RPT#119 – 19 Tips For Gming Powerful Characters
A Brief Word From Johnn
All Powerful Tips
I received a whole bunch of powerful PC tips (thanks!) and wanted to post them all under one issue as I’ve got some cool upcoming guest articles to publish all queued up. I’m also always worried about the newsletter’s length and file size. So, I decided to leave out the Reader’s Tips this week. If this was a horrible idea feel free to write, my Inbox is always open. 🙂
Update: Treasure Ideas Coming At You Next Week
Ryan B. has done a great job of compiling everyone’s treasure ideas, and the whole file, 150+ entries, is being edited as we speak. It should be ready for download in Issue #120. Hope you find it useful!
Johnn Four email@example.com
Forge: Out of Chaos
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- Create A Serious Enemy
A powerful PC should have numerous enemies who want nothing better than to see the character taken down:
- Surviving campaign villains out for revenge.
- Other powerful NPCs looking to eliminate the competition.
- Weaker NPCs wanting to impress others and prove themselves.
- More powerful NPCs seeking to eliminate a future threat.
- NPCs who covet the character’s wealth, possessions, or lands.
However, it’s not enough to simply suit up a foe with magic items or technology, stack their ability scores, and set them against the character. Higher power levels mean more resources for opponents, and that means more fun for the GM!
- What could money buy in your campaign world that foes could use to defeat the PC?
- What allies could opponents make and bring to bear against the PC? Imagine all the PC’s foes joining together in some dark, unholy alliance!
- How could enemies weaken the PC through indirect means?
I predict that for many of you, if you sat down, picked a foe, thought about his resources and the campaign world, and then started outlining a plan from the foe’s point of view for defeating a PC you would end up with more than an encounter, but a whole adventure or even a campaign. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes. I love fiendish plots!
- Create A Long-Term Foe
From: David F.
Create an ever-present villain. This kind of bad guy is one you should start with when your PCs are just beginning. Have him do something totally unforgivable to the PCs, like kill their loved ones, tarnish their reputations, burn their town to ashes, or any combination thereof, to establish a burning hatred of this guy in their hearts. Then have him get stronger as your PCs get stronger, keeping him one step ahead of the heroes, while committing more and more brutal atrocities along the way.
Eventually, the villain will be beaten, but make sure it’s when everyone is at god-like levels and you plan this to be the last session you will use these characters in.
This method requires some planning, but it can be done if you make the villain’s goals far-fetched from the beginning (such as attaining godhood).
- A Player’s Most Fearsome Opponent Is Another PC
Players are often smart and wily, and they know how to use their characters’ powers better than a GM knows how to use his NPCs’ powers (especially when powerful PCs and NPCs are involved because of all the options and rules). That means a great way to challenge powerful PCs is with powerful PCs.
However, most groups don’t want to survive countless adventures just to end up fighting each other at the end until one is left standing. But, you do have some other, crafty choices:
(Please note: you must first ask the player for a complete copy of the character sheet for “record keeping purposes”. 😉
- Solo session. Set aside a couple of hours one day and play the character yourself in several mock combats. Learn the PC’s abilities, think like the player, play like the player, and try to find some weaknesses.
- Ask a friend to play. Have the friend run the PC while you try several ideas out for defeating the character or probe for vulnerabilities in a one-on-one session.
- Ask a friend to GM. You play the character this time while your friend tries to defeat you with monsters and NPCs.
- Run a one-off adventure. Ask some friends over who aren’t in your regular group, give them pre-made NPCs, and assign them the task of taking the PC down. You play the PC as an NPC and can benefit from a whole group focusing on the problem of defeating the character. You take whatever works and turn that into next session’s adventure where the one- off PCs are now your NPCs.
- Create an evil clone. Challenge your regular group by making an evil clone of one of the PCs. Note how the players try to overcome the evil PC and what works and what doesn’t. To improve the test, have the player play the evil clone, if possible.
- Challenge another group and observe. Ask another group to help you by giving the PC over to the GM to play as an NPC adversary, and having a whole different group give you playtested ideas.
- Challenge another group plus the player. Give a different group a briefing of the PC’s known powers and abilities, have a villain hire the players to try and defeat the PC through any means possible, and invite the PC’s player over to play his PC for real. Just make sure there will be no hard feelings at the end of the session, regardless of the outcome, and that you have the player’s permission to count the session as an official game session with the PC.
- Go online. Ask players in chat rooms, on mail lists, and in forums how they’d try to defeat the PC. Run a short PBeM or online game test between sessions if there’s time.
If you feel up to it and have the resources, you can use these ideas to challenge the whole party rather than isolating a single PC. The more players you can focus direct challenges against the better. But, starting with a plot focused around a single character while his friends are there to help is okay too.
- Creating The Kobayashi Maru (Star Trek Lingo) Or The Unbeatable Scenario
From: Dave N.
By creating a situation that cannot be won, you can truly test a player’s skills as to how he weighs his losses and how he compromises. Players, of course, should be unaware of the unbeatable issue.
