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Barsoom
2013-07-08, 03:39 PM
So, let us assume for a moment you want to play a game where the Player Characters are not balanced in terms of power. And I'm not talking unintentional imbalance that creeps into the game system, like the 3.5e Fighter and Druid, I'm talking completely intentional disparity, when one player is, let's say, a battle-hardened knight, while the other is a squire who barely knows how to hold a sword and is sworn an oath to follow his master. And this disparity is embraced and built into the story, into the characters. The characters know the Knight is more powerful than the Squire, they know the Knight is the Squire's boss, so to speak.

To clarify, what I specifically don't want is to give the Squire a whole different set of abilities to compensate for his weakness in battle. Because then we'd be going back to D&D classes, in essence, with the Knight and Squire being Fighter & Bard, Crusader & Rogue, or something like that. For this particular discussion, we assume it's okay for Player Character A to be more powerful than player Character B according to every objective criteria. To continue the D&D metaphor, what I'm taking about is closer to Fighter level 10 and Fighter level 1.

Does anyone have any experience with such a game? What game system fits this approach the best?

Madfellow
2013-07-08, 03:58 PM
This has "bad idea" written all over it. Just who do you think would want to play as the squire and watch the knight hog all the glory?

NichG
2013-07-08, 04:02 PM
Well I've seen it fail and introduce problems and the like.

The closest functional examples I've seen are where the 'weaker' character is basically just focused in something that is very different than what the stronger character is strong in (e.g. one character just isn't a combat character), but you said you didn't really want to have that kind of dynamic.

There are systems which use metagame resources to balance the in-character power. I think the Serenity RPG does this. The idea is basically something like 'you can start with X xp and Y dramatic editing points, or Y xp and X dramatic editing points'. In D&D terms, it'd be like 'I'm a Lv1 character in a Lv10 party but my player can 1/game take over DMing for a scene, and that take-over doesn't have to be impartial'. So you end up having the plucky sidekick that keeps surviving due to 'fate' or 'luck' (e.g. the player spends his metagame resource to save him), whereas the battle-hardened knight is entirely reliant on his mechanics - he has no plot armor.

However I get the impression that even that isn't something you really want.

I think its going to be hard to give you better advice without understanding why in particular you want this disparity and what you're trying to do with it.

OverdrivePrime
2013-07-08, 04:06 PM
Sure, I've played in games like that. At my college, most of the various games were long-running persistent campaigns where the DMs all knew the world and switched off, but everyone could pick up their character wherever they left off, assuming said character survived her previous adventures.

So, when I joined the game guild as a freshman, my characters all came in at a starting level (D&D, Vampire, Werewolf, Starwars), and were pretty outclassed in terms of abilities and experience by the player characters around him. It was actually really fun. Being a shrimp surrounded by powerhouses makes you think about character survival differently, and made every gain important. I did some really good character development in this environment. And thanks to repeatedly joining in on challenges that were well outside my price range, my characters gained experience and power quickly.

Just make clear to your players what the risks and expectations are. Buddy the squire is not going to be able to stand up to the same rigors of combat that Sir Ironsides can endure and thrive in. Buddy will likely be able to get away with a lot of social interaction that Sir Ironsides would be expected to keep clear of. Sir Ironsides will attract the affection of princesses. Buddy will attract the attention of scullery maids (Buddy is probably the luckier of the two in this case).

Barsoom
2013-07-08, 04:06 PM
To clarify to the first responder, I know such games exist, and are played. And there are systems to support them. And people enjoying them. It's just that I (having grown mostly on D&D) don't have much knowledge about any of those.

What I'm asking is for the Playground to educate me about such games and systems. I'm trying to get rid of my D&D bias, you see.


There are systems which use metagame resources to balance the in-character power. I think the Serenity RPG does this. The idea is basically something like 'you can start with X xp and Y dramatic editing points, or Y xp and X dramatic editing points'. In D&D terms, it'd be like 'I'm a Lv1 character in a Lv10 party but my player can 1/game take over DMing for a scene, and that take-over doesn't have to be impartial'. So you end up having the plucky sidekick that keeps surviving due to 'fate' or 'luck' (e.g. the player spends his metagame resource to save him), whereas the battle-hardened knight is entirely reliant on his mechanics - he has no plot armor.

However I get the impression that even that isn't something you really want.That is actually very useful and close to what I want, thanks, a great start!


Just make clear to your players what the risks and expectations are. Buddy the squire is not going to be able to stand up to the same rigors of combat that Sir Ironsides can endure and thrive in. Buddy will likely be able to get away with a lot of social interaction that Sir Ironsides would be expected to keep clear of. Sir Ironsides will attract the affection of princesses. Buddy will attract the attention of scullery maids (Buddy is probably the luckier of the two in this case).This is a totally different direction. Out-of-game talk replaces ingame measures. Depending on who are the players, I can see this working too.

Good stuff so far, keep them coming!

