What do you do if one PC is obviously overpowered when compared to the rest of the party?
Let’s look at some reasons why this can happen, and what to do about it.
Origins of the Uber-PC
Based on my experience, these are the three most common reasons why one PC will be significantly better than the rest:
- The character was created by a skilled player who is accustomed to squeezing the most out of the rules.
- A broken rule or combination of rules are involved (they probably seemed okay at first).
- The PC isn’t really that powerful — it’s just that the other players didn’t build optimized characters.
What to Do
First, figure out if it’s a problem. My favorite character ever (a mortal in a Mage: The Ascension chronicle) was underpowered compared to the rest of the party. Sometimes this just isn’t an issue, and it largely depends on the style of the game.
Talk to the player of the uber-PC. If it’s clear that one character’s abilities are making the game less fun for the other players, start by bringing that up with the player of that PC. By default I’d do this in private, but in some groups sharing the discussion would be just fine.
Dial things back a bit. Try to identify why the PC in question is overshadowing the party, and reduce their abilities slightly in that area. Handle this with kid gloves — the goal isn’t to penalize the player (who may have put a lot of work into maximizing their PC), but to make the game more fun for everyone. Make sure to explain what you’re doing and why, and do it around the table with your whole group present.
Alternately, amp everyone else up. If all of your players are interested in having some sort of parity with the uber-PC, bring them up to that character’s power level. This is tricky because it can involve twiddling with lots of rules, which may create other problems — and the overall power level of your game will change, which requires some adjustments on your side of the screen.
There are other approaches, but this one presents a solid baseline — particularly for RPGs like D&D, where problems like this one are most likely to arise.
How have you handled this situation in the past? Are there any glaring flaws in this approach?
You can also respond by shifting the focus of adventures. If your Uber-PC is great at combat, but the rest of the party’s good at negotiations, throw in a few foes too tough to fight… but willing to negotiate. (Perfect for your party of bards.)
If the Uber character’s a master of horse, have a fight in a bell tower. Don’t do this just to annoy the skilled player, but as the core component of sharing the spotlight among the PCs.
If the Uber character is better at the same role than other characters aiming for the same niche, it’s definitely time for discussion.
You missed the most obvious answer: kill him! ;P
No, no, no! Don’t kill him.
Kill him and take his stuff.
okay, but what if they’re the unkillable jedi knight wu of the sanjiyan wizard PC? is it fair to kill the innocent wizard to take out the uber-PC? what about dropping the statue of humanity on them?
I have a similar situation with a monk in my game. I originally wanted a low magic game, and monks shine in such a setting, especially this one. I solved it by basically talking with the player about it to increase his level of RP due to his alignment, and then raising the level of magic in the campaign. Now everyone’s on a more-equal footing, and I can throw big nasty critters their way with reckless abandon. Win-win.
“My God, it’s full of bards!”
Sometimes it is very hard to get a good balance between characters. I’ve got one player who always builds a highly skilled character with multiple areas of non combat focus, and then complains when he gets into combat. I’ve also had the uber combat fighter who jumps in and steals kills before anyone else gets to go.
Retconning is a good idea for these types of situations. See if the character will switch out a power that is overbalancing for something that helps them in another factor of the game. I can’t say I like to change the rules on the fly, but I like to allow “out of class” stuff to make up for it. If a character is underpowered combat wise and finds their speaking skills use, well useless, then I let them trade it in for something better in combat.
The approaches for solving the problem of course, hinge on WHY the problem exits. If your player is an attention hog, almost NO solution will work aside from talking to them out of game about helping make the game fun for everyone.
A min-maxing machine, or a group doesn’t give a rat’s ass about building efficient characters, can be fixed by a patch up solution (bringing down or up power levels respectively, but unfortunately unless you change the way people build characters, it’s just going to continue re-asserting itself.
Don’t kill Him
1. Curse him
If he is overpowering at X then a few -X to A, B and C all with flavor appropriate to the encounter can help blance out the game and give the character some flavor.
2. Kill the gear.
50% of a character’s power is his gear, there are hosts of monsters from disenchanters to living disjunctions
I agree with ScottM, but in a slightly different way.
Usually, minimaxed characters are only good at one thing (combat, diplomacy, sneakiness, etc.), and abysmal at anything outside of their specialty. In this case, you simply have to change the focus of some of the encounters, preferably to something that another character shines in.
