all his experience into being a killing machine, and nothing else.

Give him a non-combat challenge. Assuming the party can't help him, of course.

So does that mean there will be no more combat, ever?

Of course not. You don't remove all combat-related challenges from the adventures just because one of the PCs can solve them.

Here are some ways to make combat interesting again:

  • Hostages. One of the PCs has a knife on their throat. The killing machine isn't murdering his way through this any time soon.
  • The enemy has a group of archers.
  • Mirror match: a duel against an enemy who is equally combat-oriented
  • Something important is on the line. It can be a loved one's life, the honor of their lord and House, or whatever the character(s) care deeply about.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I might have worded the "survived the encounter" somewhat wrong: I sent a half dozen guard, their OP captain, and after a while their lord as well after the group to arrest or kill them. It ended with a stalemate because Clegane was just barely able to knock out the knight, but he was basically bleeding to death from major injuries at that point. The lord was planning on using their crimes as leverage for him, but instead told Clegane that if he stopped fighting (as well as doing the task) he would let him live. Clegane complied, but was likely to have "won" the fight (but lost politically) \$\endgroup\$ – Arizan Mar 9 '17 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Arizan After this PC killed or injured several of this lord's guard, the lord made good on his promise to let him live? This seems like an exceptionally honorable person for the ASOIAF setting. \$\endgroup\$ – recognizer Jan 23 at 22:56
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I'll keep this brief. Take inspiration from the novels. The main challenge skilled fighters face isn't their own survival. It's the survival of the ones they care about for one reason or the other.

Khal Drogo is challenged when Daenarys Targaryen is threatened. Brienne of Tarth is challenged when Caitlyn Stark or Jaime Lannister is threatened. Jaime Lannister is challenged when Cersei is threatened. Sandor Clegane is challenged when Sansa Stark or later, Arya Stark is threatened.

The same goes for super-politicals as well. Littlefinger is challenged when Caitlyn or Sansa are threatened. Tywin Lannister is challenged when his lineage is threatened. Tyrion is challenged when Shae is threatened. Robert Baratheon is never challenged because Lyanna Stark is already dead.

If you want to rein your super-fighter in, find out what they care about and threaten that.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for paraphrasing Littlefinger. Once you know what someone wants, you have them. \$\endgroup\$ – smiley trashbag Jan 23 '18 at 23:48
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There are many ways to handle that problem.

Every group has someone who optimizes their character, and they are usually a pain to deal with because the rest of the group would suffer whenever you attempt to challenge that one guy who could handle the problem.

But what you really must do is identify the problem. What causes him to be so strong in combat? Is his armor? His skills are too high? His damage is too high? He has too much health? Or the player is simply too reckless for your weakling guards? Maybe he is just being lucky on all his rolls while you are rolling terribly.

Depending on what the problem is, it can be avoided in a couple of ways. Like, if his armor is the problem, why the guards don't arrest him while he is taking a shower or sleeping in an inn? If his weapon skills or damage is too high, why they don't try to disarm him? If his health is too high, then you need some ranged attackers to reduce the numbers before the guards have a chance against him. If you are rolling bad, then just keep rolling and one time you will get lucky and defeat him.

There is always someone stronger

Keep in mind that there are always characters stronger than your's in the game. The player should be aware of that, and that's probably why he focused so much on combat stats and abilities. But that will not save him when the real Gregor Clegane or the Kingslayer shows up to arrest him (That happened to Ned Stark).

Take a look on the campaign guide for ideas of "champion" npcs. You don't really need to use famous npcs if you don't want to, or don't want to risk them destroying the continuity of the timeline of the series (like killing the Mountain before Tyrion's trial for instance).

There is always someone faster

If brute force does not solve the problem, then speed and stealth might.

No character is immune to an archer firing arrows on top of a tower, even if they carry a shield, some arrows will hit and hurt. A faster character is like Oberyn fighting the Mountain, he uses speed and reach to his advantage, but not only that, he uses the terrain against him, keeping his distance as much as he can while still dealing damage. When in trouble, he will flee and attack later.

There is always someone smarter

A smart opponent will use everything he can to his advantage, and will try to put his enemy on the worst possible scenario. He doesn't need to fight, but if he does, he has the upper hand. Check the combat chapter, see everything that can grant advantages and disvantagens, put your player alone against all odds.

