When you gave an overpowered item in D&D it seemed like a good idea. It always does until you realize with slow horror what you have done!
The best way to deal with an overpowered item in D&D is to talk to the player, incorporate the item into the plot, or make it not as great as first thought.
It is important to not take away what the players have rightfully earned. You can do this, but it has to be done right and with the player’s consent to not cause resentment. That is why the best way to deal with an overpowered item is to make it not as powerful as players think.
Timmy the warrior has felt for a while that magic casters are taking the spotlight. You want to combat this feeling by giving Timmy a few new magic items to help him. Some items are utility like boots that give the ability to misty step once per long rest. They do the job and are not too powerful.
Timmy needs a weapon though and you have to give him a good one. This is where it all goes wrong. You give Timmy a weapon that the party calls ‘the cheat code.’ This item is too overpowered and breaks the game.
This could happen because ‘the cheat code’ is just too powerful for your game. You gave a +5 weapon to a level 10. What did you think was going to happen?
The second and most common reason why you gave an overpowered item in D&D is player creativity. The item isn’t that strong. Yes, +2 is pretty good for a level 7, but +2 and being able to cast create water at will is just to give options. Timmy decides to create water in the enemy’s lungs and starts to suffocate every opponent. The item has now broken the game.
This is a nightmare scenario for most new or inexperienced Dms. Inexperienced refers to this specific issue. Either way, the end result is an overpowered item that breaks the game.
We cannot leave this item alone and have to do something about it. There are a few actions available to the dungeon master.
- Take the item away.
- Talk to the player.
- Break the item.
- Make the item not as great as first thought.
- Make the item part of the plot.
All of the other options are subcategories of these 5 actions.
Now that you have the actions, let’s talk about all the actions and their subcategories.
Taking the item away
If you gave an overpowered item in D&D the simplest solution is to take it away. You might not even want to completely take the item away. Instead, you just want to take away or change the overpowered ability.
In this variant of taking the item away, you do not talk to the player. Instead, you come up with a clever in-game way to make the item normal. Maybe you don’t even come up with a clever in-game way and just make it disappear by theft. Or, you just took it away with no reason. The character no longer has this weapon.
All of these options are terrible. That player in their mind earned this weapon. You are taking away their hard-earned work, and are making them weaker than everyone else. The player has had a taste of true power and will not like it when their ticket to greatness just vanishes.
The repercussions of this are not always immediate. Players may start to think that any item they get is not permanent. Anything they have can be taken away, and thus don’t try to be creative. Your players stop being creative and just follow you along until they get tired of enacting your book. Then, they leave.
This is a spiral of bad events that could happen. Taking an item away suddenly might just make players riot. They might not become as dejected and eventually leave because of this, but it will not be good.
You most likely noticed how every thought from the player’s standpoint is negative. Yes, taking away that item will solve your immediate problem. But if you solve the problem in this way, then more problems will arise.
That is why just taking an item from a player is always a bad idea. There are other options available to you. And almost every single one is better.
Talking to the player
We just talked about how taking an item away from a player solves the immediate problem but creates a host of new ones. What if you could take away the item without any of the negatives?
Talk to your players if you are unable to handle this item.
Tell them that it is breaking the game and that you did not intend for it to do so. You gave an overpowered item in D&D and screwed up. Now you can ask your players to help correct that mistake. You are human too. You will make mistakes and let your players know that.
Most groups are going to agree to this. If you are honest and express that you made the mistake, they will let you take it back. If you ask the person who received the item 1 on 1 the answer might differ.
This is why I highly suggest asking the group and not the individual. The item does belong to 1 person but it is affecting everyone.
If the players refuse at this point then they are most likely not going to give up the item or care about the game the same way you do. The players might just want a power fantasy or not realize what the item is doing.
In these cases, there are other options.
Breaking the item
1 other option of dealing with these overpowered items is to break them. There are a few ways that you can do this.
The first way is to break it in circumstance. The player uses it and the item breaks in combat. It is unfortunate, but it happens right? Well, if it isn’t foreshadowed it can just make your players angry and give the same effect as taking the item away.
If you want the item to break in combat let the players know that the item is starting to crack. Give a few indications and make sure they catch on that using this item is destroying it. Maybe it was made improperly or is too powerful for the materials that were used to make it. Give a reason and let your players know.
If you tell your players why it is breaking they will try to fix it. This is where you can have fun with the explanation. You can say that only a few of these items were ever made since they were so overpowered and would just break. This gives a jab at your item creation while making it seem like this was all planned out.
