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Multi-Species Parties & Game Balance

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So, when I last ran a BRP game (Mongoose's Legend), the players wanted to play a wide variety of different species (as is often the case with my group) and I indulged them (as is often the case in games I run). I believe we had an elf, a dwarf, a human, a viking (MRQII Vikings) and something else. 

 

Anyways, what came up in play was that races with specific attribute bonuses simply resulted in more powerful characters. IIRC, INT was the best stat long term, because it meant they got higher skill than everyone else when you leveled up. Short term, they wanted Dex (strike rank), followed by Siz for martial characters, and Pow for magic characters.

 

Does this just not show up in other people's games? Are my experiences that elves are just better than humans anomalous? Do mixed-race parties just not come up in other people's campaigns? Does the power disparity exist and just not present itself as problematic?

 

Addage: I came to BRP from a D&D3/3.5/Pathfinder background, wherein multispecies adventuring parties are the norm (and I tend to push it far in D&D, working in erinyes and minotaurs and lizardfolk and satyrs and gnolls as player options if they request them); if that just doesn't really work in BRP, that would be very unfortunate.

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First off mix-species parties are very rare in traditional RQ/BRP games. That was because the settings were different that the typical high fantasy setting common to many other fantasy RPGs.

 

In Glorantha (the original RQ setting) most of the races are hostile to each other and just won;t adventure together-more like kill each other on sight! In Fantasy Earth (the dealt setting for RQ3), the races were based on their legendary antecedents rather than on the common FRPG archetypes, and thus treated as rare mysterious beings- not player characters.

 

In the few settings where a more typical approach was used (Magic World, for instance), the goal was to mirror the abilities fo the races, rather than attempt to "balance" them off against each other. Some races will simply be more powerful in certain areas.

 

I think the difficulty here is your coming from a D&D/Pathfinder background. You have certain expectations about how RPGs work which do not necessarily apply elsewhere. For instance supposed "balanced" encounters. In D&D the encounters are pretty much designed not to really challenge the PCs much (despite the term Challenge Level), and mostly serve as steeping stones for PC advancement- which, along with the accumulation of treasure, serves as both  major motivations, goals and rewards for the PCs. Not so here. In BRP the motivations, goals and rewards are more story driven. Campaigns generally don't revolve entirely around combat the way they do in D&D. The fights are not so easy, as even a weak opponent can score a killing blow on a critical hit, and death being more or less a permanent thing. 

 

So character design isn't so much about what race X gets that" balances" them against race Y, but about the cultures of X and Y and why people want to play an X or a Y as a PC in the first place. 

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We had mixed parties right from the go in RQ2. Trolls rubbed shoulders with dwarfs (well, maybe groin to nose, not shoulders), we had an elf, a centaur, a morokanth, a minotaur, a duck and several trolls. It all worked very well, as we played down inter-cult issues, if they occurred. Sure, the Yelmalian and Zorak Zorani argued all the while and challenged each other to duels, but they generally got along. One of the trolls munched away quite happily on a dead dwarf that he volunteered to carry home, for example.

 

 

If you look at PC races from a minimax point of view, then Mistress Race Trolls are the best to have, obviously. Dark Trolls come a close second, as do centaurs. However, there are problems. Trolls are colour blind, centaurs need a block and tackle to climb anywhere, trolls and elves take double damage from iron. A party of all humans will pass by fairly easily in most human areas,. but a party with various races will always attract attention. 

 

is a SIZ 14 troll better than a SIZ 14 human? It might be a bit stronger, but that's about it. So, using random dice rolls tends to even things out, anyway. Stat allocation means that you start with a higher base for a Great Troll than for a halfling, for example, but that doesn't mean the halfling is a worse PC - he might be sneakier, easier to hide, less of a threat, not always the first character the enemies attack.

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Huh.

 

Obviously I wasn't running the default setting, and therefore mixed race parties were not much of a setting issue.

 

The first session or two was a game of Dawn of Worlds, where we collaborately designed the setting, including introducing the major races determining their relations. I added a bit onto dawn of worlds based on a friend's suggestion so that the players started with the collaborative design of gods and pantheons.

