Magic in games
Hella last edited by
I've been thinking about how magic is done in MUs and the conflicting schools of thought I've heard around that. I'm curious to know from folks where they've seen a magic-heavy game done really well, and what made it work? What were some of the rules? Or were there any?
The most common example I've heard is Mage from WoD and how it's far too OP if it's in a game with other splats, but great on its own.
I would like to see an Ars Magica game. But I don't know how good it would be lol.
I think it depends on the game. You have to think about whether you want magic to be common or rare, high or low, and every part in between. For example, if you wanted to run an Eddings-like fantasy story, mages are rare and their power is immense; if you wanted to run a Brooks-like fantasy story, magic is more common, but their abilities are not quite as grand.
Based on your expectations, you can probably find a game system that works. Mage is good for "high and powerful" magic, in my opinion, because it is flexible. A game with codified spells, such as Lot5R or Earthdawn, would be better for "low and tricky" magic game. You can always tailor rules for Mage to "power it down," but you'll need to make expectations clear.
It depends on whether you want things to be balanced, too. Maybe thematically for your game it's alright if some people are overpowered. I've seen some games handle this in the sense that you have to build up points that show you're a decent player, in order to be permitted magic-wielding characters.
One of the issues here is that 'magic' means different things to different people.
For example some folks expect a very well defined magic system. You cast a level 3 fireball and it does exactly this very specific effect. Each spell has a description and quite possibly even a mechanical effect ("3d6 damage").
For others it's more freeform. Rank 1, small effects. Rank 2, slightly larger effects. Etc. It's much more flexible but then again someone will try to break the system ("I'll use my Rank 1 Minor Telekinesis to cause a brain aneurism!").
As long as you communicate your expectations as well as you can and then stay consistent you should be good either way. In my experience most players tend to prefer the more well-defined approach simply because it's clear what they can and can't do. However when your 'fuzzy magic' system works in the hands of an exceptional player, they can really do some cool, imaginative things with it.
Also... as others said, be aware the more powerful magic is, the least fun it will be to play a non-magic user.
It depends on whether you want things to be balanced, too.
As a long-time fan / runner of Mage, in particular, I really think that a couple of definitions are key: balanced and overpowered.
What do you mean by overpowered? If you mean that Mages can do a very impressive thing in a very short time, then yes, they are more powerful than, say, a werewolf or a vampire. But that big flashy magic comes with some tradeoffs. They can't do it as often, and the magic go-juice that makes it run (in Awakening, anyway) is a bit more limited than Essence or Blood or whatever emotional go-juice changelings run on. And it takes more of it, if you play it right. Also, reality itself fights back.
So they can get some pretty high spikes in power but they can't do it as often, as efficiently, or as safely as some of the other splats.
Does that balance? It depends on what you want to see out of it. If run absolutely according to the rules, it tends to work out pretty nicely. No one side has a clear advantage over teh other unless the Mage has been given a LOT of time to prepare and gather their materials and things without the other side catching wind and taking any action.
In terms of the larger discussion, I think an important question is: do you want power to look more like a flat curve or a bunch of spikes and troughs? If you want something consistent with no surprises then Mage probably is a bad choice, and you should probably go with something like a DnD-style system. If you want something with a lot of punch but limited ammo, then something like Mage might be good.
And all of this assumes that you don't want them to, long-term, have special advantages. If that's not the case, then the calculus changes a bit.
il-volpe last edited by
When you're talking about WoD it's not magic vs no-magic, it's freeform magic (Mage) vs spell-based magic (everybody else.)
Freeform magic systems are not inherently more powerful than spell-based ones. There are a couple things going on:
1: They require more creative effort from players, so they're harder.
2: They are more vague. So they're more open to GM interpretation. It's quite possible to love Mage in general but hate it on FooMU because, goddamnit, every fucking time you try to do magic, FooMU staff tells you it doesn't work that way. Getting the strong impression that your staffer 'trusts' Abelard to cast 'correctly' and hand-waves it while carefully examining your attempts for flaws (and of course, finding them) is a common occurrence.
The oft-mentioned overpoweredness of Mage probably has to do with point 2, not the game system itself.
PLUS, when you're talking about a MU, "balance" and "overpowered" mean something different than a tabletop game, and/or what the game designers anticipated.
Unless you don't let characters advance, or you give everybody an XP when anybody earns one, a MU can't be balanced like a table-top game (such as the system was designed for). The way to achieve balance on a MU is not to have all PCs equally capable. It's to provide plotlines/adventures/events that cater to Camille's strengths and interests, and to contrive ways to keep Abelard out of them if he happens to share Camille's strengths +2.