Flashy features in Tabletop Games
with limited usability for victory.
- Warhammer 40K lives, breathes and shits this trope. All the time.
- The Baneblade superheavy tank in Warhammer 40,000 looks absolutely sweet and its stats on paper are overwhelmingly awesome. After all, it's ready to unleash ELEVEN BARRELS OF HELL! However, the sheer ridiculous points cost means that the opponent can field a much larger force, with all the dedicated anti-tank weaponry needed to make the Baneblade into eleven mountains of scrap metal.
- Some people actually pointed out that due to the rules for coming in from reserves, a Baneblade technically can't be put in reserve, despite it being an option (and the only way to ensure it doesn't get scrapped in Spearhead). This is because the literal wording of Reserves means that the unit has to move from off the board onto the board using its normal movement allowance. A Baneblade moves 6 inches a turn, it's almost a foot in length!
- Then came 5th edition which not only made it cheaper (from 650 to 500 which is cheap in 3,000+ point games it's made for), but also harder to kill. It still has its limits — sinking 500 points into a unit which couldn't capture objectives at the time, is relatively slow, and is vulnerable to rear armour hits like all tanks — but it's at least usable. Not to mention there's nothing better than the look on a Guard player's face if you do succeed in wrecking their precious baby.
- A lot of special characters fall into this, especially the ones that are pure beatsticks. They are extremely powerful, but also extremely expensive and, if not immune to instant death, die to a single tank round. That's why you don't see the likes of Typhus or Marneus Calgar very often. The most used special characters either buff your other units (like Vulcan, Ghazghkull or Fatereaver) or are GameBreakers (like Eldrad).
- The Baneblade (and its brother Super Heavies, the Mjollnir and Excalibur tanks) didn't fare much better in the larger scale game Space Marine. True, their 1+ save meant they could only be taken out by reasonably powerful weapons, and they packed Titan class weapons... but for the price of one of them, you could buy one or two units of regular tanks, which could 1) bring more guns to the party, 2) move much, much faster and 3) not die in a single lucky hit. For that matter, the Ork Super Gargants were also all but useless - being extra hardy is nice. Having only short range and contact weapons on a slower-than-tectonic-plates bullet magnet? Not so much.
- You could say 40k was BUILT on this trope. The basic heavy weapon for the Imperium is a hand held semi-automatic armor piercing grenade launcher, chainsaw swords abound, the Orks function purely on Clap Your Hands If You Believe and duct tape, the Eldar have slightly better protection than a cardboard box while retaining maximum style points, and the space ships get around by travelling through hell. It's all awesome, but none of it's remotely practical.
- Eldar tanks are actually as durable as their Imperial equivalents. Eldar lack heavy tanks like Leman Russes or Land Raiders, but compared to Chimaera-and Rhino-chassis tanks (which, like the Eldar tanks, are based on a transport chassis), Eldar tanks are actually more heavily armoured, faster, and have additional defences in the form of power- or holofields. They're still impractical, though, due to their extremely high cost (a Wave Serpent costs nearly four times as much as a Chimera, while having similar firepower and being only slightly more durable).
- The Grey Knights used to embody this trope. Not only was the average Grey Knight Trooper more expensive than its loyalist OR Chaos Counterpart (in both in-game point cost and real-life money costs), it still died by the same weapons that can kill the aforementioned cheaper counterparts. The Awesome part? Even the basic trooper in a Grey Knight army is equipped with an appropriately named Nemesis Force Weapon and Stormbolter, which turns each and every Grey Knight into a Lightning Bruiser / Glass Cannon that can tear apart a tank in close combat....if you ever got it that close to a tank. It's even lampshaded in their debut codex, which mentions that it would be very hard to play a pure Grey Knight army (although possible).
- This was made even more glaring at some points in time, as most of their stuff was overpriced and out of date by their then-current Marine counterparts who, while still being much cheaper than a Grey Knight, had much more equipment to compensate for any of their earlier weaknesses. Chaos Space Marines also got an update so that they can be upgraded to be harder to kill. The Grey Knights eventually moved from this trope, as the 2011 Grey Knight codex moved the army into Game-Breaker and Tier-Induced Scrappy status. 55 point Terminators with two wounds each, armed with force weapons, that have 4+ invulnerable saves on top of their 2+ armor save? That can claim objectives? And had Feel No Pain. Never forget FNP.
- Feel No Pain on the Paladins (the aforementioned 2 wound Terminators) is itself an example of this trope, purely because everyone became aware of it. Terminators are already very well protected from low strength and AP weapons, Paladins more so as they have two wounds and can abuse the wound allocation rules to spread damage around their unit. Therefore, most fire directed at them from other players will either be AP2 or S8 (or both), negating FNP entirely. Considering how much a Paladin Apothecary costs, it's hardly practical to get them FNP instead of just buying more Paladins.
- The Deathstrike Missile. It's ungodly powerful (being one of the most powerful weapons you can field in an non-Apocalypse game), indestructible, and has a huge blast radius. The impractical part? Due to being a blast weapon, it's inaccurate to the point of Hoist by His Own Petard-tier suicide (unless you fire it across the table, it's fully capable of randomly flying backwards and obliterating your own troops). Doesn't help that it's being crewed by normal Guardsmen, who are not known for their accuracy. You also only get one shot per game. It also can't fire first turn (leaving it open to being shot off the table; It's not that well armored) and is only really useful against less mobile, more concentrated armies (playing against Dark Eldar? You'll probably hit 1 unit with it, if you're lucky).
- Speaking of Apocalypse, both of the Lethal Joke Characters. The Warlord Titan is three times the size of a Warhound Titan, which is already gigantic even in miniature scale. There is also rules for a Imperator Titan, which no-one deploys due to just how bloody huge it is. To say it's easier to cosplay as one and just stand on the table instead of making a model is NOT an understatement of how big it would be. In fact, it may actually be smaller than making a true-to-scale model. You would need specially-reinforced tables just to use those things.
- Imperator is a sub-class of Emperor Titan, along with the Warmonger Titan. They are both roughly the same size. Warlord Titans are one step smaller, followed by Reaver Titans and finally Warhounds. Games Workshop have only ever released Warhound Titans (and, from Forge World, Reaver Titans) in 40K scale. The Imperator/Emperor model was only ever made in Epic scale, along with all the other Titan types.
- The 40K scale Tau Manta transport gunship from Forgeworld. At a massive 63x86cm (25x34 inches), this thing not only does not belong on a table, it is a table. And at nearly a thousand UK Pounds, there aren't likely to be too many players who can afford one.