 

But yeah, in game, I noticed that the players who chose races with additional dex (such as elves) were just better in combat because they would get more turns; and those with additional int quickly gained the ability to surpass everyone in whatever rolls they chose to make.

 

@Atg: Yeah, I do have some expectations coming from Pathfinder and D&D when it comes to the intelligent races. I would prefer if the races are fairly closely balanced, such that players playing them get a fairly equal opportunities to "be awesome" from a narrative standpoint. My experience was that the elf characters got to be awesome significantly more often than their human counterparts (and in legend elves have no such weakness to iron, either) - a gap which was there from the start, and continued to grow as the game went on due to how skill improvement works.

 

I don't really have pathfinder expectations regarding the difficulty of encounters, however. I understand that RQ/BRP has a much lower power curve, and that a lucky shot from a peasant can kill an experienced adventurer. And I understand that in RQ/BRP the default assumption is usually not "fight to the last man!" like it is in Pathfinder (though, if you're playing in a Lord of the Rings game and you've crossed paths with the orcs of Moria...). FYI in Pathfinder, an encounter with a CR of your Level (or your level+1) is supposed to be roughly an encounter you have a 50/50 chance of survival if you do it by yourself - in a fight with the whole party, an encounter with a CR of your level +4 or +5 is supposed to be one with about a 50/50 chance of wiping out a 4 man party, assuming an equal quality of tactics. When running Pathfinder I often throw its experience rules out the window and replace them with a more Shadowrun style level advancement, but being able to tell how threatening an encounter is to the party is still a useful thing to be able to do.

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Unofficial Challenge Ratings for Fantasy Adventurers 

 

Orc war band (mildly dangerous)

Sorcerer riding griffin (dangerous)

Troll foraging party (very dangerous)

Dragon ("you've got to be crazy" dangerous)

Abbott and Costello (total party kill)

 

;)

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In general you might try deriving an attribute's rating from an opposed attribute, in order to have something approaching a balanced random chargen.

 

For example, for human characters you might have

 

INT =20-(DEX*2)/3

SIZ =20-(POW*2)/3

 

This means that you would only have to roll the ratings of APP, CON, DEX, POW, and STR. You might then also use [21-(APP+CON+STR)/3]*10 instead of INT*10 to calculate a character's personal point pool. 

 

Now, these formulas don't work for nonhumans, that have different averages. Therefore, if you need to balance out characters belonging to different species you might want to consider other aspects. For example, if elves and dwarves have much longer lifespan than men, one might expect them to reach maturity at an older age (like hobbits), and also to acquire experience at a slower pace. So elf and dwarf characters might start the game with lower skills (e.g. as "normal" characters whereas humans start as "heroic" characters) and/or gain fewer (e.g. 1D2, 1D3 or 1D4) skill points when they make a successful experience roll. But you better don't be obsessed with balance if you want to enjoy BRP!  ;D

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Hmm. Interesting thought MatteoN. That would be a way to make your randomly generated stats even out a bit more, if you go with the random stats rule.

 

I was mostly referring to the discrepancy between different races, such as how Elves in Legend are basically humans, but better, with no weakness to offset that.

 

Your idea of giving humans extra stuff at character creation to somewhat offset their lower attributes is an interesting one. You could also go the Pathfinder route, and give humans an attribute boost they can put in whatever attribute they want, to make up for the larger fixed bonuses possessed by the other races.

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Yes, but I don't like that solution. It makes fantasy races feel less... fantastic. It makes more sense to me that elves (or better, Tolkien elves), for example, do have on average higher stats (and often higher skills) than humans, but in a group of PCs a particular elf's superior talent and potential is counterbalanced by the humans' greater actual experience.

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Hmm.

 

As you mentioned above, Elves are much more long lived than humans. When you want to bust out the mythic-powered thousand year old elven mage, you can still do it. And just because there's an elven baseline which the players adhere to, that doesn't mean that the elven NPCs you encounter in towns should be close to that baseline. Perhaps by elven standards, the PC elves are incredibly inexperienced, and not very useful, and its only once they've gained that experience that they catch up to and eventually surpass typical members of their society. (I would expect these elves to have attributes in the same range as the PC elves, but much higher skills)

 

But inside the group of PCs, you do want them close to the same level of awesome; if only so that none of the players are playing sidekick to the others (because that's just not very fun, most of the time - though it CAN be entertaining if you have something to compensate for it, like tremendous replenishing stores of luck, to make up for your much lower competency - but in that case you're just as awesome, just not as "powerful").

