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Overly Broad Supernatural Abilities


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How do you adjudicate overly-broad supernatural abilities?

Example: I'm running a Dresden-Files style supernatural investigation game, where the core activity is investigating some problem, then solving it

If I have "County Medical Examiner 7W", it's pretty clear that I can't just magically resolve both elements of the core activity with a description and roll. However, if I have "College Trained Wizard 7W", it would make sense for me (or the character) to do something like

  1. I cast a spell to find out what is going on
  2. I cast a spell to solve the problem

I think I'm missing something fundamental here.

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Ive watched the TV show, which was great, but not read the books or RPG so I’m not familiar with the details of how magic works in the world. College Trained as aWizard seems too vague to me. RQG has much more specific magical abilities precisely because magic is so hard to make specific in this way and I’m sure the Fate based RPG does too, so I’d look at those to get some inspiration.

Having said that, there are RPGs with fairly broad magical abilities. A great example is Monster of the Week. It does this by specifying a range of standard effects you can get from your magical ability, then makes anything outside that the realm of more specialised magic.

Edited by simonh
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Check out the Runequest Glorantha Wiki for RQ links and resources. Any updates or contributions welcome!

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On 08/11/2017 at 3:34 PM, Archivist said:

How do you adjudicate overly-broad supernatural abilities?

Example: I'm running a Dresden-Files style supernatural investigation game, where the core activity is investigating some problem, then solving it

If I have "County Medical Examiner 7W", it's pretty clear that I can't just magically resolve both elements of the core activity with a description and roll. However, if I have "College Trained Wizard 7W", it would make sense for me (or the character) to do something like

  1. I cast a spell to find out what is going on
  2. I cast a spell to solve the problem

I think I'm missing something fundamental here.

It's difficult to comment on this as the example is a bit vague. The Keywords are just normal Keywords to me, they are meant to be broad. To do specific stuff without a breakout maybe a stretch of -3 or -6.

Here's my character from a HeroQuest Dresden Files game I played in:

Charlie Flint

3rd Eye Agent of MI23 7W

Efficient Gunman +3

Relentless +1

Supernatural Sight 1W

See your Soul +2

Nose for Trouble 18

Flaws

Pawn of the White Council 7W

An Agent's Life 1W

Flesh out your example a bit more and i'll understand what you mean

 

 

 

 

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So your character and mine are called to a crime scene, where it seems a victim has been killed! We have to find out who did it and stop them!

As

Quote

3rd Eye Agent of MI23 7W

you're some kind of super-spy for arcane people. So you might use your 7W to hunt for clues to the killer (you've killed a bunch of people so you know how). Then, you'll have to figure out how to find the guy, and so on. So a whole adventure worth of scenes.

Let's say I have "White Court Wizard 7W". Keywords that describe broad magical abilities, like this, confuse me on how to adjudicate them. Why couldn't I just say "I'm going to cast a spell to find the murderer and teleport him to a secure, warded location," which sort of ends the adventure if I  make my roll. If I instead had "Black Court Vampire 7W," we all kind of know what being a Black Court Vampire lets you do, so I couldn't say "I'm going to use Black Court Vampire 7W to find the murderer and teleport him to a secure, warded location."  Keywords that describe broad magical abilities seem like they would short circuit any adventure premise.

HQ 2 Glorantha doesn't have this issue, I guess, because the magic system is very well described in the book, so it's pretty clear what Sprit Magic or Water Rune can do.

Fate Accelerated Dresden Files doesn't have the issue because there are a whole bunch of mechanics that limit the scope of the effect of any ritual you make up.

D&D doesn't have this issue because you have a limited set of spells that do specific things.

So there must be *some* way of allowing players to have magical skill in HeroQuest II without allowing them to resolve any adventure premise in their first roll.

I understand Keywords are supposed to be broad, but what keeps them normally from being adventure breaking is that there's a clear sense, narratively, of what they can do.

Edited by Archivist
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7 minutes ago, Archivist said:

Why couldn't I just say "I'm going to cast a spell to find the murderer and teleport him to a secure, warded location," which sort of ends the adventure if I  make my roll.

Okay I understand now, especially in light of your "College Trained Wizard 7W" Keyword.

Firstly it's frame the contest. What do you want to do.

"I'm going to cast a spell to find the murderer and teleport him to a secure, warded location,"

Sure, you've just found the body. What are you going to use. 

College Trained Wizard 7W

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Yes but that's an imposible task

You need to do so investigating first, how does College Trained Wizard help you do that?

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or

Yes but without some investigation and preparation it's an Nearly Impossible task - base 14 plus W2 so 14W2. You are using a general keyword to find a specific thing - the murderer, so it's a -6 stretch as well so it's your 7W-6 = 1W versus my 14W2, Masteries cancel so it's 14 v. 14W. Good odds eh.

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or

I've a spell...

You've got training but without a listed spell or relevant breakout it's a stretch -6, do you wan't to spend an HP on a breakout?

Okay I breakout Forensic Magic at +1

So how does Forensic Magic help you find the murderer

It shows me the murderer as an image made up from what they left at the scene of the crime. 

Okay, let's frame the contest again....

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and

Where is this secure warded location, it can't be at the police station? 

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I think the problem is that an ability of Wizard taken very broadly is, in magical terms, like having an ability of ‘has arms and legs’ in physical terms. It’s just way too general, unless you have specific and well understood capabilities and limitations that go with it that define what Wizard means in the setting.