Sith_Happens
2013-07-08, 04:07 PM
Hm, just off the top of my head, I'd say the secret is probably that

1. There needs to be some niche in which the weaker character can reliably hold the spotlight.

2. That niche needs to come up relatively often.

Lapak
2013-07-08, 04:13 PM
So, let us assume for a moment you want to play a game where the Player Characters are not balanced in terms of power. And I'm not taking unintentional imbalance that creeps into the game system, like the 3.5e Fighter and Druid, I'm talking completely intentional disparity, when one player is, let's say, a battle-hardened knight, while the other is a squire who barely knows how to hold a sword and is sworn an oath to follow his master. And this disparity is embraced and built into the story, into the characters. The characters know the Knight is more powerful than the Squire, they know the Knight is the Squire's boss, so to speak.

To clarify, what I specifically don't want is to give the Squire a whole different set of abilities to compensate for his weakness in battle. Because then we'd be going back to D&D classes, in essence, with the Knight and Squire being Fighter & Bard, Crusader & Rogue, or something like that. For this particular discussion, we assume it's okay for Player Character A to be more powerful than player Character B according to every objective criteria. To continue the D&D metaphor, what I'm taking about is closer to Fighter level 10 and Fighter level 1.

Does anyone have any experience with such a game? What game system fits this approach the best?Well, similar to what NichG mentioned I've been playing in a game using the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG rules (it's a spinoff of the Unisystem rules) and it's baked into the system there. The first decision in character creation is whether you're making a 'Hero', such as the current Slayer, or a 'White Hat', which is to say a mostly-ordinary person. Heros get more of everything mechanically for their character: more build points for stats, skills, traits, and so on. White Hats are weaker across the board, but start with (a lot) more 'Drama Points' which they can cash in to perform extraordinary actions, escape a perilous situation, require the GM to introduce a plot twist that aids them somehow, etc.

Totally Guy
2013-07-08, 04:23 PM
Burning Wheel does it really well. The game is about characters pursuing their goals and seeing how far they'll go for them. Whether you are a princess or a beggar we all have problems and when the focus of the game is seeing how far you go to deal with those problems it doesn't matter what your power level is.

Of course the Princess and the Beggar still have to be tied to a single situation else they're playing separate games.

A few weeks ago I ran a game for two players as we were missing our regular GM. It starred a mighty giant and a blacksmiths son. They were buddies. I posted the prep to a prep thread recently so I've put it in the spoiler box.

We started with the "Big Picture", that is the overall concept. In this case it overlapped with the player character concepts. A giant and his friend face persecution in a village that is threatened from within and from outside.

Umfredo - an outcast giant
Umfredo has three strong Beliefs that motivate him.
B1: My Throne of Trees has been stolen by the men of Lanark - I will reclaim it.
B2: The source of my brethren's madness is the men of this town who visited. I will find a cure.
B3: Leod's problems with the townsfolk will persist as long as I am seen to be his friend. I will turn my back on him for his own good.

Leod - the local blacksmith's son
B1: I will protect my parents from the bullying townsfolk who threaten them.
B2: I will find a way to make the mayor and town accept Umfredo into the community.
B3: The town is crippled until the witch's curse is lifted. I will track her down and find a way to break it.

Some of the beliefs details were added in later in the process. Armed with the big picture, and the character concepts I developed the following situation:

Backstory to tell the players:

Many years ago a giant, Umfredo's Father, Balfredo, sat upon the Throne of Trees (literally four trees grown into the right shape) in the mining town of Lanark. The humans under him disrespected his leadership. He was king in name only. The only thing he really had was a seat in the centre of the town. When the men refused to give him the iron of the town for one of his personal projects he left peacefully.

Three years ago, Mayor Mallowick evicted the witch Mave from Lanark. And since that time the town has fallen under a curse. The area around the town of Lanark grew into a jungle in contrast to the plains and fields of the past. The regular crops failed and the people became hungry. In addition to this a sickness took folks of the town far more regularly. With these changes the townsfolk had to adapt to picking the fruits from the bizarre jungle trees. But then "the monster" showed up regularly preys upon the scavengers of the town.

Since the curse hit, a cult has risen within Lanark. They worship a fertility goddess.

In the halls of the Giants Under The Hill to the South some human strangers appeared to talk about relations with their town but since their visit the the majority of the giants suffered a madness, an erratic rage that came on in bursts. It was after this event that Umfredo left to investigate Lanark.

Leod, his father Gerard the blacksmith and a small girl called Tilly were attacked by the monster! Rather than be outright killed, Gerard was merely poisoned by the beast and has been bedridden. During this attack Leod could have been killed but Umfredo stepped in and scared the beast away. Unfortunately Tilly told the town about the stray giant in jungle.

Playable Characters:
Umfredo the Giant
Leod the Blacksmith's Son

The Villains:
Mayor Mallowick: Use stats for the Mayor from the book.
I will organise the town to kill Umfredo, the giant that stalks us.
I need swords from the smithy! Leod will have to work while his father is ill.
The witch, Mave, must never return to town. In that case I'll have her killed.

