Pathfinder 1E How to deal with high AC PCs

jpmg90

Villager
I'm sorry I was assuming that they were purchasing them. With them crafting the items themselves, it makes it a bit difficult to do this. What I was thinking was having a reduced cost (crafting or otherwise) or lower DC to craft if they put a restriction on it.

They have requirement for Class Features, Ability Scores, Race and Alignment (check Use Magic Device Skill), potentially have them craft such items with these requirements for a discounted cost in materials.

Another thing, Take the Ring for example, if it was intended for another player, was that player of comparable 'size' of this PC, even if they were both medium, if it was intended for a character of smaller size, there was no way this player could have used it because it wouldn't have fit around his finger, and if he tried to tie it around his neck, then it would then take up his amulet spot (using the 'magic has specific spots that can only be used once' which is why you cant wear 20 amulets and 15 hats even if they would all fit you only gain the benefit of 1)

Oh and I just found this "Crystalline" material on d20pfsrd.com that ignores half the AC of armor, in common form, and ignores all armor AC and deflection bonuses with True Crystalline form (and technically this has nothing to do with high or low magic, just the material that's around.) and it need not be as expensive as it says if its in a region with an abundance of the materials (and to prevent the PCs from using it, flavor it so that you have to be trained in Crystalline weapons (exotic weapon prof) or they will break the weapon on any missed attack attempt or something.
http://www.d20pfsrd.com/equipment---final/special-materials
 
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N'raac

First Post
And it has been, for some time. The problem is challenging him in the area he is good in, not finding something he sucks in and just exploiting that weakness as much as possible. That's not fun for the player.

It seems like he's expended a lot of resources to be extremely good in one area. What was the point of that if the mooks get upgraded to threaten him in that one area anyway?

Item Creation feats of course. The party can make everything they have, except items containing Mithral or Adamantium (these have been found fairly late).

Yet he has mithral and adamantium items suited for the focus he has chosen. Based on his items (and ignoring anyone else in the group), the spellcasters have taken Craft Ring, Craft Arms/Armor and Craft Wondrous Item and used significant time for this guy, as well as reducing his item costs (perhaps explaining why he exceeds the level wealth recommendation). Not only his resources, but a good chunk of party resources, devoted to his specialty (including Longstrider and 5 ranks to Acrobatics for the boots...). Why aren't the rest of the team similarly equipped, then?

They do. And the campaign is low magic only compared to normal D&D where it is assumed any PC can get any item worth 100k gp or less in a major city. In my game they have to make it themselves or find someone to do it for them.

Seems to differ markedly from what most would consider "low magic". Standard item access at worst, and the characters can craft whatever they want.

He is invulnerable to mooks, he is very effective against tough enemies, and he is the only one able to stand up to the really tough melee monsters (the rest would be crushed fast). He's (almost) doing his role as a tank (can't draw enough aggro because of high AC and meh damage).

Sounds like he achieved what he set out to achieve. The most viable tactic seems to be attacking the other characters first and ignoring this guy until last and/or circumvention, rather than competing against, his major area of strength.

Still he's been wanting a Mithral Full-plate since level 5. They don't get anything they want.

It doesn't seem like he's been denied anything, though. It seems like they are able to access pretty much whatever they want. Maybe the opposition needs to have objectives other than "stab the invulnerable guy".

Is his power level a problem to the other players, or only to you? If it's not a problem to the group, maybe it's not really a problem. If it's a problem to the other players, maybe they need to consider using more of their resources for themselves, and less for the high AC fighter.
 

Mad Hamish

First Post
No, I didn't break the game. I made ONE defense (out of FOUR) impossible for him to hit using perfectly legal game elements he allowed.

He broke the game by not using his brain and thinking "Wow, he's got a weak Will, Reflex, and Fortitude. Which of those three should I attack, instead of focusing on his strongest point?"

Maybe I have high standards, but I expect more from a DM.

It's a cooperative game, if the GM has problems with your character you should be willing to compromise to some degree.
 

Mad Hamish

First Post
+2 Breastplate - 4000 gp
+2 Heavy Shield - 4000 gp
+1 Adamant Longsword - ~5000gp
+2 Ring of Protection - 8000gp
+2 Amulet of Natural Armor - 8000gp
Boots of Striding and Springing - 5500gp

Total cost of listed Items: 34500gp

Level 8 Suggested wealth for level 8 : 33000gp

Assuming he has no other equipment, has never spent any money on consumables(potions, scrolls, etc), and has never had to bribe or hire anyone then your still a bit over

Sure its just a suggestion, but it's also there for player balance when taking magic items into account.

