Ezra asks – I’ve just started GMing a Pathfinder campaign (we’re one session in), and the PCs have rolled for their stats. However, one player is just really really lucky, and is good at everything (think 18s and 20s). He’s better than the other players at everything, so they just feel useless. For any given task (combat or otherwise) he’s got better bonuses, so it makes sense for him to do it– no reason ever to have anyone else do it. Esp. in combat it’s hard to come close to challenging anyone else, he just wipes out the oposition. Any advice?
One of the joys of roleplaying is the uncertainty that the dice introduce. Through critical hits or exploding dice, you and your players can occasionally stumble into those perfect “never tell me the odds” moments that make for one heck of a memorable story. One person rolling one die at one crucial turning point can cause everyone at the table, players and GM alike, to start cheering. And conversely, one or two particularly rough roll can introduce delightfully stressful complications to a story. A nondescript bandit NPC might luck into a nailing a player with a poisoned dagger, and that player might critically fail a saving throw. Suddenly, the adventure takes a sharp turn away from the main plot and into a race against time to save a fallen comrade.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with uncertainty. But uncertainty applied to the character creation process can lead to situations like this. Four players roll as expected and one rolls like a world-beater, and all of a sudden that player’s character becomes Glorgus The Undying Hero Of All Humankind. That situation, unless managed properly by the GM, can make every other character feel like an underpowered sidekick that isn’t the hero of his or her own story.
For that reason, I recommend against using dice in character creation. While the game itself is enriched by randomness that force us to pivot and adjust in real time, randomness in allocating character creation “currency” can just feel plain unfair. Gaming is a beautiful thing when every player feels like he or she can contribute, whether through being the best on the team at something on paper, or through the character’s personality or contacts, or through the player’s thought process. But if there is one character that is a world beater in literally every way, all the players not playing that character will defer, disconnect or a mix of both.
So my first piece of advice (give everyone the same amount of currency at character creation) is moot. But my second piece of advice is still valid, and here it is – find ways to incentivize the other players to take the lead. Thankfully, are many ways to do that:
Split the party. Glorgus can’t be the only one rolling to disarm all the traps and negotiate all the diplomatic agreements and steer all the ships around all the whirlpools. If all your characters are in one place all the time, the person with the best odds of success will do all the rolling. So split them up in dungeons and towns and castles. All the characters don’t have to be on opposites sides of the planet, but have them explore rooms and engage with enemies in sub-groups. Think of it as split-screen GMing. Other characters will have to take the lead.
Use plot and NPCs to change the power dynamic. Yes, Glorgus may have the greatest odds of seducing the spymaster. But if you make that spymaster hate out-of-towners and make one of your other player’s characters a local and all of a sudden you have found someone else that must do the job. You don’t need to constantly hobble Glorgus, but you can use the story the elevate everyone else. Give another player an officer’s commission in the army, or make her an heir to a great fortune, or just surround the party with people that like everyone else just as much or more as they like Glorgus. Fate may have given Glorgus a genetic head start, but fate can also give the non-Glorgus players an environmental one. If other players feel empowered, their characters will too.
Present challenges that don’t need rolls. If Glorgus has the best odds on every roll, start introducing elements to the game that don’t require rolling. Like figuring out puzzles, or negotiating with NPCs, or trying to decipher a mystery. Granted, those things can easily have rolling stuff into it, but find ways to let the characters use their minds instead of the players use their dice. That way, everyone’s on the same level.
Chat with the player. Your exceedingly lucky player is probably aware that Glorgus is in another league of natural skill than everyone else. So have a conversation. Tell her that, through no fault of her own, other characters are getting short-changed in the campaign. Ask her to defer from time to time and let other players make the roll to pick a lock, or find ways to excuse herself from the front lines of literally every single battle. I look at that direct GM-to-player conversation as a final option, since I do think you can create parity in-game.
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