OverPowered and Underwhelming TableTop Campaigns

Saint of M

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In this thread we will discuss two things:

Campaigns or official play scenarios that you thought were too hard for the players, and ones where you might as well be playing on god mode.

If its an official play type game from the game maker (like Adventure league for Dungeons and Dragons or Society Play for Pathfinder) tr to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

In the OP area, it involved the Thorn Monark adventure. The adventures cover has Mothra's angry roid raging cussin (not nearly as cool looking as Batra but close enough), Well, eventually we had to hightail it to a ship, doing things along the way to not die horribly. My GM decided to go easy on us and give us all the extra rewards for it despite a number of our roles as to get anything on there you'd have to have weighted dice roll 20's (or play Chuck Noris). The worse part was the main fight with the monster. We had some advantage as we were given cannons, but most of the game ended up being combat with him and we pretty much barely survived. My character was the last man standing, a level 4 rouge, with 10HP left and a lucky broadside on the bug. I was the lowest level at 4, most of the other were running 5's and 6's and even with 5 players it was rough. I carried extra potions from then on.

Underpowered:

It was one of the quests which are short adventures that shouldn't take longer than an hour to get through, hour and a half at most. While I forget the name of the quest, it involved searching a wrecked ship just barely staying over the water. We found what we needed and went top side to see...sea serpents.

I was excited to play my new GOblin WIzard, a level 1, but figured a creature that we were told routinely sinks ships to decorate their lairs had to be tough. We barely had to turns and turned the serpents into chum. My level 1 wizard's Magic Missile turned one into chunky salsa. I know it was the killing blow, and an adventure made to be easy, but i still felt over powered. We had a good laugh at it, but a level one gobo should not be going "I have godly power!"

Any adventures you thought were too much for your party or basicly murder hobo fodder?
 

Eacaraxe

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Of the three VtM pre-published scenarios I've played -- Transylvania Chronicles, Giovanni Chronicles, and Lair of the Hidden -- none were very good in my opinion.

Transylvania Chronicles was incredibly railed, poorly balanced, and didn't account for PC's having basic, commonplace, discipline powers capable of trivializing entire stories. When I did it as a player, we finished the supposedly longest and most difficult story -- the French Revolution -- in about a half a game session. Because the writers, in their infinite wisdom, didn't anticipate elder PC's having Astral Projection and/or Summoning. The handful of major encounters in it came in two flavors: the encounter is trivially easy and a metaplot character shows up at the end supposedly to save the PC's, or the encounter is a no-win scenario for a metaplot character to show up and save the PC's. Everything is basically "look but don't touch", PC's have practically zero agency, and the chronicle tries to keep about three major plot points moving at once without adequately resolving any of them.

Giovanni Chronicles is by far the most fun in my opinion, because it leans into how easy and on rails the first three books are. But it's still far from a well balanced or dynamic experience, until the fourth book which is goddamn awesome.

Because in the fourth book you play as a coterie of Giovanni ghouls/neonates, and the PC's from the first three books are the bad guys. If you built an uber-team of all-powerful methuselah-generation blood gods...good fucking luck.

Lair of the Hidden is just goddamn stupid.
 

Gethsemani

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Of the three VtM pre-published scenarios I've played -- Transylvania Chronicles, Giovanni Chronicles, and Lair of the Hidden -- none were very good in my opinion.
I can't remember the exact quote, but one of the managers at old White Wolf once lamented how hard it was to find good writers, because everyone who applied for the positions were fans to begin with and kept saying stuff like "I can't wait to have Hardestadt do X". They weren't there to write good campaigns for other people, they were there to satisfy their own desire to write official FanFic. Which I think is reflected in just how much of the VtM Metaplot is basically "Official NPC does cool thing while PCs watches" and most events can't realistically be influenced by the designated player character, which is a neonate with maybe a decade of unlife behind them.
 

Eacaraxe

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I can't remember the exact quote, but one of the managers at old White Wolf once lamented how hard it was to find good writers, because everyone who applied for the positions were fans to begin with and kept saying stuff like "I can't wait to have Hardestadt do X". They weren't there to write good campaigns for other people, they were there to satisfy their own desire to write official FanFic. Which I think is reflected in just how much of the VtM Metaplot is basically "Official NPC does cool thing while PCs watches" and most events can't realistically be influenced by the designated player character, which is a neonate with maybe a decade of unlife behind them.
Pretty much. The one cool thing they did for 5th was canonize that Hardestadt the Younger actually was Jurgen...only to immediately kill Hardestadt off. Like, if they were doing that anyways, what was the point of canonizing the Ventrue theory, unless they just wanted to piss off DA:V fans?

I'm running my local group through TC right now, and honest to God I've spent more time re-engineering that chronicle into a workable format that preserves player agency without breaking lore has taken more time than I've spent running it. But it's taken the PC's into some really cool spaces and had some great events happen, and been worth the effort. It's on hold right now because of COVID, and went on hiatus at the worst effing time for the chronicle -- right as they're about to participate in Tzimisce's "diablerie".

Which is going to be highly entertaining for me, as the PC's inadvertently got themselves involved in the whole "Vykos" drama having taken ownership of Brasov at the end of the first story. When the Inquisition came to call they took refuge in Ilias' domain which put them into direct contact with Tzimisce, and one of the PC's has been possessed by it to "do the deed" so to speak. The player in question was not happy when I handed him a character sheet other than his own and told him his actual PC was being sidelined...until he saw whose character sheet it was.

Due to stuff that happened in the last game session beforehand, the other players know OOC the PC is out of commission and is being doppleganged, but they think it's Vykos fucking around again.

EDIT: That's actually one of the reasons I'm not too keen on neonate chronicles. I like starting characters as at least on the verge of being ancillae, being young ancillae, or in some cases vampires of equivalent "age" but recently awaken from torpor. Gives players more latitude for cool backstories, and writing in individualized plot hooks. Case in point, the local group has a side VtM chronicle we're playing in, where I'm playing a Nossie that's almost 160 in absolute age, but spent a century in torpor.
 
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Gethsemani

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EDIT: That's actually one of the reasons I'm not too keen on neonate chronicles. I like starting characters as at least on the verge of being ancillae, being young ancillae, or in some cases vampires of equivalent "age" but recently awaken from torpor. Gives players more latitude for cool backstories, and writing in individualized plot hooks. Case in point, the local group has a side VtM chronicle we're playing in, where I'm playing a Nossie that's almost 160 in absolute age, but spent a century in torpor.
For me it is one of the reasons why I much prefer Vampire: The Requiem, as its Blood Potency rules ensured you had vampires that were really dangerous to go up against but the overall power level never reached the absurdity of VtM Metaplot. It helped make Neonates actually playable and also meant you could do cool stories about old vampires coming out of a century or two of torpor and wanting to take their old position back but being too weak to do it themselves directly. That sprung some great stories for my group, when they helped the old Prince to try and reclaim his "rightful place" because they were the only ones too young to remember his tyranny.
 

Eacaraxe

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For me it is one of the reasons why I much prefer Vampire: The Requiem, as its Blood Potency rules ensured you had vampires that were really dangerous to go up against but the overall power level never reached the absurdity of VtM Metaplot.
I'm split on it. I like the idea of blood potency, I just think it could have been handled better mechanically. It occupied that weird spot alongside M:tAs's Arete, where it was simultaneously too important to delay buying because the power jump was so great, but cost-prohibitive in the short run and left your character in a really uncomfortable lack of progression. The overall exp cost hikes, and comparable reduction in exp per-session and per-story, left much to be desired. I really feel it might have been better-resolved as something of a "milestone" system where total experience spent, or in-game major achievements, rewarded a raise automatically.

And, I'm personally okay with characters on that level in Vampire being that powerful. These are NPC's that, under normal circumstances and in normal chronicles, PC's might run into one in the entire chronicle. These NPC's are the equivalent of Elminster, Fzoul, or the Seven Sisters in D&D terms. They exist in the world and there's a non-zero chance of running into one in a game, but the likelihood of it is just not worth mentioning. These WW pre-gen chronicles are a particularly glaring exception to the rule because they're all about those characters.

That's a huge, glaring disparity with most "run of the mill" VtM games, where PC's are mostly going to be running into other neonates and ancillae. And when a city's (true) elders are around if the city even has them, very rarely are they going to be throwing down...or leaving fingerprints everywhere, for that matter.
 