- Also for Tau, and from Forge World, the XV9 Hazard battlesuit. Tougher than almost every other battlesuit option out there, armed with a variety of Anti-infantry weaponry. The catch? Well for starters, it's a Forgeworld Model which means money costs are high. Second, most of its weapons only reach out to 18", and leave quite a bit to be desired in the Armor Piercing department for most of them. The Phased Ion gun is, quite bluntly, a Shoddy Knockoff Product of the Space Marine Assault Cannon, with the only difference being you can equip two of them per suit. For anti armor, its Fusion Cascade is a Melta weapon, but has lower power in exchange for a D3 shots per turn, making its armor busting potential questionable. And the final nail in the coffin is that for a lot cheaper costs (money and points wise), you can use other Tau units to do everything the XV9 Hazard can but better. Stealth Suits, which are incredibly effective in cover, and have up to 6 in one squad (3 more than any other Battlesuit squad). Crisis suits, which are Boring, but Practical and can be kitted out with much more reliable (and further ranged) weapons. Finally, you could take Broadsides with High-Yield Missile Pods, and Smart Missile Systems (aka, "Missilesides"), which have higher strength than most of the options on the Hazard, shoot much further, and will always put out 8 shots a turn, with re-rolls to misses, thanks to being twinlinked. Additionally, the Smart Missiles ignore cover, and don't require line of sight either. All of which are from the standard Tau Empire Codex.
- The XV104 Riptide Battlesuit is amazingly awesome. Its stock loadout is the Gatling Good Heavy Burst Cannon, which fires 8 shots a turn to wreck infantry squads, paired with a secondary weapon choice of either Twin-Linked Smart Missile Systems, Plasma Rifles, or Fusion Blasters. Thanks to the Riptide's dark matter-powered Nova Reactor, it has the option each turn to Nova-charge its weapons in order to spit out 12 shots and gain the Rending rule. So that's the Awesome part, what's the Impractical? Well, aside from needing to make a 3+ activation check to use the Nova-Reactor, with a failure meaning you get no benefit out of the Nova Reactor, and suffer an automatic wound with no saves allowed on the Riptide, a Nova-Charged Heavy Burst Cannon also gains the "Gets Hot!" rule, which means on a roll of 1 you receive another wound. That means you've got 13 chances to wound your particularly points-expensive Elite Battlesuit during its own turn. For a few extra points (so few that it barely even matters at this point) you can avert this flaw and upgrade the Heavy Burst Cannon to an Ion Accelerator. This has incredibly massive range, allowing you to safely tuck your Riptide away and out of reach of most other units, hits much harder, and for much safer risk of just 1 chance at over heating, can be overcharged normally like all Ion weaponry of the Tau, and can switch from 3 shots, to a single shot Large Blast with more power. The only time you will ever need to consider turning on the Nova Charge reactor for the Ion Accelerator, is if your intended target also involves the words "Armor Value 14" in its stats, or simply take the previously mentioned Fusion Blaster secondary weapons which has the Melta rule, and can be nova-charged to fire more rapidly with no risk of getting hot.
- Worth noting that in-universe, the Tau are the only exception to Warhammer 40000's love of this trope. Everything the Tau use is built with functionality in mind. No trophy racks and battle honours on their sleek, futuristic vehicles - if it serves no purpose, it comes off. The Tau are the only faction in the game who don't often use Titans, preferring heavy strike aircraft like the aforementioned Manta, much like modern armies in Real Life. They're also the only ones to use mass-produced plasma weapons, which are less destructive than the Imperial versions but don't explode.
- However, the Tau are not above using large robots that definitely aren't based on Titans such as the Ta'unar Supremacy Armour, which while being loaded out with enough guns to make even the Orks jealous, it does suffer from the same issue as other massive units in game, mainly being extremely expensive both in Real Life and in game.
- On paper, the Eldar's Fire Prism looks pretty awesome. It is tougher than a Land Raider when fully upgraded, can fling Strength 9 laser bolts around, and can combine fire with other Fire Prisms to make even bigger superlaser-of-death shots. Then again, in smaller games a single 90pt War Walker can hit tanks harder than two 115-pt Fire Prisms combining their shots, a Dark Reaper squadron can kill heavy infantry nearly as effectively, and a Falcon can blow more things up for the same Heavy Support slot while remaining just as tough. Thank Khaine for Carnifexes, because if there were no Monstrous Creatures in the game, the Fire Prism wouldn't exist.
- In the 6th edition Eldar codex, this is no longer the case, as the Fire Prism became much more practical. Its gun has 3 firing modes, a S5 AP3 Large Blast, perfect for blasting apart large units of everything from Marines on down, a S7 AP2 Blast, perfect for Terminators and the like and an S9 AP1 Lance, perfect for killing tanks. The clincher? All 3 of these have a 60 inch range and can be fired after moving 12 inches, meaning that in a board of any size, it's very difficult to return fire on one. Awesome Yet Game Breaking might be a better term for this edition's Fire Prism.
- In a similar vein, the Land Raider itself is this. On paper the thing looks damn impressive, having enough firepower to destroy any other tank in the game, or take on a full squad of elite troopers, while its armor laughs off swarmers and anything not dedicated to killing giant tanks. Its point cost, while high, is still affordable in most standard games. The main problem is that the primary focus of a Land Raider is to survive, which does little for something that cannot 1.) do that much damage and 2.) capture points. For the same cost as a Land Raider, you could have afforded two tanks with twice the amount of weapons, and are viewed as less of a high-profile target.
- Many a vanilla unit is prone to find itself in this role. Consider Assault Terminators. A Codex Marines army can spend 400 points just fluffing out a ten man squad. Sure, they'll hit like a ton of bricks if they catch anything in melee, but because of their high value and very slow movement, they aren't going to catch many things in melee at all, and certainly not enough to make back their points cost. The Marine player will likely find that unit has a hard time getting in close with anything that matters, meaning the enemy can avoid it if they want, feed it a low-value unit if they must to delay the squad, and pick apart the rest of the Space Marine army with their force. A smaller Terminator force would be far more dangerous because it will be supported by other units who can keep the enemies from having a whole table to maneuver on. There's nothing sadder than watching a new Space Marine player who put his two hundred point HQ into his 400 point Assault Terminator squad thinking it'll win the game, and all that squad did was take down a squad of Red Shirt Imperial Guardsmen.
- Terminator armor itself was considered this in-universe at one time. During the Great Crusade, there were plans to replace all power armor with terminator armor. However, the suits proved too slow and easy to outmaneuver, leading to the plan being scrapped.
- In the fluff, Abaddon the Despoiler's unimaginatively-named flagship Planet Killer. Sure, it has the most powerful weapon pretty much in the known universe (the imaginatively-named Armageddon Gun). Sure, it bristles with lance batteries and torpedo tubes, and sure, it has a crew of millions of slaves and thousands of psychotic ten thousand year old badass warlords... but the one time its captain tried to take it into action without escorts, a small squadron of cruisers sat out of range, metaphorically flipped the bird at the spiky scary ship, and blew it to pieces with standard long-range torpedoes. Undeterred by this, he built another one.
