Pathfinder 1E How to deal with high AC PCs

Hello folks.

I'm an experienced DM in D&D, and now also Pathfinder. However, I've noticed that in the latter, it's even easier to boost AC even at the lower levels than before.

Armor, especially medium (as well as full-plate) has become better, and Fighters are better at using it increasing their AC. There are also more feats that increases AC. Combined with a handful of magic items it isn't hard to get so high AC that you can't reliably hit yourself.

Now the main problem I have with this is balance - it becomes impossible for some enemies to hit on other than natural 20, and to compensate I need to add high-attack monsters just to challenge the high-AC character's a bit.

In my case I had to throw in Stone Golems just to challenge an 8th-level fighter. Should that really be necessary?

The point isn't just to challenge or nerf such characters - its hard for fighters to get high Will saves, so just a low-mid level spellcaster can ruin the day for such. The problem is I don't want to have spellcasters everywhere in my fairly low-fantasy campaign.

I also have a more military human focused campaign than usual, and I have a hard time making grunts/goons to be any sort of threat without auto-leveling them as if it was Oblivion.


So how can a bunch of normal soldiers - War or Fi lvl 1-3 actually be any threat at all to a group where the lowest AC is around 25? (not counting Wizard who is invisible etc.).

I expect my group to be able to handle several waves of such low-level enemies, but having them only hit on a natural 20 means I would need close to 100 of them just to be able to challenge one of the PCs - which breaks the suspension of disbelief for me and probably them as well. Not to mention boring as hell to actually play out.

Any tips, or suggestions for major gameplay changes?
 

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Ahnehnois

First Post
High-dex characters can be countered with surprise/feinting. Heavily armored characters are tougher.

That being said, there are a variety of circumstances that can improve the situation. Armor doesn't affect CMD; often disarming the character's shield or tripping them can be a worthwhile gamble. Flanking and buff spells swing the numbers in the offense's favor.

A heavily armored character may still be hard to hit. Depending on the tactical situation, retreat may be wise. If the fighter is heavily armored, he won't catch you. Come back when he's taken off that armor to sleep.

And, of course, if you can't hit a character's AC, the easiest thing to do is target their saving throws.

That being said:
So how can a bunch of normal soldiers - War or Fi lvl 1-3 actually be any threat at all to a group where the lowest AC is around 25? (not counting Wizard who is invisible etc.).
They really shouldn't be. That's not really how D&D math plays out. If it's a large group, maybe you can try mob rules (from the 3.5 DMGII; I don't know if PF has an equivalent).
 

High-dex characters can be countered with surprise/feinting. Heavily armored characters are tougher.

That being said, there are a variety of circumstances that can improve the situation. Armor doesn't affect CMD; often disarming the character's shield or tripping them can be a worthwhile gamble. Flanking and buff spells swing the numbers in the offense's favor.

A heavily armored character may still be hard to hit. Depending on the tactical situation, retreat may be wise. If the fighter is heavily armored, he won't catch you. Come back when he's taken off that armor to sleep.

And, of course, if you can't hit a character's AC, the easiest thing to do is target their saving throws.

That being said:
They really shouldn't be. That's not really how D&D math plays out. If it's a large group, maybe you can try mob rules (from the 3.5 DMGII; I don't know if PF has an equivalent).

Yeah. In my case I have a character that has both. Surprise works to some degree, but the magical breasplate and shield still gives an impressive flat-footed AC.

CMD is not affected by armor, but it is affected by almost everything else, including the actual Base Attack Bonus, which is at this level about the same as a Full-Plate, and it is also modified by Strength.

I did test a compromise: I made 7th level warriors with good attack bonus, but removed their "excess" hit points. It worked fairly well, they were (with flanking) able to hit the high-AC character, and deal some good damage too. The problem was, one of these nearly one-shotted the party's Rogue on a critical hit.

Mobs work, but takes alot of people in it. I have considered making military units based on the mob rules, with fewer members, better weapons, and better tactics.

In any case normal "security", city guards, and patrols are just laughable. I don't mind the AC system, but at the extremes it just doesn't work. It's not so great problem as long as you just use individual create CR = APL (+/- 2), but numbers really does little in this game by themselves. 5% hit chance is just too low.
 

KarinsDad

Adventurer
Actually, it doesn't matter.

For every two or three encounters where the high AC PC hardly gets touched, there will be one encounter where the DM seems to roll an 18 or higher against that PC often.

I know because I have run two high AC PCs in the last few years (one of them, 5 higher AC than the rest of the PCs) and both of them have gotten smoked quite often by the DM (where the DM makes his rolls out in the open). Sure, many encounters, the high AC PC will breeze through. That doesn't mean that his ally lower AC PCs will breeze through, nor that s/he is impossible to hit. It will happen.
 