He's not much over and the wealth by level isn't an exact rule, if you're crafting items you'll commonly be a bit over.
The big issue is that virtually everything he's got is for boosting AC. His offense is poor and he's limited to the ground.
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
Any tips, or suggestions for major gameplay changes?

Ultimately, this is a feature of the Pathfinder (and 3E) ruleset: AC outstrips attack quite easily if magic items are readily available... and, let's face it, with the crafting rules as they are, they probably will.

It's one of the major reasons that PF is not my primary system and I prefer to run either AD&D or 4E, both of which are a lot easier to keep the AC/attack ratio in check. However, I lose the character customisation available in PF through those routes. Doesn't bother me as the DM, but it occasionally bothers my players. (Which is why I'm currently running three campaigns: PF, AD&D and 4E!)

The 'major' system hack I'd make to PF to reduce the AC issue is to stop deflection bonuses stacking with armour enhancement bonus. (This is how it worked in AD&D - rings didn't work if you had magic armour). However, it still must be said that magic plate+magic shield does give some very high ACs! Likewise, I'd be tempted to also include natural armour bonuses here: you get the best of natural armour or regular armour, not both.

There are lots of ways to bypass AC as well, but I dislike using those types of attacks. Once in a while, sure, but you have to not use too many classic monsters to use them. I *like* using orcs and ogres, and to have them neutered due to the AC/attack disparity is extremely annoying.

It probably should be noted that pure melee monsters can exist in the CR range so they can still hit highly-armoured PCs; much more of the problem comes from NPCs, who rarely stack up well. Fighter and Rogue NPCs need high-powered magic items to compete with the PCs, but you don't want them to have them because of the breaking of the economy it creates. It's a fundamental problem in the system. (You can paper over it by giving them inherent bonuses sans items).

Cheers!
 

pemerton

Legend
It seems like he's expended a lot of resources to be extremely good in one area. What was the point of that if the mooks get upgraded to threaten him in that one area anyway?
I don't play or GM 3E or PF, so to some extent am just a bemused onlooker.

But I think this question slightly misses the OP's point. The OP's qusetion isn't "How can I nerf my player's PC building choice?" It's "Given that the PC build rules seems to allow players to channel their choices into directions that undermine the fun of action resolution, what advice can anyone give me?"

I think [MENTION=3586]MerricB[/MENTION]'s post is actually the best response yet to the question as I understand it, as it clearly identifies the three problematic mechanics:

(1) stacking of deflection and enhancement bonuses, a 3E innovation;

(2) the distinction between, and consequent stacking of, armour and natural armour bonues, another 3E innovation;

(3) stacking of enhancement bonuses on armour and shield, something that goes back to classic D&D, but becomes exaggerated in an environent like 3E/PF where tailored magical items are easier to come by.​

[MENTION=91954]Friend of the Dork[/MENTION], I would suggest you talk to your group and explore taking one of two options - I've taken both approaches in my own time as GM, depeding on the group consensus that emerges and what seems the approach least likely to break down under the pressure of future play.

One option is the "gentelmen's agreement": leave the rules intact, but establish an understanding that PCs won't use more than one enhancement or deflection bonus, nor more than one armour or natural armour bonus. (This is, in effect, a version of talking to the player about a PC rebuild - but in a slightly more systematic fashion.)

NPCs and monsters are exempt from the agreement - you and your players rely on the CR rules, rather than the bonus stacking rules, to make sure they are fair and balanced.

I think the main thing that might put pressure on option 1 would be the PCs making hauls of loot they can't use without violating the agreement.

The second option is a full-fledged houserule along the same lines. This is easier to police, because - provided people play by the rules - it is self-policing. And the aesthetics of it will be more pleasing to some groups. But without knowing 3E/PF monsters all that well, I would assume it would mandate quite a bit of monster and NPC rebuilding, which would be a PitA.

Whichever path you adopt, I think it would be crucial to let players to rebuilds of their PCs, and revisions of items also, to make them fit rationally into the new scheme of things.
 


Empirate

First Post
To me this all sounds like the PC rather pigeonholed himself. Yes, he's got very high AC, but what is that actively accomplishing? Only that he doesn't get attacked very often, because it is mostly futile anway. Smart opponents should just ignore him. You said yourself he can't really draw aggro much, his damage output is mediocre etc.