Mave the Witch: Use stats for the Evil Wizard from the book.
The curse is not evil magic, the new plants are valuable for alchemical study.
B'hemah is my pet. He will continue to protect me. Despite the attacks.
The mayor is my sworn enemy. My price is his death.

The Monster: Use stats for B'hemah from the book.

Kareg the Alchemist: Use the stats for the cult leader from the book but replace blacksmith skills with alchemy ones.
My possession potion was a failure against the giants. The missing ingredient is the poison within Gerard's body! I will use the cult to get it.
I will use Umfredo's acceptance in the town in my plan to usurp the mayor.
The curse must continue as I have a bounty of new ingredients from it.

Gigos the Giant King: Use the giant from the book.
I will wait patiently for the mines of lanark to be empty before attacking and seizing the iron.
I will attack Lanark as soon as I hear news of Umfredo whether it's good or bad. (Madness)
I will have a sword forged fit for the king of giants.

Any one of these could emerge to be the actual big bad!

Setting Spectacle:
The Throne of Trees: Four trees shaped into a throne. The towns has changed into an exotic flower bed that looks lovely in the town square. It faces the mayors house.

The Curse: Mave cast her spell upon the Throne of Trees making it the centre of curse. The curse could broken by burning the throne. Mave will suggest burning the Mayor upon the throne is the solution but really she just wants the mayor dead if her work will be undone. Mave will also suggest that the normal crops failed because she wasn't there to cast her growth spell as she used to do and the town was getting sick was just because of eating odd fruit or maybe mosquito bites.

The Monster: To most characters describe a terrifying stone skinned beast. To Umfredo describe it as a particularly tough wingless turkey-like creature.

Usable events that oppose the character's motivations:
Townsfolk bully Leod and family wanting weapons for fighting the giant.
The monster attacks someone.
Cult tries to seize Leod's poisoned father or the monster's body (if it's been killed somehow).
Demonstrate famine or illness from the jungle plants.
Townsfolk and Mayor rally against Umfredo.
Kareg approaches Umfredo, potentially with a new possession potion.



In play the area I wished I'd had thought about prior was how the madness of the giants would manifest. That was my weak link.

Ediit: Smallville too. The default setting is for there to be Superman and Lois Lane in the same group.

The game accomplishes that by making the reasons behind you doing something as having as much mechanical weight as what you are doing. It makes drama happen.

Doug Lampert
2013-07-08, 04:49 PM
So, let us assume for a moment you want to play a game where the Player Characters are not balanced in terms of power. And I'm not taking unintentional imbalance that creeps into the game system, like the 3.5e Fighter and Druid, I'm talking completely intentional disparity, when one player is, let's say, a battle-hardened knight, while the other is a squire who barely knows how to hold a sword and is sworn an oath to follow his master. And this disparity is embraced and built into the story, into the characters. The characters know the Knight is more powerful than the Squire, they know the Knight is the Squire's boss, so to speak.

To clarify, what I specifically don't want is to give the Squire a whole different set of abilities to compensate for his weakness in battle. Because then we'd be going back to D&D classes, in essence, with the Knight and Squire being Fighter & Bard, Crusader & Rogue, or something like that. For this particular discussion, we assume it's okay for Player Character A to be more powerful than player Character B according to every objective criteria. To continue the D&D metaphor, what I'm taking about is closer to Fighter level 10 and Fighter level 1.

Does anyone have any experience with such a game? What game system fits this approach the best?

Ars Magica and Pendragon both do this (in different ways).

Ars Magica most editions there is absolutely no question that a Magus is GLOBALLY superior to any other character type, you can come up with a magus character whose every game statistic is as high or higher than any given non-magus and that has NO disadvantages that are relevant to outshining the non-magus.

The system works fine, because as a practical matter people build mages with their magus character and try to figure out ways to have him stay home if possible.

Pendragon you can easily get the case where one player is running his last character's son alongside someone else still running a much older and more experienced character and the older character is vastly stronger.

I won't say it works fine, but it does work.

One thing is that neither of these systems is "constant combat" or "combat is the only way to advance". In both, your downtime advancement is likely to exceed your advancement in actual adventures, which means that character incentives and adventure structures are VERY different from D&D dungeon crawls in that the adventure is more likely to be an attempt to deal with a problem or threat to your home and family than an attempt to get lots of loot or "level up".

And in dealing with a problem the question is far more "who's available to help" than "who will contribute enough to be worth giving a loot share".

You don't reject the squire because he's weaker than your knight, in 10 years (aka about three months real time) your son will need to be following someone arround too.

obryn
2013-07-08, 05:07 PM
I can think of two RPGs that approach this.

The first is Ars Magica. I am not familiar enough to comment, but I think someone upthread has already discussed it. [edit: Mark Hall answers this below, so ignore my previous blather.] The system is built around the assumption of these different power levels, which helps.

