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Balancing spellcasters


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How do you balance magic-users in your campaigns? In the big gold book they are not balanced at all. You either know Magic (I'm speaking about the specific power-type) or you don't. This is not a problem if all players are assumed to know magic or if they are supposed to learn magic during play, but if one player wants to be a mage and the others don't, BRP doesn't really offer any way to justify the difference. Ok, it says that only characters with high enough Power score can learn Sorcery (the other power type), but that is boring in my opinion. Differences in Power already dictate how good you are at using magic. Other than that, the book just says certain professions are more likely than the others to know magic.


I was thinking ways to make any character a potential spellcaster if the player wants to play a mage. If one knows something the others don't, it should come with a disadvantage. With the Magic system this is not a very big problem, as you have to build your spells from very low scores with your skill points, but if a player wanted to powergame he could just create a spellcaster and choose not to invest any points into his spells. He would be a terrible spellcaster, but yet he would have a slight chance to succeed and eventually he would learn, becoming better and better.


I was thinking of adding a specific profession called "Magic-User". Only Magic-User would be able to cast spells and he could invest his professional skill points to magic and only to magic. Thus he would be able mage and possess some additional skills as well (personality points as well as INT x 10 skill points he could distribute freely), but still he would have severe restrictions when it comes to non-magical knowledge. This would work especially in a setting where magic is considered more or less secret knowledge and learning it would require convicted dedication (I was thinking of Tékumel).


Another system that popped into my mind was having something like OpenQuest, but with two character classes: Fighter and Magic-User. They would have different powers and using them would require spending of power points. Powers could be represented as skills. Magic-User powers would be spells, naturally. Fighter powers would be more down-to-earth in nature. Double damage, additional combat maneuvers, and such. I'm not a great fan of character classes and I don't really like experience points (BRP's learn-as-you-practice makes much more sense), but this could be a solution decent enough. Character classes, yes, but so broad that they just more or less represent characters' general attitude to magic and/or their education and background.


On the downside it would distinguish player characters from regular characters, and I don't know if that is a good thing. Player characters should be the heroes of the story because they are good at what they do, not because they have rules that play in favour of them. On the other hand, one could assume that a cook has plenty of cooking powers--they just don't turn up too often in regular play. What do you think?

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First of all, it's your campaign and you can house rule whatever you think would make your sessions more fun. That's a beautiful aspect about BRP.

Coming from a heavy D&D background, I too was worried about balance between casters when i first started reading this superior system. Everyone here told me not to worry about it. Balance was a game for other systems. I didn't listen and over thought about everything, as I tend to do.

What I came up with is this. The more you restrict one aspect of this system, the more it falls apart. What it comes down to is that outside of shifting characteristic scores to actually become a spell caster(trading that 16 STR to POW) there is no sacrifice in game. You don't have a set amount of skill points that you have to allocate during experience gains because there are no levels. No classes.

This is freeing and refreshing when you really think about it.

In your above example you said a character could power game by not placing skill points in spells THEN slowly working them up like normal through rare chance successes and experience gains. While this is true, the character will have a lot of failures also and failures in this game can cost your life, at least in combat. I've never had one of my players play a spell caster using this tactic. It's suicide.

Also, your first suggested fix really just does the same thing, only reversed.

So the player is FORCED to allocate profession skill points into Only spells, but then decides to practice practice practice with his longsword until eventually he succeeds and has experience gains in that skill instead of spells. The end result is the same.

IMO if you want to make it more difficult to be a spell caster then don't allow experience gains through use but ONLY through training.

The character must find someone who knows the spells to a greater degree then the PC and pay him or her to train, IF they are even willing.

You might really enjoy Classic Fantasy for BRP if you really want to restrict PCs. It's a class system but works off of skill and allegiance based on those classes instead of levels.

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That's some pretty good advice from tooley1chris


There isn't a real lot of game mechanics restrictions in BRP, so it's a very good system for GMs to tinker with to get the right feel for their particular setting. I think that tinkering works best with just tweaking the current rules around the edges, rather than porting over something from another system. Sure it can be done, but sometimes it can just create other unforseen problems.


If you want to role-play fantasy archetype tropes, then the BRP Classic Fantasy book is a great option, as all the hard work has already been done.


However, with what you are describing it appears that you are concerned about game imbalance due to perceived advantages from playing a magic using character over a non-magic using character. This is probably where some personalised setting rules would come in helpful.


The first thing I would do is follow the rules for Magic, not Sorcery. You could, however, allow many of those spells from the Sorcery chapter, but the main thing would be to give them a skill that pertains to the activation of the magic. This could be very broad, such as 'Spellcasting' for instance. It could be more specific, such as based on specific realms (ie: Necromancy, Mentalism, Fire Elementalism, etc), or it could be highly specific where each spell is also an individual skill (ie: Lift 60%. Lightening 72%, etc).


Secondly I would rule that skills for ALL characters only get a Skill Check if they roll a Special Success or better, unless the GM feels that a particular circumstances deem otherwise. This tends to keep skill checks in place.


This leaves Training during downtime as the common option to advance, and this needs to be played out narratively in many cases. Does the character have the funds? Is an appropriate teacher available? In the case of magic, finding a teacher could be an entire plot device.


The other thing you might find helpful is to slow down the recovery rate of Power Points. I feel that they should regain daily, rather than hourly. In some settings the rate might be slower, such as weekly. This can really rein in a character using magic for every solution, as they will soon run out of Power Points unless they choose to cast magic wisely.


Depending upon the setting, you may also wish to put particular limitations on magic, such as only being able to cast it at particular times of the day or calendar, with the Power Point cost being higher an unfavourable times. Perhaps the caster has to adhere to particular vows to be able to continue magic, or perhaps the casting times may be longer without particular foci etc, all of these trappings are great if you want to add flavour to a setting and increase the value of magic, otherwise it feel like super powers (which is another set of Powers entirely).


I would also tend to move away from trying to replicate the fantasy tropes (unless you have the Classic Fantasy book). One of the good things is there are no archetypes in BRP, per se. Characters begin with skills from a professional background, but are free to develop these further, or learn other skills (or even develop into a completely different vocational path). It is up to the constraints of the setting itself to limit them, rather than any game mechanic.


So these cosmetic changes may help, but overall although I was concerned about game balance, it rarely tends to raise its head in BRP as the narrative always seems to drive the games, with the rules being very much in the background.

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Most of this is actually self balancing in lay. What happens is that people who don't rely on magic devote more time and experience into other areas. In BRP a guy with Bow 160% at 100 meters is going to be a problem for a spellcaster.  

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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 Since I use the magic system  from the Magic Book I don't have any trouble with Balance.. A Wizard has 4 skills he has to devote skills to , and that is not counting spells while non Wizards can learn spirit magic to boost his power.

 A top level Wizard is very powerful but you are talking about a long road to get there..

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