If the problem is with a combat-oriented character, put the party in a few situations where diplomacy or sneakiness is the best way to deal with it. Stealthy backstabber? Throw a puzzle or genuine Agatha Christie mystery at them and watch the party try to think their way through it. Used car salesman that could sell ice to an Eskimo? Enter the thug who manages to take offence at anything and everything, but needs to be beaten down by the party tank.
As ScottM said, “Donâ€™t do this just to annoy the skilled player, but as the core component of sharing the spotlight among the PCs.” Care has to be taken when tailoring encounters, so that one player doesn’t think that their character is being targeted unfairly. After all, they did build their character for a specific purpose (and hopefully to have fun with it), and everyone should get a little time in the spotlight, even if it’s just to crush some heads or convince the local fence to give them an extra 10% for the loot they just brought in.
Another way of handling the issue is by having the character’s actions affect how people react to them in-game. If the character regularly throws dirt in the opposition’s eye to get bonuses for fighting a blinded opponent, let it work for a while. Eventually, people in the game world will figure it out and take precautions against it. People may react poorly to the character, seeing them as untrustworthy because they’re “fighting dirty” (because only bad guys don’t fight fairly, right?).
If that doesn’t work, I’d recommend buffing the other characters with gear (not money) to bring the rest of the party up to the minimaxed character’s level. After all, it’s harder for a tank to argue for a share of an arcane spellbook than it is for them to say they deserve an equal cut of whatever the party sells the fabulous Tiara of Katmandu for.
I like increasing everyone’s power up to a balanced level rather than stripping one person’s power down to a balanced level. If you actively take a character’s abilities away, it may make the game less fun for them, especially if they’re the type of player who enjoys minimaxing the rules more than anything else about the game. If you take away an ability or change the rules, these players may suddenly start thinking of their character as “worthless” and become less interested in the game.
Beign too powerful is a problem only when it either makes character dance through challanges given to the group or when he hogs all the spotlight.
I disagree about tuning the characters stats. Lowering them is obviously not cool for the player involved nor is raising stats for others. He did work for this and others didn’t so why are they given something for free?
Same goes for suddenly having different kinds of plots than what the character is optimized for. Little bit is ok, but anything more is not. Someone just went to trouble of building a good set of stats and can’t get mileage of them. Frustrating.
You need to make sure everyone rocks. Including the minmaxer.
You can to split the party: Someone has to hold back the huge demon while rest of the party climbs the tower to slay the wizard before the moon rises.
Or the plot way: Yes, he is very powerful, but unlike the bard he just ain’t The Son of The Troubled Mountain King.
Or the tried and true social way: “Shut up! It is not your turn!”
Most of the time, a minmaxer (formerly “munchkin”?) makes a character that is optimized for the type of game the GM is running. If the main conflict is going to be investigation, he makes Sherlock Holmes. If the main conflict in the game is going to be breakdancing, he makes the Boogaloo Shrimp. If you’re playing 99% of all RPGs, he makes either a great fighter or a powerful mage, whichever has the best killpower in the setting. Changing the types of things that happen in the game is rarely possible. Let’s face it, most game sessions focus around combat, and sometimes a whole campaign focuses on preparing for a single battle.
Often the guy who’s good at munchkinizing –sorry, minmaxing– is a good problem solver. You put in a puzzle, he can solve it. You put in negotiation, he can figure out what the best carrot/stick ratio is.
You left out option D: “change systems.”
There are certain systems where this is more likely to arise; you’ve acknowledged that. But look what your three causes have in common — in each case, the “problem” player was able to better utilize the rules than the others. There’s a simple explanation for this common thread: the fact that in the games in which this is most likely to occur, the system itself rewards system mastery.
System mastery, in the words of Monte Cook, woks like this: “…the game just gives the rules, and players figure out the ins and outs for themselves — players are rewarded for achieving mastery of the rules and making good choices rather than poor ones.” So in D&D, it pays to know to take Druid and not Fighter. And DEFINITELY not Vigilante.
(Yes, I realize it’s more complicated than that. It’s an example, so sue me.)
The end result is that, if you have one player who knows the ins and outs better than the others, you’ll have to change systems to remove that advantage. Whether or not it SHOULD be removed is another issue entirely — but let’s not open THAT can of worms.
(Telas) â€œMy God, itâ€™s full of bards!â€
This is sooooo much better than my title! Well played, Mr. Telas. Well played. 😉
Changing systems and altering the encounter mix (to favor other approaches) both make a lot of sense.
Changing systems is a big step, though — I’d still argue that trying to work within the system of the moment is a better starting point.
Altering the encounter mix actually sounds like a better step two than talking to the uber-PC’s player, now that I think about it.