D&D 5E Challenging a tanky one-trick pony PC

pukunui

Legend
Hi all,

I am running Dungeon of the Mad Mage for one of my groups. The PCs are pretty close to hitting level 13, and one of my players has found an annoyingly effective combination of class features and combat tactics that make his PC something of an unkillable one-trick pony who makes fights too easy more often than not. The other players all love how effective his PC is at making fights easier, of course, so I'm looking for some ways to shake things up so he can't always rely on the same tactic.

The PC in question is a dwarf forge cleric 7 / watcher paladin 4 / storm sorcerer 1. He has an AC of 23 thanks to his plate armor, shield, cloak of protection and class features, and what he likes to do is wade into melee next to the fighter and the barbarian, cast spirit guardians, then dodge to impose disadvantage on anyone trying to attack him to disrupt the spell. He also has the Protection fighting style, so once per round he can reduce incoming damage to one of the other PCs standing next to him. If he doesn't use that, he also has the option of casting either shield or absorb elements to further protect himself (and lessen the likelihood of losing spirit guardians).

One way I could deal with this is have the group face more enemies who can cast dispel magic. Another way might be to use the same tactics against the PCs and see how they like a taste of their own medicine. Has anyone got any other ideas?

Again, I'm not looking to punish my players or take away their cool toys. I'm just looking for ways to shake them out of their habits and get a little more variety into the way they approach combats in the dungeon.

In case it matters, the other PCs are a human evoker 12, a dwarf berserker 12, a half-orc samurai 12, and a half-elf swashbuckler 7 / hexblade 5 (who likes to use the other annoyingly effective darkness + Devil's Sight combo).

Your thoughts would be most appreciated.


EDIT: I forgot to mention previously that the PC also has the Lucky feat, so even if I do manage to roll well enough to get through the disadvantage and the high AC, three times per day at least he can just force me to reroll (which generally means I'll miss).

On top of that, the PCs have just leveled up to 13, and I see that the player has finally taken War Caster, so now the PC has advantage on his Con saves to maintain spell concentration on top of everything else. Sigh ...


EDIT 2: The forge cleric's player couldn't make it to a few sessions. I ruled that Halaster had snatched him away to give the monsters on the level the group was exploring more of a fighting chance. When the player returned, his PC only remembered dreaming of weird spider-like crystalline creatures and strange purplish lozenges. Now, every time he uses his one-trick pony tactic, Halaster is going to teleport in a mage hunter or two (with the Mage Slayer feat) from the Strixhaven book. We'll see how he likes that!
 
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aco175

Legend
I find it frustrating with certain builds or gimmicks that players choose or use repeatedly. Some you can just let the player have the win or you can talk to him about 'gamming' the system and making the fights too easy. You could be more aversive and have the bad guys all run away until the spell wears off and then 3 encounters worth of monsters come out to fight. You could have random dispel effects strike from the dungeon saying that repeated use of spells angers Hallaster or such.

You could always introduce them to this and disintegrate them or teleport them minus their stuff to the entrance of the dungeon. 1e did have ways of dealing with problems.
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Clint_L

Hero
Beholders with minions are excellent enemies for one-trick pony players, and they will have more fun when they have to think outside of the box and problem solve for real. And there are tons of other creatures that can really screw with a party that is overly reliant on tank'n'spank tactics.

Also, use the environment to make the fights more interesting. Make it difficult for him to just wade into the battle beside the tanks. It kind of sounds like you (or the pre-published adventure) are throwing similar challenges at them, and they've cracked the code.

And play the monsters like they are intelligent and good at fighting (assuming they are those things). As DM, it is your job to try to win while playing the enemies as realistically as possible, which generally means trying to use their own tactics once they see what the party is doing.

Edit: or yeah, there's the "Tomb of Horrors" option if you want to go nuclear on them.
 
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Your group seems very melee focused. A group of skirmishing ranged enemies who retreat rather than engage in melee might be a challenge for them. A couple of archer rangers and/or druids who can cast Spike Growth would be an interesting option, because Spike Growth ignores AC and elemental resistance.

Also, how is a forge cleric casting Shield?
 

pukunui

Legend
Your group seems very melee focused. A group of skirmishing ranged enemies who retreat rather than engage in melee might be a challenge for them. A couple of archer rangers and/or druids who can cast Spike Growth would be an interesting option, because Spike Growth ignores AC and elemental resistance.
Oh yes, spike growth is painful! That could be a fun one.

