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The Magic King
03-05-2010, 06:01 AM
What are other DM's views on placing NPCs that are radically more powerful than the PCs in the campaign as at least potential adversaries?

I find that it helps add verisimilitude to the world. It also forces PCs to find other ways of solving their problems than combat.

So, your thoughts please.

yukonhorror
03-05-2010, 09:54 AM
I think as long as your motives are clear and you give clues as to how to overcome interactions with them, than I think it is a worthwhile thing.

In a game I played, we came across this demon we were supposed to "bargain" with. We had no idea how the DM intended us to RP our way out of the interaction (they wanted the paladin's soul or something like that), so we pulled out swords and got by on really good rolls.

Sascha
03-05-2010, 10:57 AM
An opponent that the party, in all likelihood, *can't* defeat probably shouldn't be encountered directly, even if the inability is temporary (such as being too low in level). They're best used as background, or scenery elements, than full-fledged conflict participants.

Example: An old red dragon, nesting near the PCs' home town, periodically raids the surrounding villages for food (or fun). The PCs are in town during one such raid.

You could stat it up proper and unleash it on a village, and use mechanical resolution for any "opposition." The problem with this approach is the dice are almost irrelevant; it's unlikely the PCs will affect the dragon in a meaningful, mechanical way.

Or you can treat the attack as an event, and the dragon as an environmental hazard. The PCs aren't dealing directly with the dragon, but instead with the consequences of the attack: burning buildings, flying debris, panicking townsfolk. The problem with this approach is, of course, the dragon is untouchable, even to lucky shots.

Honestly, I think it comes down to *why* such a powerful NPC exists in the first place. If they're always going to be out of the players' reach, they're better plot devices than actual antagonists, really. If they're to teach the players a lesson of some sort, I'm more inclined to say settle the play style conflict out of game; a frank explanation of what you as DM expect is more effective than super-baddies that are far more powerful than the players' characters.

Banshee
03-05-2010, 11:25 AM
Personally, I don't think that every NPC should be placed in order to feed the PCs egos or to facilitate their levelling up. Just as in life there are those who are bigger, badder, stronger, etc than others, so too must it be in the game. It's a great idea to place an NPC who simply can't be beated in combat, but with whom the players must pool their other resources and skills in order to deal effectively. That 18th level fighter is pretty cocky- until he must rely on his wit in order to gain the support of a key NPC.

In R.A. Salvatore's "The Thousand Orcs" series, there are a pair of Dwarf brothers. One is a stereotypical Dwarf fighter while the other is a very original, almost whimsical, Dwarf druid. They bicker constantly, as siblings sometimes do. When the fighter tries to push around his brother, the druid often does something simple and easy which makes the fighter look the fool. To add insult to injury, the druid innocently laughs at his brother's foibles. Very funny side story. It's also an example of an NPC who has to be interacted with in an unconventional manner. It adds a new challenge to the game and as an added bonus, it makes the game that much more fun- at least in my view.

Conversely, I once played in a group whose DM made this one NPC who seemed to be more powerful than life itself. No only couldn't anything be done against this guy, but if you even gave a fleeting thought to acting against one of this NPC's interests, you knew it was only a matter of time before he'd show up, with his totally unnecessary entourage, and beat your character's brakes off... then rub it in your face. It got very tiring. A strong, unbeatable NPC can be good for the game, but it shouldn't be used to zap all the fun and possibilities out of the game. Everythign in moderation.

cplmac
03-05-2010, 01:18 PM
In our current tabletop game, our DM has had some rather strong opponents. Of course, the idea was that since the characters are of lower level, they would retreat/run away and come back later when they are of higher level and abilities. Needless to say, we (the party) didn't do that. In a battle with 2 spell users, (not sure if they were clerics or mages), we did manage to kill the one that had been attacking us by directing groups of people. When we finally defeated him, the lady that was with him in the mine cavern, proved to be a little harder yet. We were able to ultimately take her captive. Now we are at the point where the party could be going up against some type of Lich Orc. Haven't got to talk with the DM, but I am thinking that this creature is being tossed at us in order to get us to retreat until the characters are stronger and better able to deal with the various creatures in the Underdark.

The Magic King
03-06-2010, 02:39 AM
"In a game I played, we came across this demon we were supposed to "bargain" with. We had no idea how the DM intended us to RP our way out of the interaction (they wanted the paladin's soul or something like that), so we pulled out swords and got by on really good rolls." -yukonhorror

How did he expect you to chat up a demon? I mean with a paladin in your party you couldn't exactly make any evil deals.

"Honestly, I think it comes down to *why* such a powerful NPC exists in the first place. If they're always going to be out of the players' reach, they're better plot devices than actual antagonists, really. If they're to teach the players a lesson of some sort, I'm more inclined to say settle the play style conflict out of game; a frank explanation of what you as DM expect is more effective than super-baddies that are far more powerful than the players' characters." -Sascha

In my style of play nothing is out of reach. Also I agree, I don't do in game lesson teaching it is petty. I mainly add them for the sake of realism, if the world has existed far in advance of the PC's existences then in all likelihood powerful beings should exist e.g. liches, kings etc.