Getting sky-high AC is a trap for PCs to fall in. I can't count how many times I've read threads similar to this one... So many players spend a lot of their resources (and in this case, a lot of the party's resources as well!) on just this one area of defense. They spend too little on ways to actually contribute, in or out of combat, and are still far from untouchable, as even very high AC peters out in usefulness in the mid levels.

See, it's not you, @Friend of the Dork , who has a problem. It's your high-AC PC, since 'not being hit by mooks' is really the only thing he's good at. However, that's not a useful skill.

Can he kill a dangerous enemy quickly? Can he lock down part of the battlefield? Can he spot incoming threats? Can he buff or heal his buddies? Can he make the enemy less effective at taking out the party (other than himself)? Can he command and keep the attention of the most dangerous foe? Can he exploit his mobility/fighting style/special moves to get to and take on hard-to-reach enemies? Etc.

If the answer to most or all of these questions is "no", your problem PC has effectively neutered himself by going after AC at the cost of everything else.


That said, it's your job as a DM to make the game fun and challenging for everybody. Your problem PC has made the job harder, in that he hyperspecialized, which always restricts the DM's decision corridors into narrower and less interesting shapes. You need to make sure your player feels like his "investment" into high AC paid off. But you also need to make sure he occasionally feels the sting of not being effective in most other regards.

The first part seems rather simple at first glance: involve a few mooks in every battle whose only job is to flail at him ineffectually. Gives him something to do, even if it's inconsequential to the battle at large. Occupy him with fodder, so he feels useful, while the other PCs get served with the 'real' battle. In boss battles, let the boss waste a round or two beating on him, then change tactics. That way, the high AC bought a couple rounds off the BBEG, which is good payoff.

The second part (challenging him, showing him there's still a lot of stuff he can't do jack about) is a bit harder, since it needs to be done with moderation, but also with a firm hand. Others have enumerated the myriad ways of going about this, from touch attacks to combat maneuvers to magic to certain monsters' special abilities to simply ganging up in the dozens.

But I think it's actually more important to bring up situations in which the PC sees how he might have contributed, had he picked an even slightly different area of expertise. For example, have melee enemies simply pass him by and ignore the turtle. They could even utter threats like "just you wait until we kill your buddies, then it's gonna be your turn!"

Make sure enemies react accordingly to danger that's coming their way. If they're scorched by a PC blaster mage, let there be shouts of "stop that goddamn spellcaster! Take him down at all costs!" If there's a PC sniper, enemies should shout "watch out for the sniper! He got Bob, I repeat, Bob is down! Somebody engage that sniper!" If there's a sneak attacker, let people act afraid of going toe to toe with him without somebody covering their backs. Etc.

This should make clear that enemies are not impressed by somebody standing around in full plate, hitting the air. What they are impressed by is somebody actually doing a good job of killing them!



EDIT: Oh, and I wanted to address the misleading information in two posts right above, as well. @MerricB and @pemerton advise rules changes, while interestingly both are saying PF or 3E isn't their primary system, but still going into details how the system is broken. Breaking out the banhammer instead of devising a more differentiated view of things (like this thread has done in a lot of instances) is what it boils down to. A rules change is advised that makes not only @Drowbane want to facepalm. Although I'd want to facepalm for a slightly different reason: Not only is nerfing an effective fighter outright unnecessary, the particular nerf advocated here is wholly beside the point anyway, since the fighter in question isn't even very effective!

Their point rests on an assumption that is put like this by MerricB: "AC outstrips attack quite easily if magic items are readily available". Which is patently false. Whether magic is readily available (and not only to the PCs, I'm assuming!) or not, enemy NPCs and level appropriate monsters usually don't have a hard time hitting a given PC's AC.
Unless, of course, the PC in question invests so much into AC that other areas of investment are left lacking as a result. Sure, you can get very high AC, but AC and attack bonuses don't exist in a vacuum. You pay huge opportunity costs to increase just one area of defense to a point where level-appropriate foes can't damage you by attacking that defense. For once, you give up increasing other defenses to a great degree, ironically making you more vulnerable overall. Furthermore, you give up proactive effectiveness. In all of 3.x/PF, good and varied offense >>> good defense. It's just exceedingly hard to be truly bullet proof and useful.
 
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pemerton

Legend
Getting sky-high AC is a trap for PCs to fall in.

<snip>

it's not you, Friend of the Dork, who has a problem. It's your high-AC PC, since 'not being hit by mooks' is really the only thing he's good at. However, that's not a useful skill.

