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Background: In my campaign, my players (each are level 5, having just finished LMOP, and have magic weapons) took up a quest for a group of lycanthropes, and as a reward, were bitten and granted lycanthropy. Soon after, I realized this was a terrible mistake, as lycanthropy is a very overpowered thing to have. However, I don't want to immediately take the lycanthropy away, as that would spoil my players' fun. For the same reason, I don't want all the players' enemies to immediately gain silver weapons. In my campaign, lycanthropes are sparse on the surface, but have a small city in the underdark.

Question: How do I create encounters to challenge my players, without outright negating or countering their abilities?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think we need more information in order to not make this too broad. What is the prevalence of magic in your world? What is the story(ies) your players are currently engaged in? What have you done so far to mitigate/use they lycanthropy? What type of combat do your players enjoy? Do they just want to steamroll or do they like a tactical challenge? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 13 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ This strikes me as a bit too broad of a question. Specifically, what kinds of challenges are you looking to provide? Combat (which would require extensive discussion about balance and enemy types), Social (which would require some assumptions about your world to limit what seems like endless possibilities), or something else? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 13 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ In your world, what has stopped the city of lycanthropes expanding and taking over a larger territory? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri May 13 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Seconding @SeriousBri - lycanthropy normally comes with negative consequences because of the loss of control and/or alignment shifts it causes plus societal response. If you're running a world which handles the "curse of lycanthropy" differently (which it sounds like you probably are if you have a stable lycanthrope society) then having the details might help inform answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 13 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are there other lycans? What type bit them? Can you include answers to the questions that myself, Rubiks, SeriousBri, and Carcer have asked into your question? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 13 at 16:45
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Use enemies with alternative damage types

The lycanthropic immunity to mundane weapon damage is indeed pretty powerful, but it does only apply to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. Attacks that deal different or additional kinds of damage - poison, fire, cold, etc - are still effective against lycanthropes. Lots of monsters automatically deal this sort of extra damage with their attacks, and they will remain dangerous (albeit less so) to lycanthrope characters. Normal humanoid-type enemies wielding normal weapons are going to be mostly ineffective against the characters, but that's difficult to avoid while allowing the players to remain unaltered lycanthropes.

Level 5 is one of the major milestone levels where player character power gets a dramatic jump (extra attacks, level 3 spells, etc.) anyway, so you could take the opportunity to shift focus so that the players are now getting into the realm where their challenges are more and more the sorts of fantastic creatures who do deal this kind of damage and powerful enemies of their own tier who have the magical resources and special equipment necessary to deal with them. They should still get to have a go at mundane foes from time to time, but they can be the sort of fluff encounters they're meant to handle easily and quickly rather than a serious challenge.

Use their reputation against them

It would certainly feel unreasonable if enemies who had no reason to do so suddenly started coming equipped with silvered weapons and other anti-lycanthrope measures purely because they need to be able to pose a challenge to your players. However, it would be reasonable for enemies to start using such equipment and tactics if they know they are likely to be fighting lycanthropes. If the party can't keep their nature a secret, their enemies will learn to fight them with silver and fire. Even if the characters are never seen actually transforming, there are only so many conclusions that can be drawn if they are seen to be obviously immune to mundane damage, and silvered weapons are one of the standards for overcoming such immunities.

Groups and opponents who are specifically opposed to the PCs can therefore justifiably arm themselves with silvered weapons and other anti-lycanthrope tools after the secret gets out. If the PCs are well known and active in a region, even groups who aren't specifically opposed to them might invest in having a few such weapons available, just in case these adventurers (a breed who are notorious for getting involved in other people's business) cross their path. You don't need to make every common guard or thug start carrying silver swords, but silvering is relatively inexpensive, so leaders and lieutenants at least could readily be so armed.

Retcon the damage immunity

You could houserule the nature of lycanthropy so that it only grants resistance, rather than immunity, to such mundane damage. This way your players still get a considerable advantage from becoming lycanthropes but it's not quite so game-breaking as outright immunity is. You could even flavour this as a difference between natural-born and afflicted lycanthropes, saying that natural lycanthropes have full immunity but afflicted ones only get resistance (there's already a mechanical difference between the two in that afflicted lycanthropes can be cured by Remove Curse, whereas natural ones require nothing short of a Wish).

