Powerful PCs and weak NPCs, take three

I’ve read the other two megathreads on how to deal with powerful PCs twice. We’re four adventures into the campaign, the PCs have barely had any upgrades, and they just shred through anything I throw at them. I’m a veteran GM and play with seasoned players, so we’re unlikely to be playing wrong. NPCs don’t challenge, not even the most powerful Nemeses with their own Doom pool and an army of Minions.

I just ran the climactic battle on The Ghost of Thunder River in Jeweled Thrones of the Earth (spoilers ahead). I threw nearly 30 Doom points at the 3-4 PC group, but they hardly got any hits - and not a single Harm. I summoned three Squads, but they were mostly mowed down before they could even act. Positioned them so the PCs can’t get directly to the Nemesis, so they just killed them all.

I even homebrewed the rules so that I could summon Doom spend NPCs and act in the same round so at least they would be able to get one action, but that was not nearly enough. We have homebrewed that a second reaction takes 2 Doom, third 3 Doom - but PCs don’t care as they have by now learned that no matter how much Doom I have, they won’t be touched.

The most broken rule in the game is sacrificing armor. Any armor. For any amount of damage. Like, really?!?!? I had one PC who had literally one piece of armor intact after the battle. Sure, he got lucky, but it’s just a ridiculous proposition that you can negate two or three Wounds by sacrificing armor. And next adventure he’ll be back in full gear, so there was no challenge, no character growth. They were given advice to other players that “just charge in, you’ll be able to sacrifice armor” when they were figuring out how to get to the Nemesis. Such a scary boss :frowning:

As if that’s not bad enough, they have Momentum out the wazoo as they generate it pretty much every time they attack, and Fortune points when they don’t have Momentum. And all that begins anew in each session, so they’re like regenerating Terminators.

The only real challenge I was able to concoct was that Thumocris spent three Doom to summon a portal to Acheron, which eventually sucked some of the PCs into it, while others were able to climb out of the crevasse he created in the dungeon. That was probably gross over-reach of his powers, but that’s what it took. When it came to battle and even the most dangerous terrain effects, nothing worked. They fell three stories, no Wounds.

I get the PCs are supposed to be powerful. It’s refreshing as I’ve been running mainly CoC for decades with this group. We like the system overall, the Doom and Momentum is a cool mechanic. Quite a bit more involved and slower system than CoC, but it’s fun.

I’m fine with one of the PCs doing more double-kills than single kills on Squads and Mobs. Them having over forty kills in just two sessions of play. But when even a Nemesis can’t even touch the PCs takes away from the enjoyment for the entire group. I think I’ve seen one Wound in the three-four adventures I’ve ran.

We might be in the business of converting our decades-long CoC campaign to 2d20 Cthulhu, but not unless there are some serious buffs to NPCs AND serious nerfs to PCs in that game.

While the players had fun, I don’t think they’ll enjoy what amounts to stomping on bugs followed by a bit bigger bugs for much longer. I’m at my wits end. I’ve read the threads, I’ve applied the recommendations. It just seems like this game is to NPCs what a paper shredder is to toilet paper, from Minions to Nemeses.

Any last resort tips?


Well a couple of big things here.

  1. You can sacrifice armor/shied once per scene not once per hit.
  2. Spend Doom to interrupt the initiative.
  3. Increasing doom cost for reactions isn’t a house rule unless you’re not resetting to 1 each turn.
  4. Do you spend doom to separate the characters? In a group of 4 players it’s 3 doom to cut off one PC from the others.
  5. Do you play to win? Many GMs don’t. Example - your PC sacrifices armor to stop a wound. Attack and spend the Momentum to hit the unarmed location. Make them regret that decision.
  6. Use Mobs. All the time. Remember that a Nemesis in a squad can’t be directly targeted without a called shot. Also remember that the dice from the group size does not negate spending of doom on dice. So a Squad of 1 Toughened (2 dice) and 3 minions (4 dice) can roll 9 dice for their action…
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Doh, just looked up sacrificial armor, and it is indeed only once per scene. But it is still OP when you can reach each PC with an attack maybe once per scene. So I don’t think that will make big difference. Not to mention it makes Nemeses even more vulnerable, as they can protect themselves only once per scene as well.

I spent Doom to take the initiative. It’s expensive, and not that effective.

I don’t spend Doom to separate characters, I do that with the NPCs’ actions, and environmental effects. They already balk at me summoning NPCs out of thin air, and I need to come up with excuses where they popup from. Breaks immersion too much for their tastes, and frankly mine - but is one of the few ways to even start to challenge them.

I don’t play to win as a GM, I play to have fun, and make an enjoyable game for the players. But I can tell you they will get tired of moving through Nemesis, the types of “one of the most powerful Sorcerers of Acheron, FEAR HIM” in three attacks. I would, too.

I use Mobs and Squads. All the time. The melee PC cuts down two of the Minions in his first attack, and the rest of the group takes the Toughened out in the next one or two attacks. Done.