Also, how is a forge cleric casting Shield?
It's that one level of sorcerer ... which he took for in-game reasons (the one time I did manage to take his PC down was through multiple lightning bolt spells, so he reasoned that his PC had become magically charged up in response, hence the choice of storm sorcerer). I did point out to him that without the War Caster feat, he has to have a free hand to cast shield and absorb elements, since they have somatic components but not material ones. A small win, as his PC no longer carries a weapon ... not that he was ever any good at hitting anything with his mace anyway. Toll the dead is much more painful.

I should add that the player also took the Dungeon Delver feat so that he could automatically discover all the secret doors (and have resistance to damage from all traps - and because it's a mega-dungeon, everything must be a trap, right? Sigh ...). I did point out that his PC could only auto-detect the doors if he was carrying a light source, since relying on darkvision meant that he'd have disadvantage on sight-based Perception checks, which would negate the advantage from the feat. Another small win on my part.

I find it frustrating with certain builds or gimmicks that players choose or use repeatedly. Some you can just let the player have the win or you can talk to him about 'gamming' the system and making the fights too easy. You could be more aversive and have the bad guys all run away until the spell wears off and then 3 encounters worth of monsters come out to fight. You could have random dispel effects strike from the dungeon saying that repeated use of spells angers Hallaster or such.
I'm trying to be good-natured about it because I like the player. He doesn't normally play such annoyingly effective characters. He just happens to have found a combo that works ridiculously well in this particular adventure.

I do already sometimes have the bad guys withdraw but it doesn't always work. He's got loads of spell slots that he barely uses on anything else, so running out the clock on spirit guardians isn't always an effective tactic.

I could have Halaster randomly drop a dead magic or wild magic zone on the PC. That could be fun, and I have been trying to make the players / PCs more annoyed with Halaster lately.

You could always introduce them to this and disintegrate them or teleport them minus their stuff to the entrance of the dungeon. 1e did have ways of dealing with problems.
That's exactly the sort of thing I don't want to do.

Beholders with minions are excellent enemies for one-trick pony players, and they will have more fun when they have to think outside of the box and problem solve for real. And there are tons of other creatures that can really screw with a party that is overly reliant on tank'n'spank tactics.
Hmm. Yes. Beholders are quite fun, and they are now at a level where they can face off against one (or two). There's even an undead beholder on one of the lower levels of Undermountain. (It even made the cover of the book!)

Also, use the environment to make the fights more interesting. Make it difficult for him to just wade into the battle beside the tanks. It kind of sounds like you (or the pre-published adventure) are throwing similar challenges at them, and they've cracked the code.
I do try, but yeah, I'm somewhat limited by the pre-existing maps of the dungeon. Sometimes the environment isn't all that interesting.

And play the monsters like they are intelligent and good at fighting (assuming they are those things). As DM, it is your job to try to win while playing the enemies as realistically as possible, which generally means trying to use their own tactics once they see what the party is doing.
Believe me, I do! This is actually the second party in this campaign after the first one wiped fighting some drow on level 3.

Just use a bigger map, I'd say.
A lot of these Undermountain maps are a bit too big already (and the 5e ones are generally a fraction of the size of the originals!). LOL.

Give them multiple objectives across a larger area so he can't cover everyone and has to make choices.

Edit: Or yeah, do exactly the thing you said you didn't want to do and punish them with cheapness.
Yeah nah. Multiple objectives are good. I'll do that when I can.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Making it so players can't use their go-to tactic without working for it generally requires terrain and monsters plus monster tactics that drive that outcome. Given you're running a module, it might be a little difficult to make those sorts of changes easily.

The tactic of the cleric relies in part on positioning and the ability to move and see the enemy. Therefore, any terrain that slows them down (easy - difficult terrain), does not allow them to easily or cheaply get near allies (narrow places or danger in grouping up), as well as terrain that grapples or restrains thereby preventing Dodge will throw a wrench into their tactics. Invisible monsters also circumvent dodge. Multiattacking ranged monsters can force multiple Concentration checks outside the area of effect of the spirit guardians.
 

pukunui

Legend
Making it so players can't use their go-to tactic without working for it generally requires terrain and monsters plus monster tactics that drive that outcome. Given you're running a module, it might be a little difficult to make those sorts of changes easily.
Luckily for me, Dungeon of the Mad Mage is dungeon delving at its old school finest with lots of empty rooms and no real plot. I can easily drop in new monsters (or swap out existing ones), and I can use my mad skillz with Photoshop to modify the map as needed.

The tactic of the cleric relies in part on positioning and the ability to move and see the enemy. Therefore, any terrain that slows them down (easy - difficult terrain), does not allow them to easily or cheaply get near allies (narrow places or danger in grouping up), as well as terrain that grapples or restrains thereby preventing Dodge will throw a wrench into their tactics. Invisible monsters also circumvent dodge. Multiattacking ranged monsters can force multiple Concentration checks outside the area of effect of the spirit guardians.
Good advice. Thanks.