- Similarly, Imperial Ironclads. Ancient human warships from before the development of Deflector Shields, they protect their occupants with tonnes of armor. Because they are built in the times before or during the Dark Age of Technology, they often have apocalyptically powerful armaments, but their lack of shields makes them Glass Cannon units at best in the present day of the setting. The Imperium usually recognizes this and converts them into either planetary assault ships (fit some rudimentary deflectors, fill it with expendable Guardsmen and bombardment weapons) because they can actually land on planets without shattering due to their freakishly strong construction, turning them into Boring Yet Practical. Other uses include stripping out the weapons, replacing them with more bolstering, adding shields at the front, massive engines at the back and using them to ram things in a particularly Orky move, or replacing everything with a BFG and using it to kill planets. Some of the very youngest ironcladsnote are, however, much more useful — they keep their Dark Age of Technology-level weapons, but their plate armor is good enough to stop "modern" weapons, and glows red hot with each hit, making them look awesome as they advance into battle.
- Abaddon himself was considered this up until 8th Edition. Costing as much as a Land Raider, Abaddon has enough special rules and weapons to literally murder anything he comes across (even tarpits and superheavy vehicles wouldn't slow him down for long). However, he has the crippling drawback of having no movement modifiers at all; this means even the most basic trooper can simply outrun him if he doesn't have a transport to cart him around. And because of his Terminator Armor, the only transport that will fit him is the aforementioned Land Raider (and no, his faction only gets the vanilla kind unless you dip into Forge World), which is yet another example of this trope. And unlike his other fellow Chaos Champions (Typhus, Huron, even Ahriman) he usually lacks the ability to buff anyone else; even Ahriman can at least cast spells to buff people around him. This results in Abaddon usually just barely killing enough enemies to make him worth his points, while models like Huron or Typhus can often change the entire flow of the game by merely existing. 8th Edition, though, changed Abaddon's rules to give him a number of powerful support buffs (such as a 12" aura to make his underlings immune to morale and allowing nearby soldiers to reroll their attacks) while sacrificing none of his close combat ability.
- Assault Centurions have some of the beefiest armour in the Space Marine list, cool-looking siege drills, and a movement speed roughly akin to molasses going uphill in January. This is a melee unit that can barely outrun the scenery. You could always put them in a Land Raider, which has the minor problem of being akin to walking into battle with a "SHOOT ME I'M RIGHT HERE" sign.
- Penitent Engines and Dread Knights look like this, both of them are walkers bristling with devastating close-range weaponry - with pilots intentionally left fully exposed to enemy fire. Background material claims that it not to be the case. The Dreadknight has a forcefield that protects the pilot while Penitent Engines has its pilot's consciousness downloaded inside the machine, so they're not affected by the pilot's body being blown to pieces. Plus the Dread Knight's pilot is wearing Terminator Armour, the heaviest available in the Imperium, and the entire point of the Penitent Engine is to get its pilot gloriously killed to atone for their past sins.
- A lot of relics fall into this territory. Most common is the "evolving weapon" type, where the weapon gains additional attributes as you rack up kills. The problem is, unless it allows you to kill mooks and you manage to wipe an entire squad from the get-go, these bonuses often accrue so slowly that you'd maybe see their effects on the last turn of the game, when it's too far gone to put it to good tactical use. Similarly, a lot of other relics apply some awesome effect to a generic weapon, but the effect is either overkill (such as the Norn Crown) or completely useless (such as causing instant death on a To Wound roll of a 6). If a relic manage to avert all of this, sometimes their good ol' points costs ruins them as anything viable. Those that manage to completely avert this unfortunately become Game Breakers.
- Imperium Plasma Pistols. Strength 7 AP 2 will kill or wound most anything in the game, but the plasma pistol suffers from a variety of drawbacks that are usually mitigated in its bigger cousins (the rifle-sized plasma gun and the heavy plasma cannon). The plasma pistol costs the same amount of points as the other (15 points, enough to add one Space Marine or three Guardsmen to a squad), yet is limited to one shot a turn compared to two shots or a small blast like the plasma gun and cannon respectively, but the pistol's 12" range requires that the wielder gets close to the enemy, and it has a 1 in 6 chance of not only missing but blowing up in the wielder's face and removing the pistol as a threat entirely (possibly also killing the wielder). When fighting against cheap horde armies like Orks or Tyranids, a plasma pistol is impractical overkill and will struggle to make its points back, and when targeting tanks or Monstrous Creatures it might only take off one or two wounds/hull points before the wielder dies. It's mainly meant to threaten elite units or heroes, but the whole "blowing off your own arm" issue makes it struggle to shine.
- Sometimes happens in-universe as well- Commissar Ciaphas Cain is usually depicted with a bolt pistol on book covers (in the style as Imperial propaganda posters), but he himself uses a laspistol. He discusses the flaws of a bolt pistol when he runs into one of his colleagues wielding one; the laspistol is much lighter than a bolt pistol, has more shots per clip (the laspistol clips are lighter and smaller too), can be recharged through various means (given how often he spends cut off from enemy lines with nothing but a gun, chainsword, and Jurgen, running out of ammo is the last thing he wants), and while it doesn't make as much dramatic noise when executing cowards, he does his best to avoid executing soldiers in the first place (not to mention he doesn't want to make himself an even bigger target).
- This trope is so enforced in 40k that the reason they don't use more Boring, but Practical methods seems to be that they'll inevitably find some way to make it impractical. The article "Rocks Are Not Free!" explains that the Imperium relies on expensive high-tech missiles and battleships to depopulate worlds rather than just taking a few asteroids and dropping them from orbit, because the Imperium insists on running that maneuver through so many layers of red tape that that the missiles are actually the cheaper option.
- In Exalted, the Sidereal Exalted have the reputation of unparalleled Martial Artists. They can create and learn Kung Fu styles so powerful that they rewrite the reality at whim and so flashy that fans of all the other splats demand them to be universally available. The catch is, these Martial Arts are incredibly expensive and very cumbersome to successfully employ in combat. Most Exalts are much better off using their less awesome but cheaper and more reliable Kung Fu.
- Not to mention, the Five Metal Shrike. It's a flying machine which survived the First Age. It's smaller than any major weapon of the First Age, and more maneuverable than any flying machine in the Age of Sorrows. It's got Artificial Intelligence. There is only one. It can repair itself, it can respire Essence by itself, it can cross Creation in a day, and it can become completely invulnerable to damage. In addition, its main weapon is the "Godspear". Listed statistics include: "infinite levels of lethal damage". Unfortunately, only one exists, it's controlled by a machine, and it can only fire the Godspear once per day. Oh, and creating a new one takes over 100 years, assuming you're already got the required knowledge. And the infinite damage radius is only 25yds, with a secondary blast of "only" 50 damage in a 500yds radius (where most characters have health levels in the single digits). Oh yeah... if the Shrike is destroyed, it explodes with double damage and more than triple the radius of the secondary blast from the Godspear.