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Terminal Blue

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I can't remember the exact quote, but one of the managers at old White Wolf once lamented how hard it was to find good writers, because everyone who applied for the positions were fans to begin with and kept saying stuff like "I can't wait to have Hardestadt do X". They weren't there to write good campaigns for other people, they were there to satisfy their own desire to write official FanFic. Which I think is reflected in just how much of the VtM Metaplot is basically "Official NPC does cool thing while PCs watches" and most events can't realistically be influenced by the designated player character, which is a neonate with maybe a decade of unlife behind them.
I feel like the VtM setting always struggled to decide what it want to be. On one hand, vampires are basically superheroes with loads of cool powers, but on the other hand the theme of the game is essentially about how everything is rigged and you will never catch up with the people above you because they've had centuries to prepare and have that sweet, sweet generation. The result, as you say, is either that all the NPCs get to be really cool or, as often happened in video games and player driven campaigns, you have all these ridiculously powerful (usually 8th generation) neonates running around shaping global events while centuries old elders shake their fists impotently at their antics.

So, I have a partly-finished homebrew post-apocalyptic (well, post Gehenna) VtM setting somewhere on my google drive from back when I used to care about white wolf stuff, and I remember coming to this weird realisation that I greatly preferred the setting I was creating to the actual mainline lore, in large part because it had no real elders and noone was below 13th generation.
 
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Thaluikhain

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An awful lot of e-ink has been spent on all the ways that VtM was a bad setting. Demographics are a popular one, then the pyramid scheme PCs are at the bottom of, then how vampires don't have superior night vision and are afraid of fire (so before electric lights, weren't scary at all), the horrible racism, that infamous picture of the vampire with the test tubes in the men's room etc

And that's without getting mentioning that Werewolf was in the same universe. Christ, Werewolf.
 
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Eacaraxe

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The result, as you say, is either that all the NPCs get to be really cool or, as often happened in video games and player driven campaigns, you have all these ridiculously powerful (usually 8th generation) neonates running around shaping global events while centuries old elders shake their fists impotently at their antics.
Particular to the pre-published stuff, a lot of the issue boils down to WW writers making characters and statting them without any real concern for the relevance of stats, comparative power levels, and/or how disciplines compliment and synergize with one another. So, they just drop a ton of dots everywhere without much rhyme or reason, and that leads to huge power disparities that are generally buoyed only by only one or two brute-force strategies of overwhelming power. The built-in power discrepancies between disciplines only aggravates the problem, but it isn't the root cause of that particular issue.

Case in point, Vykos as a character is not as powerful as its age, activity, and prominence would suggest. It's less than the sum of its parts mechanically, because none of them synergize particularly well and are often at odds with one another. One thing I did with my TC game was do a balance pass over all the NPC's, and restatted them in best-accordance to their backstories, published strengths and weaknesses, and what little can be said of their methods. Vykos is a goddamned monster in this TC game -- to the point even if the PC's wanted to fuck with it, despite being the same age and the PC's using NPC progression (in other words they get a ton of experience during downtimes, not the shitty drip-feed the published works provide), there's a very strong possibility they'd get TPK'ed because there are things Vykos can do none of them are remotely close to countering.

Hell, take away Helena's dominate and she's basically a run of the mill elder, despite supposedly being a 3,000-year-old methuselah and supposedly one of the most powerful in the setting just below the "basically an antediluvian" big four (Yorak, Baba Yaga, Japheth, ur-Shulgi).
 

Gethsemani

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Hell, take away Helena's dominate and she's basically a run of the mill elder, despite supposedly being a 3,000-year-old methuselah and supposedly one of the most powerful in the setting just below the "basically an antediluvian" big four (Yorak, Baba Yaga, Japheth, ur-Shulgi).
This sounds a lot like the weird stats for most Forgotten Realms characters in the 3rd ed splat. Most of them had very weird multi-classing without any synergy and often missed the important class thresholds (like stopping at Fighter 3, despite Fighter 4 being much, much better due to Weapon Specialization) or did not take advantage of the more powerful abilities or feats available at certain levels. The end result was that Drizzt Do'Urden was very high level, but could feasibly be taken out by a decently optimized mid-level character because his (lack of) build was absolutely atrocious.

In general, I think the description of VtM's writing staff as FanFicers is pretty apt. They weren't very good at making balanced rules or characters (a problem that would later crop up in Exalted, with the 2nd ed Dragon-Blooded book being written by someone who didn't even understand the rulesset) and were mostly interested in writing their own stories in the VtM universe, players be damned. As the GM you should never have to rewrite large parts of a campaign or re-build NPCs just to get a campaign were the PCs actually matter or the NPCs present a challenge that matches their lore or description.
 
