Posted by: Opinicus | April 29, 2010

Why do only the Guys in Robes get to have all the Fun? Ideas on having fun while being overshadowed.

Opinicus with words, now put them in you.

So, you’re in a lv 10+ game and have decided to play a fighter.  Good for you.  Now look to the rest of the party, is anyone there a full caster? Yes? aww… too bad, you’re going to feel outclassed in everything you do, unless the caster doesn’t know what he’s doing in which case you have a fighting chance to feel important to the party.  The other caster build that will let you feel useful is a buff caster, but that requires the caster to give up the limelight to let everyone else feel useful, instead of just destroying everything singlehandedly.

Now, let’s say the mage in the party has decided to min-max and combat now ends on his round.  I’m talking about sudden maximized chain lightings or energy admixtured fireballs, or 120% real shadow evocations, or any other of the plethora of reality bending options mages have.  What do you do? What can you do?

Honestly, there’s not that much.  The fights are going to be short and brutal, one way or another.  The GM will probably start making the enemies tougher and nastier, so they could survive a going a few rounds with the world breaker without pants.  This means you’re going to need to come into your own soon, but if you’re not as optimized as the guy lugging around a huge book everywhere, you’ll show up as a weak link. The mage has done 80% of the work, and now you dropped the ball on the last 20%. Good job mister “I put all my skills into craft scrimshaw and diplomacy.” (That’s right, I’m looking at you AHT.)

So, how can you prevent this? How can you prevent becoming the weak link?  Other than the obvious tactic of making a really optimized character, there’s not that much you can do, and even if you made a powerhouse of a fighter, if the mage knows what he’s doing, you’re still on second fiddle.  And most people don’t have as much fun playing an outclassed character.

And here is where I’ll tell you the remedy to feeling inferior to a guy in a glorified dress.  Make the fun where you can and a lot of this involves role playing, you know, what D&D is all about.  Combat might be harder to get any fun out of with the mage melting people’s faces, but with Improved initiative, you’ll have a higher chance of going before the mage.  So before the mage traps all the enemies in a prison of force and then implodes them into burnt hamburger, you RUN THE HELL INTO THEM. You get your burly, sweaty, metal encrusted, fighter ass into the thick of things. Yeah, it’s a stupid move, usually, but remember, D&D is about having fun.  If you’re not having fun in combat because the mage does everything for you, then what’s the point of even being there for the combats? I propose that to have fun, you just gotta make the mage’s job harder.   He can’t just nuke everything lest he PK’s you, and most PC’s don’t want to do that (there are exceptions, who will actively try to kill you.).  Make it so the mage can’t just power-trip his way through everything.  Make him swear at you and call you an idiot.  If the only place where you can shine is out of combat, then bring that into the combat.  Call out, “THAT ONE’S MINE! Hand’s off him Magey McRobepants.”  Before the mage can buff himself with all his armor spells, protection spells, what-have-you, kick that door down.  Make him panic that the meaty shield in front of him just decided to ignore every enemy save the one in the back.  Usually by this point the GM secretly has it out for the mage and won’t mind that all his ground-pounder minions have free lane of access to the mage.  The mage is now too busy defending himself to kill everyone easily, and you have singlehandedly shaped the combat, Leeroy Jenkins style.

It is so easy for the party to get caught up in the pace of the mage.  “Oh, are his spells out depleted for the day? Time to rest.” What you gotta say is, “By rest you mean *Crash* I kick down this door right? Oh well, too late, roll initiative!”  Now, doing this is obviously not efficient at all.  You are purposely making it harder for everyone, but know what?  The other non-casters of the party are probably feeling the same thing as you.  At first, they’ll get pissed that they’re in intense combats, then they’ll remember the joy of a good challenge. The mage, who is used to getting his rest after ever other combat will suddenly find himself down to 1st lv spells, or even just cantrips.  He’ll sit through a fight or two, just shooting with his non-magic crossbow, or sling, or rays of frost, feeling really gimped.  Soon, he’ll learn to conserve his spells, cast them wisely, in preparation for the fact that he’s not going to be able to rest them back any time soon. Now suddenly, the mage isn’t blowing his load all over the place, everyone now needs to contribute to the fight as the mage is playing it cautiously.

Of course, doing all this is probably going to get your character smashed in the face quite a few times. It’s going to hurt, and if the mage is out of spells, don’t you think the healer is going to be out as well?  And here is where I say, if the game is high enough lv that the mage can easily kill everything, 750gp should be pocket change for you.  750gp is the cost of a fully charged wand of cure light wounds.  This is the most money-to-HP efficient healing item in the game. Just carry a few of these, and after combat, when the mage wants to rest, toss one to the healer, tell him to go nuts with it, and then say “But, we’re all full HP, let’s keep going.” I say you should have a friggin’ quiver of those things. I’ve been in games where I was practically grinding them up and snorting them off the halfing’s ass (the halfling was the cleric).

Ultimately though, it’s up to the GM to help balance the encounters.  If the mage can dish out lots of AOE damage, the GM shouldn’t throw 30 first lv warriors at you and expect everyone to have fun.

Opinicus signing off.



  1. Depending on the GM, the nature of the group, the nature of the adventure, and the people involved, breaking the party up from time to time is also a viable option. Take a game like LGScoundrel’s. We’re all significantly weaker than the spellcasters to varying degrees, but you, me, and Akal all have different abilities and form a relatively balanced party together.

    If we were divided into two groups (casters and non casters), it would be easy enough for everyone to have fun. Of course, make sure we’re not broken up for too large of segments of the game and that each group probably gets half hour or so undivided chunks of attention without the other interrupting.