She will also use poison if that helps her, will flank her opponent, fight many against one, fight from range, fight while he can't move, fight while he is unarmoured, fight while he is weaponless, he will wait to attack for when he is tired and starving, after a long rainy journey, and so on. Preferably all of those at the same time.

For instance, have you checked all weapon properties and see how they could be combined against a foe?

A weapon with Entangling causes -1 Movement and -5 on all tests, but you can free yourself spending a Greater Action and an Athletics or Agility (9) check (also with -5). Both whips and nets have that quality, net being close range instead of melee will be safer for your npcs to throw one or two and stay safe and in range to use other weapons. Surely, he can escape the net or whip, but what if there is also someone hitting him with a Maul? Mauls have the Staggering quality, which means that anyone attacking with it can stagger their target if they obtain two margins of success (sacrificing one to trigger the quality) and preventing their target from using a Greater Action on their next turn. That means that someone being mauled cannot possibly scape a net.

If they Grab him, that is another penalty, he cannot move away and takes -5 on his Physical Defense until he beats the grappler, which will help others to apply their tactics against him.

This is the kind of strategy that a smart character can think of and make his guards/peons do against a tough opponent.

There is always someone prettier

A pretty character is one who also doesn't need to fight to win. She isn't afraid of using others to do the job for her, and will use poison and dirty tricks if necessary. If she can, he will outlaw the character. She will starve the character, inn keepers will refuse to let him sleep there, the character will have to sleep on the open, catch diseases. He won't buy food easily and won't find people willing to help him.

This character is like Cercei, playing court tricks, using her influence and seduction to make our character have enemies he didn't even know about. She will humiliate him, and even his companions will find it troublesome to travel with him, because all their problems seems to be caused by him.

Since he focused so much on his combat abilities, his social abilities must be pretty low, so he will have a hard time convincing anyone to help him. He will have to intimidate his way against all his problems, and that never leaves people happy about it.

This is still a game.

Remember that the game isn't about GM versus players. Letting a character shine on what he does best is exactly what is fun for him. Maybe the best option is actually talk to him in person, out of the game, and see if you both can find a middle ground where you both won't spoil the fun of the others. Like, how about a tournament where he can spend all his fighting energy, while the others do social combat in the background?

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Show Them Consequences...

With your group slaughtering a half dozen guards and a knight and not shying away from killing even a lord, not to mention the rest of what you described, your players clearly have very little fear of consequences.

So, show them. Show them that their path of commiting major crimes and killing their way out of whatever fix they're in, can only lead to a life of constant fear, hiding, loneliness and exclusion and an untimely death.

Have them banished and wanted. Let them be hounded by authorities and mercs/bounty hunters, people afraid to deal with them or selling them out; at some point frequent attempts on their lives as well. Show them that if they disrupt society, society will shun them and do whatever it takes to be rid of them.

... But Give Them a Way Out (Maybe)

You don't have to actually kill them eventually, to drive the point home. Show them that their ways will lead to no good for them for some time; especially without someone protecting them.

But then, give them a chance to have that someone. Maybe a neighboring lord who's in a feud with the one who they're in conflict with. He might be interested in hiring them, maybe in secret, IF they swear allegiance and follow his instructions to the letter, including a tempering of their methods.

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Being ludicrously bad-ass might ok.

The existing answers have a lot of good ideas about how to deal with your specific criminal impunity problem.

There's also an underlying meta aspect to your question; the feeling that you must have extremely difficult combat encounters for this player. The desire for challenging combats is often not the core motivation for someone who hyper-specializes a character for combat. In my experience, players who do this often want their character to dominate most combats. They want to dramatically wreck the ever living shit out of their adversaries. Feeling untouchable is part of the point.

This is especially true for systems like this one where combat is less of a core focus than in, say, D&D. Systematically, the point of D&D is to fight monsters and have it be interesting and challenging, so too-easy encounters are a big problem. Not nearly so much here.

That said, your player clearly enjoys combat encounters, so you do need to include combat of some sort for them.

As always, talking to your players is key. Your combat-focused player may have the needs you're worried about, or may be happy in the kind of wreck-everything situation I'm describing. Only way to know is to ask them.

My final note is to make sure your concern with this difficult character and his player doesn't distract you from your other players' needs too much. They all have content preferences as well.

