Challenging High Level PCs

I’ve been running an ongoing Torchbearer campaign for the better part of
a year. As the campaign has progressed I’ve had an increasingly difficult
time challenging the PCs and they had begun to stockpile Fate and Persona.

Below I’ve detailed a couple of tweaks to the way I’ve been running the
game and would be interested to hear if others have run into similar
issues with high level PCs and how they solved it.

The problem started gradually as the characters increased in skill level
and as the players became more familiar with the mechanics but increasing
the average Obs encountered was more or less able to keep pass. The
problem became much more noticeable once the PCs hit level 5 and unlocked
abilities like Cousin and Helpful.

After discussing the problem with the players after one of our sessions we
decided on 3 tweaks to the way I was running the game.

1.) In the past I have been pretty bad about remembering to roll on
the camp events table. I would plan on being more diligent about this and
air on the side of “It’s a dangerous camp ground” (pg. 82-85 in rulebook).

2.) Backtracking would be more dangerous with the chance of wandering
obstacles, reset traps, etc forcing the party to rely more on the
Cartographer skill.

3.) I would call for more scout checks simulating monsters and NPCs
moving about the dungeon spying on the PCs and attempting to set up

These 3 tweaks had a surprisingly large effect on the difficulty of the
game. The PCs were using more Fate/Persona, accumulating more conditions,
and struggling to recover from them.

In our last session of series of bad twists and disastrous rolls on the
camp table found the party without any food and ended with a player vs
player conflict on whether or not to eat the horses.

I would be interested in hearing if other people playing in or running on
going campaigns have run into this and what your solutions were.


First, congrats on reaching the high level game. That’s a sort of success in its own right.

Do you use a lot of conflicts? Conflicts tend to help consume F/P rewards. I fell into a pattern where I preferred “description forward” rolls on the Grind, and over time that can lead to a proliferation of rewards in the party.

You also need to establish increasingly stringent policies for awarding fate and persona, because players will become increasingly sophisticated in their arguments at the end of the session. Be tough. If nobody stood out for teamworker or MVP, then don’t award it. MVP shouldn’t go to the guy who unlocked a door unless it was really important. We have also adopted a rule for embodiment that you can’t get it unless you did something “new.” Some characters are just too easy to embody by doing the same antics over and over.

You may also like this article article: . That whole series of articles is aimed at GMs considering how to balance challenges for large or tough parties. That article in particular forms the backbone. If you’re not making rolls appropriately difficult for your party size/experience level, then rewards will build up over time.

As far as your three points:

  1. Yes, this is important. And be a little tough about it. Make most camps dangerous.
  2. I’ve long felt that the rules around cartography are clear on how things go when maps work, but they’re tragically unclear about how the GM is supposed to handle backtracking without a map. As best as I can tell, you need to apply the Obstacle-to-Obstacle logic from p117 continuously until the players make an active effort to break the cycle and camp. That sounds like what you’re doing here, and I support that.
  3. I’m a little shaky on this. I feel what you should do instead is actually populate your dungeon with active threats. The need for scout tests will follow naturally, but there should be space for Good Ideas and just straight up Obstacle-to-Obstacle occurrences. Framing it around the test doesn’t sit right with me. Respect Description Forward, it is the heart of the game.

On average we are only doing around 1 conflict per session and I’ve probably fallen in to the description forward pattern you mentioned, I will definitely try out adding more in the upcoming sessions.

I have stated to be tougher about session rewards and I like your idea on the embodiment award.

Thanks for the response and advice, looking forward to incorporating he ideas into my next session.

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One conflict is probably enough, but ignoring them for too long adds up.

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