Your AC Is What?!?

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on August 27, 2009

The evenings gaming session is going great. So far you’ve had some great role playing, a unique skill challenge and now you’re entering the first encounter of the evening. The defender charges into combat. The NPC’s turn comes up and you decide to attack the defender by using one of the NPC’s encounter powers. You roll the dice and call out the attack score. This is going to hit you think, only to have the defender calmly announce that you’ve missed his AC by a long shot.

What do you do when session after session you can never hit the defender or when one player min/maxs their character to the point of absurdity?

Look at the Whole Situation

As a DM you need to realize that tools like the character builder make it easier for players to build the ultimate monster killers. They can easily min/max all their numbers, search for the most beneficial weapon/power/feat combinations to make your life hell. On one hand this is the nature of the game. D&D has always been a subtle (or not so subtle) mix of role playing creativity and number crunching to make the most effective character for the situation.

As DMs we should expect a level of min/maxing from our players. However, it shouldn’t come at the expense of you or the other players at the table. If a player is taking it to the extreme there are a few things you can try.

Diplomacy

Take the player aside or send an email and let them know that their play style is having a negative impact on the game. Be prepared for some resistance on this one. It won’t take a killer insight roll to realize that the player isn’t going to be pleased with this. Expect them to try to intimidate you by informing you that their character is completely within the rules.

Of course they might agree with you and alter or retire their character. Just don’t count on it.

Toughen Up

Your encounters might need to be tweaked to properly challenge the player. If you’re building encounters to have normal difficulty, pump them up so that they are tougher. Add in an extra combatant or two. There are several good idea’s on how to alter your encounters to make them more interesting in the series we ran on Has Your Campaign Stalled (Part 1 & Part 2).

Take Off the Gloves

The DM and player relationship isn’t normally adversarial. With the exception of Dungeon Delves the relationship is more of a partnership to foster and develop a common story. However, if you’ve got a player you just can’t beat and they’re rubbing it in your face then perhaps you should hit back, hard.

Please note, I’m not giving you an excuse to ignore or break the rules. I’m just saying pick on the player during combat. Put them in situations outside of combat that they clearly haven’t developed their character to handle. If you can’t beat their AC or whatever other aspect they have min/maxed, then don’t. Just ignore it and attack the character where they chose the min value. Then do it again. Do it just enough to make them paranoid. You might find their next character is a little bit more balanced.

How do you handle the one character that your monsters just can’t hit? Or who thinks he can get away with anything because of his +20 to diplomacy checks?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave August 27, 2009 at 10:42 am

Assuming that you’ve got only one min/maxer, and it isn’t the entire party… Here are some ideas:

* If he’s maxed out one defence: attack his weakest defence (not all the time; just enough to make him know that maxing out one defence doesn’t make him invulnerable)
* If he’s maxed out a special attack: use a monster that can take it (high HP, regeneration, etc.) OR make a monster that benefits from the player’s attack (e.g. “After tripping his bodyguard, you step up to the boss and trip him as well… As an immediate reaction the boss pulls you to the ground; you are now prone and restrained.”)
*Massive Diplomacy bonus: This one is fun. Make some NPCs react _too_ positively toward the PC (e.g. they fall in love with him, follow him around singing his praises for all to hear, and give him embarrassing or inconvenient gifts)
* Massive Bluff bonus: Make him careful with what he lies about. Does he tell someone that he’s a foreign prince? Have some royalty-hating ninjas try to assassinate him, or have the merchant guild come to claim an epic tab that the real prince left without paying. Or better yet: “A prince you say? EVERYONE, WE’RE SAVED! The doomsday prophecy states that the kingdom will be saved if we sacrifice a prince!”

2 Craig Willcutt August 27, 2009 at 11:00 am

This actually comes up less and less (in my games) as players tend to “call-out” players who seemingly have excessive defenses.

Usually, we have found, that there is an expected range of defenses dependent on level. A defender with an AC of 20 at 1st level can be expected. If that same defender has a 24 AC out of the gate (no power benefits or zones) then it is time to look at the PC sheet.

3 Kensan_Oni August 27, 2009 at 11:02 am

Now, wait a minute…

This diatribe about how to handle Min/Maxxers aroused from a AC issue? Really? You realize how bad this is making you look?

The last thing in the world that you should be worrying about is a tank with a High AC. If the Tank isn’t getting hurt and keeping things off of people, then it’s doing it’s job. The system is designed for this. The system also knows the AC for the Defender is going to be gawd awful ridiculous at times. If you don’t believe me, try hitting a moving halfling Cha Paladin on AC. They’ll be a +4 AC on OA, and in a few levels +6 if they’re between people. That’s on top of the 20+(.5)Level+Enhancement that they started with. AC isn’t the issue.

