Whether it be down to inexperience on the DMs behalf, blue-sky thinking by the players or the luck of the dice, sometimes the players end up with an item that is so overpowered that it’s potentially game-breaking. How can you, as the DM, deal with this overpowered item?
Maybe the players fought hard to battle their way through a dungeon, passed the decoy treasure and found the real good stuff hidden in a secret room.
You, as the DM, roll on a table of random magic items, hoping they’ll get a Sword of Flame or something… but they get a Staff of Time-Stop.
A session or two later, where the players have literally obliterated everything you’ve thrown at them, you realise this staff needs to go!
To give them their dues, the players probably also realise ‘hey this weapon is ridiculously good!’
So how as the DM should you deal with a overpowered item you accidentally gave out?
Your possibilities basically give you 3 different paths to take…
Bad DM Choice: Remove it
As the DM you have power over the world, you could simply click your fingers and have the item disappear. Without rhyme or reason.
Or you could add a bit of flavour to it; tell them some rogue crept in and stole it while the players slept. Maybe they even used Mass Sleep on the players so even the guard fell asleep.
However this breaks the illusion of the world and the game. The players know you’ve granted them their equipment, but they feel like they own it. If you just take something from them, they will literally feel like you’ve stolen from them. Especially if they are beginning to reap the benefit of this magical item.
Better DM Choice: Curse it
A better way to handle this as the DM, is have the overpowered item slowly but methodologically curse the holder, or the players.
This could be a curse or poison you find in the Dungeon Masters guide, or it could be something situational.
Maybe every night the player who beholds the item is visited by wraiths, trying to claim their item back from the living.
The curse could even be as subtle as a Con DC15 saving throw every night, failure means the character is tormented by repeating visions every time they close their eyes, a long rest is not possible this night.
Equally, it may not be the PCs that are affected by the consequences. Maybe those wraiths are drawn to the vicinity of the staff, but are unable to find it without tossing the town – house after house – villager after village.
This gives players the idea that owning this powerful item has consequences.
Being cursed could also mean the characters are ‘cursed’ with attention – constantly being asked questions and never giving the characters any moment of peace… which leads nicely to…
Best DM Choice: Covet it
My favourite way of dealing with such a situation is to dive into the problem with both feet.
If the characters are benefiting massively from this staff, don’t you think that other people in the world would want it to.
The DM should make the players overly aware that their new overpowered item is bringing lots of attention their way.
But who would covet such an item?
The overpowered item amid the world
The characters have a staff that can stop time temporarily – that would be incredible useful to the Kings military captain. How much stronger would the army be if they could loose a dozen salvos of arrows at their target while the enemy stands stationary before them.
Or maybe even the local assassins guild, what a perfect device to grant them access into the Kings palace – they could literally just walk in. The thieves guild could run scams and robberies by just walking out with the gems.
How about even the jumble local baker – he could prepare so much more bread in a day, and actually turn a profit for his growing family. All he needs is a bit more time in the day.
My point being, make the item coveted by others. Have the Towns Guard summon the characters to an audience with the King.
Have the baker beg for the characters services.
You could have the characters hear rumours that the assassins guild is looking for them throughout the town. Maybe even the tavern owner uncharacteristically throws the characters out on the street, for want of their being blood-spilt in this tavern.
Make them see lurking shadows and hear soft footsteps behind them.
Make them paranoid.
‘Seize me that staff!’
Eventually you could have the king seize the staff, or the assassins steal it, but give the players lots of foreshadowing.
Maybe the baker doesn’t pay his bills one day, instead diverting all his spare coin to a bunch of local thugs.
The thugs jump the players one evening, if they make off with the staff, the players over time hear of this great upstart businessman who makes the finest produce in all the land. Or perhaps the small taste of crime has whet the appetite for more…
Hope this has helped give a few suggestions on what to do when you’ve accidentally given out a overpowered item in Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder.