August 27th, 2010

Voodoo Dolly
  • tashiro

Magic Trumps Might

Looking at a friend's LJ post about a new RPG, I'm thinking about the disparity of power between a warrior and a mage.  In almost every case I can think of, a mage will, ultimately, trump a warrior for sheer amount of carnage that can be inflicted.

1.  Presuming that a mage has to buy starting spells, a mage and a warrior are basically even at the beginning.  The mage purchases a spell, the warrior purchases a weapon.  The problem starts in that the warrior will be upgrading weapons and armour, setting aside what they had.  The mage will purchase more spells, but doesn't necessarily get rid of the spells he has.

2.  A mage's spells tend to upgrade for free.  A warrior's equipment does not.  A warrior either has to be lucky and find a better weapon or armour, or must purchase it himself to do more damage and absorb more punishment.  A mage's spells tend to get better as time progresses (either harder to resist, or does more damage).  On top of that, a warrior is dedicated to doing damage to a single target at a time, while a mage's spells may have an area of effect or be 'selective' on who it hits.

3.  A mage tends to have versatility.  A warrior may have:  an axe, a sword, a crossbow, a dagger, a spear.  A mage may have a fireball for area of effect, magic missile to selectively hit targets, lightning bolt to streak down a corridor.  And then the mage continues with other utility spells like invisibility or fly or shield to provide benefits to the group.  The warrior tends to hit things hard.

4.  Some games put a restriction on spells.  A mage can cast a limited number in one 'go' before needing to rest and recover.  This can be 'mana' needing recovery or 'refreshing' spells cast, or what-have-you.  The thing is, this limitation isn't really much of a limitation as the game progresses.  The mage can cast more spells as they progress, and in general the spells being cast tend to be 'bigger'.  Sure, you can only cast nuclear obliteration two times, but you're dishing out more damage in one go than the warrior can dish out in 3-4 turns (and the warrior is probably being injured during those 3-4 turns, so you're effectively reducing the amount of harm being done to the party, too!)

Eventually, the mage is going to outstrip the warrior.  Always.  So what's the solution?
1.  A mage can not memorize spells.  A mage has access to scrolls and written materials which can be used to produce magical effects, and the item used is destroyed upon use.  The mage can eventually get items which can 'store' more than one use, but these things can and will degrade over time.  This puts the mage more or less in the same boat as the warrior -- the mage must continually go to create or purchase spells.  The general cost for these will be less than a weapon, but the mage will find himself having to to perform repeat trips to get what's needed.  This has the added bonus of the mage having to dig out the right scroll for the job.  Put a mechanic for 'can hold two scrolls, one in each hand.  These spells are on 'standby' and can be cast immediately.  Changing scrolls takes an action', and this works even better.

2.  Spells don't upgrade.  You can buy better spells (at higher cost), once you have the means for tapping into them, but in general a spell always says what's on the box.  A 'fire bolt' spell of 1d6 damage does 1d6 damage whether you're first level or tenth level.  The reason you get it is because it costs 25 gp a spell, whereas the 3d6 fireball spell costs 200 gp.  Price the higher level spells to a bit more than the lower level, and the player has to balance the decision of either getting one shot with a bigger spell, or multiple shots with a lower spell.

3.  A mage will still have versatility -- if the mage wishes to pay for it.  The thing is, if the mage has to deal with carrying scrolls and such, he's going to be limited on what he brings to the table.  'Swapping' spells takes actions, and if some of those spells are stuffed into bags and backpacks, it may take even longer to get the right spell out.  The mage's carrying space is limited by what he's carrying, and having five or seven spells of different types all cost, and remove having more spells of a specific type which could be useful.

4.  The restriction I'd place is that a mage's level would determine the highest level spell the mage can cast from a scroll.  That would set the upper bar for spellcasting ability, which would prevent the 'I have the gold, I can buy the nuke' type effects.  The mage is still effective, but the warrior is still perhaps a bit ahead of the curve.  The mage can whip off two spells while the warrior's beating on enemies, but the mage has to pause from time to time to dig out additional spells, allowing the warrior to lay beat downs while the mage is inactive.  A fair trade, I think.
  • Current Mood
    contemplative contemplative