    Of course, we are in the unique situation of all being extremely close friends ooc. But most groups are probably friends to some degree, so plugging in the ol’ X-box for the people sitting out is probably a fairly universal cure.

  2. Wait…are.. are you… YOU DARE SUGGEST SPLITTING THE PARTY! I’m affronted, a woman across the room didn’t even see that replay and she still swooned from the the audacity of the thought.
    But yeah, in certain circumstances dividing the group into 2 teams can make for a fun adventure.

    • I don’t think it should be done all the time or for really long periods, but it’s better than stifling the weaker half of the party or forcing the stronger half to compromise their fun.

      In a good campaign, every pc usually gets their time in the spotlight (which LG does really well in a role play way), but that can be hard to do if most problems can be solved in the fastest and easiest way with a few spells.

  3. Some good points in this post. I can’t say that acting like jerk to the mage is one of them, unless, of course, it’s in-character. But the point about the party rhythm being based off the mage most of the time is an excellent one. With the old party for my game, because of the format (sail to a new place, have an adventure, sail on), casters has an enormous amount of firepower. When tried to run seat-of-your pants adventures that had the party operating over a few days without rest, the players got uproarious. “You can’t deny casters their spells like that, it’s not fair to the players.” The first time I played a mage for a few adventures, with a number of D&D vets at my school, one of the players said to me, “the mage is the strategist, the tactician of the party, because if things don’t go well, he’s the first one to go down.” In my opinion one of the downsides to playing a mage, besides the obvious “glass cannon” issue, is having to evaluate whether you are burning through your spells too fast. (Of course there’s scrolls and wands, the mechanics of which aren’t too clear to me, but I understand that with enough GP you can make yourself a continual torrent of arcane hurt.) It’s the responsibility of the mage not to burn through all his firepower and then bitch when the session is still going or the party hasn’t had the opportunity to rest between adventures. Conversely, it’s very likely the responsibility of the GM to drop some hints here and there suggesting how far the mage has to spread himself.

    ‘Course, I’ve always been torn on metagame strategy vs in-combat roleplaying.

  4. Also now I need to draw a picture of a fighter and a mage buddying it up that says “BFFs!”

  5. Weird…I thought I had a response here about a game I ran with Ching, Darius, Alix, and Gabe, but it disappeared.

    Key insight 1: the DM needs to balance encounters around the party. Not around what makes sense for the area (a completely realistic view) but around what will actually challenge all members of the party.

    Key insight 2: Different classes require different levels of rest

    I don’t have enough experience playing a pure spellcaster at higher levels, but by 2nd level on my PF wizard it was quite easy for me to have all the scrolls and wands I needed to burn through a dozen encounters a day – I just had to purchase the ones that didn’t give a saving throw like Enlarge Person or magic missile.

    But it’s also a fallacy to think that the spellcaster won’t necessarily dominate combats if you fight several times per day. How many encounters has Gabe ended with a single spell? Now add in things that last all day, like Animate Dead, Planar Binding, Charm Monster, and crazier stuff like Shrink Item on bombs or Explosive Runes.

    With other casters, after the druid is out of Flame Strikes, doesn’t he still have a dire bear and 6 uses of T-Rex Form? And an artificer with standard WBL for anything over 10th will have plenty of resources to go all day with the wands and scrolls of the best mid-level spells from every caster’s list. When the cleric is low on spells, he can save 1-2 Divine Powers and just go in and swing next to you, only with a pair of zombie fire giants. And so on.

    I don’t know…I feel like the “charge into the next combat!” mentality works in some situations, but there’s so many games where it won’t apply. Travel games with 1 encounter per week, or where you’re the party rogue or archer and can’t charge forward unless you want to die, or where the party can’t acquire constant healing items, or where combat is actually pretty lethal and would be too challenging without the caster’s best slots.

  6. Honestly I think if you kick down a door without telling anyone just to be an ass and the rest of the party just watches you get torn apart by gnolls or something then you got what was coming to you, regardless of what class you are. Never be an uncooperative jerk for reasons that aren’t in-character. It’s the #1 rule in D&D.

  7. I know this isn’t a solution for every game, but personally when I try and come up with games that are going to be very low magic, I usually just take full casters out of the game. Hell, if I wanted to run a moderate game with very few magic items, I’d probably make them NPC classes.

    The lower magic the setting, the more full spell casters completely dominate and the harder it is for everyone else to keep up. Without a really powerful sword, the fighter is going to have nothing on fireball and chain lightening, and without awesome armor, they aren’t even going to be all that effective at protecting the mage, especially if the combat is tailored to challenge the most powerful member of the party.

    Of all the people we know, I’m probably the one that least minds being the high-skills low-combat member of the party, but there isn’t even a lot of point to that when greater invisibility can replace sneaking and power word kill can replace bluff and diplomacy.

  8. I’ve had the (dubious) pleasure of DMing a game where every single one of my players is as optimized as possible in a low-magic setting. I’m lucky in one respect that everyone gets a chance to show off their skills, assuming one of the other characters doesn’t get to the baddie first. My players are a little less lucky in the fact that since they have ridiculous characters, I’m required to throw antagonists at them that are 6-10 lvls above them. Which, since I’m slightly evil, amuses me greatly. A paladin, a pacifist cleric, a rouge, a warden, and a fighter/barbarian at lvl 14 VS a modified Insane noble (lvl 28, I think?). And once they reach lvl 20 or so, they will encounter a boss that drains Healing surges as a minor action every single time she touches you. And you know what, they’re STILL (probably) going to live through it.

    The only problems I encounter are with the fighter/barbarian because the character is an impulse ass. Of course, that’s in RP situations, and the other characters usually smack him before I need to.

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