- The Titan-class Citadels the Shrike was intended to replace are the Shrike, needing a crew of 5,000, with a primary weapon one mile across, with an explosion that flattens a truly ridiculous area when destroyed. In other words, the Shrike is practical by comparison, unless you actually want to train up five thousand random villagers.
- Any combo attack against a creature that has a perfect defense.
- And then there's sorcery, which teaches us that control over the fundamental forces of reality, including demon summoning, rains of apocalyptic death, and showers of obsidian insects to tear everything to shreds...is, ultimately, overshadowed by the native powers of the average Exalt. High-level Terrestrial charms (as in, the weakest of the Exalted) such as "Dragon Vortex Attack" and "As In The Beginning" are substantially nastier than even the spell Total Annihilation. When the right kung fu combo on top of a mountain can destroy the world, sorcery just ain't that practical.
- With the 2.5 errata, it turned out that the Infernal charm trees were neat, interesting, cool character-building for the Yozis, and completely unsustainable inside a semi-functional version of the Exalted ruleset.
- Most effects with a status-type keyword (Crippling, Shaping, Poison, Disease, Illusion, Compulsion, and so on) fall into this. Sure, you can punch someone's soul out with some Shaping keyword effects, but Shaping is a keyword that pretty much every target worth using it on can get blanket immunity to with very low prerequisites, and most of the others aren't much harder to get. Having said that, if someone's not immune, they can be very nasty indeed.
- Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e examples:
- Subverted by the Gloryborn template armour from the Dungeon Master's Guide II. This was explicitly stated to look as absurdly impractical as possible - men would get chest armour limited to leather straps to show off their pecs, while women got what you'd expect. Despite looking Awesome But Impractical, it really functions exactly like normal armour of that kind, due to the extra-planar origin of the equipment.
- Also in this realm are many tricks the character op boards can come up with, for example a sack of pieces of paper with explosive runes cast on them, then cast a dispel effect on them and purposefully fail. In theory it does massive damage, in practice, the cost and time involved make it a lot easier to just exploit the game's inversion of Useless Useful Spell and fling save or dies around.
- In fact, the boards have a general term for this: practical optimization, and theoretical optimization. Practical optimization is about creating characters that are certainly good at their jobs, but don't outright break the game or require too much work to manage or put together and should therefore pass muster under most DMs and be fun to use. Theoretical optimization is about creating the most powerful character theoretically possible under the rules as written, regardless of lore conflicts, Early Game Hell, balance issues, or wording mishaps. Sure, these characters are powerful, but they would be essentially unusable in actual play because your DM is unlikely to let you ascend to godhood at Level 1 or obtain unlimited wishes, and even if they did, the campaign would either end right there or result in the DM pulling out something even more ridiculous to kill you. To use an example, a barbarian who plays a common race with a strength bonus to do more damage is practical optimization. A barbarian who stacks fifteen contradictory templates onto their race to get a strength bonus in the hundreds while using Exact Words and Loophole Abuse to have almost no level adjustment is theoretical optimization.
- The Wish spell, at least in 3rd Edition. Finding wishes in premade rings and other devices was useful but given the limits placed on it, the potential for backfire, and the 5,000 XP cost, it was almost never worth it to cast it.
- Wish in 3.X is a Panic Button, nothing more. You only use it when the party is about to die, and only to duplicate a spell effect (one of the few uses that doesn't give the DM much room to put a drawback on). And the XP cost? You get a third of that every encounter at 17th+ level play, so it really doesn't hurt that much (plus any optimizer will tell you that losing a full level isn't always a bad thing as it lets you gain more XP than the rest of the party).
- The Dungeon Master's Guide explicitly instructs dungeon masters to pervert even the most benign of wishes (it claims not to, but then it gives examples where it does). Many take it to heart, making the spell an effective suicide method.
- The Deck of Many Things is an artifact that has an equal and random chance of completely destroying the character, or instantly granting it great powers (level up 10 times). The latter is less useful than it sounds, since you will be too powerful to play with the rest of the party, you would thus have to retire that character regardless of what you draw.
- The Epic Spell rules allowed amazing customization for spell creation, and the example spells were all over the place. Examples include Nailed to the Sky, which teleports the target into orbit; Dragon Strike, which summons ten red dragons, but requires eleven other casters, minimum level 17, to burn 2,000 XP each; and Vengeful Gaze of God, which deals massive damage to one target and blows 2/3 of it back in your face, unavoidably.
- Vengeful Gaze of God causes, on average, 1067 HP of damage, to any one target within a 4 kilometer radius. Pretty big, no? Except... casting it requires a skill roll with a Difficulty Class of 419 (probably the highest DC ever to show up in any D&D book), which is impossible even to a normally-built wizard on level 100. And if you are powerful enough to cast something like this, then at your level even the weakest mooks you face probably have hit points going into the thousands. And for added fun, it causes an average 700 HP of backlash damage to you.
- In general, the epic spell rules were almost completely broken and fell into this pretty hard when used as intended. The Energy seed in particular is seen as the worst, since its damage numbers just don't scale all that well, starting at a DC of 37 to just throw a 10d6 Fireball for an average of 35 damage in one turn. Even if you are a blaster at epic-level, pretty much any metamagicked low-level spell is a much better option; a Split-Ray Maximized Scorching Ray does 144 damage, and it's not even taking up an epic slot! Unfortunately, the epic spell rules are also very easy to cheese.
- Third Edition had the "Brilliant Energy" weapon ability. At a staggering +4 price mod (a weapon's total cost was it's price mod, squared, multiplied by 2000 gold pieces), a Brilliant Energy Weapon ignores all inorganic matter when swung, sailing effortlessly through armor. Sounds cool, right? The trouble is that most of the enemies a player will face by the time he can afford it see it as inconsequential; Outsiders have massive Deflection-based defenses that don't use matter, Dragons have incredibly thick hides that a Brilliant Energy weapon won't help pierce, worst of all, undead and constructs don't have any organic matter at all—meaning that the weapon will sail through their entire bodies, leaving them completely unharmed.
- On the other hand, that last bit means a Necromancer capable of casting the spell that gives people Brilliant Energy weapons (temporarily) has an unstoppable army.
- This is the calling card of the Tier 2 classes: the sorcerer, the favored soul, the psion, and so on. Each has access to Story Breaker Powers, but they simply don't have the wealth of options or freedom of choice that a Tier 1 has: either they start with a comparatively smaller list, or they have a smaller number of powers that they can actually use (a wizard can prepare Water Breathing or Knock easily, but a sorcerer can't afford to waste his spells known). They can still easily dominate, but they often need to stick to Boring, but Practical choices or risk Crippling Overspecialization.