The second is Cinematic Unisystem, found in Buffy and Angel (and maybe others?) You have Heroes (Buffy, Angel) and White Hats (Giles, Xander, Willow, etc.) It gives additional "drama points" to weaker characters to try and make up for the disparity, and there are certain things only the White Hats can do.

The important bit is that both systems are utterly transparent to this power disparity and built to ensure spotlight-sharing among players.

-O

TheCountAlucard
2013-07-08, 05:19 PM
The World of Darkness game lines are a pretty decent example as well. If anyone wants to tell you a vampire and mage are balanced against each other, you can laugh them right out of the room.

Scow2
2013-07-08, 05:19 PM
Ironically, before Challenge Rating and numeric scaling got out-of-hand in 3rd edition D&D, parties of mixed level (And number!) were quite fun and playable.

I'd LOVE to be able to play a level 1 bard in a party of level 10+ Venerable Barbarian Warriors.

Mark Hall
2013-07-08, 05:48 PM
As mentioned, Ars Magica does this.

In Ars Magica, there are three kinds of characters... Magi, Companions, and Grogs.

Magi are wizards of great power... not always combat power, but they have a combination of formulaic and spontaneous spells that makes them powerful and versatile... even intentionally crippling your wizard by specializing in a weird combo (Intellego Herbam, for example) will usually result in good enough scores that you can spont something useful (like using your great Herbam skill to spont a "spray thorns" type spell). Most magi are socially difficult, however, as their Gift makes people uneasy (as an actual effect, not fluff). Each player (including the main ST) makes one magus.

Companions are non-magi protagonists. They're not as powerful as magi, but they've got a variety of mundane (and sometimes supernatural) skills that allow them to take part in an adventure. Each player (including the main ST) makes one Companion, preferably with a tie to another wizard (so if your companion is a wilderness guy, you might spend a lot of time with another player's Bjornaer wizard; if you've a touch of the fey, you're likely to spend time with the Merinita).

Grogs are extras. Some may be rough and ready fighters of the turb, or they may be a maga's maid, or even a minor alchemist that the covenant has around. They're unique individuals, but they're played by whoever doesn't have a dog in this story... if you're playing a faerie story, and your Magus has no real interest, and your Companion isn't involved, you play one or more grogs to round out the party.

This allows you to switch between STs, and give everyone a chance to play. Since advancement is based largely on season, even those whose characters are "on the bench" wind up advancing... grogs included. In the next story, someone else will use their magus, someone else their companion, and the others will play grogs.

Knaight
2013-07-08, 06:41 PM
From what I've seen this can work quite well, but one of a few things needs to happen.
1) The game needs to be character-focused or plot-focused, not task-focused. If it is the sort of game that emphasizes who the characters are over what they can do, where many of the conflicts are less about if they can do something but instead over what it is they choose to do, if the game is like that - then power disparities aren't necessarily a big deal. This can show up in just about any game, but some are very much built for it.

2) At the player level, this needs to be temporary. Maybe the character catches up, maybe there is troupe play of some sort where everyone has multiple characters and who exactly is playing the more powerful one varies from session to session. Ars Magica is the most obvious example of this.

3) The player goals need to be differentiated so that the lack of power helps. For instance, in Shotgun Diaries there are a handful of mechanical characters, and you pick one. One of them is completely worthless and can't do much of anything, but if they are around everyone else is stronger. Everyone wants to keep them around, but it is that players task to deliberately get them in as much trouble as the characterization allows, which can actually be really fun.

Bulhakov
2013-07-08, 06:44 PM
The only way I could see it working is as a roleplay excercise (improv theatre?) or if the players get to switch roles and compare results of similar scenarios.

Ceiling_Squid
2013-07-08, 08:43 PM
This is built into Mekton Zeta, the mecha anime RPG. To some degree, at least, as I'll explain.

I'm running a Gundam game right now, using that system. The actual system plays heavily on anime tropes. There's the young hotshot, and the grizzled mentor figure.

Baked into the core rules is the assumption that you are either a Rookie or a Veteran. Veterans start with significantly more skill points, along with a slew of profession bonuses based on their starting age and background. The idea is that the veteran players are there to be the mentors and reasonable adults (think the classic Roy Fokker-type character), while the rookies are the typical anime-protagonist types, who more-or-less fell into the cockpit.

This power curve does level out eventually, but it's because Rookies get double experience when compared to veterans. Again, this is meant to be in-line with mecha anime tropes, where the rookie starts out wet-behind-the-ears and get smacked around a lot. Eventually he becomes the ace as the "series" goes on. The veteran mentor figure either dies mid-season in a dramatic fashion, or fades into the supporting cast, or goes on to train other rookies!

It's a bit of a variant on what you're describing, given the fact that the power curves do level out, and the disparity actually reverses a fair bit (the student surpasses the master), but you get the idea.