Hopefully, you have good-natured players who would understand if you nerfed the ability a little bit in the interests of keeping your campaign grounded.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @MrHiTech Just because one answer doesn't explicitly need it doesn't mean that that information wasn't helpful to the answerer (eg by eliminating possible solutions) or that another answer won't find it invaluable in their answer. More information about the circumstances of the problem is almost always a good thing, for answerers and thus for you as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 13 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MrHiTech Not to help-pile, but while these are great ideas, you may get more directly appropriate answers if you provide us more info about the world. In addition, I'd like Carcer to respond to the concern that if the players were fighting silvered weapons suddenly being a problem, why wouldn't the same problem occur if enemies all of a sudden turned up using alternative damage types? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 13 at 17:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I think the point there is that it feels unbelievable and targeted if enemies who would normally be using mundane weapons all suddenly start using silvered weapons, but it is not unreasonable when fire elementals do fire damage or nagas do poison. You can of course justify that enemies who are actively targeting the PCs and prepared in advance will be appropriately equipped but it would feel unfair (or at least very metagamey) if enemies who have no reason to do so have all mysteriously equipped themselves precisely to fight the PCs anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 13 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's true if no one knows about them and they aren't a current problem in the area (and hence why we need more information from OP). But if they've been fighting humans with mundane weapons consistently, a sudden switch would be a question mark as a player and feel much the same. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 13 at 17:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I feel my answer suggests a transition rather than a sudden switch. But anyway, I have added a section suggesting the reasonable use of silvered weapons and that kind of thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 13 at 19:36
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Bring in some lycanthrope hunters

You've noted that lycanthropes are not common on the surface. Because of that, I suspect that most potential enemies (both good or evil) will not be prepared to face a lycanthrope. That makes sense, and letting them just have this for a little while will make them feel like that award was substantial (it is!).

But... even if lycanthropes are uncommon, you have not said they are non-existent above the surface. And like anything that is different, scary, and not understood, there will be someone who wants it gone. It will be a known fact (or at the very least a half-believed rumor) that such creatures exist, and there will inevitably be some people who accept the "responsibility" of ridding the world of this perceived evil. It's not that much of a stretch to think that some of these people would have found each other, shared their knowledge, and become very good at removing (murdering) lycanthropes.

So, as the player characters continue through your adventure, eventually someone will notice how they seem to just shrug off deadly blows, or - gods forbid! - witness a transformation! And if (when) this happens, it's only a matter of time before word gets back to these monster hunters!

At this point, you now have the chance to introduce a deadly and persistent enemy who will hunt them for as long as they remain above ground! Your party might prove themselves equal to the task, or they might find this threat overwhelming. If the latter is true, they might even decide to take sanctuary in the lycanthrope city in the Underdark! I'm sure they'd be accustomed to receiving such refugees already, if such a deadly group exists.

This enemy would likely be persistent, refusing to simply let the party be. They would pursue your party to the ends of the earth, hunting them down like the animals these hunters believe they are. Your game would take on an entirely new element if you go with this, as your party now always has to worry about being tracked! It's also not unreasonable that if these hunters coordinate, that they would set up ambushes, or try to target the party while they're already busy dealing with something else entirely!

Let your Underdark enemies actually be prepared for this

If your party does choose sanctuary in the Underdark, they get a base of operations where they are actually safe from those who would hunt them. However, now they're in a place where lycanthropes are not just normal, but have an entire city. Any nearby enemies, be it mercenaries, bandits, or rival city-states, would be equipped and trained to deal with lycanthropes.

These wouldn't just have hodge-podge knowledge and whatever gear they can get their hands on to fight. They'd have years, perhaps decades, of experience dealing with and fighting an organized group of lycanthropes. They'd know better than anyone, and be better equipped than anyone, to kill a group of lycanthropes of any size! Your party may be safe within the walls (or borders) of the lycanthrope city, but the enemies outside of those walls are a greater threat to them than anyone above-ground would be.

This will probably change the tone of your game if you do this

Though I think this is a perfectly reasonable way that the game-world would react, choosing this option would almost certainly permanently alter the tone of the game. The party could never stay anywhere for long unless they just decide to lie low and not attract any attention - and even then they might be found out. They'd gain a lot of incentive to remain secretive, yet to somehow at the same time gain the locals' trust in case they are found out.

It would become difficult for them to stay anywhere for long once their nature had been discovered, as word would almost certainly get out and draw in hunters - especially as the party's reputation grows through the quests they complete. They'd have to spend much of their time looking over their shoulders, as the characters are literally being hunted by people who specialize in killing them.

On the other hand, this could lead to some very touching moments as a village or township stands together to protect these heroes who saved their homes and earned their trust even in spite of their unusual nature! Then you have to decide... just how far are these Hunters willing to go to catch their prey?