This type of scenario takes the high power character out of his element. This doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘no win’ scenario though. A GM once posed that our party go out to hunt down a specific NPC (we were unaware that he was a dragon). The task was to bring back a specific (possibly unique) ‘Orb of Dragonkind’.
We encountered the said NPC but soon realized we were over our heads when the antagonist released an earthquake spell that sent the complex crumbling around us and the earth opening beneath. With the room filled with some 100-plus orbs, we had no clue (or time) to judge which was the one we were looking for. We each grabbed one (there were 6 of us) and via Word of Recall (or Teleport spell) managed to barely escape with our lives.
Well we didn’t find the right orb, but we didn’t die either. We were still handsomely rewarded by an individual that was not so particular. Even without success in the original scheme of things, we still managed to save a little face without winning the day. And, as most GMs and players alike know, to always succeed can be pretty dull.
- Turn The Situation Into One Of Roleplay Via Investigation
From: Dave N.
I found by pressing the players to calculate, investigate, and solve problems, it becomes more of a thinking game and not so much the solution at the end of a wand or the out of a bag same old fix. By just using the facts at hand a PC can open up innumerable possibilities. This style will keep both players and GM on their toes because of the omnidirectional options. The GM can bring lots of variables into play and force characters to be creative.
PCs who enjoy investigative styles will revel in the opportunities that come up and it will also remind players that it’s not always the all powerful or the intensely complicated answer that is the best solution.
- Utilize Another Dimension Or Plane (Unknown To The PCs, And Possibly Not Having Them Aware Of It)
From: Dave N.
By sending the players to some place they’ve never been before or are unfamiliar with, they are pressed to make a few guesses (albeit mostly educated). They can’t sit back on their historical laurels. Let a few things go by as they normally would expect and then present matters that don’t resolve themselves as usual. By giving a few things up front as the standard usual situation it also clouds the matter as to when exactly things became different.
Don’t change everything and make a bunch of variations though. Too many changes or oddities alienates players to the point of not relating to them and therefore becoming disinterested due to the difficulty of making a connection. Without a bit of familiarity, players won’t want or care to catch the hook.
- Assign The Most Dangerous Quests And Jobs
From: Strider Starslayer
When a character who has literally seen it all is out looking for work, or looking to triumph over evil, the people seeking their help don’t ask for simple things; they ask for amazing ones, and usually ones that can’t be solved with a sword unless the character has no scruples.
For example, if Rome asks the characters to go out and stop the Huns’ advance they could go out and kill them all, maybe… But Attila can be reasoned with (the Pope did it), and now it will take master warriors/ninjas/mages to walk though the Hun armies in order to meet Attila. But convincing him to stop is far preferable to wiping out an entire race or nation just because you don’t agree with their way of living.
From: Steven O.
A magical portal opens up and starts to spread across the land, sucking in anything it passes. No fighter could quench this foe, nor could any bard charm it. Only the greatest wizards in the land can band together to stop it, but they all despise each other. Now you have the PCs on a race against time, against power, and perhaps even against themselves (imagine a PC wizard who refuses to help their opposing faction!).
- Don’t Make Opponents Suicidally Brave
From: Strider Starslayer
If the characters are seemingly invincible most enemies are going to run rather then fight to the death. This can make things awkward if the character was attempting to stop the group/individual who’s now run/teleported away; and the game will probably be more interesting, focusing on the chase now rather then the fight.
- Create Foes That Are A Roleplaying Challenge
From: Strider Starslayer
If a leader falls, someone will always be there to take their place. Foes that cannot be defeated by combat make good roleplaying challenges.
For example, if the orcs are attacking a nearby village and you kill as many as you can before they run, only to watch them grow in size and then attack the village again, you have accomplished nothing. But, if you can meet with the orc leader and convince him to set up a town and establish trade with the village rather than looting it, not only have you protected the village, but you now have a village of orcs who like you too.
From: Richard C.
- Powerful characters will become well known in their area and they might get stalkers, fan clubs, pilgrims, and hate mail just like modern day celebrities. What will that arch- mage do to the wanna-be apprentice who just refuses to leave him alone?
- And, like modern day lottery winners, perhaps PCs will have distant relatives show up wanting their share of the glory, money, and fame for their services of changing the PC’s diapers when he was a kid…
- Everything the PCs do will be watched. Everything. They might have a wing of 30 MI5/CIA officers on their tail constantly…
- Problems aren’t just in battle. Have their wives or girlfriends leave them because they’re never at home.
- Don’t Threaten The Invincible Guy, Threaten His Friends
From: Strider Starslayer
If foes are out of the PCs’ league they can still strike at the characters’ not so invulnerable friends, children, the shoe shine boy, local merchants who sell to them, and so on. Doing this can make the characters angry and sloppy. Plus, they can’t be everywhere, so it shows them that they can’t just leave a string of enemies who can’t hurt them out there. They either have to make peace or eliminate them (and that means finding them, which is a more of a mental challenge than physical).