Actually, it doesn't matter.

For every two or three encounters where the high AC PC hardly gets touched, there will be one encounter where the DM seems to roll an 18 or higher against that PC often.

I know because I have run two high AC PCs in the last few years (one of them, 5 higher AC than the rest of the PCs) and both of them have gotten smoked quite often by the DM (where the DM makes his rolls out in the open). Sure, many encounters, the high AC PC will breeze through. That doesn't mean that his ally lower AC PCs will breeze through, nor that s/he is impossible to hit. It will happen.

18? You know how long ago I actually hit this PC on an 18? That wouldn't be a problem, as you say these occurrs fairly frequently. No, I'm talking AC 34+ against enemies with maybe +10 to hit.

The only enemy so far who has reliably hit him is the golem, who needed a 12+ - that was an exiting combat, even tho more than half his attacks missed.
 

KarinsDad

Adventurer
18? You know how long ago I actually hit this PC on an 18? That wouldn't be a problem, as you say these occurrs fairly frequently. No, I'm talking AC 34+ against enemies with maybe +10 to hit.

The only enemy so far who has reliably hit him is the golem, who needed a 12+ - that was an exiting combat, even tho more than half his attacks missed.

As DM, don't you control the magic items of the group?

As DM, don't you control the monsters that they face?

If the PC has magic that gives him such a high AC, take it away.

If the monsters cannot hit him, give them ways to do so (bonuses and such for a variety of reasons).

You are a DM. If the lowest AC is 25 and the highest is 34, give the monsters +17 or so to hit once in a while. Nothing stops you from doing that.

It's your game. Take control of it.
 

Ghosts. They touch or possess through armor.

Ghost monks. They punch through armor.

Tentacle monsters that grapple.

Wizards that target their Will save, or grease the floor so the heavy armor just makes them fall on their clumsy asses.

Or use tactics that work in real life. A knight has full plate armor? Send in eight men to gang up and grapple him. Drag him to the ground, and one person slides a knife through the visor slit. 1st level warriors, attack bonus of +5 (1 base, 3 strength, 1 expertise), with 7 aid anothers equals +19.

Guns. Make touch attacks within 40 feet. Give those eight men pistols and see if the PC is so invincible.

Difficult terrain and archers. How well does the guy in plate armor climb up muddy slopes?

Put the party on a boat. Have it sink.

Bebiliths destroy armor.

Rust monsters . . . are Wizards of the Coast product identity. DON'T YOU DARE USE THEM!!!!
 

Stormonu

Legend
As RangerWickett stated, touch attacks (including grapples) and area effects will probably be your best bet to even the playing field.

I wouldn't use this strategy all the time; the PCs should feel they are getting some benefit from their choices, but they should also come to realize they don't want to put all their eggs in one basket.
 

am181d

Adventurer
I'll also suggest the Injustice League method of monster combat:

When you want to challenge a group of heroes of unequal power, put them up against a range of villains/monsters of unequal power. Like will tend to target like at first (the big bruiser hero will head straight for the big bruiser baddie, the fast hero will chase after the fast baddie, etc.) and as the fight wears on, they may start switching up or ganging up on opponents.

Can't be used all the time, but I find this is generally effective when employed selectively.
 


The Little Raven

First Post
Any tips, or suggestions for major gameplay changes?

Use attacks that don't target AC.

I had a DM who threw a fit because I built a 3.5 character that could not be hit on anything but a natural 20 by every monster, and instead of adapting, he demanded I change characters because he "can't handle it" and then canceled the campaign when the other players protested.

Instead of being that guy, just look at the character's weaknesses and target those. Hit him with Will, Fortitude saves. Do touch attacks. Area effects. Do everything but stab him with a sword, and maybe he'll get the idea that hyperspecialization just makes it easier to find a weakness.
 

jpmg90

Villager
As for Security or City Guards, considering having the town require you to be in 'civilian' cloths and to leave 'weapons' at the gate, light armor and simple weapons only. This will give your generic guard that seemed to be an insect before, now able to put up a challenge.

As another mentioned you could also try to disarm shields and such, but also consider attacking armor directly. This can be difficult with magic armor, but say an enemy captain had a wand of Dispel Magic and cast it on the magic armor (temporary removing magic AC bonuses) and then focusing on 'breaking' the armor to again limiting this AC of the armor. This tactic would work well if it was done near the beginning of a dungeon or group of encounters, so that the high AC fighter has a debuffed AC until he can get back to town to get his armor repaired.
 

