Dec 042013

Balance is a tricky thing in RPGs. Some would even argue that it is not relevant and that player agency and good games mastering should be all that is required. I disagree with such sentiments, and think when it comes to character generation, the process should allow for everyone to begin on a level playing field. This is sorely tested when magic is introduced into pretty much any system. Even the simplest of systems can sometimes struggle, but I think Savage Worlds is one of the few that does it well.

One of the classics has a differing approach, with magic being pretty under-powered for starting characters, but growing to epic proportions later, allowing them to outclass their sword wielding brethren as they raise through the levels. In Orbis there are various schools of magic – some high, some low – and they all have differing power levels. For the first time ever I have generated a character with some magic ability, but haven’t concentrated on it. For the people who haven’t been keeping up, my character is a duelist who has access to the power of Geomancy which he mainly uses to give himself advantage in combat.

Geomancy is the power to change the world around you by casting runes. These changes can be small and subtle, such as cleaning the clothes you’re wearing or honing the edge of a blade, or large and obvious, like removing the pull of Uma’s gravity from large objects. In terms most gamers should understand, it is the closest magic system to the traditional way of magic or sorcery from D&D, with a limit on how many “spells” you can learn, and how many you can cast a day, with more powerful runes only available when you have enough points/ranks in the skill. Like D&D magic then, it looks like you start small and could become massively powerful. The amount of time you would need to devote to the art is a huge restriction though.

I have played magic users that within a few months of play could call down fire from the heavens. In Orbis however, there is no way that an adventuring character could ever have the time or resources to spend on learning and mastering such powerful runes. In this way it has an inbuilt balance that is kept under control by the players. Could I learn the truly powerful runes that could shake the very foundations of Uma? Of course I could, but it would be the very definition of a boring role playing experience, and would still take far too long.

There are of course other options to you though. Heart’s Fire is an elemental power that has almost limitless destructive potential. You’d be a bloody fool to unleash it all though, as every use of the Fire carries with it a risk of mutation. This risk rises with continued use and increases in line with how powerful a Fire you wish to wield. Again, self limiting by the player’s choices, and most adventurers only pull out the big guns when their lives depend on it, knowing full well that even if they survive they might never be the same again.

Earth Power is strange one. It is almost limitless from a very early stage, with users able to do almost anything they could imagine! Sounds great so far, but it only affects living things. And the living thing needs to be in contact with Uma. As does the person casting it. So, limited again, but so far I have seen characters with this power possess the will of their enemies or uproot great trees. To keep it under control somewhat, the character has a limited number of “points” that they use to activate their powers. The more powerful the magic, the more points it costs. Come the following dawn though, all points return without even needing the traditional hour or what-have-you of meditation that is usually required for such things.

For me, the one that looks the most broken though, is Daemonology. Basically the ability to reach through the fabric of reality and bring forth creatures whose will you bent to your own with powers almost without limit. Unlike the other magics, the Daemonologist is massively powerful right from the off. The only real limit is that each creature they bring through drains points from their Willpower attribute. Although this can go up, most people who create a Daemonologist have it as high as it’s going to go pretty early on, and soon hit the point where even attempting to bring anything else through is just another way to commit suicide.

In our current game we have one such character who has begun play with a Daemon bound weapon. Because of this weapon, Brand is now the best fighter in the game, easily surpassing professional warriors who have dedicated a boat load of points and abilities in learning how to effectively swing a sword. When I first realised this, I was stunned as I thought that this threw the balance out completely. Not only was he the most effective fighter, but he could still use Daemonology to even better effect! The more I thought about it though, the more I realised that the balance was just a bit backwards.

Other magic users get better – with limits – as time progresses and advancement points are acquired, but the Daemonologist hits their upper point pretty damned quickly and need to look to other areas to improve themselves. Unlike other magic users, they are also unable to use their powers responsively. If I was faced with a superior enemy, I could cast a rune to knock them from their feet and then impale them as they laid helpless. A Daemonologist would require hours – if not days – to bring a creature through to help them in a fight. Add to this the cultural problems with Daemons that exist throughout Uma, and you could end with a character with immense power that isn’t allowed into entire countries.

The lower magics that exist act more like special skills than world altering powers, so don’t need the time spent discussing them. The High magics mentioned above though, are amazing. Each has been created in a way that makes sense within the physics of the world, even of they can sometimes warp said physics. They exist in the cultures of Uma differently, and how you feel about any of them could vary depending on which city you were born in. And, importantly, none of them break the game. You could try, but you would fail, and end up having a fairly rubbish time while you did so. They add so much to the game world, and fight perfectly well into the system without needing a huge amount of extra rules just for them, that you’d be foolish to create a character without at least taking a look at what’s available to you.

In other news, it looks like Kickstarter has sorted out the money going to the lads who created this amazing game, and the digital copies should be going out by the end of the week. If you backed this campaign, I’d love to know what you think about the game when it arrives, so please let me by dropping me a comment below.