IDEA: Adapting WoN armies crunch to powerful sorcerers, politics, business, etc.

Started by jb.teller4, February 23, 2010, 06:18:34 PM

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I recently read the Prince of Nothing series by R. Scott Bakker and reread several of the Black Company novels by Glen Cook and they got me thinking about how to model magic that's insanely powerful (a single sorcerer standing up to small armies) with PCs that powerful in a way that's fun for the player playing that sorcerer, fun for the other players playing more mundane characters, and fun for the GM to run.  I've been playing with a number of ideas (and I'll probably post some of them later) but one jumped out at me as really cool and effective for what I want (and it's long enough to be a topic of its own). 

Superior Leverage for Sorcerers: I read Ch. 4 in WoN on armies right in the middle of rereading the Black Company series.  I'd been thinking about how to model sorcerers powerful enough to face armies but not so powerful that there was no room for conflicts between individuals and these sorcerers.  Superior Leverage and Partial Stakes struck me as perfect.  The basic idea is that powerful sorcerers have Superior Leverage that is functionally the same as the Secret/Imbuement that turns warbands into small trained armies and gives them Superior Leverage (can't remember the name).  It would even be handled with Secrets so the "balance" isn't hard.  This means that: a) a sorcerer can face a small army, and b) an individual character without an army who isn't a powerful sorcerer is forced to use Partial Stakes in direct conflicts. 

I like this for several reasons.  The powerful sorcerer doesn't necessarily have higher Abilities than mundane characters or weaker sorcerers, so they don't necessarily have a higher chance of winning a conflict.  But they are qualitatively more powerful and so the weaker characters are limited in their options.  Stuff like "escape", "stay alive", "save my companions", etc. instead of "take out the powerful sorcerer".  It keeps direct conflicts possible and exciting while turning the disparate power level into a narrative thing (flowing like it would in a book). 

And just like Superior Leverage in general, that doesn't mean that a weaker character can never kill or defeat a powerful sorcerer, just that they have to either attack in other ways besides direct conflict or overcome the Superior Leverage in a way that makes sense in the narrative (creating an arrow inscribed with the sorcerer's name that will slice through their magical defences, sneak in close enough and surprise them, convince another powerful sorcerer to help you, find the wondrous magical thingie, etc.)

I'm pretty fond of using this, so powerful sorcerers would have a Secret or two to represent being vastly powerful.  Combined with a few other ideas (out of scope for this topic) that make using that kind of sorcery not dissimilar to having having an army handy (i.e. a sorcerer often has Superior Leverage and will if you face them on the field, but it isn't entirely intrinsic and it's possible to deal with them without it, like kidnapping a commander so they don't have their army handy) I'm even pretty comfortable with how to handle the Secrets and other crunch.  I should probably also mention that a lot of the above is based on a campaign idea that is fairly military in tone (loosely inspired by the Black Company) so armies and sorcerers interacting matters.

Any comments, questions, or criticisms?

Superior Leverage for Other Arenas: On a separate but related topic, while thinking about using formalized Superior Leverage for powerful sorcerers, it occurred to me that it can also be used for all kinds of conflicts besides military (whether armies or sorcerers).  I like the idea of basically formalizing the two Secrets in the army rules (soldiers and big armies--aagain, I can't remember the exact names) to say that for any arena or type of conflict in a campaign, you can say there are two or three "tiers" of Leverage: Normal, "Company", and "Army" (the quotations are because those are obviously military terms because I haven't thought of good general terms yet).  Each tier has Superior Leverage against the tiers below. 

Besides the military example included in NoW ch. 4, it could be also used for political power (nobles are politcally unassailable by peasants, represented by a Secret of  Nobility, while greater nobles and kings are in yet another tier), cultural conflicts (I can see large-scale propaganda and faction struggles like in Burning Empire, the Mindjammer expansions for Starblazer Adventure, or in stories like Dune or my vague memories of the Foundation series--most people have little cultural impact, some can impact local trends and views, while others influence nations or worlds), or corporate structure, etc.  And just like armies, these tiers can be applied to individual characters (like a title of nobility), to groups, places, or things treated as equipment (like an angry mob getting the attention of the Baron or a letter from the king giving 3rd tier leverage in narrow circumstances), etc.

If I was expanding it I would add a very rough guideline that in general it takes at least one meaningful action or Secret to be able to act per tier you're trying to go up.  For example, say a peasant PC wants to bring down their corrupt Baron and decides to try to get an audience with the Duke to do it.  The GM says that the Duke is in the third tier.  The peasant PC might bribe or befriend a servant in the court (who's approachable on the "normal" tier the peasant is on) in order to get access to information and gossip about the court, but he's still a nobody.  However, he can now reasonably try to use something he's learned (like the fact that the Duke's close friend, one of his men-at-arms, is known to stand up for the commonfolk and that he often drinks at a certain tavern...) to get access to the Duke.  If he succeeds both of those actions, then he's now in a position (with the man-at-arms backing) to even attempt to talk to the Duke.  At least one action per tier isn't meant to be rigid... it's more of a guideline and a tool for the GM.  If that peasant happened to stumble across the Duke wounded and abandoned in a ditch (basically stripping him of his tier the way that a commander without an army doesn't have Superior Leverage militarily), he could talk to the Duke without having to go through a bunch of intervening steps.  it's all situation and story-driven ultimately.