- Savage Species is infamous for this. It's a book that turns monsters into classes that players can start as, meaning you can end up starting out as things like mind flayers or chain devils. The problem? You can't advance into anything else until you've finished the class, for obvious reasons, you can't take another race, and thanks to Level Adjustment, your HD, save bonuses, and feats are all lower than a normal character of your level. This last one meant that a CR 5 mummy was now treated as equal to a 13th-level character. As if that wasn't enough, the monster classes were all this trope. You could classify them pretty easily into the following categories:
- Monsters with such a powerful chassis and enough good spell-like abilities (usually outsiders) that they can easily hold their own, or even outdo other classes for a few levels... then the HD limits kick in, and they fall behind.
- Monsters geared for brute melee combat (ogres, trolls, etc), which usually end up as passable melee workhorses markedly inferior to a same-level human fighter or barbarian.
- Monsters which rely on a gimmick attack (medusa gaze, undead spawning), which don't actually get their signature power until a long time after it stops being dangerous (mind flayers get Extract at 12th level, a long time after clerics got Slay Living) and spend all other points in their career making subpar melee attacks.
- Although it functions just fine in-universe the dire flail weapon would be this in real life. It is basically a wooden pole with a chain and spiked ball on BOTH ends. How on earth someone is supposed to operate such a weapon (at least in such a way that it would be superior to a single-ended flail) is a mystery since swinging one end at the opponent would almost certainly imperil the wielder with the other.
- The Artificer class is an eternal resident of Tier 1. It's a magic item and crafting-focused class, allowing it to obtain powerful items very early at reduced cost, mimic pretty much any ability, and create some insanely powerful combinations. Unfortunately, it's also the game's preeminent example of Difficult, but Awesome, requiring some very precise management of your money and XP and intimate familiarity with the crafting rules. It relies heavily on limited-use items like wands, meaning that every encounter drains your cash a bit where your partners can replenish their resources just by sleeping. And on top of that, one of the main rules of crafting is that it takes several days to craft even one item. In campaigns where there either isn't enough downtime or a place to easily find materials, an Artificer is forced to rely on their rather clunky and low-power Infusions. The sky may be the limit for an Artificer's power... but the floor is very, very low.
- A Fourth Edition example: about a third of the various Paragon Path choices, and easily half of the Epic Destiny choices. Oh yeah, you might be able to do things like make three rolls to bluff a city into thinking you're an incarnated god, or be able to walk back home from the afterlife... But there's virtually no practical combat help (with powers roughly equivalent to ones you'd pick up anyway) and a too-broken character is just a big target for the DM to figure out what not to have happen in the story lines.
- In Fifth Edition, some players have been known to complain about being forced to choose between Awesome, but Impractical feats and Boring, but Practical stat increases when levelling up.
- Mordenkainen's Disjunction, the last word in Anti-Magic spells. It instantly and irresistibly knocks out any continuous spell effects in the area, destroys magic items, and has a good chance to screw up even antimagic fields and artifacts. Except destroying magic items also, well... destroys them. Meaning you can't loot them. And chances are, most enemies that heavily use buff spells are going to be dripping in valuable magic items. You might as well just set your money on fire. Later editions tend to tone it down to merely suppressing the effects for a few hours, making it more practical.
- Another 3.5 one is the Necrocarnate, a prestige class for the soul-manipulating Incarnate which boasts the ability to consume the souls of the recently dead. This converts their life force into bonus essentia, the fuel for the Incarnate's signature abilities, and it lacks a real upper limit—in theory, you could just slaughter a bunch of 1st-level commoners, enjoying a functionally limitless supply of essentia that you can pour into all your abilities and max them out. But there are two caveats: Necrocarnate doesn't advance your usual essentia progression, and the bonus essentia leaves after twenty-four hours. So a 7th-level Incarnate/13th-level Necrocarnate who hasn't found a recently dead body since yesterday will find their pool of essentia depleted to about a quarter of what a 20th-level Incarnate has. This means you have to be killing things constantly to keep your powers up, since even a one-day break is going to render you nearly useless until you can kill a few things again. Even the book points out that it's almost impossible to play a Necrocarnate in a traditional campaign, and the class is better suited for villains (where the amount of essentia one has is ultimately going to come down to DM fiat).
- 'True Strike' in Fifth edition is a cantrip that allows casters (Bards, Warlocks, Sorcerers, and Wizards) to make an attack on a creature with advantage (which means you roll two dice and take the higher number). Problem is, preparing true strike takes an action itself (so it takes up most of a combat turn) and requires concentration. If your enemy is killed by another player, moves out of range, or your concentration is broken (such as by the enemy you planned on true striking just hitting you), the strike fails and you only can make a regular attack roll. True Strike also works for only one attack. Instead of using True Strike, and rolling twice to see if you hit once, the player should just hit the enemy twice over two turns for double the potential damage output.
- Fireball is probably the most well-known spell in D&D, and it's not useless by any stretch of the definition. Fireball deals ludicrous damage for the level it's on, even if the target succeeds their save. That said, it's an Area of Effect spell, with a pretty large radius, so unless you and your party are on the same wavelength, you are likely to hit them as well, unless you got the Evocation wizard's Sculpt Spell feature. The spell also deals Fire damage, and only Fire damage, so if you're facing one of the 40 monsters in the base 5e manual with fire immunity, it's useless, and subpar if facing one of the 37 with resistance. You're probably better of taking Melf's Minute Meteors, which also deals Fire damage, but can do a maximum of 12d6 damage, spread over 3-6 rounds, and feature several, smaller areas of effect, affording far better precision.
- The Witcher: Game of Imagination got few few weapons that are inherently awesome, only to be almost completely useless:
- Whips can be used for very flashy combat maneuvers like tripping over, disarming and strangling, but over such short distances it's easier to just draw your sword or shoot your enemy from afar. They are close to useless against armoured enemies, most animals and monsters. Lamias (whips with metal spikes all along their length) are saved from this by doing damage like a two-handed weapon, and the handle works as a mace, so they avoid the problem with close-quarter fights.
- Exotic weapons bypass any armour except plate armor, but they also cost a small fortune and have only d6 damage roll, while normal weapons can be customised for the user to deal additional fixed damage and become easier to wield.
- Two-handed weapons deal 2d6 + twice the Strength of damage, but they require sufficient Strength and many combat maneuvers are restricted for one-handed weapons. It's more practical to use a a one-handed weapon and a shield, as this grants protection and the shield may be weaponized.
- Mini-crossbows are saved by a niche use. They deal relatively little damage and have a very short range, but they can be hidden in wide sleeves and shoot two bolts in a single round - right in the face, thus dealing absurd damage if used properly.
