Saturday, March 19, 2016

Powers Be Creepin'

I've talked a couple of times (here and here) about the table-top RPG I'm currently playing, where I play a reporter-turned-demon-hunter named Eddie Mendoza. And I mentioned my abuse of some experimental new rules that turned Eddie into a terror with a pistol, but I didn't go very far into the odd effect that has had on the game.

First, some history: the game is loosely based on the Chaosium Basic Rules, with lots of modifications thrown in from not only specific Chaosium games like Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer, but also other role-playing games like D&D and Champions,

Sargon the GM had played one-on-one with Naamah for years before inviting other people (including me) to join the game. During that time, they had evolved a complicated and very high-powered magic system for the game. My first exposure to the magic system was in the second campaign I was in, our Atlantis game (which I've written about several times on this blog, more than I care to list ATM).

 At that time, an issue revealed itself in regard to the magic system: it was way overpowered compared to the rest of the game. This had never been a problem for Sargon and Naamah. As long as the game only had one player; there was no party balance to disrupt. But as events progressed in Atlantis, combats often became a matter of trying not to die while waiting for the mage to have her turn and wipe out the opposition. The enemies kept getting more and more ridiculously overpowered to challenge the mages while us humans progressed more slowly, occasionally running across magic items to give us a little more oomph.

The next two campaigns avoided magic altogether in favor of a new psionic power system and superpowers. But then along came the Wraithport game, which would obviously involve magic. How to solve the game imbalance issues, then?

Well, as it turned out, in a couple of ways. Number one, by having everybody in the party (with one exception named Mendoza) be magic-users (one character was part-demon who, while not knowing spells per se, had many spell-like powers that behaved pretty much like de facto magic spells). If all of the players are using magic, it doesn't matter how powerful magic is compared to other weapons and skills.

Sargon also adopted a new, slower advancement system for learning new (and higher-powered) spells to keep players from getting the really ridiculous high-level spells too soon.

And third, by adopting a set of optional combat talents to allow weapons combat to be more potent and flexible. It was by clever use of this third option that I was able to make Eddie Mendoza, who at first glance seemed destined to be totally outclassed and useless in combat, to be a useful contributing member of the party (thanks in large part to a magic pistol with some truly potent bonuses that the combat talents were able to amplify to ludicrous levels).

And somewhere along the way, something strange happened. Eddie Mendoza, the mundane character who was supposed to have been the weakest of the group, came to be seen as the "big gun" (pun intended). The same magic system that had seemed so overpowered in Atlantis now seemed strangely underpowered. That slowed-down magic advancement system now seemed too slow.

So new systems were introduced to make magic more potent. Magic talents were introduced to give magic some of the extra flexibility and impact that Eddie had enjoyed with the combat talents. And a new magic casting system was introduced to let magic do the same kind of absurd damage that Eddie could do when the dice smiled on him.

That shifted the balance back to magic again. Eddie in the last few game sessions has been relatively useless compared to the mages, and in the next session will be starting without the array of magic items that make him even marginally useful compared to them. But his skills and talents continue to develop, so at some point, he may pass a crucial break point that will make him bad-ass again. We'll see.

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