The game also has a built in "teaching" skill as well. Veterans can actively mentor the rookie characters in order to increase their skill points.

At present I've got a game going with three rookies and two veterans. The rookies are two rival hot-shot test pilots, and a young mech engineer. My veterans are a tough-as-nails soldier and the tactical-genius captain of their ship.

In this particular case, there is little stepping on the toes of each other (the veterans cover different skillsets from the rookies), but you get the idea. As far as skill points go, the veterans have far more than the Rookies do. A veteran with the same skillset will start off with a notable power disparity from a rookie.

Xefas
2013-07-08, 08:59 PM
In addition to some that have already been mentioned (Burning Wheel! Play it!), Mouse Guard has this intentionally built in. You can start out as a recruit who hasn't even graduated into the guard proper, all the way up to an elite veteran badass, and they can co-exist in the same party awesomely because failure is handled very well.

In D&D failure is horrible. It's very binary, and typically stops play or removes agency. In Mouse Guard, failure causes awesome to happen. You can play a Tenderpaw built to fail, and have an amazing time because your failure shapes the story just as much, if not more so, than the Guard Captain's excellence.

The Dresden Files RPG handles it in a different way. You can play a pure mortal marksman in the same party as a vampire marksman who is just better in absolutely every way. However, the mortal's player gets a big wad of meta-currency they can use to influence the story, while the vampire's player gets far fewer. Theoretically, they end up having similar narrative weight. In practice, my experience tells me it's pretty spot on. My character might be running for cover when the boop hits the fan, but I'm throwing around fate points with just as much impact as the wizard player has with his unblockable death beams and what-not.

Ozfer
2013-07-08, 10:44 PM
Burning Wheel would be great for this. Characters get less experience depending on how long they have practiced their professions, and character imbalance is practically built into the game. (I mean this in a good way. People are represented as people, not combat-machines)

There are even mechanics to deal with the squires oath, and his desire to become a knight.

Mastikator
2013-07-09, 03:38 AM
I can't really imagine why anyone would want this, I wouldn't want a PC as a squire if I was a knight, I'd much rather have an NPC if I were to have a squire.

I'd be ok with one PC having more power, like a knight and a noble whom the knight is sworn to.

Aasimar
2013-07-09, 04:17 AM
It's POSSIBLE.

But it requires much more thoughtful campaign design.

Think Lord of the Rings or Star Wars (episode 1, despite it flaws, gives a good example of a mis-matched group).

I would try to give the higher level party member a reason to only use his full power in a genuine emergency, or only against particular foes. (think Gandalf), then make sure to provide such emergencies occasionally so they don't feel too left out.

Episode one had Qui-Gon and to a lesser extent Obi-Wan clearly outstripping Amidala and her people in terms of sheer power, but made sure to give them challenges that the jedi couldn't just power through. (uniting the planet's inhabitants against the invasion, etc.) and then providing a credible threat that only the higher powered party members could deal with (Darth Maul) while making sure the timeframe was tight enough that the rest of the group had to go on without them into an encounter more suited to the lower level party members.

In a similar vein, check out the Justice League Cartoons, the latter ones made sure to give guys like Superman and the Green Lantern an Alien Mothership or something to fight head on, while the lower powered heroes infiltrate the alien command center, etc.

TheCountAlucard
2013-07-09, 09:09 AM
Star Wars (episode 1, despite it flaws, gives a good example of a mis-matched group).I don't think it does.

I mean, yeah, different characters were varying in power levels, but let's break this down.


Obi-Wan stayed behind, sat on the ship and complained for half the movie.
R2 was brought down on the planet to provide the specs on the part they needed, but Watto seemed to know what part they needed and, in fact, R2 never serves that purpose.
Jar-Jar shouldn't have been down on the planet at all. Not only did the clumsy, conspicuous idiot not contribute, he often made things worse with his presence.
Padme was pretty much just there for the roleplaying; like Jar-Jar and R2, she contributed nothing.
Gregar Typho remained behind on the ship as well, and he was pretty much the most sensible person in the group; if he and Obi-Wan had gone, they probably would've got the part they needed ten minutes in.


For pretty much the entire Tattooine bit, Jin is running the show and handling everything important short of climbing into the actual pod-racer.

Yes, my analysis is based off the Plinkett review, but that doesn't mean it's not right.

Morty
2013-07-09, 09:18 AM
In Riddle of Steel, sorcerers and fey are absolutely not balanced with the normal humans - it's intentional and made very clear (in a very arrogant and know-it-all fashion, but that's beside the point). That said, both are presented as options for more experienced players and Seneschals. The game tells you to treat mixing sorcerers and non-sorcerers with care. So it's arguable whether or not it qualifies.