"In R.A. Salvatore's "The Thousand Orcs" series, there are a pair of Dwarf brothers." -Banshee

Ivan and Pikel Bouldershoulder (the book is on my shelf).

"but if you even gave a fleeting thought to acting against one of this NPC's interests, you knew it was only a matter of time before he'd show up, with his totally unnecessary entourage, and beat your character's brakes off..."
-Banshee

The way I see it If the NPC is so truly powerful that the PCs don't register as a threat, then said NPC would have no reason to deal with them personally. For if his powers are so mighty, he likely has varied pursuits and the PCs would pose no threat to his most important pursuits. If they were so powerless against him, perhaps they would receive opposition from his servants somewhere low down on the chain of command. A simple example is sharks don't eat minnows.

"In a battle with 2 spell users, (not sure if they were clerics or mages), we did manage to kill the one that had been attacking us by directing groups of people. When we finally defeated him, the lady that was with him in the mine cavern, proved to be a little harder yet. We were able to ultimately take her captive." -cplmac

If they were casters they should have had meat shields, or at the very least teleported away. I agree the lich is likely a deterrent.

Arkhemedes
03-06-2010, 10:55 AM
In the Ravenloft PBP that I run here on P&PG, the characters ran into a vampire that they had no hopes of defeating in combat. Fortunately, the vampire had no desire to kill the characters (just yet, that is). But I tried to make it abundantly clear to the players (and their characters) that they have no chance against this vampire by nearly killing one of them with one (non-negative energy) blow of a sword. They (hopefully) know that had the vampire chosen to attack with its hands the character would have died with just one hit.

The object of all of this, from the GMs perspective, was to make the characters (and therefore the players) realize that there are forces in this world that are well beyond their abilities to handle, and that the best option sometimes is to run away. It is also an essential element of Ravenloft that the characters have a sense that the world, in general, is working against them and that they be in fear for their lives much of the time. It is, after all, gothic horror.

wizarddog
03-06-2010, 04:59 PM
I personally feel (in my game) that certain environments and organizations should used as the more powerful group, rather than individuals. The collected force is understandable more powerful than the PC's. You can even have a force that is comparable in level and equipment. This allows me to avoid the very powerful NPC. I try to have the PC's be the most powerful individuals (next to the monster/foes).

If I want a "powerful NPC" who later turns to a foe then I stat the foe and keep him that way. His cover as a "NPC" is just part of the campaign/adventure. Players should never have the suspicion that the NPC is more powerful than them.

When placing the PC's against overwhelming odds, it should be a force to reckoned-an enviroment rather than an encounter. Forces like armies, secret organizations, ancient dragons, demi-gods make great forces. These forces should not be directly encounter; rather their effects should be: The aftermath of a dragon's attack, a plague brought by demi-god, the plots of secret organization, the sacking of a city, etc.

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
03-09-2010, 04:22 PM
Been there, done that. Ah, the good times. <evil laugh ensues>

Mestemeah
03-09-2010, 08:49 PM
The "Reality" of a world demands certain elements be there in order to be the living, colorful world that we all strive for in our games. Powerful beings typically exist in these worlds. I, personally, do not deliberately put NPCs that are "too powerful" into the immediate area of the campaign world for the players' characters to encounter. With that said, however, if the organization/situation that the PCs face would realistically have a mighty being in "encounter range", then that is what will happen. I hate to kill off characters. They are the heroes of the story after all. But the players in my group have always been told up front to pay attention and NOT assume that every being they encounter is within there challenge rating.

Sometimes, though, they aren't paying close enough attention. So, I try to let them know..

In order to convey the message that they are facing an out-of-reach adversary, I have two basic tactics:
1. I do my best to describe the being and situation in such a way that lets the players know that they may be stepping into a major pile of it.
2. Typically there is at least one character with a decent Wisdom/Awareness score. I will secretly roll checks for those characters and pass on additional information to those players about the "nagging feelings" their characters are getting about a potentially deadly situation.

Bottom line... if that doesn't work and the 1st level PCs want to go running into the old dragon's lair with swords drawn and light spells blazing - assuming that their characters won't die at the hands of their benevolent DM, then may the dice gods help them. I sure won't.

cigamnogard
03-10-2010, 09:01 PM
I noticed everyone took oppnent to mean the big bad baddie. What about the big goog goodie - hmm, didn't work out that way in my head. What I mean is what do you do about the Paladin king who thinks it would be best to wipe out the nearby "evil" realm? He is an opponent with an agenda.
No?