<sip>

That said, it's your job as a DM to make the game fun and challenging for everybody. Your problem PC has made the job harder, in that he hyperspecialized, which always restricts the DM's decision corridors into narrower and less interesting shapes.

<snip>

Sure, you can get very high AC, but AC and attack bonuses don't exist in a vacuum. You pay huge opportunity costs to increase just one area of defense to a point where level-appropriate foes can't damage you by attacking that defense.
I don't know enough about 3E or PF to judge the balance of opportunity costs. But the rest of your post, which concedes (i) that the rules have let the player build an ineffectively hyperspecialised character, and (ii) that this makes life harder for the GM (and I'm thinking also maybe the other players), isn't changing my view that there is a rules problem here.

What you're suggesting, in effect, is a more painful version of my gentlemen's agreement: instead of sorting things out in an out-of-game discussion so as to make everyone's time at the table more fun, you're suggesting that the game proceed with the player suffering with a poor build, and the GM having headaches working around it, until in X levels time the balance of new PC features, items etc, plus a bit of natural selection, evens itself out.

I think I prefer my approach. It has the same outcome but delivers it now rather than after weeks or months of sub-optimal play experience.
 

N'raac

First Post
Ultimately, this is a feature of the Pathfinder (and 3E) ruleset: AC outstrips attack quite easily if magic items are readily available... and, let's face it, with the crafting rules as they are, they probably will.

I'd say if items are readily available and the character is prepared to focus most or all resources on AC. I can't speak to 4th Ed, but a character that's really tough to hit always seemed pretty scarce in 3/3.5. Of course, there's still a lot of hit points under that AC.

It probably should be noted that pure melee monsters can exist in the CR range so they can still hit highly-armoured PCs; much more of the problem comes from NPCs, who rarely stack up well. Fighter and Rogue NPCs need high-powered magic items to compete with the PCs, but you don't want them to have them because of the breaking of the economy it creates. It's a fundamental problem in the system. (You can paper over it by giving them inherent bonuses sans items).

I think this is an aspect of gear reliance in general. The PC's need their wealth by level equipment allotment to be competitive with the monsters' rising AC's and BAB's. With those added bonuses, they are going to be superior to an equal level NPC who doesn't get that same access to gear. If all characters, PC and NPC, were reliant primarily or exclusively on inherent bonuses, the PC's and NPC's would be much more comparable without gear.

The power curve in 3.0/3.5 and Pathfinder is such that lower level characters are outpowered pretty quickly. Two L4 characters aren't much of a threat to a L8 character. The AC focus exacerbates it - the inability to hit is pretty obvious in combat. If that fighter were instead focused on damage per round, I suspect those L3 warriors wouldn't be a lot better off. They'd just get the occasional hit on the fighter, scratching him a bit before he takes them down - and he'd take them down quite a bit faster.

Ultimately, if this guy sinks such a significant portion of his character resources into AC, it seems like he SHOULD be very hard to hit. 3rd level NPC classes should have a tough time in that regard.

Rather than looking for ways to challenge him in his area of strength, I think challenges that highlight he also has weaknesses are important. @Friend of the Dork, you've mentioned the player gets frustrated when his character's weaknesses are targeted, instead of having opponents try, and fail, to attack his strengths. A discussion with the player, or the group as a whole, might be in order.

I think the player needs to understand that he is hyper-specialized, and that the game will include a variety of challenges, some that his hyper-specialization may make him very effective at, but also others which will focus on his weaknesses rather than his strengths. There's nothing wrong with extending the option of revising his character to be more balanced - less AC in exchange for more effectiveness in other areas - which it seems would reduce your frustrations and, presumably, would reduce his when areas his hyperspecialization is less effective against come up - as they should, with reasonable frequency. If the playuer has expressed frustration when his character's weak points are targeted, it's worth pointing that out.

He should certainly have his opportunities to shine, but no more so than any of the other characters. Sometimes, being well nigh unhittable by the mooks could and should be an ability that wins the day. But not every time. Having a variety of character strengths and weaknesses necessitates a team, and the game should focus on a team, not one superbuild and his amazing friends/comic relief.

I'd be guidedhttp://www.enworld.org/forum/member.php?u=91954 by two things. First, is the player reacting negatively when the enemy exploits his weaknesses instead of breaking against his specialized strength? If so, then the player needs to consider a better balanced character. Second, are the other players frustrated that his character seems overly effective/powerful? If so, then there is a greater need to focus on their strengths and/or perhaps the group needs to consider rebuilds to be more or less equally optimized (even if optimized for different challenges) so everyone gets their turn to shine.