Note that which arenas had tiers would be a campaign thing... you'd only worry about the ones that were relevant to the campaign.  Just because you might deal with a king doesn't mean you need tiers of nobility.  I'd only mess with it if you wanted having to deal with the different strata of power and navigating through them to be part of the campaign.  Also, you don't need Secrets to use Superior Leverage... the GM can always say the King has superior Leverage against you wihtout crunch (just like an archer shooting from the roof might have Superior Leverage until you find a way to get to them or neutralize their advatnage), but for a certain type of campaign (like the military tiers in a military campaign) it could be useful to formalize it.

Anyway, none of the above is particularly a change to any existing rules.  It's basically taking the crunch and concept of the army rules in WoN and adapting it to more areas than just military.

Anyway, thoughts? comments? criticisms?

-John B.
John B.

Eero Tuovinen

Yes, definitely yes! As far as I can see, you understand completely what I intended with those "scale" rules I display in chapter four. Using them for super-powerful wizards is entirely feasible, as is the idea of a stratified society. I especially like how your treatment emphasizes how the scale difference can be overcome with preparation or simple fictional positioning, ensuring that whatever is keeping the scale difference in place goes away temporarily or permanently.

I actually considered putting explicit scale into the three-corner magic system in WoN, but opted against it due to how the Three-corner "thing" in many ways is the gauging of the fictional reality in real terms. Three-corner wizards may easily have superior leverage by working up gigantic walls of fire or whatever, but - as the text describes - it's left up to the Story Guide to adjudicate when and where and how this applies. Some other magic system with slightly different aesthetics could very well benefit from having a "Secret of the Archmage" or some such that'd allow the wizard to become the death among nations with a simple scaling Secret. In the giant rules in movement four I chose to use scale explicitly - a giant can grow so big that he actually has superior leverage against human-sized opponents in physical situations, which I think is pretty cool.

Another example of how this can be used is what my brother Markku is doing in a 4th edition D&D campaign - the group grew bored of the skirmish combat and swapped the campaign into Solar System, developing D&D-like SS crunch along the way. 4th edition has this concept of "tiers" of power, wherein the entire cosmos maps on three tiers of increasing strength, corresponding with character levels. The concept of superior leverage is pretty natural as a dramatic SS application of the concept - when a Paragon tier player character interacts with a Heroic tier township, for instance, it's not unreasonable to state that the interaction simply can't be even, the difference in legendary stature is just too strong.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Thanks, Eero!

QuoteI actually considered putting explicit scale into the three-corner magic system in WoN[...]

Do you mind sharing some specific thoughts you had on how you'd do this?  My ideas so far have pretty much been simple, like the Secret of the Archmage you mentioned (renamed for the setting), or possibly tying it into specific sorcerous secrets (e.g. tweaking the Secret of Magical Contagion to be buying up superior leverage as it buys up area/group size, etc.).  I've been leaning towards the first idea of an "archmage" secret, but I'm definitely interested what your thoughts are.

-John B.
John B.

Eero Tuovinen

The specific mechanic I was considering for Three-Corner scale was something like this:

Secret of Dweomercraft
The character's Three-Corner working has superior leverage against mundane resistance due to the raw scale of the working. A working with this Secret is always obviously loud and magical as pure strains of foci are twisted by the wizard into shape. The best a lone mundane character can do is get out of the way. The activation cost of this Secret is at least 1 Pool, but it increases the cost of the entire working to at least 10 Pool (after discounts; 10 Pool factually needs to be expended for the magic to have this sort of scale). Furthermore, any countermagic suffers penalty dice equal to the amount of Pool spent on this Secret. Cost: 1+ appropriate Pool.

That's a perfectly fine thing in itself (insofar as you're willing to play with superior leverage for wizardry in the first place), I just didn't want to over-emphasize this newly verbalized idea of superior leverage in the rules-text. I was afraid that people would read the book and come to conclude that I think the exact opposite of my message, that superior leverage could only ever come about when a rules snippet says so. After all, if I studiously included a rules option for superior leverage in each and every chapter that warranted it, then one might read the omission of such in some place as negative evidence for concluding that I don't want the issue of leverage to come into play in those situations at all. A foolish fear, perhaps, I don't know.

Also note that the above Secret doesn't explicitly make superior leverage gained in other ways an impossibility, it just makes it explicit that this wizard can cause any sufficiently expensive working to have overwhelming power by making it a dweomer. I still think that you could just throw ten (or just three) Pool into Create Volume to get a rock so big that a character can't even try to move it, which is, after all, superior leverage in a nutshell.

Hmm... Three-Corner is almost the only magic system in Near that has this modern wizard epic feel going, which I kinda like. Qek necromancy doesn't get up to superior leverage levels too easily, for example, barring resurrected dinosaurs or something. Ritual witchcraft and Zu are the most realistic competition in the scale department, I guess. The part I especially love about the Solar System is that the scale thing isn't really the be-all, end-all of magical mojo.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.