At best, very broad abilities should be taken to grant only the minimum base level of competence in simple tasks that fall in the category. So ‘College Trained Wizard’ might not even grant much in the way of magic at all, but grant a basic grounding in magical theory, knowledge of the major texts on magic, contacts with fellow students and faculty members, knowledge of the college facilities and stuff like that. It’s a super broad ability, so only grants the bascs that every student that studied at Wizard college would have, but none of the specific capabilities that would distinguish students, such as the specifics of the magic they specialised in.

Wizard is even more uselessly broad, so only grants the general features all Wizards have, whether College Trained or not, and not even any of the capabilities College Trained Wizards have that distinguish them from other Wizards, which probably doesn’t really leave much.

Edited by simonh
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Check out the Runequest Glorantha Wiki for RQ links and resources. Any updates or contributions welcome!

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17 hours ago, simonh said:

It’s just way too general, unless you have specific and well understood capabilities and limitations that go with it that define what Wizard means in the setting.

This is the key bit. If you have an ability called "Acrobat," our experience in the real world gives us a solid handle on what an acrobat can do in our imaginary worlds. With imaginary abilities like magic and the like, we have no such common frame of reference. As such, their capabilities either need to be well defined in the fictional framework of the world and characters, to the point that the GM & Players understand the dynamics and capabilities as well as a non-acrobat might understand acrobatics -or- you can break the "Ability ratings are just abstract measures of problem solving effectiveness." idiom and use some game mechanics do define things, as we see in the Glorantha magic rules.

For benchmarking supernatural capabilities, I want to know:

  • What magnitude of effects can be done quickly and easily vs what can only be done with great effort, ritual, support, or risk?
  • What can only be done nearby vs at a distance, and do things like having a token from or ritual correspondence to a subject transcend that?
  • Are certain sorts of acts particularly well suited to the ability vs others that may be foreign or even impossible?
  • Does this capability have any applications that are unique in the fictional world?
  • What things are rare, difficult or impossible for any and all supernatural abilities?
  • To what extent do the above vary for a novice, journeyman, or master actor?

Answering those questions lets you and the players know what's solidly in their characters abilities, what's going to be a stretch, what they can do with lots of time & effort, etc. Some of those answers also give you guidance on the overall impact of magic in your world. For example, in a pre-modern world, long distance communication or transportation via magic is a world-changer. Knowing how common or capable those effects are is a big deal for understanding the world in which you're playing. 

To your example, if you're running an investigation-centered game you need to know just how common, practical, and effective things like post-cognition, clairvoyance, mind-reading and the like are. If your world has secrets, these things either have limitations/costs/risks attached or there are discrete countermeasures available. Compare being able to detect lies at will vs being able to detect lies when standing between the pillars of your sanctum at high midnight. It matters to your game which of those is typical.

Similar dynamics surround being able to evade pursuit or hide from authorities. If anyone with a college-degree in magic can arbitrarily teleport people from anywhere to anywhere without even knowing where the subject is to begin with, then this is not a world with fugitives (especially given the quantity of magicians implied by a college with a degree program in magic). If doing such a thing is possible, but only after overcoming significant challenges to obtain the necessary ritual correspondences, sacrifices, information about the target, angelic allies, and the like, then it becomes the climax of an adventure rather than short-circuiting one.

 

 

Edited by JonL
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  • 2 months later...

Wizardry schools have listings of very specific effects (at least in HQ, and I'm guessing from your description that you're using HQ2).  A character isn't just a Trained Wizard, he/she is of such-and-such a school that determines the possible range of his/her abilities.  I expect you'd need to define the schools yourself if you're playing in a non-Gloranthan setting.

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On 11/8/2017 at 7:34 AM, Archivist said:

How do you adjudicate overly-broad supernatural abilities?

Example: I'm running a Dresden-Files style supernatural investigation game, where the core activity is investigating some problem, then solving it

If I have "County Medical Examiner 7W", it's pretty clear that I can't just magically resolve both elements of the core activity with a description and roll. However, if I have "College Trained Wizard 7W", it would make sense for me (or the character) to do something like

  1. I cast a spell to find out what is going on
  2. I cast a spell to solve the problem

I think I'm missing something fundamental here.

I think go back to the canon -- the books themselves.  Sure, Harry is a "Wizard," but his magic isn't like Carlos Ramirez' or Elaine Mallory's or Native-American-Joe's magic is...

So you probably need something mores specific.  You've conflated "Wizard" with "Archmage of everything," I think, and DresdenFiles magic doesn't work like that (at least, not until you're Senior Council level mage... and even *THEY* are better at some things than they are at others (e.g. McCoy is a better combat mage, Liberty  better healing mage)).

 

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1 hour ago, g33k said:

I think go back to the canon -- the books themselves.  Sure, Harry is a "Wizard," but his magic isn't like Carlos Ramirez' or Elaine Mallory's or Native-American-Joe's magic is...

So you probably need something mores specific.  You've conflated "Wizard" with "Archmage of everything," I think, and DresdenFiles magic doesn't work like that (at least, not until you're Senior Council level mage... and even *THEY* are better at some things than they are at others (e.g. McCoy is a better combat mage, Liberty  better healing mage)).

Holy crap...I just realized I've read those...as a matter of fact, I have two Butcher trilogies looking at me right now, in a bookcase next to my desk.  Never seen the Siffy series, though.  Pretty good pulp stuff, but not on par with The Black Company to my eyes.  And I definitely agree that Harry isn't anywhere near all-powerful .

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