Thursday, October 6, 2011

DM Advice - Toning It Down

DM Advice – Toning Down
One of my players wanted to play a centaur in my Dragonlance Pathfinder game. Rather than either allowing it as is in the Pathfinder book or telling him no I decided to allow him but to make some modifications to the race so that he could play it and still be in line with the party.  I did this by telling him upfront that he would still be large and still be able to move 50 feet but that some of the other powerful attributes would be cut back to fit in with the game and so that he would not overpower the other characters.  We discussed it for a bit and he said he was good with anything I came up with.

Trusting your DM is paramount for any successful game because once the rules start to become the alpha and the omega the game can quickly deteriorate into a game of one-upmanship and that is no fun for anyone. You all know I do like to play by the rules for the most part but I have always liked the adage never let a bad rule get in the way of a good story.  I also like my own saying: never let a bad rule get in the way of realistic story.

So back to the centaur then. What I did next was compare the stats of the races in the Pathfinder book with the Centaur and noted that they aligned fairly well with the exception of a huge bump in strength and some other characteristics. All Pathfinder races in the main book are based on +2, +2 -2 that is two plusses to an ability and one minus to an ability all at an increment of two and several +2 bumps in skills.

I liked this formula and decided to apply it to his character. This formula worked well and so I decided to give the centaur player a +2 str, +2 dex and -2 cha (he’s a horse!) and if I can recall correctly he also got a +2 bump to perception (keen senses), survival (woodsman) and know: nature (he’s a horse!). He also wanted to have centaur blood and be able to use anything that centaurs could use. The problem here is that in the current book there is nothing. So what I told him is to go ahead and develop your own item and  wala the centaur scimitar was born from the template of an elven sword prototype.

So far we’ve only played one session but I like the fact that although he’s quicker than the rest of the party he is not going to take a loss in experience due to a CR difference and he will not overpower the party in terms of his abilities.

Next up was the Irda. This is my friend Liesl’s character and she is like I am and more for a story than anything else. This was an easy change. I downloaded the lancefinder supplement someone came up with and used it as a base but restricted her alter form to medium size only (no smaller and no larger) and gave her a +2, +2 -2 and some +2 skill bumps similar to the way I did the centaur.

Overall so far it’s worked. We’ve had the one session and everyone seems to really like their characters. The remainder of the party is playing Silvenesti elves, Humans, Kender and the like so they were straightforward.

Another method I’ve used and am currently using is the Savage Species level progession. I like this because it allows players to gradually level in their race without overpowering the group. What I do not like is the restriction that you MUST take the full savage species racial levels before taking a class level so I booted that out the door. Now in the Superdungeon game we have a level 4 succubus/1 cleric of Elistree that is powerful but not so overpowered that it ruins the party. The ½ giant Warblade is a very powerful character and there I allowed for some rules that I might not have normally but so far it’s worked out well enough. Time will tell on that one but I suspect as the party increases in power the power level will level off overall. Besides he's a great roleplayer!

So as you can see if your players trust you and you them you can allow for some pretty neat character races. The key is to make sure that you have a balanced group or that at least you can compensate for the players with the slightly more powerful characters.

Never be afraid to tone them down. With a good group, anything is possible!
I am currently running two games that are both full with six players each. My wife plays in both. I am a lucky man. I also have three great children. The two eldest have expressed interest in my hobbies. I hope to introduce them to the world of gaming sooner rather than later. My daughter is six and has started sitting at the table occasionally. I figure she will want to play a fairy. I look forward to that.


  1. Seems very sensible. I don't know the rules: are there negative traits that you can use to balance out any bonuses? In mythology the Centaurs got drunk really quickly. Something like this could make for an interesting moment or two!

  2. I am playing the centaur in question, and since we are playing in the Dragonlance Realm, I based my character off one of the centaur's in the storyline. A character who loves his drink, and one who could more than hold his own in drinking against the likes of Cameron Majere. I also took the trait "Iron Liver" Which gives the character a +4 in overcoming the effects of drinking alcohol. I also during character creation, spent some of my starting wealth on gallon jugs of alcohol. So just in case I can not find a good tavern, I will always have some "juice" on hand...

  3. That seems pretty fair. It's nice that Pathfinder standardized PC race benefits more - back in 3.5 there were PC races with weird as hell attribute arrays, and others with really min-maxable ones. When I play 3.5 I'm really comfortable with homebrewing things for people to fit the character they want to play. I think it's something every good game master who is comfortable with his or her system of choice should try to do.

  4. I love that descriptive trait - "iron liver"!

  5. @Caliban - Me too! The tone of the Pathfinder game is really nicely done too. We're playing in Dragonlance but it fits well with Dan's character.

    @Dennis - Thanks and welcome to the blog! The fact that Pathfinder standardized the races at least mechanically is for me something very important. I like this and it makes it easy for me to allow people to play other character races without overbalancing the game.