Now that we're getting down into the lower levels of the dungeon / higher PC levels, things are starting to get more interesting in terms of terrain and monster variety. (As an aside, I've been pleasantly surprised at how well the PCs' level has stayed in line with the dungeon levels. They're very close to hitting character level 13, and they've just started exploring dungeon level 13.)

Next time they cross paths with their primary rival, Rex the Hammer, he'll have a spirit guardians-toting cleric in tow, too. That's for sure! ;)
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Im not seeing any issue with the player himself, hes found an effective style that helpsvthe team so kudos to him.

As for DM side, more dispell effects, bigger dynamic maps to break up the party, and some entanglement should helpnand does Un/Hallow ground affect spirit guardians?

Beholders with minions sounds cool
 
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pukunui

Legend
Im not seeing any issue with the player himself, hes found an effective style that helpsvthe team so kudos to him.
Yeah, I'm not saying the player has done anything wrong. That's why I don't want to do anything that seems like I'm trying to punish him. It's just that his favored tactic is a) getting annoyingly repetitive and b) making things a little too easy.

As for DM side, more dispell effects, bigger dynamic maps to break up the party, and some entanglement should helpnand does Un/Hallow ground affect spirit guardiands?

Beholders with minions sounds cool
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ECMO3

Hero
Hi all,

I am running Dungeon of the Mad Mage for one of my groups. The PCs are pretty close to hitting level 13, and one of my players has found an annoyingly effective combination of class features and combat tactics that make his PC something of an unkillable one-trick pony who makes fights too easy more often than not. The other players all love how effective his PC is at making fights easier, of course, so I'm looking for some ways to shake things up so he can't always rely on the same tactic.

The PC in question is a dwarf forge cleric 7 / watcher paladin 4 / storm sorcerer 1. He has an AC of 23 thanks to his plate armor, shield, cloak of protection and class features, and what he likes to do is wade into melee next to the fighter and the barbarian, cast spirit guardians, then dodge to impose disadvantage on anyone trying to attack him to disrupt the spell. He also has the Protection fighting style, so once per round he can reduce incoming damage to one of the other PCs standing next to him. If he doesn't use that, he also has the option of casting either shield or absorb elements to further protect himself (and lessen the likelihood of losing spirit guardians).

One way I could deal with this is have the group face more enemies who can cast dispel magic. Another way might be to use the same tactics against the PCs and see how they like a taste of their own medicine. Has anyone got any other ideas?

Again, I'm not looking to punish my players or take away their cool toys. I'm just looking for ways to shake them out of their habits and get a little more variety into the way they approach combats in the dungeon.

In case it matters, the other PCs are a human evoker 12, a dwarf berserker 12, a half-orc samurai 12, and a half-elf swashbuckler 7 / hexblade 5 (who likes to use the other annoyingly effective darkness + Devil's Sight combo).

Your thoughts would be most appreciated.

I see nothing wrong with that build. SG damage is not that great if all he is doing is dodging IMO. I love builds that combine synergies like these and play against stereotypes. I went with a weaponless Dwarf Order Cleric10/Enchantment Wizard4 in plate with an 8 str and 8 dex (Dwarf so no movement penalty). It was a pretty awesome build, great AC, at will Hypnotic Gaze, Casting Enchantment spells as a bonus action due to order cleric.


A few comments and recommendations for countering:

1. He can't Dodge on the turn he casts spirit guardians, wail on him to break concentration THAT round. Take AOOs to run across the battlefield and make it happen.

2. Pay attention to the Rogues darkness and remember darkness will almost always cancel the disadvantage from dodge. If EITHER the Paladin or the guy attacking the Paladin are in darkness the attack must be straight up with no advantage and no disadvantage. If the Paladin is in darkness then he is blinded and this gives attacks against him advantage which cancels disadvantage from dodge. If his attacker is in darkness then that attacker has advantage against the Paladin because he is unseen and again this cancels the disadvantage from dodge. Also note that once you have a single case of advantage and disadvantage the roll is straight up, stacking more disadvantages does not turn it back to disadvantage. So a monster who is blinded (disadvantage), poisoned (disadvantage), frightened (disadvantage), attacking a dodging enemy (disadvantage) at long range (disadvantage), from inside darkness (unseen attacker-advantage), would still make the roll normal with no advantage or disadvantage.

