Hello dungeon bees and welcome to what is my last D&D related post in a while. Due to recent stuff going on in the greater TTRPG and D&D communities, as well as the hiatus my own game is taking, I’m just not feeling very connected to this series anymore sadly. But for this last post I’d like to talk about the warning signs that your character–PC or NPC–is not suited for your campaign anymore.
How to tell your NPC is too powerful
As a DM, one of the most fun parts of planning for a session is creating powerful NPCs. Sometimes you’re creating them as potential antagonists, sometimes you’re putting them together to help the players in a coming encounter, other times you’re just creating them for fun and you’ll mention them but let it slide if the players don’t interact with them. An important thing to consider, though, is how powerful your NPCs are–especially in context of an encounter. Combat takes a while the more characters have turns. Already as the DM you are playing the turns of all your antagonists and enemies, and the players each get their one turn (or a couple more depending on animal companions and spells). It can be super frustrating as a player to sit through five to ten attacks on the DM’s behalf.
If you find that your NPC has a ridiculous amount of actions, bonus actions, and free actions on their turns you should consider toning things down a little. While a difficult encounter may leave the players thankful for the NPC’s help, they won’t be as pleased if they never even get to engage in the combat because your all powerful NPC took first initiative, nerfed the enemy, and finished the encounter in the first round. You may be excited to play this NPC to its full potential but unless your players will also get a lot of interesting turns in combat, it’s an unfair round.
What to do if your player has a powerful PC
For any bees new to the dungeons, there’s an idea for character creation called “min maxing.” This is essentially maximizing your character for full combat potential, making them very overpowered especially for their level, fellow party members, and the enemies they may face. Supposedly there are DMs out there who appreciate min maxing because they drive combat heavy campaigns and want the PCs to actually be able to stand up against the enemies, but I’ve yet to meet one. I have however met many a min maxing player. These players tend to be DMs themselves, people who know the rules well enough to figure out how to maneuver through them and create ridiculous characters. They make every leveling decision based on power, with no consideration to the roleplay reasons behind multi-classing or taking feats. They’re the kind of person who introduces a first level rogue and informs you that in about five levels they’ll be taking a level in Warlock.
It can be difficult to work with a min maxer for a few reasons. Number one is that people tend to be very proud of their characters. If that player is lucky with their rolls, they may just be excited to have a character that’s good at things. Excited players, players who consider reasons for their characters to be good at so many things–making a several centuries old elf, or coming up with a backstory that explains their many talents–are great players to have. They make their characters interesting as well as powerful. But min maxers who create PCs mostly good for combat are frustrating. “It’s what my character would do,” is the resounding cry from them as you tiredly ask for the millionth time why they’re messing with the NPC they just met, why they’re abandoning their party for the fifth time, and why they need to make this particular encounter about themselves.
If you check out any DM thread online (Twitter, Reddit, etc.) you’ll eventually find a discussion of how people have dealt with these types of players. In my case, I ended a campaign in the face of a min maxing player because I didn’t have the energy to invest in convincing him over and over again that no his character couldn’t do that. My husband had to deal with a min maxer during his first and only campaign as DM, and was constantly arguing with the player at the table because said player wanted to be an assassin, a charismatic ladies man, have a tragic backstory, be unapologetically ambitious, become a Warlock through a constructed discovery of a magical book, be more powerful than all the NPCs when we were level three, be the face of the party and also the arrogant one, and about twenty million other things.
There aren’t a lot of graceful ways to deal with this player and this PC. If you have a friendly relationship with the player, you can try as DM to have a private conversation about the way the PC is negatively impacting the campaign. You can also put your foot down with certain things the player may say or do, explaining that that’s not how things are going to work in your world and your campaign. Other times, you have to create in game reasons for their character to be defeated, pitting them against equally overpowered enemies and hoping this time you actually kill them off. Or you can nip the whole thing in the bud and tell that player to remake their character or get out.
What to do if you’re the player with an overpowered PC
Hey, it happens sometimes. You’re having a good rolling day and suddenly your character’s lowest ability score is a fifteen. You roll really well for a few sessions and now you’ve got a ton of gold and items you didn’t anticipate having. Combat is starting and as you look over your inventory and your character sheet, you realize you could totally do something nuts…and defeat the enemy in a single round. It’s not a crime to have a super cool character who’s good at things. What you do with your PC, though, is what matters.
When you find that your PC is good at a lot of things, start talking to the rest of the party. Maybe you’ve got an unusually high charisma score for a fighter, and you want to use it, but you’ve got two charisma based characters already in the party. If you take over all the charisma skill checks just because you can, you might isolate these players and make them feel like they never get to use the skill they’re good at. You have to find a balance. Nobody is saying you can’t have fun and utilize skills that are unusual for your class, but you also have to make sure you don’t turn the whole game into a one person show.
I’ve played in campaigns before where the party was just so large that there were some players and PCs who naturally took the spotlight. In one game, myself and another player knew the game the best and thus shared a lot of table time; this was also because half the other players weren’t engaged at all, so let us do whatever and showed interest only when the game shifted to something they liked. Another time, our DM told one of the players that he really only liked his character and was building the majority of the campaign around him, begging him to stay when the player decided he didn’t like the inequality created around his character and wanted to leave. In this case, it was the DM who created an unfair campaign centered around one character and none of the players were satisfied, leading to us leaving one by one.
In the role of a character, you can make choices that throw the spotlight to other players. Maybe you’re having an interaction with an NPC and you know that a quieter PC happens to have a lot of knowledge on the topic at hand. Just because you have high charisma, or are really excited about this conversation, or really like this NPC doesn’t mean you need to dominate the conversation. Have your character turn to the other PC and bring up their expertise. Engage with them, draw the player out, and share the spotlight.
Another thing to do is talk to your fellow players about their characters. If you have a lot of stuff you can do during combat, it can be tempting to go ahead and end an encounter on your turn. But maybe you know that another player just discovered something fun they can do on their turn, and they want to try it out. You could roleplay, explain that something about the encounter has thrown your PC off their rhythm, so they don’t go all in like they usually do and the round continues. Now you’ve not only allowed another player to engage in the fun of combat, but you’ve also created an interesting roleplay moment that the DM and the party can pick up on, and bring up afterwards. Maybe this is the start of a new character arc for you, even!
Everybody plays differently, and sometimes there will be campaigns and groups where a min maxed PC or NPC are useful to have around. Ultimately, though, it will always be more interesting if powerful PCs and NPCs are powerful for in game reasons. Instead of being powerful because the player figured out what three feats and multi-class level would benefit them most, a PC that’s powerful because they had a major moment of character development that came with tangible rewards is interesting. As a DM, feel free to reward players for moments of growth and development in this way so they feel rewarded. As a player, make sure you check yourself before moving forward with a power move. Does it really make sense that your character suddenly develops an interest and ability to utilize magic? Or did you just get tired of having to be creative in magical based combat and decide you wanted some spell slots too?
It can be difficult when others don’t share your excitement over some new powerful character you’ve created. But D&D is at the end of the day a cooperative roleplay game, you’re not playing it alone. You have the power to realize how overpowered your character is and to adjust in the moment to make sure you share the spotlight.