 

Of course, your approach of "Give humans more non-attribute stuff" could also work, but it'll be hard to determine just how many extra skills for humans equate to the best collection of attributes your PCs have.

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So character design isn't so much about what race X gets that" balances" them against race Y, but about the cultures of X and Y and why people want to play an X or a Y as a PC in the first place. 

I thought about this, and realized it's something I should respond to.

 

I agree that Character design should be about the cultures of X and Y and what makes them interesting in relation to the world, your concept, the other players, etc.

 

I disagree with your notion that Races should not be designed to be "balanced" against one another, because otherwise, it becomes difficult to incorporate characters of different races into the same party. Difficult in that one player's character can be overshadowed in nearly every area by another player's character, and that's just not very fun for the one being overshadowed - at least not according to anyone I've gamed with. It means it works out okay so long as all of the PCs are of the same race, but things can become rather tricky once someone wants to play an elf, or a disir, how do you work that in without some players feeling left behind?

 

There are a variety of approaches that can be taken, obviously, and finding one that is a good counterbalance to the various included races can be tricky in some cases. But if you have a pool of "typical adventurer races" which are at a comparable baseline power level, then that can make your work much easier, as you can say "choose one of these 5 (or 12, or 25, or 10, or whatever) races".

 

And that's not to say you need D&D's CR's and all that stuff to do it, for example Shadowrun does a decent job balancing several playable races against one another.

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Unofficial Challenge Ratings for Fantasy Adventurers

 

Orc war band (mildly dangerous)

Sorcerer riding griffin (dangerous)

Troll foraging party (very dangerous)

Dragon ("you've got to be crazy" dangerous)

Abbott and Costello (total party kill)

 

;)

Abbot & Costello Meet The Sorceror Riding Griffin, his Pet Dragon, Orc War Band and the Foraging Troll. 

 

That would have kept John Gant busy. 

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I don't really think BRP is designed to model mixed race parties if you are after game balance.

 

I have done so in the past only when I ran a game set in Middle Earth, and I was heavily influenced by Decipher's LOTR rpg at that time, so I had a Feat/Stunt system in place, and giving humans a 'free' Feat/Stunt during character generation was the only way I could attempt some balance mixing humans with Hobbits, Dwarves, and Sylvan Elves. Players were restricted from playing Sindar and Noldor Elves due to the imbalance issues.

 

Typically in most BRP settings I dont find balance an issue as the settings itself often sort that out. As previously discussed, an ancient fantasy setting like Glorantha provides narrative pros and cons for playing with the Elder Races, and most other BRP fantasy settings have been quite sword n sorcery in flavour that non-humans are often supernatural races or something similar, and are usually the province of NPCs.

 

I'm not sure that BRP can do generic high fantasy without imbalance issues for mixed races, as the system was initially designed to be human-centric. Despite such, RQ was one of the first systems that allowed you to play any race or beast, yet I don't think game balance was ever heavily modelled into the system mechanics.

 

If you are playing using LEGEND then perhaps grant human PCs a 'free' Heroic Ability during character gen, or allow them to disregard some requirement of a Heroic Ability. If using BRP BGB then port over the Stunts from BRP Blood Tide and do the same thing.

 

Other than that, I think there's probably not too many other ways you could achieve balance during char gen for mixed race parties in a high fantasy setting.

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I disagree with your notion that Races should not be designed to be "balanced" against one another, because otherwise, it becomes difficult to incorporate characters of different races into the same party.

Not necessarily true. It's like mixed level parties. They are a no-no in D&D and most level games- and for good reasons. For instance fireballs tend to wipe out all the low level characters. But in other types of RPGs they can be possible and playable. It has a lot of do with gaming style, plus the fact that with fixed hit points the GM doesn't have to keep escalating the opponents. 

 

As far as elves being better in combat due to higher DEX and INT, well to some extent it is logical. On the other hand, it sounds like you were running a Mongoose-flavored system where the number of actions were tied to stats. That isn't how RQ or BRP works, not was it something considered when the races were statted up years ago. 