Yes, I’ve thrown 5-9 dice in attacks multiple times in the same scene, they do nothing. Mostly because of armor sacrifice which we played wrong, but also because Soak, and because it takes five damage to get through to even make a dent in a PC. The rules don’t give any bonus damage to Squads/Mobs AFAICT, so what’s the point of connecting when you’re not making any Wounds? Even when I use the Toughened’s more powerful weapons, they do nothing.

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Reaching a PC with an attack comes down to how your fights are constructed. Zone movement is a lot freer than grid based. In the years I’ve run Conan the only time this has been an issue is when I’ve deliberately put choke points and such into play.

It’s expensive when you have a small amount of Doom. If you’re able to spend 30 it’s really not.

Enemies, especially Nemesis level ones, should play to win. That’s what makes the PC victory feel earned. If they’re getting tired of things then perhaps you are taking it too easy on them because of that.

A standard, i.e. not dangerous, encounter in Conan is suggested to have 1.5-2x the number of PCs as Toughened foes. I’ve frequently used 2 because my players know the system very, very well. So your basic encounter, by the RAW, with 4 PCs should have 6-8 Toughened foes. I don’t know what sort of numbers you use but my last encounter with 5 PCs had a Nemesis, 3 Toughened and 10 minions and that was before spending any doom. Just the planned encounter.

Mobs do not add damage but they do generally generate some Momentum/Doom. Spend Doom for Penetration and damage. If you’ve got 30 doom then uses 2 points to disarm the shield, 2 more to punch through the 4 points Very Heavy Armor provides and then another 2 probably pushes the damage to wound category. If the players complain…well they gave you the doom.

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I’m not taking it too easy on them, I implied that I (quite heavily) tweaked the numbers to make it harder on them - and they still steamrolled.

I played the encounters as suggested in the adventure. But your suggestion sounds better: just jack up the number of Mobs/Squads, rather than rely on adventures defaults. I’ll use 2x number of PCs as the hard encounter setting from now on.

If I spend Doom on damage, they will just negate the damage with armor. Doing it once per PC per encounter still sounds OP, but I’m willing to try that at least.

How do you use 2 Doom to disarm the shield? 2 Doom to punch through 2 points of Soak? That’s four points down the drain when they negate the damage. Has happened to me: spent six points of Doom on an attack, all to no avail when they just sacrifice armor.

Do I sound like someone who goes easy on their players? :stuck_out_tongue:

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Oh, and is there a way to stop the “GM uses 1 Doom to add one die; PC uses Momentum to add one die. GM uses another Doom, PC another Momentum. GM another Doom, PC a Fortune point.” This until both sides have rolled five dice. It’s ridiculous, takes you right out of the scene, and turns into a complete meta-gaming morass.

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I have encountered the same problem, i.e. strong, seemingly unbeatable, characters. However, I’ve been GMing this game for over a year now and am finally becoming more comfortable juggling all the tools at my disposal.

We are in the middle of the ‘Waves Stained Crimson’ campaign and I’ve experimented with ways to really mess with my players. I’ve also tweaked the rules a bit to suit our play-style. For example, I do not give FORTUNE back each game session but each ‘chapter completed’ instead (slight difference) as it makes more sense to me from a story-telling perspective, i.e. your FORTUNE replenishes like a pool of energy between adventures.

Aside from using DOOM every chance I get to increase the DIFFICULTY or trigger the LOSS OF RESOURCES. I often use DOOM to have my NEMESIS attack first. In our latest major encounter, I made full use of his THREATEN attack and it worked like a charm, in fact forcing one of our stronger players to flee the battlefield, utterly broken.

If your players are risk-takers and give you DOOM, the use of those to BREAK GUARD, DISARM, or perform a SWIFT ACTION to launch a second attack (physical or mental) can turn the tide of battle. The challenge is remembering all the options and finding the right mix-and-match to challenge the players.

And not every encounter needs to be a NEMESIS protected by an army of MINIONS. Two weeks ago, one of my players nearly died, bitten by a venomous snake while camping at night. Good use of DOOM to both ensure a stealthy approach and a rather vicious (and very venomous) attack. Let’s just say my players’ confidence in the near invincibility of their characters was quite shaken that night… :wink:

Coming up with ways to challenge your players in this game is actually more fun than in other RPGs I find. The ruleset certainly provides a lot of options… the trick is to remember all of those and find the right combo to keep things interesting. Feeling more confident in that regard, but still learning!


Tweaking the numbers doesn’t make as much of a difference as good use of Doom. It certainly helps but the system is predicated on how Momentum and Doom are used.

Those numbers are what the game calls an average encounter (page 310). So an average encounter for 4 PCs would be 6-8 toughened foes.

That really depends on where/when they can repair or replace their armor.