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Buyetyen

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I tried to get a few VtM games going in high school but it never came together. My brother hosted a short Demon: the Fallen game though, which was fun. We were basically demonic gangsters.

Nothing White Wolf did could top how juvenile Hunter: the Reckoning was though. Holy shit, HtR.
 

Buyetyen

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I never tried HtR, what was so bad about it?
It was pure juvenile anti-hero power fantasy. It was edge-lord AF and the supernatural powers granted to most hunters removed a lot of the sense of drama from the game as suddenly players were on equal footing with the monsters. Tonally it became a mess when it keeps telling us how tragic one's life has to be in order to dedicate it to hunting monsters, but that's difficult to reinforce as a metanarrative when the mechanics are set up to allow players to be badass as often as possible. The power fantasy overrides any sense of horror, in other words. Hunter: the Vigil does a lot of this too, though not to the same egregious extent.
 
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Eacaraxe

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I never tried HtR, what was so bad about it?
It was a pretty controversial release.

Character growth was wonky and blisteringly fast for a WoD game, games could swing from Call of Cthulhu lethality to borderline gonzo superhero role-play. It was all entirely dependent on the ST and the group, especially when you start talking about what types of fatsplats Imbued hunters may run into over the course of a game, and considering HtR was basically built from the ground up with cross-over games/rules in mind, it could be more or less anything. And, rarely does the "who are the 'real' monsters?" aspect of it come up, despite this part being the entire basis for five whole-ass Creeds (all three of the Mercy creeds, plus Visionaries and Judges). All in a package designed for shorter chronicles than longer-form play more typical of Vampire, Mage, or Werewolf.

The problem with the game balance is, well, at some point Imbued hunters are going to piss somebody off enough to bring the heavy hitters. Whether it's a pack of elder Garou, an Archon with the full logistical might of the Camarilla at their beck and call, HIT marks, Pentex death squad, a righteously pissed-off Master Verbena, even hunters with their level 5 Edges don't stand much of a chance. Put simply, a lot of ST's just aren't willing to drop the hammer on their PC's the way a high-end hunter game needs to be ran.
 

Schadrach

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It's ancient history so I don't feel bad spoiling it, but there was a AD&D 2nd edition module published in 1995 (commemorating the 20th anniversary of TSR) titled the Labyrinth of Madness. It suggested 15th level as a minimum, and noted that even well equipped 20th level characters would have difficulty.

S6 The Labyrinth of Madness: Page 2 said:
While we tried to avoid the utterly ridiculous, we set few limitations on the difficulty of this adventure. That is to say, while this adventure does not simply require asaving throws vs death with every breath or present 35 pit fiends in every encounter, very few ideas were rejected because they would make things "too hard." This adventure is not just hard to survive--it's easy to kill player characters--it is hard to complete. Adventuring parties actually making it to the end and successfully reaching their goal have really accomplished something. This may be the most difficult dungeon-style adventure the TSR, Inc. has created.
It's brutal. The entire dungeon is subjected to a magical effect named the Lifebane, which screws with many magics - things like Divinations having a 25% chance to be answered by the Lifebane itself instead of the normal source of information, 75% chance of summons being controlled by it instead of the player, 50% chance of any wounds healed within turning scaly and snake-like (it should be unsurprising this place is full of yuan-ti).

The entry staircase has a hidden alarm on the second from last step that alerts the dungeon that there are intruders.

Early on there's a hatch with a long ladder, 20 feet down the ladder is a glyph of warding dealing 14d4 damage. If this deals at least 15 damage, then it requires a Strength check with a -6 penalty or fall down the shaft for another 8d6. Touching the bottom triggers a power word: kill, and if that kills them then their corpse is hit with animate dead and levitate and dropped back at the top of the ladder as a zombie just to add insult to injury. Oh, and there's nothing of value down there, either.

There are special key tattoos you have to get to complete the dungeon. 20 of them, they can only be acquired in order and some parts of the dungeon simply don't exist for you unless you have the right ones. Which means parts of the dungeon involve backtracking for things you couldn't perceive or interact with at all until you have the right sigil tattoos, possibly using routes that didn't exist until you have the sigils.

This is the dungeon that made me see the 3e psionic Elocater prestige class and get envious.