If neither of these are a problem, then that leaves a GM issue - for some reason, you can't get past the fact that this character is highly effective against mooks. In the worst case, that may mean the character needs to change to fit the campaign, but it seems like giving him his chance to shine against the mooks is no worse than giving the other characters their opportunities to shine in their specialties. Mooks, serious threats, enemy conspiracies, BBEG's and all other adversaries ultimately exist for the purpose of losing to the PC's, so having the PC's be effective against them doesn't strike me as a major flaw.
 
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Empirate

First Post
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]: That's not exactly what I'm advocating, no. I'd opt to make the player feel useful as much as everybody else, but also challenge him from time to time with stuff his high AC doesn't help him with. The combination ought to serve in communicating: 'you made a choice, and it's having consequences - good ones occasionally, but also bad ones from time to time'.

Nowhere am I "suggesting that the game proceed with the player suffering with a poor build, and the GM having headaches working around it". The OP was complaining that a PC with very high AC is causing him problems because he felt he couldn't challenge him enough (as in, make sure mooks and standard melee opponents could reliably hit him). What I tried to say to the OP was that he misunderstood the 'problem' his player was causing him: the problem is not that the PC's AC is unhittable, but that the player has pigeonholed his PC so much that he requires a firm understanding of the situation and certain measured DM responses to keep the game fun for everybody.

I am generally opposed to changing parts of the very core of D&D's mechanics (like the stacking rules) in response to a situation that might just call for a slightly more flexible approach in-game. The rules change you advocate takes a certain amount of choice away from the players (choice which might, admittedly, lead to hyperspecialization) for no gain that couldn't be had through a flexible DM.

"Something's not going the way I like it in my game so I'm changing the rules" is a knee-jerk reaction that is unwarranted. In such a complex game as D&D, I almost invariably find it best not to change the rules or apply the nerfbat. You can almost always get better results (better as in, resulting in a more fun game for everybody) by adapting the way you play, or what you expect.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I am generally opposed to changing parts of the very core of D&D's mechanics (like the stacking rules) in response to a situation that might just call for a slightly more flexible approach in-game.

<snip>

"Something's not going the way I like it in my game so I'm changing the rules" is a knee-jerk reaction that is unwarranted. In such a complex game as D&D, I almost invariably find it best not to change the rules or apply the nerfbat. You can almost always get better results (better as in, resulting in a more fun game for everybody) by adapting the way you play, or what you expect.
My experience has almost always been the opposite: when a rules element - be it a spell, or a stacking rule, or whatever, is getting in the way of a preferred approach to play, change the rule!

For example, in 4e there is an ambiguity as to whether, when you get dazed on your turn, (1) your action allowance remains as it was at the start of the turn (in effect, at the start of your turn you get a "pool of actions" to use that can't be subsequently depleted except by using them), or (2) you immediately become subject to the "no more than one action in your turn" effect, in which case, if you've already acted on the turn, you can suddenly find yourself running out of actions. We used to use rule (1), but then discovered it caused some irritating consequencse in play, and so we shifted to rule (2).

In this particular case, if the game is meant to be viable if a PC has only an enhancement bonus, or a deflection bonus, but not both, that what harm can be done by preventing them stacking?
 
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Empirate

First Post
My experience has almost always been the opposite: when a rules element - be it a spell, or a stacking rule, or whatever, is getting in the way of a preferred approach to play, change the rule!

<snip>

In this particular case, if the game is meant to be viable if a PC has only an enhancement bonus, or a deflection bonus, but not both, that what harm can be done by preventing them stacking?

"Preferred approach to play", you say - preferred by whom? You basically nerf the player's (not very useful in the first place, but that doesn't come into it here) schtick, and for what gain? DMs who just break out the banhammer everytime they feel they can't handle something a player has thrown together fails at system mastery, which is an important DM skill. Sure, there are a few extremely broken and atrociously badly/open-endedly worded things in D&D, but the stacking rules isn't one of them.

And again, "if the game is meant to be viable etc." - is meant by whom? Designer's intention? Then why were the stacking rules implemented the way they were? I think they work exactly the way they're "meant" to, and the possibility of getting very high AC, or very high saves, is just part of an open-ended design philosophy, which I very much condone.
 