- In the d20 Modern Urban Arcana setting, a bunch of Gnomes whom ended up in Switzerland designed a "fully functional orbiting laser cannon platform". It was never actually built because it would have been too expensive.
- In the board game Risk, the player who controls the whole of Asia gets a bonus of 7 battalions per turn, the largest bonus in the game. This might be useful save for the fact that you almost certainly don't need the bonus if you are capable of successfully holding Asia for a turn with its many border provinces and the fact that it can be attacked from every other continent but South America.
- In the Buffy roleplaying game, they mention that chainsaws are realistically very impractical weapon, but because so many movies show them off to great effect, they have it deal a lot of damage, but they take penalties to hit and they can hit the wielder if you botch.
- In the New World of Darkness sourcebook Armory, chainsaws have a penalty to use and hurt you if you botch, but if you do hit, you get Eight Again on the damage roll (in other words, you reroll successes until you get a roll without any successes, then add them up - every success is a level of damage).
- One particular Old World of Darkness example is the vozhd war ghoul, a merging of at least a dozen ghouls into a giant fleshy war machine, from Vampire: The Masquerade. They were extremely effective siege weapons for the Tzimisce during the dark ages. However, in modern nights, they're almost never produced for several reasons. One, a good chunk of the Tzimisce with the knowledge and power to make them died during the Anarch Revolt; there just aren't as many even capable of making them anymore. Two, a 20-foot tall fleshcrafted monstrosity causes the Camarilla (and several other supernatural groups) to suddenly focus all their attention on whoever brought one out to preserve The Masquerade, to the extent of causing groups otherwise antagonistic to each other to team up to take them, and their creator, out. Three, advances in military hardware make it much easier to kill one - since a vozhd can barely use a melee weapon, let alone anything with projectiles, bullets and flamethrowers are particularly useful in dealing with them. Given the time and resources needed to make a vozhd, they're generally only worthwhile to the Tzimisce defending out-of-the-way territory... and they're not particularly effective at that, generally making them a waste of time. Their most frequent use in modern nights is for psychological warfare (namely, "Look at what kind of Body Horror the Sabbat can do!".
- The monofilament whip in Shadowrun is a cyberpunk vorpal sword: A filament made of a single long chain of molecules with a handle at one end and a little weighted ball at the other. Presumably it is so sharp that it will instantly sever a limb, but you need mad skills to use it; if you miss your target, the whip is likely to come back and take off your head.
- It is, however, an extremely good Weapon for Intimidation because anyone willingly using one is either crazy skilled or just crazy period, and thus best avoided (or immediately turned into a fine red mist using massive ranged firepower, which will at least save your mage from a round of shooting).
- A Rifts example is the Cosmo Knight from the Three Galaxies sourcebooks. At first glance, they look like the cutting edge in Munchkinism. They take 1/100th damage from energy weapons (meaning that you need a starship-mounted cannon to even ding their armor), and that's on top of the massive amount of damage they could soak up even if they didn't have that particular ability. That's on top of a stack of other wild abilities they have, and their "one great" weakness is a total joke (they take full damage from magic). The drawback? You have to play the character as Principled alignment (Palladium's equivalent to Lawful Good), and on top of that, they have a strict Code of Honor they have to follow. Unless the GM is lenient (and how often does that happen?), step one toe out of line and the character becomes a Fallen Knight. Fallen Knights lose most of their powers, and while still tough, aren't a patch on what they used to be. Many a Hack and Slash power gamer has thrown the Cosmo Knight away in disgust upon learning that they couldn't just rampage through the galaxy, killing anyone who so much as looked at them funny.
- Paranoia has plenty of these, although (due to clone replacements) Taking You with Me in general is more practical than usual:
- Lots of things simply aren't legally available at your security clearance, forcing you to risk the Infrared market to get them at all. Or the thing itself is available, but the instructions on how to use it aren't.
- A prime example is canned food, which is normally a red (second-lowest) clearance item. All Troubleshooters are at least Red clearance. Can openers, however, are at least Blue clearance (four levels higher).
- Tactical nuclear grenades, with the helpful instructions "Throw Really Hard" printed on the side. Maximum throwing range of a typical Troubleshooter: 50 meters. Blast radius: 500 meters. Alas, no Troubleshooter has survived long enough to report this particular design flaw...
- Flamethrowers and (especially) plasma generators do lots of area-of-effect damage, but when it malfunctions (which it does relatively often) or a shot hits the fuel tank, it tends to explode - and it's strapped to your back, so you can't run away unless you take time to unstrap it first.
- Experimental equipment from Research and Design ranges from relatively useful to downright harmful, with this trope somewhere in the middle ground. Troubleshooters are often tasked with field-testing some R&D equipment while carrying out their primary mission.
- Warhammer Fantasy gives us the Steam Tank. Looks cool, is utterly worthless. If it takes any damage, its rules render it unusuable.
- The damage will mean you either have to play more conservatively or risk catastrophe, but even if the opponent manages to sneak in a couple of wounds (almost always needing to roll a 6 to hurt it, and then you not rolling a 3 or more to discount the wound) it will still chew through enemies in combat. As long as it picks its fights well (ie: trying to avoid hordes who hit hard or being sniped by enemy cannon, instead going for small blocks of monsters or elites) then it can be a holy terror.
- Every named character who isn't a squad upgrade. You can build a normal character to outdo any named character regardless of who he is, and some of the named characters are so absurdly expensive that you can put together two tricked-out Lords for the same points cost (Malekith, we're looking at you).
- The very act of charging became this in the latest edition. Previous to this, charging at least guaranteed you the ability to attack before you died. Now, without special rules, it nets you a measly +1 to combat resolution, i.e. nowhere near enough to cope with the casualties you just took against that high-Initiative opponent.
- "Storm of Magic": Exalted Greater Daemons and Emperor Dragons. Exalted Greater Daemons are powerful, very resilient, usually spellcasting monsters capable of eating entire units, but they cost so much that even a 3000pt army cannot bring even one with its Monsters and Magic allowance. Emperor Dragons, at least, are cheaper in that they only cost 650pts, so a 3000pt army can bring one, and they've got a whole bunch of stats at 9, but they're still more than a 2000-2500pt army can afford. Both, in addition to this, are vulnerable to not just concentrated war machine fire, but also the "Unbind Monster" cantrip, which offers a 1 in 6 chance of killing a bound monster outright from 24" away with no saves and can be cast on a 3+ by any wizard on the battlefield.
- The Cataclysm spells in Storm of Magic are all weakened by their inability to get Irresistible Force, meaning that they can always be dispelled if your enemy has enough dice, but the worst has to be the Lizardmen's Great Leveller. This spell forces the enemy to sacrifice units and characters until both armies have the same number of each, but it has a laundry list of drawbacks - it automatically kills the Slann casting it, it can only be used if you control the majority of Arcane Fulcrums, which is unlikely if your enemy is in a dominant enough position that you'd want to cast it, and worst of all, its 35+ casting value was set while Slann had a game-breakingly powerful way to cheat the cap on dice rolled per spell, which they have since lost, meaning that trying to pull it off under current rules requires a roll of at least 28 (assuming favourable Winds of Magic) on six dice (average roll 21).