3. Remember Spirit guardians hurts allies too. When he casts spirit guardians he can designate "a number of targets he can see" that it does not effect, but he needs to both SEE them and DESIGNATE them WHEN he casts the spell. Make him say who it is not affecting when he casts it. So if the Rogue is hiding, guess what he can't be seen and excluded, also anyone inside the Rogue's darkness also can't be seen and excluded. If he beat the Barbarian in initiative and the Barbarian is around the corner he can't see him to exclude him. If the Wizard summons some allies after the SG is cast, guess what they were not excluded when he cast it. If he just forgets to about the Wizard's familiar then it is dead as soon as it enters SG. God forbid the C/P/S himself is inside the Rogue's darkness when he casts it; then under a strict RAW it even effects him!

4. Don't forget concentration saves, make sure he rolls every one.

5. Grappling and shoving can be good at countering SG. The action economy favors the monsters because you can use an attack to grapple or shove but you need to use an entire action to break a grapple. Shove prone then grapple and he is in a world of hurt, he is prone and can't stand up. Being prone means disadvantage is canceled for enemies within 5 feet. He needs to use a whole action to try to break it and needs to use half move just to stand if successful at breaking the grapple. If he breaks the grapple he is not dodging that round .... so put him down again and now monsters within 5 feet have advantage. Finally you can drag him across the battlefield and put him where you want him so he is not affecting as many bad guys

Alternatively if there is someone he did not designate for one of the reasons above, grapple that person and drag them into it (possibly doing double damage since they would take damage moving in off turn and at the start of their turn).

5. Affect his movement with things like caltrops or difficult terrain.

6. He only has 3 3rd level slots, so if he is doing this every fight he is burning some high level spells.

7. Frightened condition. If your monsters can do this use it. It prevents him from moving towards you.
 
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pukunui

Legend
I see nothing wrong with that build. SG damage is not that great if all he is doing is dodging IMO. I love builds that combine synergies like these.
No, there's really nothing wrong with it. I've just been finding it annoying for the reasons stated above.

A few comments and recommendations for countering:

1. He can't Dodge on the turn he casts spirit guardians, wail on him to break concentration THAT turn. Take AOOs to do that and make it happen.
True that.

2. Remember Spirit guardians hurts allies too. When he casts spirit guardians he can designate "a number of targets he can see" that it does not effect, but he needs to both SEE them and DESIGNATE them when he casts the spell. Make him say who it is not affecting when he casts it. So if the Rogue is hiding, guess what he can't be seen and excluded, also anyone in the Rogue's darkness can't be seen and excluded. If he beat the Barbarian in initiative and the Barbarian is around the corner he can't see him. If the Wizard summons some allies after the spell is cast, guess what they were not excluded when he cast it. IF he just forgets to designate the Wizard's familiar then it is dead as soon as it enters SG. God forbid the C/P/S himself is inside the Rogue's darkness when he casts it; then under a strict RAW it even effects him!
Yep. They're pretty good about paying attention to those sorts of details.

3. Don't forget concentration saves, make sure he rolls every one.
I do.

4. Grappling and shoving can be good at countering SG. The action economy favors the monsters advantage because you can use an attack to grapple or shove but you need to use an entire action to break a grapple. Shove prone then grapple and he is in a world of hurt, he is prone and can't stand up. He needs to use a whole action to try to break it and needs to use half move just to stand if successful at breaking the grapple. On top of that for monsters within 5 feet it cancels the disadvantage from dodge. Finally you can drag him across the battlefield and put him where you want him so he is not affecting as many bad guys
The issue here is that the monster has to cross 15 feet of difficult terrain that also deals damage in order to get to him (unless they can also teleport). And usually the dwarf barbarian and/or the half-orc fighter are standing next to him. Probably not the most effective tactic.

Alternatively if there is someone he did not designate for one of the reasons above, grapple that person and drag them into it (possibly doing double damage since they would take damage moving in off turn and at the start of their turn).
Would a reasonably intelligent monster know that this might work? I'm not sure.

6. He only has 3 3rd level slots, so if he is doing this every fight he is burning some high level spells.
He's also got three 4th level slots and two 5th level slots, thanks to the wonders of multiclassing.

7. Frightened condition. If your monsters can do this use it. It prevents him from moving towards you.
He's got a +7 on his Wisdom saves. If a monster has a fear ability, it will certainly try and use it on him, but he's likely to make his save. (Meanwhile, the berserker is immune to fear while in a rage.)

Even banishment isn't that great a tactic since he has a +6 on his Charisma saves.

EDIT: An enemy with the Mage Hunter feat and a bonus action teleport might work, though!
 