The same applies to the World of Darkness games, both old and new, because while there are clear power disparities between supernaturals and mortals and between various supernatural splats, crossover has always been optional.

obryn
2013-07-09, 09:26 AM
Think Lord of the Rings or Star Wars (episode 1, despite it flaws, gives a good example of a mis-matched group).
Lord of the Rings is (IMO) not all that great an example of a mis-matched group. Remember that the Fellowship breaks apart, splitting into a few sub-parties with similar power levels. :smallsmile: Merry + Pippin, Frodo + Sam (+ Gollum), Aragorn + Legolas + Gimli, and Gandalf on his lonesome.

At any rate, I think the key is how a game is set up. I think Xefas was right on about the consequences of failure. It's far from impossible - many excellent games manage the feat - but your game really does have to be built from the ground up to work that way.

-O

Totally Guy
2013-07-09, 09:35 AM
I can see that world of Darkness allows it but what does it do to support it?

I've not read The Riddle of Steel but I've followed some of Jake Norwood's internet posts. What does his game do to support the disparity it allows?

Grinner
2013-07-09, 09:52 AM
In addition to the other examples, there's a (free) game called Sufficiently Advanced (http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/sufficiently-advanced) which does this.

In Sufficiently Advanced, you have a few different kinds of character traits: Core Values, Capabilities, Professions, and Themes. Of importance to this discussion are Themes, because unlike Capabilities or Professions, Themes do very little to improve your character. Instead, you can gain "Twists" by narrating your character into a tight spot and then feed those Twists into your Themes to gain temporary narrative power specific to the Theme in question.

The rest of the game is a bit confusing, but the range of things you can do is incredible.

Komatik
2013-07-09, 10:32 AM
I can see that world of Darkness allows it but what does it do to support it?

I've not read The Riddle of Steel but I've followed some of Jake Norwood's internet posts. What does his game do to support the disparity it allows?

Not terribly much. However:
- Sorcerers age by casting spells, which can be either inconsequential or horrible.
- Their power can become pretty absurd, and the magic system is freeform.
- Swordsmanship is actually interesting (as might be expected from a HEMA practicioner)
- The game is very lethal. If it comes to taking people out, ambushes, clever traps and props like bombs and poison can and will work to solve the problem. Magic might be easier, but it's not the only, or the expected way.
- Casting/shooting takes time, unlike in D&D. Not "Wizard twiddles his thumbs for N turns" much time because high level magic isn't necessary in combat, but enough that you have to actively watch your positioning as a mage or archer or a swordsman will close in and you're in trouble.

- The game has a system of character motivations that dramatically increase a character's potency while they're in effect. Say, Simon the Sorcerer and Alex Axemurderer both hate the local lord. Normally, Simon has to be careful in using his sorcery or he can age and be knocked out - doing things slowly will help a lot. Likewise, Alex really has to consider whether a fight is worth fighting in the first place. Now, after some adventuring they're storming a local lord's castle. Suddenly, they turn from neophytes into Merlin and Musashi. Simon can cast whatever he pleases because he gets a new pool of Magic dice every turn that he can use to guard against aging and loss of consciousness, while Alex's Combat pool becomes much bigger than his opponents' and he can more easily overpower individuals or hold at bay multiple foes.

- Haven't played terribly much, but from what I remember spellcasting is keyed of basically every stat but the one god-stat for doing anything physical (esp. in combat), so it's unlikely for a character to be good at both.

In short, it's not balanced by outside factors either, really (apart from the inane requirement of having race be a priority at character generation so you won't do much more than magic ever. Helps balance out but "member of superior race inevitably retarded as an individual" is just one of thos ebits of design that never ceases to annoy). But it's a comparison between a Warblade's or Factotum's solid competence and a Wizard's overwhelming power. There's no useless Monks unless you intentionally build one, everyone can be more or less competent.



EDIT: Can someone enlighten me as to WoD/nWoD power level / feel differences? Like, if Vampires > Magi, can vampires do some sort of magic and how different does the magic of the two feel and such?

Jay R
2013-07-09, 10:35 AM
This is quite possible, it can work well, but not as many players will enjoy it.

Anybody who compares his characters to the other ones will be annoyed at being with a stronger player. Those people shouldn't play this game.

It works much better in games with a smaller disparity between hit points, or fewer area effects.

And I strongly urge the weaker characters to be stealthy. The best defense for the relatively weak character to not get hit.

Also, it works better in a game like original D&D, in which the players are supposed to use their own cleverness at least as much as they roll on INT or WIS. The biggest equalizer is superior play.

The first D&D game I played (1975) was like this. I had the only new 1st level character, and the rest of the party was 3rd to 5th levels. Frankly, I was happy to have the meat shields. And in fact, mine was the only character who survived.

It's not for everyone. But I've had some good games this way.

TheCountAlucard
2013-07-09, 10:58 AM
Can someone enlighten me as to WoD/nWoD power level / feel differences? Like, if Vampires > Magi, can vampires do some sort of magic and how different does the magic of the two feel and such?Actually, Mages come out on top - pretty much the only thing better is a freshly-risen Mummy.