- Starfleet Battles had battleships. Huge and powerful, and enough to make your oponent look for his brown pants, they were horrificly expensive (especially in campaign play), and effectively required an expensive support fleet to protect and augment it. In the end, 'historically' only the Klingons ever built any, and only two of a planned nine.
- Battleships also suffer from turning like a drunk pig. Even the Klingons, renowned for building some of the most maneuverable ships in the game, couldn't do much about that problem, and their battleships are among the more maneuverable (and turn as badly as anything else classed as 'real' in the game). When Federation (conjectural) battleships were introduced, a new (worst) turning mode was introduced for them. The problem is so severe that all battleship designs include rear-firing heavy weapons to discourage getting behind them.
- To a lesser extent, the Stasis Field Generator and the Mauler Cannon were powerful, but only useful in certain circumstances, and required a skilled player to get any effective use out of them.
- In Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, half the highest-level careers are this. The Wizard Lord, the highest-level magic user, requires the character to possess 6,000 gold crowns' worth of arcane tomes, in a game system where the players are playing wandering sellswords and obtaining a single gold crown is a grand achievement.
- The Rube Goldberg device at the center of the game Mousetrap. It is fun to watch in action, but the "trap" takes a long time to assemble and NEVER works from start to finish. Fortunately, nothing practical is provided.
- GURPS tends to be full of this. Owing to the game's tendency to strive for "realism" even when it is emulating unrealistic genres, many "cinematic" maneuvers may be allowed but are still modeled as being almost as impractical or dangerous as in real life.
- BattleTech had mechs such as the Clan-tech Blackhawk (appropriately called the Nova by the Clans) which packed 12 ER Medium Lasers. If it gets in range, it will take down virtually any mech its size and smaller, and possibly many larger. But a full salvo generates so much heat the mech risks temporary shutdown from the first volley. The reason for this is because it's a dueling mech: it's built to fight one on one with something and chip away until it gets an opportunity to make a spectacular all-or-nothing Alpha Strike.
- Many weapons fall under the Awesome, But Impractical category as well. Melee weapons, for example- a hatchet does great damage for most mechs, but to use it you've got to be adjacent to your opponent, and they know you're packing a hatchet. All too often the amount of tonnage devoted to packing one just ends up as dead weight that could have been used for longer ranged lasers or missiles. Another good example is the Hypervelocity Autocannon: better range than standard autocannons of the same damage potential, but they're also heavier (a real problem in a game in which weight is the main weakness of ballistic weapons relative to energy- and missile-based ones already), generate more heat, and have a 1-in-36 chance of blowing up each time they're fired.
- Land-Air Mechs are the epitome of Awesome Impracticality in the Inner Sphere. These mechs could transform between a mech mode and an aerospace fighter mode, theoretically granting it a high degree of versatility. In practice, however, this versatility requires great sacrifices in effectivity: The mech had to be light enough to be able to sustain its flight in fighter mode, could equip less ordinance than most mechs of its weight class due to the transformation servos taking up space and weight (In BattleTech, a mech lives or dies by the way its loadout is spread over its max tonnage), the frame was much more fragile than in other conventional mechs of its weight class due to the components needing to shift around between modes, leaving openings and weakpoints, and transformation is most definitely not a free action for them, which made these mechs most vulnerable when they were transforming. After the decline of the Star League, most Land-Air Mechs were slowly taken out of production and replaced with more practical mechs until only one factory in the entire Inner Sphere remained, continuing to produce them until the Clans, which detested the concept of these units, paid a visit and razed it to the ground. The Word of Blake tried to revive and improve on the concept during the last stages of its jihad, but the attempt at so was so short-lived it was almost inconsequential.
- ClanTech in general proved to be this in the lore. The Clans' mechs and equipment are individually superior to anything the Inner Sphere can make, but they're only feasible to make for the Clans because of their non-profit-based economy, their enormous jump-start in technology, and low but dense population compared to the Inner Sphere. The Inner Sphere on its side simply cannot afford to make such high-quality 'mechs for everyone in their massively larger militaries when their own, individually inferior 'mechs are cheaper and quicker to make for their manufacturers.
Tex Talks BattleTech:
Consider this: For the price of a Thor
... For the price of a single Thor
, at 21 million, 320 thousand, 834 C-bills... You could buy eleven Urbanmechs
. Or, seven Rommels
. Or, three Awesomes
, plus spare parts. Or, two Atlases
, plus spare parts. Or, thirty Elementals
, and all their honour
. Or, in 3052 C-bill conversion rates, you could buy enough burgers from Federated Fast Food to become king of Meat Mountain
... Until the birds showed up. Birds always ruin Meat Mountain
... Where was I
? Clan shit is expensive, keep this in mind.
- The old West End Games Star Wars d6 RPG played this straight and averted it for different characters when it came to light sabers. If you had the skill (which only a Force-sensitive character with access to Jedi or Sith training could acquire) then a light saber was an AWESOME weapon, generally quite capable of shredding anything that operated on character scales, and pretty dangerous for vehicle and starfighter scale opponents as well. If you DIDN'T have the skill and tried to use it, a feature of the rules meant that there was a 1 in 6 chance each time you made an attack that something really bad would happen, such as lopping off one of your own limbs. Or you head. Or a friend's limb or head.
- Wizards of the Coast's own version of a Star Wars RPG (Saga Edition) came out with one particular textbook case of this trope. In the "Force Unleashed" supplement, they wheeled out the rules for Unleashed abilities, which essentially allowed you to pull of Superhuman stunts on par with those Starkiller used in the game, and they even came in varieties for non-force users. The problem was twofold: Firstly, you had to use up one of your feats to be able to use them at all, and secondly, you would almost never use them. Each usage of an Unleashed ability cost the player a Destiny point, of which you only ever gained 1 per level. This meant that you were wasting a valuable slot on an ability you might use a handful of times throughout an entire campaign.
- The Board Game Turn the Terrible Tank had an neat-looking tank with a drill in place of a gun. Looked AWESOME, but when you grew up and thought about it... yeah.
- Maka Dai Dai Shoji is a Japanese chess game that dates back to the 15th century. It has 361 squares, 50 different types of pieces whith 96 pieces on each side. There are at least three types of King (such as King, Dragon King, and Free King) along with an Emperor and Prince. A game like this does not last only one evening. There are many pieces which represent cool things like the phoenix, dark spirit, evil wolf, she devil, guardian of the gods, and coiled serpent. Some pieces like Emperor are all powerful (they can instantly jump to any unprotected square or enemy piece on the board). Many of these pieces may never get to be used in the course of most normal games played by experienced players. Needless to say, the more compact versions of shoji were always more popular in Japan.
