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High AC, a Dungeon Master's Nightmare

To his credit, this dwarf bard has weak armour.
Someone on Facebook was asking how to best handle characters who have ACs so high it becomes hard to hit them. Basically they were describing a nightmare scenario in which the PCs had become so powerful and impossible to hit that anything he threw at them bounced off.

I responded with the following:


How often do characters die in your campaign? I will come back to that idea later.

I determined years ago as a DM that I should rarely provide loot that boosts AC.

  • Magic armour, magic shields...
  • Rings/Bracers of Protection, anything that provides an AC bonus...

The problem is that characters over time accumulate things that provide AC bonuses and that they often stack. Eventually they become almost impossible to hit so that only really powerful monsters and boss monsters can hit them (or sometimes even those things have problems hitting them).

Having realized this problem I prefer to simply limit how much magical items I give out which boost AC. What items they do find are often only +1, rarely more than that.

Smart players in my opinion should be trying to use distance, cover bonuses, footwork and good timing to boost their survival chances. I use those tactics for my characters during D&D Adventurers League play.

As a DM i also like to run a more deadly campaign as it makes things more exciting, so if PCs are hard to hit it is like everyone is wearing seatbelts and PCs rarely die. Having a high death rate teaches the players to be more cautious and approach death realistically with their characters. (As opposed to DMs who *never* kill characters and PCs do all sorts of suicidal stuff knowing the DM will not let their character die. That to me is boring because everyone is basically protected from death and combat just becomes a foregone conclusion.)

The recipe for a more exciting / more deadly game is:

  • Lower AC.
  • Combat that gets bloody.
  • People get knocked out. Sometimes people die.
  • Players learn to be more cautious.
  • Characters are roleplayed with the fear of death. This means more actual roleplaying.

Note - As a DM I don't actually go looking to kill characters. Usually they die because they do something stupid or in accidents.

Examples of past stupid deaths:

  • Climbing without a safety rope.
  • Running through traps without disarming them - twice.
  • Separating the party in a maze with an undead minotaur.
  • Refusing to rest the party when they found a good place to rest... this one ended in a party wipe. They all died.
  • Killing a mammoth while underneath it and already very injured - Zlatgar got squished and became forever remembered as Splatgar.
  • Running off alone during a Spartacus style revolution.
  • Deciding to fight a harpy on slippery steep terrain instead of waiting to attack the harpy on level ground.
  • Teleporting into the skull of dracolich while it is flying... and then the dracolich crashed headfirst into the ground upon its defeat.

The list goes on...

Sometimes PCs do stupid things. And I don't pull punches or coddle them.

Which to my credit means that my games are exciting and players keep coming back for more.

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