[Runequest] Game balance in different editions

David Cake dave at difference.com.au
Mon Sep 10 00:35:25 EST 2012

On 04/09/2012, at 9:55 PM, Lawrence Whitaker wrote:

> An interesting discussion.
> Yes, we certainly adjusted some of the more egregious sorcery spells
> in terms of their effects - not necessarily to make them more
> balanced, or to limit sorcery's power, but to make their effects
> easier to manage. Of course, a side effect of that is balancing to
> some degree, but it wasn't an overt attempt.

	I didn't even notice the changes to sorcery much. There are, for example, quite significant changes to the way spells like Damage Enhancement are dealt with mechanically, but the effect on game balance seems similar. Damage Resistance has actually been made more powerful in RQ6 than MRQ2 it seems to me - it has gone from an 'all or nothing' effect to providing more conventional armour. 

	if anything, my overall impression was that sorcery was increased in power - a lot of quite powerful spells like Trap Soul or Switch Body, that have quite dramatic effects on play, were introduced. If anything, it seemed a little more difficult. And while I'm not sure if sorcerous enchanting was overall enhanced or weakened from previous editions, the lack of enchanting for any other magic system surely makes this an overall increase in the power of sorcery. 
	I'd be interested to know which spells you thought were difficult to manage were. It is an interesting question - the spells that have seemed to be most difficult to manage in practice are also those that give sorcery most of its interesting flavour, like creative uses of Form/Set.

> Folk Magic - yes, this was an overt reduction in power to balance it
> against the higher magical forms. Some Common Magic spells in MRQII
> were actually outstripping some Divine and Sorcery spells at higher
> magnitudes which was kind of odd given the general nature of this kind
> of magic.

	That has actually always been the case - I've always thought the odd thing was Common Magic being flung around at high magnitudes (which seems like it should be fairly rare). Personally I've just deal with it by limiting the availability of high powered spells - either make them absent from the game entirely, or restrict them only to being available from cults or powerful shamans (so they become a sort of adjunct to other forms. 

	The interesting changes in game balance to me where the ones that you didn't mention here- the changes to Divine Magic. Shield goes from being cumulative with Folk Magic and physical armour, to not. Shield also has been steadily depowered - in previous editions in provided physical AND magical protection, in MRQ2/Legends it could provide some countermagic and some physical armour but was split between them (but at least was compatibly with itself, whereas other magical defence spells weren't), and now in RQ6 provides no protection against spells at all. That is a very significant depowering of one of the most common, standard, divine spells. Berserk goes from doubling skill in previous editions, to half again in MRQ2, to no skill increase at all in RQ6. True(Weapon) goes from straight out doubling the damage dice, to being capped at max damage. 
	Consistently, we see spells that increase armour 

> We also accept that it doesn't necessarily model Gloranthan
> workings; we're actually in the process of preparing specific magical
> mechanics for Glorantha and these will address the relative power
> levels to better model what's gone before.

	I'm very interested to hear that. The big depowering of Common Magic seems a fairly fundamental aspect of the game as written though. 
	I'm currently trialling RQ6 rules for Gloranthan use myself. I'd love to hear any suggestions you can give on how to better model Gloranthan play. 

> Animism and Mysticism. Again, its true that both these forms of magic
> can be very potent and, as read, they may seem to be wildly potent
> when compared with Theism and Sorcery.

	My issue is that these two forms of magic seem to have ready access to specific game mechanical effects that you specifically removed from other forms of magic. 
	That almost comes across as if the different magic systems are unbalanced by design. 
	I've not really got an issue with the idea that a mystic warrior monk in full power mode is a brutal killing machine if that is how you want it go, or an animist warrior like a Kargzant worshipper -- the odd choice to me is that a divine Berserk isn't, and the comparitive inequality between the two sees intentionally written into the system. 