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jpmg90

Villager
He's not much over and the wealth by level isn't an exact rule, if you're crafting items you'll commonly be a bit over.
The big issue is that virtually everything he's got is for boosting AC. His offense is poor and he's limited to the ground.

Agreed, but if you see something like this a light bulb should have gone off, (Oh :):):):), he's getting +8 enchantment bonus to AC from magic items.. and this place is supposed to be low fantasy, hmmmm ringing any bells?)

I was just trying to give an excuse other than "Take those away".
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
In response to the problem of low-level monsters/NPCs hitting higher level PCs:

If you haven't already, have a look at the average monster stats in the Bestiary (reproduced here). There are some interesting points of data to be gleaned.

Primarily, the Attack bonus of monsters goes up by 2/level up to level 10, after which it flattens out to 1/level. Roughly. Meanwhile, the AC of monsters is a bit unpredictable, but is fairly similar in slope to that of their attacks.

This has the effect of making lower-level monsters become obsolete more quickly than higher-level monsters. Sure, the low-level monsters might still be able to hit the thieves and wizards in the party, but as it's the fighters they're likely to be attacking, if they only have a 30% chance chance in the beginning of striking, that 2-level gap quickly converts it into a 10% chance.

For example, a single ogre (+7 attack, CR 3) will hit a standard 3rd level fighter (AC 22, = fullplate + shield + 1 Dex) on a 15 or better. Two ogres make up a CR 5 encounter, but the 5th level fighter's AC could well be AC 25 by this stage, so it now requires an 18 to hit; a 15% chance compared to 30%. Another level makes things worse. Four ogres against a 7th level party? That's really bad for the ogres.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but for your situation of wanting low-level NPCs to be a threat against an 8th level party? Yeah, it probably is. The difference between a CR3 and a CR8 monster is a full +9.

Crafting feats are particularly dangerous because they significantly speed up the gain in both AC and attack potential - though more that of AC. At my count, there are six primary items to increase AC, but only three items for attacks. (Attacks, meanwhile, are increased by level where AC is not. Normally).

AC: Dex-enhancement, Dex-inherent, AC-enhancement, Shield-enhancement, Deflection, Natural Armour-enhancement
Attack: Str/Dex-enhancement, Str/Dex-inherent, weapon-enhancement.

While I've given 6,000 gp as the cost above, with a caster with Craft Arms & Armour, that become 5,000 gp... and from now on, the pace will accelerate as more money comes into the party's hands. It's a bit scary.

GP available vs. Bonus to AC without and with (all the) Craft feats
2,000 GP = +2 without, +3 with
13,000 GP = +6 without, +9 with
55,000 GP = +13 without, +18 with

Yes, you need crafters in the party willing to take Craft Magic Arms and Armour, Forge Ring and Craft Wondrous Item, so other groups' experiences will definitely vary. In my groups of late, they've been more than happy to pick up these feats... and the power bonus to the fighters that accrues from it.

Cheers!
 

pemerton

Legend
"Preferred approach to play", you say - preferred by whom?
Me and my players.


You basically nerf the player's (not very useful in the first place, but that doesn't come into it here) schtick, and for what gain?
Encounters that are less boring and/or less contrived.

DMs who just break out the banhammer everytime they feel they can't handle something a player has thrown together fails at system mastery, which is an important DM skill.
Not remotely true. I will assert with some confidence that no regular poster on ENworld has more system mastery with Rolemaster than I do - I GMed it for 20 years, and some of my players were hardcore rules people (PBM game winners, two Austrasian M:tG champions, etc). That doesn't mean I didn't change some rules. There are some aspects of Rolemaster, such as the Evil Cleric Dark Channels spell list, and the Sorcerer Flesh Destruction spell list, that are just broken (I assume in those two cases on the assumption that only NPCs will use them).

One indicator of rules mastery is understanding the effect that the rules are having on a game, and deciding whether or not you like it. And, if you don't, ascertaining how the rule can be changed to end the problem.

There's a difference between "can't handle" and "doesn't want to handle". If the game throws up essentially rock/paper/scissor options for encounter building - eg the PC wins unless the encounter includes a dominator or hold-er, in which case the GM wins - that's not an issue of "can't handle". It's an issue of "how can I change the rules to help guarantee more interesting encounters".

Sure, there are a few extremely broken and atrociously badly/open-endedly worded things in D&D, but the stacking rules isn't one of them.
How do you know? What's your measure for broken? For me, one measure for a rule being problematic is that it produces unhappy play experience.