 

Oh, and as far as elves having a weakness to iron, it is in the legends, just not in all the legends. You see, there are various cultures with various legends and which weakness a mythical creates had depended on the culture the story came from, and their beliefs, and even then there were variations and changes over time..  The weakness to iron is Celtic, and probably originated from the fact that most of the native cultures in the British Isles were invaded and defeated by opponents who wielded iron weapons. Specifically the Tuatha Dé Danann (the Irish Elves). 

 

Most FRPG elves are inspired by the Elves of JRR Tolkien, which were based somewhat more of Germanic Elves. 

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Hmm. I will think on this further. Your suggestion of Heroic Abilities and Stunts is definitely a good one to consider.

 

Even in fairly low-magic or no-magic fantasy games; multi-species interactions and multi-species parties come up fairly often in the games we tend to play. At the very least, the basics of elf, dwarf, human show up - typically with orc thrown in as well; but games with a party that includes an elf, a human, a gnoll, and a lizard-man have come up in the past as well, and I remember one party included two different ape-men.

 

I think allowing the players to help design the setting via playing through a game of Dawn of Worlds is a contributing factor in having bizarre "common races" of the setting.

 

I may just have to go out of my way to make new racial stats for the player races in my games, so that they're on closer to a level playing field, and just do a better job leveling them than I have in the past, rather than looking at how the existing races work and copying them. I hadn't realized that what we were doing with it was so far off of how other people used the system.

 

Not necessarily true. It's like mixed level parties. They are a no-no in D&D and most level games- and for good reasons. For instance fireballs tend to wipe out all the low level characters. But in other types of RPGs they can be possible and playable. It has a lot of do with gaming style, plus the fact that with fixed hit points the GM doesn't have to keep escalating the opponents. 

 

As far as elves being better in combat due to higher DEX and INT, well to some extent it is logical. On the other hand, it sounds like you were running a Mongoose-flavored system where the number of actions were tied to stats. That isn't how RQ or BRP works, not was it something considered when the races were statted up years ago.

 

Fixed hitpoints do help you not have to escalate things as much. Though those skill totals can occasionally end up pretty ridiculous. 

Hmm. I was indeed using the mongoose version of the system. The ones I'm most familiar with are MRQII/Legend and RQ6. I own and have skimmed and read some of the others but have not had opportunity to play them yet.

I didn't pick up on that difference when I was comparing to other BRP.

Oh. Nono. I was not talking about legends. I said Elves don't have a weakness to iron in Legend™ by Mongoose - where they came across as Just Better.

 

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I may just have to go out of my way to make new racial stats for the player races in my games, so that they're on closer to a level playing field, and just do a better job leveling them than I have in the past, rather than looking at how the existing races work and copying them.

That's probably the best solution. You'd only have to alter the stats of the races you allow as PCs.

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I recall that the old MERP game handled this by giving humans more background points on average than most races, especially elves (who tended to have the fewest, being tied to Fate and all ... ).  These points could be spent on all sorts of things: stat bonuses, extra skill points, extra cash, etc.  It'd probably be easy to come up with something like that for BRP.

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I think achieving "balance" in a BRP campaign would involve a role-playing solution rather than a game mechanics solution, although game mechanics may reinforce it.  Basically, what compensates for humans is not their stats but the way they think.  Here's what I mean:

 

Love-lived races (elves, dwarfs, Gallifreyans, etc.) tend to become set in their ways; their cultures become hidebound, stagnant.  And individuals who aren't that way (i.e., who are spontaneous and intuitive like those craaaaazy humans) are labeled as cranks, eccentrics, even criminals and tend to be supressed.  Sure, in Middle Earth elves are the seeming master race.  They've got the high culture, the developed philosophy, the technology so advanced that those barbaric, ephemeral humans consider it magical.  They were powerful enough to defeat Morgoth and Sauron multiple times in the (remote) past.  But they've been coasting, resting on their laurels, for a looooong time.  They still have the edge, still have the "magic" tools, still have the superior knowledge, but its the same stuff they've been making, studying, singing, etc., for the past umpteen thousand years.  They haven't come up with any new ideas, new tools, new ways of solving problems in many of their own generations, much less in human terms of timekeeping.  No scientific advances.  No new home conveniences or improved weaponry.  No new culture-altering inventions.  Everything is locked into tradition.  They've lost the ability to innovate, to think outside the box, to develop outrageous solutions to problems they haven't encountered before.

