Thursday, September 9, 2010

Magic: The Rules of the Game, Part 2

Last time, I found the Dresden Files RPG magic system and began changing it to suit my purposes. Since then, I've had an opportunity to playtest some of these changes in an actual tabletop environment. First -- surprise. I had put this system (and character generation as a whole) together to allow for a variety of character types. Like the D&D classes, but more flexible (more on this in a later post), my "Archetypes" laid out character options: soldier, philosopher, courtier, athlete -- and Crafter. Among 14 archetypes, only 3 included Crafting as part of their default package. I expected most of my PCs to be fairly mundane, with perhaps a minor Craft ability thrown in here or there, and one or two full Crafter.

I miscalculated. By granting full magical power for the cost of one stunt, I had opened the floodgates. The soldier was also a fully capable Flameshaper and Blightshifter; the demolitionist decided to do half her tricks via Relicshaping. The diplomat happened to be a Realmshifter nonpareil. I was faced with a conundrum -- is this good? Evidence that my magic system is exciting and attractive, and should I just assume that every person in the City of Lives wield magical power -- like the populace of Xanth, or the Tales of Alvin Maker? Or did I make a mistake? Was this abundance of magic diluting the players' original character concepts? Had it become a matter of peer pressure -- "well, their characters can sling spells, so should mine"? Were they relying on the magic too much, and showing a lack of needed diversity in the party? 

The answer to these questions is none too clear, but my gut tells me magic is too easy. The soldier and athlete hardly ever show the skills they had designed their characters around. The philosopher and demolitionist both seem to have taken magical skills out of peer pressure -- neither are comfortable with the rules behind them, and the magic has diluted their character concepts: the philosopher was meant to be a skeptic, and the demolitionist to rely on her ability to "MacGyver" a way out of any dilemma. And yet, when danger rears its head, they all reach for their spell lists.

So, to my mind, there is a problem. And I think I've found a solution. It might turn out that I'm wrong, that a fully magic-rich universe is exactly what this setting needs to be, a version of Mage: the Awakening or a fantasy Champions, or my solutions may not solve the problem, instead just forming new ones. But it's worth a try.

Let's analyze the problem: the characters are overpowered (more on this earlier), and the character concepts are becoming diluted by magic. These two problems can actually be solved at once, by making Crafting more expensive. Instead of costing one stunt to gain full access to a Craft, maybe it should cost a character two or three, but then I still don't really like the idea of stunts that cost multiple slots. So, what to do? Thankfully, one of my players has the answer: associate stunts with summoning power. Instead of determining how much power a Crafter can summon by Conviction  (as in DFRPG) or one of the various Control Skills (as established last time), one stunt allows a Crafter to summon two degrees of power, or Fair (+2) on the ladder. 

Suddenly, there is a definitive difference between a dabbler and a serious Crafter. A soldier who wants to fling a little flame can spend a single stunt on Fair Flameshaping, giving them the ability to summon Fair (+2) power -- and a full-time elementalist is going to buy Fair Flameshaping, then Great Flameshaping, and then Fantastic Flameshaping, allowing them to summon Fantastic (+6) power, or six degrees. We can also model the idea that magic is mundane in the City without being overwhelming, by giving every character the option of gaining a free Fair Crafting stunt as part of their bloodline.

At this point, we have a new, revised system to test. In some future post, I will reveal the effect of these new rules. Until then, join me next time for the first part of Character Generation: Archetypes.