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ECMO3

Hero
The issue here is that the monster has to cross 15 feet of difficult terrain that also deals damage in order to get to him (unless they can also teleport). And usually the dwarf barbarian and/or the half-orc fighter are standing next to him. Probably not the most effective tactic.

The Barbarian is going to need to get close to be effective and he is going to need to be within 5 feet of that to use protection. Let them come to you, then grapple/shove him (potentially doing it as ready actions with 2 enemies).

Would a reasonably intelligent monster know that this might work? I'm not sure.

Remember DOMM is a dungeon created and managed by an Arch Wizard. If he is going around doing this 7 times a day, then yes they are ALL going to know. There is a pretty good argument that even beasts with an intelligence of 2 have been trained/conditioned/enspelled by Halister to do this in response to the players antics.
 
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Hope you saw the answer here:
Errata: October 2016 | Sage Advice | Dungeons & Dragons. Search for "moonbeam". The section also lists Spirit Guardians as following the same rules.

In short you can't cast the spell ON foes to damage them, you have to wait until they enter the spells area...on the second round the spell is active.

Otherwise:

1.More foes. This is easy. Roughly you can double the foes. Add in extra monsters, like orcs with wolves. But also orcs with a xorn. The best is something like 15 orcs, of all different types and CRs. Of course, a single big foe also works....

2.Don't shy away from creatures with...immunity to radiant/necrotic damage, good saves, or healing abilities....or any other such things. At near 13th level they SHOULD be encountering such monsters. Intelligent foes will have magic items and spells vs this type of effect. Things that add to Will saves or give advantage, for example.

3.Drag out time some more. Any spell has a limited number of uses. Let them cast the spell....then run out the duration before the next fight. Repeat. Don't have three combat encounters in 10 minutes. Remember characters should be active some 16 hours a day, and might have a combat encounter at any time.
 

The PC in question is a dwarf forge cleric 7 / watcher paladin 4 / storm sorcerer 1. He has an AC of 23 thanks to his plate armor, shield, cloak of protection and class features, and what he likes to do is wade into melee next to the fighter and the barbarian, cast spirit guardians, then dodge to impose disadvantage on anyone trying to attack him to disrupt the spell. He also has the Protection fighting style, so once per round he can reduce incoming damage to one of the other PCs standing next to him. If he doesn't use that, he also has the option of casting either shield or absorb elements to further protect himself (and lessen the likelihood of losing spirit guardians).

AoE's. From spells to Breath weapons, many critters have access to them.

Also save or suck spells. I assure you his Int and Dex saves are crud (he needs Str, Cha and Wisdom of 13+ to qualify for that MC, definitely did not dump Con, and only has 2 x ASI).

I wouldn't be surprised if his Int and Dex saves were not +0 (accounting for the cloak).

A Mind Flayer (Psychic blast, Stun) would be hilarious against him. 4 of them vs a 13th level Party is only a Hard Encounter.

Remember he needs a hand free to cast shield. It lacks M components so it cant be cast with a 'Shield bearing a holy symbol' in one hand, and a weapon in the other (without warcaster of course).
 

RainOnTheSun

Explorer
I'm with the people saying ranged attacks and difficult terrain. If they've just about won as soon as they get into melee, then getting into melee is the part they have to solve to win the fight. And at the same time it's probably good to give them big melee fights sometimes, so they can feel good about their characters and what they can do when someone plays to their strengths.
 

In short you can't cast the spell ON foes to damage them, you have to wait until they enter the spells area...on the second round the spell is active.

Not technically correct.

They take damage at the start of their turns. Not straight away, but there is no escape for them if you catch them in the area (barring someone pushing them out before their turn starts of course).
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Dispel magic is your best bet. NPC spellcasters with level 3 spells start at CR 2.

So 4 of them are an easy fight but just stock them up with a stupid amount of damage. 32d6 overload them.

No ranger combat with flees and cover like arrow slits (+5AC).

Dragons using hiu and fade breath weapons.

Basically don't melee.
 

Besides the excellent advice of doing less melee, more ranged (spells, AoE, and ordinary archers), you can check out monsters with an anti-magic field (example: the Beholder's Antimagic Cone). This also deals with the darkness.

A word of warning though: As a player who enjoys playing spellcasters, I personally very much dislike that anti-magic field, as it reduces the true spellcasters (sorcs, wizards, etc.) to glass cannons without ammo. It's fine once in a while, but there is preciously little that a spellcaster can do against it so it's annoying if it would be used a lot.

Also, once every now and then, have your NPCs dig a trench, fill it with spikes, and cover it up. Now have your NPCs taunt the PCs and fart in their general direction. Let's see how the Spirit Guardians are going to help climbing out of that pit.
 

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