 

So when Sauron pops up again, the elves moan, "How can we beat this guy?  We ain't what we used to be!"  It doesn't occur to them that he ain't all he used to was, either.  Humans, confronted by a similar situation at the beginning of World War II sang, "We did it before and we can do it again."  In Lord of the Rings, it is the wimpy, short-lived races such as hobbits and humans who step up to the plate and take on the Big Bad with tactics he couldn't anticipate and the elves couldn't come up with.  Their shorter, more precarious lives force them to be creative, to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances, something the elder races seem to have difficulty doing.

 

While a human may not live long enough to acquire that 3,500% Longbow skill that his demi-human buddy has, he'll react faster and come up with better solutions when confronted with unfamiliar situations and threats.  He'll come up with new inventions, both physical and cultural, that will enable him and his descendants survive longer, travel farther, live more comfortably than his ancestors did.  He will attempt things (and maybe succeed at them) that an elf or dwarf would never even conceive of.  Meanwhile, his pals will say (when he's out of the room), "Heingrist is a nice guy, but a little twitchy.  How does he come up with all this off-the-wall stuff?  Humans are a little crazy, anyways."

 

How you incorporate that concept into a role-playing session I'm not sure.   :?

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No, they were called background points, which could be spent on various things during character generation, like stat bonuses, extra skill points, extra starting funds, gear, some talent-like things, etc.

 

 

Yes, I'm familiar with MERP/RM. I was referring to BRP's optional use of Power Points as Fate Points (BRP p.176). Different races might have different limitations to the use of FPs. Tolkien elves might be unable to use FPs - although in this case "Freedom Points" might be a more fitting name  ;D .

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I recall that the old MERP game handled this by giving humans more background points on average than most races, especially elves (who tended to have the fewest, being tied to Fate and all ... ).  These points could be spent on all sorts of things: stat bonuses, extra skill points, extra cash, etc.  It'd probably be easy to come up with something like that for BRP.

They do basically the same in RoleMaster. It worked out alright from what I recall. "High Men" might be 7 feet tall, live 300 years, and have better strength and constitution than regular humans, but the regular humans got some more general purpose points that could be spent on whatever.

 

Some of the races were better than others, but they weren't too far off from one-another.

 

 

 Haha. you had me going with that awesome buildup, and then I was thinking "Alright, now how is he going to suggest we make this amazing human ingenuity show up in game!" lol

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"Haha. you had me going with that awesome buildup, and then I was thinking "Alright, now how is he going to suggest we make this amazing human ingenuity show up in game!" lol"

 

Except I wasn't trying to string you along, just thinking out loud as such.  For instance, dwarfs are master smiths, creating indestructible alloys that they apply to traditional armor and muscle-powered weapons.  They create fantastic toys that make the human trading town of Dale wealthy.  But it never occurs to them that they could create a full-sized "toy" to saw or haul lumber or transport people or bake bread in half the usual time.  They craft light-as-silk chainmail but don't realize they could use the same material to make a flying machine, or a ship's hull.  They build intricate devices to amuse children but would never come up with an internal combustion engine.  They're creative and highly skilled, but they just don't think that way.

 

Similar examples from human cultures abound.  The Greeks invented all sorts of scientific toys but rarely applied them to practical matters.  The Romans seized their science and were amazing engineers in their own right but never created labor-saving devices and machines, especially not ones unassociated with military matters.  Why would they in a culture that had an excess of slave labor able to accomplish massive tasks by sheer brute force?  In the same way, the late medieval Chinese and Arabs possessed fleets of advanced sailing ships and expert navigational knowledge.  But they felt they'd already discovered everything worth knowing and seeing and stayed close to home.  It fell to that barbarian Columbus to sail beyond the horizon and discover a New World on the other side of the planet, even if he did get his calculations wrong.

 

MatteoN's limit on non-traditional skills might be one way to express that.

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