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As a GM, you should not generally allow players to stir trouble in the society without the drawbacks. As players' notoriety grows, so does the bounty on their heads, and this attracts headhunters of growing power. Eventually, if players don't stop making obvious crimes openly, set a whole army or a couple of overpowered vigilantes on them.
Alternatively, if you don't want your party to be defeated by peacekeepers and law enforcers, make them weak enemies, but unleash them at most inappropriate moments, so that they annoy players by breaking their plans. For example, party successfully sneaks up on the sleeping monster they want to defeat and suddenly a shout from the lair entrance: "Halt right there, you criminal scum!". If you are creative with those interferences, players will need to lay low or pay up their bounties before being able to pursue their own quests, and they definitely will not seek more notoriety.

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The problem sounds like it is about the player behavior and the combat system results being something the GM doesn't expect or quite know how to deal with. As others have suggested, it would be worth talking to the players about what kinds of gameplay they want.

I would suggest that as GM, you look at your own expectations about what the game is about, what's allowed to happen, and how you want your game world to operate when things don't go as you expect.

As a very experienced GM and player who mainly likes crunchy tactical combat-focused games, I would suggest a few considerations:

Do you ever consider people fleeing or taking prisoners? It sounds like the other PCs are getting wounded into submission, and the combat PC then kills the rest of the enemy NPCs? It seems more logical, clean, and interesting if every character is concerned enough for their life that they might surrender or flee if death seems near-certain, rather than fighting to the death. So instead, if a group of guards challenges the party, I'd expect it to be more likely that most of the weaker PCs would yield and/or flee, while the others try to fight the combat PC. If the combat PC can beat them, then instead of a slow slaughter to the last man, I would expect other situations, such as:

  • Some of the PCs might flee and get into interesting single situations split from the combat PC.

  • The foes might hold the other PCs at mercy first, forcing the combat PC to choose whether to keep fighting or not, risking the other PCs' lives.

  • The foes would fairly soon realize that soon there would not be enough of them fighting the combat monster so that it would be clear they would likely be defeated, and so they'd run away.

All of which could be more interesting and involving and shorter to play out.

Consider the stories in A Song Of Ice and Fire about the various young villains and would-be tyrants and their various outcomes. There are quite a few horrible murderous outlaw characters in the books, with various examples of how they can turn out. The power dynamics of such are one of the main focuses of the books. How about making them also the power dynamics of your gameplay? My read of the themes is that when one starts using force, one steps into a game with the local forces. So if they murder the mayor in a place where there are forces strong enough to challenge them, they'll face escalating threats. If they murder the mayor someplace where they're actually the strongest, they become the de facto new tyrant or notorious bandit group. It's also possible that people will try to recruit or deceive them or otherwise use them, when they get a reputation for being strong. Or someone might offer only the fighter a cushy subservient role. In other words, the world could adapt to the situation in interesting ways.

Consider how you really feel about the possibility of PC defeat and death. You say all the PCs were taken out but the combat PC, who was down to 1 hp, and that you expect this to keep happening? Unless the combat system is really weird, that sounds to me like you may be unwilling to let PCs actually risk being killed. If so, that can cause its own issues because the risk and danger can become fake and uninteresting, and there becomes no reason for the players to take risks seriously or try more sensible approaches than fighting when they should not. Even if you decide you don't want the consequences to be death, taking unreasonable risks and making sloppy decisions that logically would lead to consequences, should lead to serious consequences of some sort, or else the players may slide into not caring, not trying, and repeating silly annoying decisions.

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A quick solution that fits the genre... the fighter finds that they have ingested a substance that makes them a raving lunatic, and cant discern friend from foe. Turn their weapon against them.

Something I have seen a lot of GMs forget - They control the background AND the story direction. Sometimes the story requires certain things to happen, regardless of the rolling mechanism...

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    \$\begingroup\$ Taking control of a PC away from the player is a Bad GM move. It may solve the immediate problem, but it ruins the fun for that player (and possibly the rest). \$\endgroup\$ – Bobson Mar 12 '17 at 5:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ good point. But still... you could do it... describe the horrific monsters the character is fighting - monsters that arent the actual danger, while the rest of the troupe have to take on the real threat... \$\endgroup\$ – BearDrummer Mar 13 '17 at 16:52

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