> However there are some
> underlying limitations (and they are deliberate limitations) that help
> balance them.
> 1. Both Animism and Mysticism are personal-focused. What I mean is
> that shaman and mystics use their magic for personal enhancement and
> not for the benefit of anyone else (Animism has some general
> exceptions, but by and large its the shaman that benefits). Theism and
> Sorcery, on the other hand, can be cast on others to their benefit (or
> detriment!) and thus have wider social applications.

	I don't really buy that one, to be honest. Yes, that is the case, and it is a reasonable insight at a sort of social simulationist level, but it doesn't seem to apply much in play, where Divine users still generally are using most of their magic for personal empowerment (and Divine Magic player characters are generally loading up with personal enhancement magic like Shield or TrueSword rather than spending a lot of effort on Bless Crops). And Animists do seem, at least in Glorantha, to have access to fetishes even if they aren't shamans. 

> 2. Animism and Mysticism are Magic Point intensive, whereas Theism and
> Sorcery are less dependent on MP expenditure.

	This is true of Mysticism, but is it true of Animism? My impression was that animists in play would often be releasing spirits from fetishes, costing only 1mp? 

> Making frequent use of
> mystical abilities or spirits can quickly drain MP reserves and,
> depending on how MPs are regained in the setting, this might severely
> limit their use.

	Of course, as a Gloranthan player I'm going with the defaults, which make personal MPs pretty easily regainable. That may be a factor in how I see the relative strengths of the different systems. 

> Theists and sorcerers have additional means of
> accessing Magic Points, so, again, there's a deliberate attempt to
> balance the overall effects.

	The interesting question, though, is that while this clearly makes a big difference where theists or sorcerers are standing back slinging spells, when it comes to using personal enhancement magic to enhance combat abilities, this limitation is of limited relevance. Basically, if a Humakti or Uroxi is in combat vs an Animist or Mystic, the generally weaker (due, in part, to explicit depowering) of divine or sorcerous magic is likely going to be a much bigger issue than the more efficient magic points use. 

> But, in general, our concern in designing all the magic systems was to
> reflect the way they work unto themselves, instead of striving for
> cross-magical balance as the main objective. We have tinkered with
> each to do a little rough balancing, but that came secondary to
> portraying the nature of each magic system.
	My concern isn't with the details, really. 

	It was simply that a number of changes seemed to be applying a consistent set of effects on balance (armour spells no longer stack with other armour, weapon damage can't be enhanced beyond max damage easily, no spells enhance weapon skill) to divine, sorcerous and folk magic, and then these rules seem to have been not applied to mysticism and animism (both of which allow direct enhancement of skill (explicitly of weapon style for mysticism), direct enhancement of armour, and direct enhancement of damage bonus which IS additive to weapon damage. 
	Balance in terms of details of things like magic point efficiency doesn't really seem that big an issue to me, but some systems having access to particular effects and other not seems like it is almost guaranteed to cause some interesting balance issues. 

	There are other ways in which game balance has been improved significantly, however. In RQ3, magic tended to work mostly on a POW economy - Divine users became more powerful by sacrificing for Rune Spells, shamans became more powerful by increasing the size of their fetch (or in practice, sacrificing for Rune spells from shamanic cults and spirit cults), sorcerers became more powerful largely by creating magic items to let them wield a range of useful magic without reducing free INT too much. This worked ok, but has some weirdness about it (perverse incentives around how POW was increased), and the fact that sorcery worked on a very different set of rules in other ways (logarithmic effectiveness for increasing your Duration, for example) through it way out. MRQ and now RQ6 have changed that system so that skills are now the primary determinants for magical effectiveness for all magic systems, which does help smooth out balance issues a lot. It is kind of irritating to me that this excellent mechanical levelling of the systems has been undermined by rules that restrict particular, very significant, game mechanics to certain kinds of magic. 

	Oh, and one not about ALL of this - the sort of inbuilt limits to theism and sorcery I am talking about aren't written into the theism or sorcery systems, but into the spells. A few new spells wouldn't invalidate my ranting entirely (it would still be weird if certain important abilities are mainstream for Mysticism and Animism, but restricted to unusual cults/schools for sorcery), but it would make it less clearcut. 



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