- Don’t Play Down Their Power
From: Strider Starslayer
Let the powerful characters have their days. Mention how armies run from them, how the 6 thieves stab wildly but the PC’s superior skill not only blocks every blade, but neatly removes their belt buckles causing the rogues’ pants to fall down around their ankles.
Avoid just making sessions into ‘the same game you always play, but with bigger monsters to match your bigger powers’. Have townsfolk stare in awe or cower in fear. Have people seek out the characters for training, advice, blessings, or what not.
- Whom Do Gods Worship?
From: Aki H.
If the PCs become strong enough, they may realize that the strongest gods of the realm are not the most supreme beings.
Mostly, the powers behind the gods ignore the mortal worlds (they have gods to look out for their interests there after all) but should a mortal attain literally godlike power… well, that’s news, and that kind of news is the start of a new story.
Are gods content with a new contender? Does some entity beyond the gods consider the PCs a suitable tool to make a power play in the pantheon? Do some welcome the PCs to the next level? Are the PCs taken out of the universe to be studied? Does a divine system admin consider the existence of PCs a glitch in the system, and adjust reality accordingly, maybe even consider rebooting the universe? Welcome to the majors, guys. 😉
- How Valuable Is Your Time?
From: Aki H.
Omnipotent heroes, eh? Well that’s nice. Perhaps the heroes could consider helping the cat out of the tree, looking for the child who got lost in the woods, restoring health, limb and life? After all, it should be no bother for great people such as them.
And that’s the problem. The dilemmas faced by other people are trivial to the PCs, yet they are time-consuming. Will the characters spend their time helping others because they so easily can, or ignore the problems of others because there is no challenge for them in what is a matter of life and death to someone else? Triumph against the strongest…but defeated by the trivial?
- Strength As Weakness
From: Aki H.
Are the characters happy with the choices they’ve made over the years? What have they *not* done? When have they chosen the lesser evil (or greater evil!) to attain their goals? Consider the path they have chosen not to walk, and use that as the basis of a story.
- Knowledge Is Power
From: Aki H.
Make sure that powerful PCs have detailed character sheets and not just the numbers. A biography, social network, personality description, dreams and wants, fears and hates…the works.
Truly knowing the PCs as well or better than you know most real-life people really adds to stories. Especially when they are strong.
- The PCs Are The Story
From: Aki H.
Events focus around power. The weaker the PCs the more they go after power, whether present (a war), future (to prevent an orc raid), or past (tomb raiding). The stronger they are, the more power comes after them – whether past (vendettas), present (requests, power plays) or future (pre-emptive strikes, intrigue).
From: Aki H.
Consider having the PCs settle down and focus the story on their legacy. How will they deal with the idea that their children want to go after orcs too? How will their name live on in a nation they’ve formed, or a business? What stories touch, involve, and start with the inn that the PCs founded in the goblins’ lair they cleared? What long-term repercussions will the earlier actions of the PCs have? In all these, stories can be played out – the powerful characters are still in the picture, though the current adventures are played with lesser mortals.
- Power Loss
A common comic book plot is when the super heroes lose their powers. This can be a strange phenomenon or a clever attack strategy. In the comics, the heroes try to understand how they lost their power and quest for a way to regain them. So, in short, attack their powers (as opposed to their weak point).
- Heavy storm hampering all communications and sensors
- Dead-magic zones, anti-magic cloud
- Nullifying devices, artifacts
- Specific spells, potions, curses, countermeasures
- Psychic dampeners
- 7 More Short Tips
- A powerful Character has to have somewhere to keep his stuff. A large castle guarded by a fierce dragon and some traps perhaps? Isn’t that what groups of lesser power are raiding all of the time…?
- Sure they destroyed the army of undead, but now there’s a power vacuum that needs filling. That could turn into a full time job…
- Politics. A powerful PC vanquishes an army of undead single-handedly. Well done. But what will the local noble think? He will probably think that this guy is too powerful to have anywhere near his turf. So the PC gets showered with titles and gifts, and is then appointed consul or ambassador to some other country…
- If the characters have an ability or an item that is extremely dangerous to the enemy, then consider having the enemy research this and get a countering magic item. For example, a wizard renown for killing enemies with a flurry of fireballs means that every intelligent villain in the area is looking for fire resistance.
- The power of numbers and chance. Hoards of goblins might do a little damage to a powerful PC because of dice rolls and odds, but think of how else you could put those odds to work. Consider disarming the PC of his most beloved weapon, or picking his pockets, or making only called shots. Given enough cannon fodder and an overconfident PC, you will eventually succeed.
- Create multiple threats. In the defense of a kingdom, three fronts is much more difficult than one large war. Attack a powerful character from many sides and types of problems at once.
- The enemy you don’t want to kill. Say a mage mind- controlled your loving brother and made him into a gruesome warlord, would you still kill him? This has a ton of great uses.