Personal experience with this kind of approach

I haven't used this approach before, but a similar approach has been used on me, in which our party was hunted by a shadowy group of assassins. The GM thought we hated it, but for several of us it was our favorite part of that campaign!

There's a certain thrill when any otherwise mundane encounter could contain a deadly threat, and we often found ourselves taking greater risks than we normally would if there was a chance we'd kill one of our pursuers. Like... lingering in a building as it burns around you to make sure that guy is dead! (I might or might not have been the guy lingering...)

I honestly don't remember a whole lot about that campaign itself, but I vividly remember how abruptly the tension would shift as soon as the knife flew out of the darkness, or one of these guys slipped out of the shadows! In every encounter with them, our priorities would be overturned the moment we knew they were there! Whatever else we were doing, it was at best equal in priority to eliminating one of these guys! Any scrap of information we could find on them was worth more than mountains of gold, because they were so dangerous to us!

Amazingly, we actually didn't lose anyone to these guys, but half the time it was a fluke more than anything else! Every fight with them felt like a fight for our characters' lives! The game was (at least for me) far more fun once we were actively being hunted by them!

I will add that the pacing of those encounters added to it a lot. Once any of these guys showed up, they would attack us relentlessly as if every blow was intended to kill. If they found themselves at a disadvantage, they would try to break away and escape so they could strike at us later. We occasionally found ourselves having to quickly decide whether they were actually on the run and should be pursued, or if they were trying to lead us into an ambush (both did happen btw). Any fight with these guys would begin with almost no fanfare and would often end just as abruptly.

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Ramp up the anti-lycanthrope measures over time, as enemies and generic NPCs "learn" about the new conditions.

This will work best if your players are participating in a campaign or series of adventures with a persistent antagonist (or antagonist group).

The basic idea is that, at first, the lycanthropic nature of your players is new to everyone. The players get some cool new abilities to exploit, in combat or outside of it, and their enemies are not prepared for this at all. So for some string of encounters it would be natural and plausible for your players to suddenly seem overpowered and easily succeed at challenges which might have been difficult, but for the lycanthropy.

But eventually word will get back to whomever is directing the players' enemies, and if they remain invested in defeating the players they could, very naturally, start to respond to the lycanthropy with hard counters (like silver weapons) or better tactical and strategic planning (spreading word of the lycanthropes might turn NPCs against them, or a battle/puzzle/whatever might be specifically designed to negate or mitigate the benefits of lycanthropy).

This doesn't have to negate the benefits entirely, either. It might be too costly or otherwise impractical for every bad guy to have silver (or otherwise suitable) weapons, so encounters might contain some hapless mooks who are easily cut down, and an elite set of opponents that are specifically anti-lycanthrope. Careful planning can make these very dangerous-- if the mooks are intended to provide support/crowd control for the elites, it might not be plausible for the players to take them down right away. Or if there are enough mooks, the action economy will favor the enemies until the players thin the ranks a bit.


Real-life example: in a game (VtM) I was running, one player optimized his character for punching things to the extent that NPCs without a hard counter to taking damage would likely be one-shotted (including a sudden, surprise victory over a boss character).

Over time, new antagonist NPCs tended to have that hard counter, and existing characters (who couldn't easily get it) started going to great lengths to stay outside of punching distance. But, to honor the player's chosen investments in the character, there were usually enemies he could punch, and plenty of environmental obstacles/tools/puzzles for which the super-strength was an effective option.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How many sessions did it take for you to 'ramp up' the knowledge? This is a very logical idea, but it could take a lot of real-time to get there. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 13 at 19:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Several sessions, and VtM is poorly balanced enough that I had a hard time getting the "ramp up" to be as precise as I wanted. The changes were clear, though modest, by the end of that chapter. When the next chapter started, there were several situations where the super-punching was definitely not viable alone (though I still made sure to include situations with unknowledgable or poorly resourced opponents, so the super strength still had some opportunities to shine). It became an extension of the opponents' resources and knowledge, and not so much a meta-gaming concern. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica May 13 at 19:54
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So, there's an obvious group of marauding lycanthropes killing or subduing1 seemingly random people? Sounds like every villager and NPC will be carrying silver weapons for protection.

I don't know how your players are actively playing currently, but if word gets out that there may be lycanthropes in the area? That kinda stuff spreads quickly among towns!2

(I know you don't want to do this but it really does seem reasonable; at the very least, make them keep it on the down-low or face the silvery consequences.)


1 The presumption that your party is engaging in combat is based solely upon the fact that you're looking to balance combat.

2 This also hinges on the idea that your PCs are encountering things that have a non-trivial Intelligence score. If they don't have a high Intelligence score, just use creatures with poison.

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