Here's another example from Rolemaster: the Intuitions spell, which gives visions of what will happen in the immediate future if you take a certain action. At mid-to-high levels it is trivial to get effectively at will access to that spell (either from spell points or items). Which has the result that the players don't have their PCs do anything without casting Intuitions first. It also gives rise to strange corner case rules, like what effect is had on the vision if someone who you will interact with in the immediate future is under scrying protection.

Is this spell broken? I think it is - I banned it from my RM games. The current line editor doesn't - he has written sections in rulebooks (eg The Mentalism Companion) explaining in detail how it works.

Stacking has always been an issue in D&D. 4e is much stricter on stacking than 3E/PF, but still has problems - eg some people think the "item bonus to damage" magic items are a problem for the game, because they crowd out other more interesting items from those slots.

There's nothing unreasonable about someone judging that the magic AC stacking rules create an option for ACs to go to high, and changing them back to their AD&D equivalents. As I mentioned upthread, the game doesn't mandate that PCs have magic bonuses to AC in all the stacking categories, which is to say that the game appears to assume that your PC will play fine even if you have fewer AC items and more other sorts of items. So changing the stacking rules in the way I've described shouldn't cause any mechanical malfunction.

And again, "if the game is meant to be viable etc." - is meant by whom? Designer's intention? Then why were the stacking rules implemented the way they were?
Maybe they made a mistake. It's not as if D&D, just like most other RPGs, doesn't have a long history of design mistakes having been made!

I think they work exactly the way they're "meant" to, and the possibility of getting very high AC, or very high saves, is just part of an open-ended design philosophy, which I very much condone.
It doesn't strike me as having anything to do with open-ended design. We're talking here about the game maths, not the game scope. If the game permitted you to reduce your PC's hit points as a trade for increasing your PC's armour class - or vice versa - it would be mathematically more open-ended, but I don't see any reason to think that would make it a better game.

And I don't understand the ingame aspect either. What is the difference between a luck bonus, a sacred bonus and a deflection bonus to AC, as far as the fiction is concerned? How do the gods protect you, other than by deflecting attacks. (I guess they could make you tougher, but then that would be an enhancement bonus!) And how does luck help you, other than turning hits into misses by deflecting them?

As for stacking enhancement bonuses, how come an item that enhances my skin stacks with an item that enhances my metal shirt stacks with an item that enhances my shield but doesn't stack with an item that enhances my hair (it protects me from head strikes!) or my vest (it interposes another layer of magic between my metal shirt and my skin) or whatever else is fictionally conceivable but mechanically forbidden?

I think I know the answer. My best guess is that the various bonus categories were invented keeping in mind primarily spells, and a desire to preserve the traditional stacking rules for spells like Bless, Prayer, Barkskin etc, plus the traditions around weapons, armour and shields, and the implications of allowing the new bonus descriptors to be extended to permanent magic items and be stacked simply weren't thought through.

Whether or not one likes the game that results is of course a matter of taste. You may condone it as much as you like, but that doesn't show that the OP - whose tastes may differ from yours - doesn't have a reason to change the stacking rules.
 

Empirate

First Post
I can get behind your stance on this, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], now that you present it in a little more differentiated way. If I understand correctly, your point is: if you as a DM get the feeling that a certain rule is causing a problem in your game, why not just go ahead and change the rule? As a long-standing DM I must admit I do this all the time.

However, that is not the only approach I think can work. Changing a rule in a complex mechanic environment like that presented by D&D always strikes me as a last resort - the consequences are far-reaching and will affect aspects of your game you might not think about at the time of changing the rule in question.

One thing I like to do before applying rules changes, especially if they nerf a particular player's preference in building his character, destroying part of the rules fundament on which that player is relying, is look at my own expectations: why am I having a problem with this rule? Is it because I have certain expectations that are frustrated by it, or is it because the rule causes 'objectively' undesirable effects? Are my expectations thoroughly 'justified', and in what ways do they conflict with the expectations of my players? Is there really a rules 'problem', in the sense of everybody having less fun due to this rule, or am I the only one feeling less than good about it?

In other words, I'd think long and hard about what other aspects of my game I can change before I'd change a rule that a) might be there for a good reason, and b) at least one of my players is depending on for (part of) their fun.


I think the stacking rules in general shouldn't cause a game real problems at all. They can be used to create certain unbalanced effects, if a lot of investment is made. But other parts of D&D are much more prone to this (save-or-die/save-or-suck mechanisms, everything fooling around with the action economy, the openendedness of high-level magic, planar anything).