Shields in Conan are weapons, weapons can be disarmed by spending Momentum. Personally I’m a fan of the Disarm, stab, break guard, swift action to stab again when I have the momentum for it. Also the Disarm, shield bash (Knockdown is great), swift action to stab again.

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The use of Doom and Momentum is key to the system. It’s like spending Fate points in FATE. It can definitely slow things down when people aren’t used to it. In the game I’m playing in I can do my turn in about 30 seconds because I know what I want to do, I know how to use Momentum and I don’t dither over the best choice. Other players who are new to the game can take significantly longer. The flow of the points and how to not have it break immersion comes with time and practice.

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No matter how swiftly you do this, the scenario I described would always break immersion. And it happens a lot on my table.

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I’ve been playing the adventures as described, so doesn’t sound even the game (adventure) designers know the rules. I’ll jack up the number of Toughened enemies accordingly.

And thanks for the tips on the Disarm and Break Guard, will have to try those out as well!

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I can see that. It happens with crunchier systems. Our groups (I currently play one Conan game and run another) don’t find it any more immersion breaking than hit points, spell slots etc. in D&D or the underlying mechanics in any game. Does your group narrate out what the expenditure means? How it comes across story wise? Is it “I spend momentum to add +2 damage” or or is it “I spend momentum to increase the damage as I twist my spear hard in it’s gut and pull it out, leaving a gaping wound”?


Adventures are always written for the lowest common denominator, to appeal to the widest group of players possible. Generally speaking this leads to under powered encounters if your group is more combat focused. Add in that there are obvious areas in various Conan books where it’s obvious either different rules were used or the author didn’t know and it adds up for sure.

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I’ve had a lot of experience with the 2d20 system by now after running 2 successful Conan Campaigns and currently running a Fallout Campaign and starting a new Conan Campaign soon.

In my experience the characters in Conan are a lot more powerful than those in Fallout, but that emulates the genre so it doesn’t bother me.

I’ve found that, as written, most npc’s and monsters are fairly weak so with Toughened and Nemesis npc’s I like to add a few talents or abilities to make them a bit more challenging and sometimes I give my enemies a bit more vigor and resolve to have them stay in the fight a bit longer.

The deadliest combats I’ve experienced so far has involved archers in difficult to reach places and lots of environmental effects. Combining dangerous environments with combat doesn’t only increase the challenge , but is also very appropriate for the genre.

I’ve had my players fight atop crumbling pillars while the roof were caving in with endless hordes of undead attacking them while they scrambled to reach an npc sorcerer before he could finish his spell.

I’ve had them fight aboard a burning, sinking ship taking fire damage each turn and risking falling beneath the crushing waves while trying to rescue prisoners before they died. All the while pirates fired arrows at them from other ships.

These sort of combats have been fairly challenging, but just sending the pc’s into a straight fight usually makes for a swift and boring combat, although they do make the players feel more powerful so I throw them in on occasion.

Another thing to remember is that not every challenge needs to be a combat. The game has solid rules for social conflicts, and the carousing phase can lead to tons of fun roleplaying.

In rare cases I also use doom to strip the players of their resources, although I use this sparingly. Complications is also a great way to keep the players on their toes.


Narrating Momentum spends sounds like a good requirement!


When I started running my Conan campaign I had a similar problem. What helped me was to give enemies (both minion and toughened) better armor, a shield and weapons with the piercing, knockdown and stun qualities.

Even if a minion doesn’t do any damage if he manages to knockdown a PC the others can swarm and damage him quite badly.

Also have the enemies use tactics and focus on the more dangerous PCs. That being said during my last session I sent 5 toughened mercenaries(from Conan the Mercenary) against my PCs and it almost led to a TPK.

At the end of the battle there was one mercenary and one PC with two wounds left and she had to negotiate with the last mercenary.

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How many players per gaming group? I test ran a single NPC vs wolves, pirates then soldiers in various size groups a few weeks back - 4 wolves was death by mauling, a rematch resulted in a nice wolf fur coat :smiley: , 3 pirates was a tough one . 4 to 5 was death by cutlass and the soldiers similar… as I’ve seen in other posts maybe the game is geared towards only 1 to 3 players max. I’ve been running FFG SW on and off for about two years and even now the PCs (4 players) can suffer with stormtrooper minions with a sergeant if I get a decent initiative. Rivals and Nemesis can really dish it out.

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My group has 5, two heavy hitters in combat, one heavy social and two skill/lore folks. Combat can be really swingy and it all comes down to how I spend Doom. If you’re not engaging with the use and generation of Doom the system can be very one sided.

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We typically run 3-5 players. One melee, two ranged, two casters.

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We just started a Conan campaign and this thread and others slightly worries me how long we’ll be able to play conan if it’s that hard to balance for party.

Good news is that we’re a party of only 2. So I hope/think after reading all of this, that we should be good or am I mistaken?

I myself made a combat character and the other player a “pirate”. So I suppose we’ll be good but not out there.

Or am I being naive?

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