Picking on one player because they are doing what the system expects them too, and provides means of doing easily with just the PHB, is just poor form. There are surely more important things to declare Min/Max problems then AC.

4 Wimwick August 27, 2009 at 11:48 am

@ Dave
I like the way you think. Some great suggestions, thanks for sharing.

@ Craig Willcut
My group doesn’t tend to have too many problems like this. We’ve all been gaming together for over 15 years. I use the analogy of AC to bring up the issue.

@ Kensan_Oni
Perhaps I should have used the controller as the example not the defender. =) I use the issue of high AC as it’s easy to transition into the real issue, which is players that exploit or abuse rule to the detrement of everyone else at the table. At the end of the day if the character is legal, then it’s legal. That doesn’t necessarily make it a fun experience for everyone at the table. I’m not telling people how they should play the game, just giving some idea’s to DMs who are dealing with the issue and are unsure of how to handle it.

On another note, I like your halfling Paladin build.

5 Mike Shea August 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm

We have two defenders in our group, a super-high AC paladin and a super-high attack / damaging fighter. At level 17, the paladin has an AC between 36 and 40 given circumstances. The fighter has a moderate attack score (+23ish) but very high damage (an extra +22 I think, more on OAs).

This is fun for them and fun for the party so I don’t worry too much. Changing things around, targeting them with different abilities, upping the difficulty, these can all help.

4th edition gives a huge amount of power to the players, moreso than monsters can typically reproduce or match, I find, but that is fun for them to feel powerful.

It has been a long time since my group felt really at risk, though. That’s something I need to work on.
.-= Mike Shea´s last blog ..Four Tips for Running Solo Creatures =-.

6 Josh August 27, 2009 at 11:01 pm

There’s no such thing as a player who optimizes too much… only DMs who can’t handle well-built characters.

Take off the gloves, indeed. DMs should give optimization a try from time to time too. It can be a ton of fun to prove to your players that you aren’t just pulling a DM magic trick… that you’re using the same options that they could have used if they paid more attention to the rules.
.-= Josh´s last blog ..Current 750 Eldar List, and Dream 750 Eldar List =-.

7 satyre August 28, 2009 at 3:28 am

Asking players not to use the options available to them… just don’t see that working unless you have very tolerant players.

Unusual situations? If the situations are believable then yes, absolutely. Obstructive/hazardous terrain, flyers and monsters with slide attacks can mitigate AC maxers. Those with maxed out skills should be given the occasional bone but find themselves in equally tense situations that require quick thinking say the Diplomacy monster finds themselves an attractive admirer who blinded by their passion for the character makes erratic efforts to get their attention or concocts a deadly scheme that backfires. Or an equally-skilled rival.

If you are singling out a specific character, make it very clear that it’s the character the NPCs are gunning for and not the player. This works well with opposed religions and chaotic evil sorts who love to twist the knife.
Ultimately balance is everything. Finding ways to give your monsters an edge is fun brainstorming activity and can lead to flavourful games.
.-= satyre´s last blog ..spare me: ye olde magick shoppe? =-.

8 Wimwick September 1, 2009 at 3:19 pm

@ Mike Shea
You raise a good point that having those number is ‘fun’ for the player. That’s the balance that needs to be maintained. While I pick on Defenders/AC in the article it is probably a poor choice. The real trick is to deal with problem players in creative ways and as you mention to ensure that the party is always being challenged.

@ Josh
Touche! Yes, players are synonymous with optimizing their characters. The point of the article was to provide idea’s to new DMs who are unsure of how to handle these players.

@ Satyre
You raise some good points about ensuring it’s the PC not the player themselves. The point here is not to alienate a player away from the group or game. Rather it’s to find a balance to ensure that everyone, the DM included, is having a good time.

9 Toldain September 8, 2009 at 1:14 pm

There’s a subtle distinction here. I think it’s not ok to pick on someone simpley because they have made an effective build. Furthermore, I think specialization of each of the players is a good thing. It makes them more of a team, depending on each other for particular functions. However, I do think that is entirely appropriate for a GM to play the PC’s weaknesses.

This concept originates from the Hero System, where players take disadvantages to their characters in order to build stronger strengths. So the disadvantages must be pinged by the DM often enough for them to feel like the disadvantage is real and not ignored.

So while mostly the monsters will attack the Halfling CHA paladin’s AC, sometimes they will attack Will defense or something. And daze him, or immobilize him or even sleep him. Really, wouldn’t that be awesome to have the bad guys sleep your tank at the start of the fight?

