Hey, I have a few questions/concerns about encounter design and balancing in my campaign. It requires a bit of explanation, so I apologize for the incoming wall of text. ^^"
My campaign that I have been running for about three years is solwly (very slowly) coming to a close and recently I have been struggling with designing encounters that are challenging, but not deadly. The main issue is one of the player characters that is heavily specialized in defend actions. He has defensive reflexes I, a shield with defensive 3, and most importantly the battlefield retribution and sentinel III feats. This build was already quite strong, but he also obtained a legendary item that grants him unfailing for defend action rolls. Obtaining this item took a lot of time and effort in the game and thus I felt such a reward was justified (and I still mostly feel that way).
My main problem is threefold:
All encounters basically revolve around this character. If the enemies manage to inacapcitate him or knock him out, the rest of the party goes down pretty fast. If he doesn’t get knocked out, he just negates most enemy attacks while also defeating the enemies.
The other characters in the party are only partly focused on combat. They would be able to hold their own in most average fights, but I feel they are just hopelessly outclassed by this one character. The players don’t mind this that much, but I feel like they don’t really have an impact on fight other than the problem character having to use up his defend actions to protect them. Especially in terms of damage this character severely outclasses the others. Even the AOE mage deals less damage than him.
This is maybe the most important point. The character in question is stronger when he fights alone than when he fights with the rest of the party. When fighting alone, he can just use his defend actions for himself and since he has pretty high defenses, most enemies can’t easily hit him. When fighting with the rest of the party, he is often forced to use his defend actions to protect them.
Now, I have already tried/applied some solutions and here is what came of them:
First, I discussed this with my players and we all agreed that this character was too strong/too dominant (this was even before he obtained the unfailing item). We decided to nerf the interaction of Battlefield Retribution and Sentinel. Now he can only use Battlefield Retribution once per round. This was decided in the aftermath of a battle with an opponent who also used those two feats and we all agreed that this was for the best. This has helped significantly, but has not solved the problem entirely. It made fights go on longer, but in this case we agreed that it was a worthwhile trade-off.
We also introduced a slightly modified version of the piercing property that was designed by TrinitysEnd. We found that it hurt the other characters more than the character with the defend actions, since even one disadvantage can make a pretty huge difference when you have no advantages on your defend actions and are desperatly trying to avoid a nasty bane. We decided that piercing negates advantages you have on defend actions, but does not impose disadvantage, if you have none. Overall the piercing mechanic definetly helps, even though it is not enough to solve the problem.
I also tried increasing the number of enemies, so he can’t just negate al incoming attacks, but this leads to even more problems. Since Open Legend uses exploding dice and I tend to be very lucky wih my rolls, this could easily lead to me accidentally killing my players once the defend actions are used up for the round (even when I use TrinitysEnd’s method for limiting explosions for NPCs). It also makes battles go on forever without making them actually more interesting. And it’s pretty boring for the players to sit there and watch while I roll a whole bunch of attacks.
Using higher attack attributes for the enemies with more adavantages to get over his defend actions feels really cheap and visibly demotivates my players. Also it tends to oneshot them when the defend actions are used up. Using banes and attacks that target the lowest defense of the character in question (Resolve) like incapacitated and dominated frequently runs into similar problems and also can’t easily be justified story-wise. Furthermore, it often just leads to him only getting to reflect even more damage. Also it’s just not fun for me as a GM to mostly rely on those strategies.
None of the above solutions has addressed the more fundamental problem that the other characters feel mostly irrelevant in combat and that they are effectively reducing the strength of the problematic character. In concept, the party should be stronger when they are fighting together, not weaker (and not just because the have more actions, but also because they cover each others weaknesses).
One solution that would address this problem would be to give the other players a significant boost in power, so I can justify making enemies significantly stronger. But this would probably lead to more overall complexity and not all of my players are interested in that. Also it would be a nightmare keep track of all abilities. I sometimes have trouble with GMing higher level bosses, because I can’t keep tabs on everything they can do.
I have already mentioned all this to my players, but we are not sure what to do. I think I probably could work out something with them and they are all open to discussion (including the player with the problematic caharcter), but I would really like to avoid further nerfing his character or his unfailing item, since he really wanted it for a long time and his character received it as a proper reward after a rather long questline. It’s okay for him to be the strongest fighter in the party, but he’s just outclassing everyone by a ridiculous margin.
So, yeah. This is my problem. I have omitted a few deatils here and there for the sake of shortening this already obscenely long post to a more reasonable level. I also left out the anecdotes to illustrate my points. If you have further questions about the party, the anecdotes or anything else about this situation, I’m happy to answer.
I really hope that you all can help me. Maybe I missed something? Maybe I’m looking at this wrong and the problem isn’t that much of a problem at all? Maybe there are some tricks to keep the encounters challenging that I have not thought of? I get that he is a high level character and thus should be able to hold his own against multiple enemies, but soloing a boss that’s above his level without taking damage is a bit too much for my taste – especially when the rest of the party looks a bit useless in comparison.
Again, sorry for this absurdly long text, but I feel like thiese explanations were neccessary to make it clear where I am at right now and to avoid having to explain it all through requests for further calrification.
tl;dr: Character with defend action is making it hard for me to properly balance and design interesting and challening encounters that do not just revolve around him. Also it feels like he is stronger when fighting alone than when he is fighting with the rest of the party. What can/shoud I do?
Edit: One thing I forgot to mention: One player suggested to just give enemies more HP, so the problematic character wouldn’t just kill them with one action. I have not tried this yet (but I will). However, this also does not solve the main issue of him just outclassing all other characters by a wide margin.