Your point of "there's a difference between 'can't handle' and 'doesn't want to handle'" is a convincing one - in general. But in my personal opinion the stacking rules, or high-AC PCs for that matter, ought to be handle-able without breaking a sweat really. Not wanting to handle them is therefore purely a matter of personal preference. The OP asked for our help in handling a perceived problem, so I assume s/he wants to handle it, not handwave it out of existence.
 

Quartz

Hero
I really don't think the guy's equipment is that bad; it's just hyper-specialised. He has none of the miscellaneous trinkets that make the game fun. No Ring of Feather Fall, no Ring of Tasting Bad, no Belt of Strength, no Portable Hole...

The party are 8th level, so the BBEGs are going to be L12 or so. Such a BBEG could easily have a Ring of Spell Storing with a Disjunction in it. Zap the whole party to keep it fair. Twice, if necessary. (And that's less of an expense than a Stone Golem.) Be sure to foreshadow it somehow. And if they keep the ring, maybe they find that it actually does Disjunction 3 / decade but all the charges have been used and the charge will come back when they get to L17 or so but it was stolen from an apprentice of the Royal Vizier and he would really like it back...

As an alternative try adventures where the players are out of their armour. They're not going to wear their armour to the hunt, are they? (Make sure he's glad he's got his Ring of Natural Armour!) And his sword isn't going to be much use hunting wild boar - you use spears. Speaking of spears, mooks should be attacking him with reach weapons like spears so they can Aid Another without being swatted.

And is he really running - well, clanking - around town in all that armour? Remind him how hot it is, how bad his sweat smells, how everyone recoils...

Beyond that, this is really part of D20; it's just that it's hit now. A medium level character with medium-level magic armour is going to be pretty much impervious to mooks. If you want mooks to be effective, you've got to cut down on the AC boosts or come up with ways for them to be competitive.
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=78958]Empirate[/MENTION], thanks for your reply.

Look at the post between ours: it suggests the use of a Disjunction ring (ie a 9th level spell!) to solve the problem.

So my suggestion is: think about changing the stacking rules (either de facto, via gentlemen's agreement, or de jure); talk it through with the players; let them rebuild their PCs to the extent that is required to give effect to any gentlemen's agreement or rules change.

Versus: as a GM, without discussing it with the players, introduce an item with just about as powerful an effect as is possible within the game so as to destroy the stacking items.

Which is a better way of handling problems with stacking? Obviously it depends on the group, but I think my way - recognise the rules problem for what it is and talk about how to change the game framework or the approach to PC building so as to dea with it - is less likely to produce conflict or resentment at the table than an approach which looks to me like adversarial GMing, and leaves the player with nothing to show for all those invested resources but a handful of ash-that-once-was-items.
 

Alright, thanks for all the replies guys. I wish I had the time to reply to all of them, but I don't really. All I can say is some good points have been made, both about the nature of the system, how to make it less of a problem, and how to fix the issue of a problematic character.

Now we have played a couple of sessions lately, where there has been no mooks involved. Naturally, the Fighter has not shone. In fact, he was fairly useless in the first fight against a Bone Devil, but then again the entire party was Feared at some point against them.

In the second go, the spellcasters of course shone. They were prepared, had spells to deal with the enemy, used tactics etc. Suddenly the devils were not so badass. The fighter changed tactics. He used rage and grapple, not even bothering to draw his shield and sword. He took hits - plenty of them actually, as his AC dropped alot lower than normal, enabling the devils to actually hit them - which made them want to attack him rather than just focusing on the party wizard, rogue, Magus and even Cleric.

I think he has understood himself that being untouchable can be a definite drawback when tanking, as the enemy simply ignores him, hits him with Will saves, and focuses on the more squishy party. As the rest of the party manages to boost their AC with their own items (and as the Wizard is typically invisible or otherwise hard to attack), his build should be less and less of a problem. The Magus easily outperforms him on damage, the wizard on usability, the cleric on healing and usability, and even the Rogue (who also shines in investigation and social encounters) can perform and even outperform him as long as he gets his flanking.

All in all it's not so great a problem - mooks will be mooks. I will use some of the tips here to help them make nuisance, but mooks shouldn't be the only enemy anyway.

Although the campaign is very human-focused, the rest of the game will focus mainly on making moral choices, fighting against their formal allies etc.
 

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