Smart bad guys will try to exploit the party’s weaknesses. Good GM’s will do this, because overcoming smart bad guys is much more satisfying to the players. The chance of failure has to be there.
.-= Toldain´s last blog .."I Don’t Make Games, I Make Toys" =-.

10 Takinalis September 10, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Hiya!
I’m a big believer in pre-screening characters and pre-screening leveling to make certain the player build is possible in the campaign.

Power takes two things: talent and oppotunity. The character may have the talent to gain the power…but they may not have had the opportunity.

Remember: The game is about role play. Not roll play. Or maybe I’m just old school. Just be sure to help the players along in developing the characters…if a character build just will not fit where the campaign is then tell them so. Tell them “I’m sorry, your character has not had the opportunity to learn that. You will break the other players suspension of disbelief if you head that route and I can’t allow it at my table.”

Thanks,

Tak

11 Rauthik September 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm

I just want to chime in and say that despite using AC as your example in the article (which seems to have upset a lot of people), it was a good article. I never got the impression you were telling DMs to pick on anyone or punish players. Just to offer ideas on how DMs can make it so that the players feel a little more is at risk in encounters. I say it was good article and some of the ideas in the responses were also excellent (especially Dave’s idea with the prince/prophecy… nice).
.-= Rauthik´s last blog ..Laric’s Gate =-.

12 Spire September 11, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Im a very inexperienced DM (1 beginners 3 encounter quest and 2 3 encounter delves)I have a Rogue who seems to hit everything even on fairly poor rolls.I know i have to do more research into all his skills but on a decent backstab with his other feats he can put out around 30 damage at level 3 with a basic dagger.is there some monster with a feat/skill that can help counterbalance the damage or possibly have a interupt/immediate rection at the lower levels.I have done ok to keep the encounters balanced..(PC didnt uses every skill but there are definate OMG someone help moments)Should i just leave it be my PCs seem to be having fun with it and remark and well done challenges…i just want to add a Uh oh Monster to make him think about tactical attacks a little more than just toe to toe Tanking .

13 Wimwick September 11, 2009 at 2:27 pm

@ Toldain
My example of picking on a player was perhaps a poor choice of words. The intent was to provide some example to DMs on how to play to player weaknesses as you’ve suggested.

@ Takinalis
I like reviewing character sheets before the campaign begins, not so much to screen them but to ensure the encounters I’ve built are balanced and will actually challenge the players. In older editions I think the arguement of how would have learned that is valid. However, I think 4e is much more organic with the power system and its difficult to now say no you can’t learn that power. The very process of adventuring should contain moments of experiment that justify new powers.

@ Rauthik
Dave, welcome to Dungeon’s Master and thanks for chiming in. I also liked Dave ideas!

14 Kensan_Oni September 11, 2009 at 3:49 pm

@Spire

It is a little unusual for Rogues to be putting out that much damage on a consistent basis (They average max about 28 damage at that level on 2[W] attacks. ) While I trust your value judgment on the type of play you have at your table, there are a few things that I can think of.

1) Distract the Rogue. While the skill challenge for traps is a basic fail for the first DMG, and a idea that was good on paper, but poor in play, placing a quick skill challenger (3 success, 3 failures) on an active trap in the combat zone is much more effective. This will help mitigate some of the damage he is doing by giving him a chance to do what Rogue characters hope to have a chance to do (i.e. solve puzzles and traps in dangerous circumstances).

2) Use Brutes. I keep saying this, and I need to make sure it’s heard! It’s okay that they are easily killed! They have the HP’s to soak up damage for other monsters. They BEG to be hit, and you want them hit.

3) Use Dart Board Procedure. Okay…. So is this normal for your rogue? Defender Marks, Rogue moves to Flank, Sneak Attack! What you should do then, is to make sure that he gets some of his medicine too. Get a skirmisher in there, move into flank with the rogue, and stick him once or twice. It’s not going to stop them from doing it, mind you, but after a few times of Low Hit Points, they might start watching when they do that.

3a) By all means, though, don’t ALWAYS punish the flank! They need that flank to do their trick, and without that trick, they are hard pressed to deal their sneak attack damage, and that’s their key ability. Never deny a player in a session a chance to use their key ability.

Overall, I think your player dedicated themselves into getting a weapon that hits and has dedicated feats into making sure it counts when it hits. That’s not a bad thing, but it can be unsettling at low levels. This damage level won’t be bad by 5th level, so I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s just the growing pains of the group.

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