- The HMS Dreadnought from the Pirates Constructible Strategy Game; it possesses five masts and five cannons that hit on a 4+ die roll, and these cannot be eliminated until all of its masts have been shot away. The drawbacks? 26 point cost (when most games run 40 point fleets) and slower than a glacier when sent out with no crew. Giving it a captain and a helmsman will tack on 5 more points, bringing the total cost to 31 points. While it might have a chance of doing some damage, if its sunk, captured or wrecked, then half the player's fleet is gone.
- The USS Constitution has a similar problem, although it is more affordable than the Dreadnought at 22 points. It's also slightly faster, but still very expensive to properly man.
- Blood Bowl ogre and vampire teams look like they would be broken at a glance. Players of both types are outright Lightning Bruisers, but rules regarding the former's stupidity and that the latter's bloodlust mean teams composed them are doomed to fail. Goblin teams actively revel in this, with grenades, chainsaws and pogo-sticks more noted for their fun than their effectiveness.
- In AT43, the UNA subgroup M.Ind loves combat striders, the heavier the better. The UNA army book mentions that some over-eager M.Ind generals actually deploy units with two support striders (the largest type available). This is noted to be extremely expensive and more than a little ridiculous, both in-universe and in actual play. Among other things, support striders present large targets and are intended to support other, smaller/faster striders.
- The device Tesla installs into the torch of the Statue of Liberty in Rocket Age, during Trail of the Scorpion. The upside: It can wirelessly power the entire eastern seaboard. The downside: If it overloads it would wipe out New York.
- Mumakil in the The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (another Games Workshop property). The largest plastic model GW made when it was released (although new technology has since left it in the dust), it is capable of devastating enemy armies...but if it takes a Wound, you need to take a Courage test or your opponent can have it trample up and down over your troops. In addition, it costs a small fortune, and its damage output goes way down if your opponent gets Priority and successfully charges it or speed-bumps it with a Hero or other unit (an Ent, for example) that's durable enough to take its impact and survive.
- Robogear has the Protectorate T-Rex, which boasts the most firepower of any unit in the game, has the most hit points, looks awesome and even has arguably the best name. The only problem is, it's incredibly slow and so expensive to field that the same point cost could buy you seven Salamanders, which each have half the firepower of a T-Rex and can move many, many times faster. Of course, the Salamander is so amazing for its point cost, it goes too far the other way and borders on being a Game-Breaker.
- The card game Uno has the Draw 4 Wild card. It's easily the most powerful card in the game, letting you declare the next color whilst simultaneously slapping the next player with a crippling penalty (take an additional 4 cards and lose your next turn!) However, unlike the normal Wild card, you can't play it whenever you want. You can only play it if you don't have any cards of the current color in play. If you try to pull a fast one, and the next player calls you on it, the penalty gets turned back on you.
- In X-Wing Miniatures, large and expensive ships tend to be very vulnerable to swarms and scenery. This can even apply to small and expensive ships; an E-Wing, for example, is blisteringly fast, fairly agile and has very good primary weapon and agility statistics...but it is very expensive - which is awkward for a ship with only 5 total hull and shield. Even if most attacks will miss, enough will hit that it will be torn to shreds.
- The original clan champions in the Legend of the Five Rings CCG from the Imperial set were the epitome of this. Costly and often difficult to play due to honor requirements, they were simply the biggest specimens of their respective character types. It was often easier to play three other characters for less cost and more combat utility. Later cards representing the champions often added unique and powerful abilities. Whether that justified their cost depended on the card in question.
- Chaotic's Aa'une The Oligarch. He starts out in his Projection form, which is a basic M'arrillian Chieftain who's only effect is that it's the side that starts the game face-up, similar to Magic's transform cards. In order to transform him into his incredibly powerful Avatar form, which has 200 in every stat, 100 energy, 20 extra damage with every stat attack, and the ability to basically destroy every creature on your opponent's board if you haven't used any mugic, you must:
- Have Aa'une win combat. Doable.
- Have Aa'une be equiped with Baton of Aa'une◊. Very easily gotten rid of by certain mugic, attacks, or creatures, but a good battlegear to have on him.
- Play the attack Rage of Aa'une◊. Again, good to have in your deck if you'r playing Aa'une, but even with the max 2 copies its entirely possible you won't have it on hand when Aa'une fights.
- Then, if all of the former conditions are met on the same turn, you have to cast Calling of Aa'une to flip him over and play the Oligarch. The issue here is that Aa'une himself has no mugic counters and Calling is a M'arrillian mugic, meaning you have to have a fluidmorpher to cast it, as there's almost no way Aa'une himself could ever gain that many mugic counters on his own. This means if Aa'une is your only creature left, you'll have hard time transforming him.
- Chaotic also has Glacier Plains, M'arillian Heat Cannon, the only card in the game with an Instant-Win Condition; the problem is that the condition is ulcer-inducing to actually pull off. To win the game with its effect, you have to have a whopping 50 Mugic counters on your field. You read that correctly: 50. You basically need to keep an entire army of fluidmorphers alive for at least two or three turns without playing Mugic or abilities at the very least to even get that many. And to top it off, the Heat Cannon is a Unique Location, meaning that there's only a 1 in 10 chance on any one of your turns that it'll come up, and if it shows up before you have enough counters, you can kiss your instant win goodbye.
- While Android: Netrunner may have overall less crazy card effects than its predecessor Netrunner, it has its share of big, beefy cards that are too costly to use most of the time.
- Government Takeover, a Weyland agenda worth six agenda points (out of seven to win), has a powerful 3 credit-per-click effect when scored, and is limited to one per deck. The problem is that it requires 9 advancements to score when 5 is already considered difficult, and an opponent stealing it is not only substantially easier than you scoring it, it will almost certainly lose you the game. Its effect also might as well be blank most of the time; if you didn't immediately win when you scored it, you're very likely about to anyways.
- On the runner side, Monolith is the king of big-rig consoles. +3 Memory Units, 3 heavily discounted program installs from hand, and the option to sack uninstalled programs to prevent damage are magnificent perks, but it costs 18 credits, thrice as much as any console actually worth playing. Without some janky shenanigans to get it out quickly and reliably, it will almost never be worth it to amass that much money then install it normally, and it would still take more time to get the programs in hand to make that effect worthwhile.
- The three Wild Card Edges in Savage Worlds, Dead Shot, Mighty Blow, and Power Surge, are very powerful. Doubling physical or ranged damage, and regenerating power points respectively, but only work on turns when the character has been dealt the Joker. Sacrificing a valuable trait slot which could be used on another, more reliable ability, to gamble on the slim chance of getting an insane power up for a turn.