Anyway, vampires have "Disciplines," mystical powers fueled by the blood they consume. Disciplines typically grant effects of increasing potency with higher ratings, but are at least rather versatile. One boosts your strength, and there's quite a few ways you could put it to use, from jumping ridiculous distances to flipping a car over. Invisibility, heightened senses and ESP, super-speed, dominating the wills of others, there's quite a range of Disciplines.

But the Mages not only have more powerful powers, but they're also literally orders of magnitude more versatile. Where a vampire with the Auspex (ESP) discipline might be able to read minds at rating 4, a Mage can not only read minds at his rating 2; he can pretty much do anything that falls under "Mind" by rating ~4. Like partition off part of his brain to allow for true multitasking. Or mind-control people. Or be "invisible" by mentally editing himself out of people's thoughts. If the Mage went the Forces route, he can instead do stuff like control kinetic energy, direct a lightning strike, or generate sunlight.

Vampires do have one advantage over Mages, in that they can work their magic without causing paradox, but they also require blood to survive, have a murderous killer stapled to their souls, and can only do stuff at night.

To be fair, there is an even larger gap between Hunters and the other splats, because Hunters don't get any supernatural powers by default; they're just, y'know, humans.

Fighter1000
2013-07-09, 12:04 PM
I've had a lot of games where all the player characters were equal in power level. It felt rather fake, unrealistic, and annoying. Everyone had to have their own little piece of the pie or butt-hurt reigned free.
Roleplaying shouldn't be about loot. It should be about choices, and interaction.
That's why I like to run games with PCs of varying power levels. It feels more real.
Now, I wouldn't mind playing a squire character to a knight character. Even as a squire, I can still do stuff. I may not be as "important" as a knight in the game world, but I'm still playing the game. Maybe I'll betray my master at the opportune moment because he treats me like crap? Or maybe I'll be his only hope in a dire situation.
Bottom line is, if you want to power-game and not roleplay, just play a ****in video game.

The Rose Dragon
2013-07-09, 12:09 PM
To be fair, there is an even larger gap between Hunters and the other splats, because Hunters don't get any supernatural powers by default; they're just, y'know, humans.

Only true in Vigil. In Reckoning, they did have supernatural powers (those that didn't but could pierce the masquerade anyway were called Bystanders instead of Hunters), and one of the big questions was what separated them from the monsters they hunted.

Madeiner
2013-07-09, 12:16 PM
- The game has a system of character motivations that dramatically increase a character's potency while they're in effect. Say, Simon the Sorcerer and Alex Axemurderer both hate the local lord. Normally, Simon has to be careful in using his sorcery or he can age and be knocked out - doing things slowly will help a lot. Likewise, Alex really has to consider whether a fight is worth fighting in the first place. Now, after some adventuring they're storming a local lord's castle. Suddenly, they turn from neophytes into Merlin and Musashi.


Do you have a link (or information on how to find) to this specific rules? I'd love to incorporate this into D&D.
Bonuses to motivation is something i like a lot


In addition to some that have already been mentioned (Burning Wheel! Play it!), Mouse Guard has this intentionally built in. You can start out as a recruit who hasn't even graduated into the guard proper, all the way up to an elite veteran badass, and they can co-exist in the same party awesomely because failure is handled very well.

In Mouse Guard, failure causes awesome to happen. You can play a Tenderpaw built to fail, and have an amazing time because your failure shapes the story just as much, if not more so, than the Guard Captain's excellence.

Would you like to tell me more? I'm really interested in this.
Are there any mechanics? How does it work? Some examples maybe?

thanks!

obryn
2013-07-09, 01:15 PM
...
Roleplaying shouldn't be about loot. It should be about choices, and interaction...
Bottom line is, if you want to power-game and not roleplay, just play a ****in video game.
So.... play RPGs your way or you're having badwrongfun? You don't seem very flexible to the notion that there are reasonable, intelligent people out there who happen to have different goals for their make-believe elftime.

-O

Arbane
2013-07-09, 02:06 PM
I see FATE and Buffy have already been mentioned, which I thought had clever ways of balancing it out.

Exalted, on the other hand, explicitly did NOT. The designers were very clear the the Solar Exalted (in the core rulebook) were supposed to be the Mightiest, and aside from their Infernal and Abyssal Evil Twins, they pretty much managed to stick to that. So if someone wanted to play a Terrestrial (weakest, but still WAY better than a snivelling mortal) in a Solar Circle the usual advices was "Go for it, but just remember that while this may be the Justice League, you're playing Green Arrow." The usual idea was to give the non-Solars a lot more XP to start, but they usually ended up being vastly outpaced if the game lasted long enough anyway.

Barsoom
2013-07-09, 04:34 PM
In addition to some that have already been mentioned (Burning Wheel! Play it!), Mouse Guard has this intentionally built in. You can start out as a recruit who hasn't even graduated into the guard proper, all the way up to an elite veteran badass, and they can co-exist in the same party awesomely because failure is handled very well.