However, you explain it, make sure your players are able to understand the situation. Do not break the item without warning!
Breaking an item isn’t that great of an answer though. It doesn’t help the story and is just an element rather than something interesting. You gave an overpowered item in D&D and instead of making it seem like nothing it can have a place in the story.
Breaking an item with purpose
The item needs to be broken and breaking it in a conventional way is boring! Easy to do and good for inexperienced Dms, but you want more! That is why this item can now be a plot point.
If you gave an overpowered item in D&D it has a purpose right? You, of course, planned this out, and that is why it is a plot point! It needs to be broken or it will corrupt the user. The item will be the catalyst to awaken an elder god. Either way, give a reason why the players have to break it.
If the players have to break it, there will be no anger towards you. Instead, they will focus on how to take care of your problem for you.
You can’t ask for much more than this, but there are still more options available to you.
This item isn’t that great….
Timmy has now killed 5 people with his water lung sword. You didn’t rule that he couldn’t fill a person’s lungs with creating water, so here you are. Everyone is dying, and you don’t have a solution. That is why you will create encounters around the item. Nothing will have lungs to be drowned by water!
This is a terrible idea. Any time that a designer starts designing encounters around a single ability/item that ability/item needs to go. It makes the encounters not as enjoyable for everyone and makes 1 person extra powerful for no reason.
Instead, you can make the item not so great by other means.
An overpowered item in D&D might have hidden qualities. After the sword has killed 5 people with drowning the sword becomes slimy. This makes the sword hard to hold, but there is more to it. After 10 kills the wielder slowly replaces their lungs with gills. Eventually, they end up dying or having to fix the problem. The item is cursed!
We have a whole article on cursed items and how to make them, but with an overpowered item in D&D you need to slowly show these curses. Don’t spring them on the players and expect them to be happy.
Don’t want to curse your item? That is alright. The players don’t know what they get. When they think they are getting a deck of many things, it is actually a deck of minor things. What does that do? Up to you. Make a fun new item that is not game-breaking. Just do this before the players know exactly what it is/does.
Another way to make an item seem like it is not as powerful is to give it a cooldown. After it is used it needs 100 years to recover or the blood of 10 children to recover.
There are many ways to make an item not as powerful as it first appears. Just choose a method that is right for you. There is 1 method that I would like to go a bit more in-depth about.
This item is powerful right? The players found a way to make it godly or you intended for it to be so. Now ask yourself, if that item is able to break the world, what is its history?
Why was the item made? Who used the item before the players? If it is that powerful wouldn’t those previous owners want it back? Would organizations want it back? Going even further, this item that is so powerful has a history. That means that others know everything this item can do and how to counteract it.
Now the party might have to deal with a cult, assassins, or others who want this item and know about it. The abilities of the item might not come in handy and it is a hassle. There are so many opportunities when you think about the history of such an item!
But we still have 1 area that we need to cover on how to deal with when you gave an overpowered item in D&D.
It’s part of the plot
We started to cover this a little bit in breaking the item, but if you gave an overpowered item in D&D you can easily make it part of the plot.
Think of the 1 ring in Lord Of The Rings. It was a cursed item that was extremely powerful. Whoever used that item would rule the world! But it was cursed and needed to be destroyed.
Your overpowered item doesn’t need to be destroyed. It might be pivotal to completing the players’ objectives. The sun blade that summons a daylight spell is overpowered and the main weapon against the vampire boss. Without this overpowered item the players cannot win.
Making the overpowered item part of the plot is a great way to solve your problem. The players feel like it was intentional and the game isn’t broken since it will be used or only overpowered for this little bit of the campaign.
Instead of phasing the item out, you can embrace it. Yes, they found an overpowered item. That is because everyone will get an overpowered item!
Have you ever received a bunch of potions, full health, and a save point in a game? Do you think ‘oh yes! The designers were great and kind!’ Or do you think ‘Oh cool! I get potions, health, and a save…. oh gods above and below what is going to happen next!?!?!’
Embrace the stupidly powerful items and make the game insanely difficult! So what if they can drown someone with a sword? They can only create water once per long rest right?
If you gave an overpowered item in D&D it is not the end of the world. There are many options available to you.
You can curse the item, make the item have extra baggage, or do a host of other things.
Do not let an overpowered item ruin your game. Make it an asset instead of a liability and have an even more interesting game because of it!
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!