Sascha
03-11-2010, 12:13 AM
I noticed everyone took oppnent to mean the big bad baddie. What about the big goog goodie - hmm, didn't work out that way in my head. What I mean is what do you do about the Paladin king who thinks it would be best to wipe out the nearby "evil" realm? He is an opponent with an agenda.
No?
He definitely has an agenda. But it's not a given that the PCs oppose his plan.

Assuming they do, then nothing about the situation changes from a mechanical standpoint. He's still going to outclass the PCs by whatever margin you set, and should (ideally) exist for the same reasons an Evil king determined to wipe out the Good kingdom does.

In other words: if he doesn't enter into conflict with the PCs, does it really matter how powerful he is?

The Magic King
03-11-2010, 12:08 PM
"In other words: if he doesn't enter into conflict with the PCs, does it really matter how powerful he is?"
-Sascha

It actually does, the very fact that he holds power over them forces them do deal with the situation differently. If they cannot defeat him in a battle scenario they must find some other means to remove his threat, e.g., convincing the nobles in the evil king's kingdom to not support his war. Now again you may say that his power is a non issue, but you must remember that in most scenarios if the PCs can remove an adversary by force they will. Said adversary being impossible for violence to overcome forces them to act differently.

Mestemeah
03-11-2010, 01:08 PM
I noticed everyone took oppnent to mean the big bad baddie. What about the big goog goodie - hmm, didn't work out that way in my head. What I mean is what do you do about the Paladin king who thinks it would be best to wipe out the nearby "evil" realm? He is an opponent with an agenda.
No?

Good, bad, or otherwise is irrelevant. If you stick a "too powerful" NPC that has an agenda in direct opposition to your PCs into the game, then what can the PCs do about it? Using the "reality" point of view, even if the NPC does not come into direct conflict - violent or otherwise - the NPC is sure to use his power/influence to stifle and/or kill off the PCs to eliminate the opposition. Doing something like that - it seems to me - pretty much brings the campaign to a halt, unless the DM has considered this and plans to allow the PCs to work up the ranks until direct conflict allows for a chance of success for the PCs. In other words, the PCs will work over time to stop small events that slow the NPC's agenda with minimal notice until a time comes when the PCs can stand in direct opposition to the NPC.

Or have I missed the point altogether? Things that make you go hmmm...

The Magic King
03-11-2010, 01:29 PM
This is why in the original post i wrote "potential" adversaries. If they are far more powerful than the PCs they likely don't even register the PCs as a threat. However, the PCs might wish to oppose this juggernaut and thus provoke it's ire.

"In other words, the PCs will work over time to stop small events that slow the NPC's agenda with minimal notice until a time comes when the PCs can stand in direct opposition to the NPC."
- Mestemeah

Yes, you grasped the general idea behind it. This forces the PCs to use cunning to defeat their foe. It is satisfying defeating a great opponent over a period of time rather than waltzing up and slapping aside some nuisance.

Sascha
03-11-2010, 01:31 PM
"In other words: if he doesn't enter into conflict with the PCs, does it really matter how powerful he is?"
-Sascha

It actually does, the very fact that he holds power over them forces them do deal with the situation differently. If they cannot defeat him in a battle scenario they must find some other means to remove his threat, e.g., convincing the nobles in the evil king's kingdom to not support his war. Now again you may say that his power is a non issue, but you must remember that in most scenarios if the PCs can remove an adversary by force they will. Said adversary being impossible for violence to overcome forces them to act differently.
Except that would be putting them in conflict with each other. Once his goals and the PCs goals clash, his power becomes relevant. Before that point, he's campaign flavor text.

Also, you don't need to have overpowering combat ability to create problems that can't be solved by violent action. There are more kinds "power" than force; DnD just doesn't model them very well, but that's never really been a design goal for the game, heh. (There's a tool metaphor here somewhere that I'm probably not masculine enough to use ;))

My base position still comes down to what role the NPC plays: does that role warrant being mechanically so much more powerful than the PCs. The answers are going to vary between GM style, tone, and base assumptions about the setting. (Edition, too, but only to the extent one follows the rules, a factor not quite as important as the others.)

michael
03-11-2010, 01:38 PM
So, the NPC basically becomes a campaign goal. Right?

The Magic King
03-11-2010, 01:56 PM
So, the NPC basically becomes a campaign goal. Right?

Essentially, or as others have said a force of nature a bit like a mountain in that you must find a way around it.

"(There's a tool metaphor here somewhere that I'm probably not masculine enough to use ;))"
- Sascha

Please break the gender barriers it is satisfying I assure you.

P.S. That fox in your albums is going to use some sort of heat ray i believe.

cigamnogard
03-11-2010, 06:39 PM
Okay, so I have to say that for the most part I have an ugly poweful bad guy that the PCs have to unite to defeat. But, once in a while I through in the exact opposite. The weaker bad guy. My players do not like this very much - why?
A/ Less XP
B/ Less gold
C/ The "baddie" usually knows he's outclassed and does all he can to mess with the PCs