In Mouse Guard, failure causes awesome to happen. You can play a Tenderpaw built to fail, and have an amazing time because your failure shapes the story just as much, if not more so, than the Guard Captain's excellence.
Would you like to tell me more? I'm really interested in this.
Are there any mechanics? How does it work? Some examples maybe?

thanks!
I am also intrigued by this. Can you please elaborate, maybe give an example?

Sadist
2013-07-18, 11:16 PM
Reading this thread made me think of something that could possibly be interesting. I can't find it in the rules right now, but I remember reading that a divine caster retains the memorized spells that they have in their heads if they Fall, but of course cannot memorize new ones. If this was someone's house rule, it would work well for this.

I'm picturing a cloistered cleric going through an alignment change, or having lost their deity's favor for some other reason. They'd start play with a full spellbook of memorized spells, but they'd be unable to recover them. Maybe let them have a low level pearl of power or two, and some reserve feats would be logical, but the reserve feats would lose power as they burned their higher level spells and they wouldn't be able to spontaneously inflict/cure or turn undead (though, perhaps a formerly evil cleric might retain control over some HD of mindless undead.) Their reduced BAB/proficiencies/HP would mean they'd be less able to steamroll things physically, but they'd still be relying on more mundane capacity most of the time.

If worst came to worst, they'd be able to let loose with more powerful spells and save the day or somebody's life, but at a permanent cost and potentially weakening their reserve feats as their power supply dwindles.

It would probably work best as a mini-campaign aimed at redemption or further corruption.

Deadmeat.GW
2013-07-19, 12:43 AM
The RPG for Game of Thrones, Song of Fire and Ice does have this build in.

You can be a fighter veteran or the callow youth who is the Heir (or potential ...) in waiting.

The differences are very marked in combat, in social interactions however it is possible that the birth right or social standing makes up for the lack of skill and ability.

Tengu_temp
2013-07-19, 02:49 AM
The way I see it: it's perfectly alright to have intentional PC power disparity, but if one PC is intentionally much weaker than the rest it must be done with the player's permission, instead of just assigning the role to him. And if one PC is intentionally much stronger than the rest, it must be done with the whole group's permission.


The World of Darkness game lines are a pretty decent example as well. If anyone wants to tell you a vampire and mage are balanced against each other, you can laugh them right out of the room.

World of Darkness assumes that all the players use the same splat. You run a mixed splat game at your own peril.

Segev
2013-07-19, 09:14 AM
In the specific scenario described - the "callow youth" squire and the experienced Knight - the trick is to look at what sorts of restrictions being a well-known and powerful/respected/feared Knight would place on you. Yes, it should open doors, but there are things that fame makes harder.

The squire may borrow his master's fame, using it to open similar doors almost as well...but he is also less likely to be recognized on his own than is his master. People also speak more openly in front of "servants."

Too, you can play to the tropes. He's a youth, perceived innocent and less threatening.

While another poster's suggestion that "princesses will swoon for the Knight, scullery maids for the Squire" is not a bad one, consider too that there might be more to do with age, there, as well. A younger princess might be more interested in the younger man, either in a "forbidden romance" sort of way, or (more likely) in a "he'll be a knight like his master one day, and I'm more comfortable with him" sort of way.

And it's not just princesses who will swoon over the "rugged, noble Knight." Knights are of a social class above the common, but they're not so out of reach that a scullery maid can't dream.

The biggest difficulty - particularly in D&D - is making sure you don't design encounters such that the squire dies horribly due to his low stats. Design the encounter to be for the Knight. And encourage the squire to engage in unusual tactics and activities supporting the Knight. Have things in the environment for him to do - pulling levers on traps, as a cheesy example - and encourage him to use tactics that keep him out of the way of threats his master is engaging. Squires bring their lords their weapons and other tools. In real life, they were practically the buff-caster.

In general, though, you achieve fun for both characters by ensuring that the Squire can participate in all the RP by virtue of borrowing his master's notoriety, and you make the Squire take the lead in RP when the Knight's fame would get in the way. Don't exclude the Knight; he just has to be a little more "leaned back" out of need to keep people engaged (where they might be uptight around the Knight), just as the squire is "leaned back" by his social station in places he's borrowing the Knight's presence to let him be around.



I can't really help with systems, I'm afraid. In my experience, if the mechanics are important, more powerful characters "win" in any system. The trick is, as others have noted, generally to have the "weaker" character actually be just as strong, just in totally different ways that "look" weaker. Even those systems with metamechanics to let the "weak" character take narrative control are basically making them have a level of luck that verges on reality-warping.

Komatik
2013-07-23, 09:43 AM
Riddle might actually work pretty well for that kind of game. Martial focus, and a system where playing smart really wins and instead of doing 1d4 fire damage, and being stupid gets you killed posthaste.
Yet there'll be no contest were the knight and the squire engage each other or someone else in combat - the difference would be night and day.