I think a lot of good points have been made here. You don't need to made the encounters all about hitting the AC, neither do you need to only target the weak spots (i.e. Will saves) against the high AC fighter. You can vary the encounters with assortments of what the group is fighting, tossing in minions/mooks, tossing in ranged damage doers, and adding in terrain that makes it difficult for the high AC fighter to even move around in his platemail. That high AC fighter is pretty useless if you are staging hit and run tactics against the group utilizing cover, speed, terrain, and smart NPC's. You can basically ignore him all together and pick on his companions by putting another "tank" against him where they just bash on each other with little to no results while his teammates are being outflanked and out damaged by the opponents he'd normally try to face off against to protect them.
 

CAFRedblade

Explorer
If the PC's are being targeted by a specific group/baddie, have a few early battles that target the fighter normally. After those battles, have the enemy adapt and change things up. Traps, ambushes, area effect magic.

They want the PC dead, or captured, so they have to adjust to do so.

As for the guards, if the city doesn't require a license to carry arms and armour, or limits civilian items, and then if the PC's resist as law abiding citizens, have the law come down on them by the book.
Toss law infractions at them with heavy fines.
 

CM

Adventurer
Having zero experience with pathfinder whatsoever, I've seen this problem in 3.5e as well. A lot of people are suggesting exploiting the character's other weaknesses, but you have to be careful about doing that too often or it becomes obvious to the player that you are just out to get him.

Perhaps these guards could use aid another, especially if there are feats that improve it. The mancatcher would be a good weapon to use as it targets touch AC.

Edit: I see Rangerwickett mentioned aid another already.

Upon further reflection, these sorts of things came up a few times in my 3.5 games. There was the dire-bear CODzilla, the warblade, the incanter, and a couple of others I can't remember any more. In every case the players were mature enough to work with me to houserule certain things to enable them to continue playing the character they want to without forcing me as DM to play the arms race metagame. I suggest talking with the player and seeing if he/she is even aware of the issue and the difficulty it's causing you.
 
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gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
Yeah, I never allow my players to have any magic item they want. They can hand me a wish list, and I'll allow some items to be available or found in a dungeon treasure. No low level player can ever have an AC 34, at least not through magic items - it won't happen. No such thing as a magic shop in any of my worlds. If anything, magic is a controlled substance, there are laws and economics that prevent any magic item to be accessable for any character.

While not quite appropriate for low levels, ninja and assassin attacks bypass AC completely if they hit with their special attacks.

Many of the suggestions made above I can agree with heartily. Terrain can be great inhibiter of being in heavy armor - cliff ledges for example.

Almost none of our players (including PC fighters) ever where the heaviest of armors - mobility is the biggest reason for that.
 

Razjah

Explorer
Why not use the group to help? Have you tried talking to the problem player?

Or you have a group use the aid another action to have a sergeant get a higher bonus to hit. It would be the equivalent of a phalanx attacking all at once, but only one spear actually got through the armor.

If this still struggles to hit the high heavily armored PC, then use this tactic against the squishier members of the party. If half the group gets getting nearly killed, perhaps the high ac guy will share some items to help boost everyone's ac.
 

CM

Adventurer
Use attacks that don't target AC.

I had a DM who threw a fit because I built a 3.5 character that could not be hit on anything but a natural 20 by every monster, and instead of adapting, he demanded I change characters because he "can't handle it" and then canceled the campaign when the other players protested.

Instead of being that guy, just look at the character's weaknesses and target those. Hit him with Will, Fortitude saves. Do touch attacks. Area effects. Do everything but stab him with a sword, and maybe he'll get the idea that hyperspecialization just makes it easier to find a weakness.

In this case I'm not sure which of you was really being "that guy." ;)
 

Oh one more thing I just thought of that you can toss out at them: flying creatures! Doing this means that the fighter won't shine nearly as bright as he's bumbling around on the ground like an upside down turtle in his platemail and unless he's got a good bow or a way to fly he will be a non-issue in these situations, while the ranged and casters will be having a lot of fun. Now I'm not advocating picking on the fighter, but rather having things help offset what you seem to think as a problem with his/her high AC.

It all just comes down to the varied encounters concept, don't just throw run of the mill kobolds and goblins at them all the time, there are literally hundreds of bestiaries/monster manuals out there and probably hundreds of thousands of creatures/beasts/NPCs you can use. Let your imagination run wild, that's what this game is for!
 

Fire doesn't care about AC. Push heavily armored opponents into a pit, add oil, light, and BBQ!

Never fight symmetrically. If they go heavy armor, you go energy or touch-AC attacks. If they go dodge, you go area of effect.
 

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