Shape change - overpowered?

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PainorB
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Shape change - overpowered?

#1 Postby PainorB » Thu Mar 31, 2016 7:48 am

There are many posts about spells that seem overpowered and the reasons for them being designed as they are. I haven't found one about shape shifting – let me know if I missed it. We just started converting the game that we have been playing for a long time to savage worlds rules and enjoy many aspects of the rules – among others that SW attempts to be somewhat balanced. One thing that has always happened with us is that the mage has many more options and thus gets many more situations in which he/she can do useful stuff and be in the spotlight. This is mostly resolved in the SW system but last session we got a little frustrated with shape shifting. This spell gives the mage a ridiculous amount of options with which he can solve many more different problems than a lot of other characters and thus have more spotlights than other players. I am specifically talking not only about combat but about the entire range of problems that are posed in RPGs.

With just one edge, the mage can sneak, fly, run faster than a human, climb better than a human, breathe under water and swim faster than a human, he/she can fight, can be strong, can have night visions or see and smell better than any human, he/she can hide and do many other things that I have forgotten – yes the mage can even become a pretty good fighter (and as long as the fight is shorter than one minute – he doesn’t even have to check if he can maintain the spell when he/she is hurt)
I realize you cannot cast magic while you are shape shifting and not do many other things but there are so many situations in RPGs with just one major problem that needs to be solved and where just one trait is necessary and situations in which one minute is way enough time to solve that problem. So if you can pick and choose an animal that excels in that one trait you need to solve that problem, you are always going to be up there solving the problems before your fellows can have a go and chances are you also have a little time afterward to get your PPT back. So except for long climatic situations and huge end boss fights, many day to day problems posed in RPGs can be solved really efficiently with just one edge.

Maybe that spell can be argued to be somewhat balanced if only combats are considered (and even then I am not sure) but if we consider the range of different problems in a RPG, aren't other characters underpowered? In the system that we used to play, the mage had to choose the animal he can change into which severely limited these options. Picking a specific animal per rank would be another option one could consider or picking a type of animal (e.g. fish, or bird, or cat)?

I was just wondering if I am missing something. Did other people have other experience with this spell in games that have a mix of combats and other challenges?
Last edited by PainorB on Sun Apr 10, 2016 7:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#2 Postby Zadmar » Thu Mar 31, 2016 9:02 am

Shape change is a nice combat power for non-combat characters. It loses some of its luster for combat characters though, as it replaces their Fighting skill (which would normally be the best investment for melee), and also prevents the use of weapons, shields and armour, as well as ranged attacks, spellcasting, communication, etc. For a combat character, I'd far rather invest in damage field, deflection or quickness.

Outside of combat, the duration is too short for it to have much utility, unless you're using the No Power Points rule. I guess you could use it to fly or swim over a river, but it's not going to let you pick a lock, drive a car, heal a wounded ally, etc. For utility, I'd much rather take boost/lower trait.

It's certainly not a bad power, but there are much stronger options.
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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#3 Postby Mavis » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:11 pm

I have extensive experience of Shape Changing characters, having GMed 3 different Deadlands Novice to Legendary Indian Shaman PC's who have taken the power. I have found that it really allows the PC to shine and stand out, contributing something completely different although I do understand that this can sometimes tread on the toes of other PC's specialisms (stealth recon for instance). Everything you see as a negative trait of the power I see as a positive one, in my experience it is a power that inspires creativity in the players and its best uses are the out of combat ones (although I have also seen it used effectively in combat as well).

I should add that I am a bit lax in applying durations to the power, because narrative fun for the players always overcomes strict mechanical considerations. I have scaled the powers duration to be more tied to the size of the animal, so 10 minutes duration for any small creature would be OK and then 1 PP per 10 minutes after that. I have even allowed the Shaman to cast some powers whilst Shape Changed (Smite on a bears claws or Speed as a hawk for instance) but this was always because it made sense within the narrative to do so.

As Zadmar says it does not fix every problem, for instance Shape Change is not going to Persuade a way past a guard (although I did allow it on one particular occasion :D) or Drive a car. Really I think it is up to the GM to be a bit creative when challenging the Shape Changed PC and more generally understanding all of the PC's well enough to design challenges that will give each of them a chance to shine.

Zadmar wrote:...but it's not going to let you pick a lock
.

The Shaman PC turns into mouse, finds a little hole in the wall and enters the house. Once inside Shaman back into human form and finds the key or slides the bolt...

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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#4 Postby Zadmar » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:38 pm

Mavis wrote:The Shaman PC turns into mouse, finds a little hole in the wall and enters the house. Once inside Shaman back into human form and finds the key or slides the bolt...

Personally I'd probably allow it (assuming the wall had a hole in it), but in the context of this thread, I think it's only fair to mention that officially you can't shape change into a creature smaller than a cat or large rat (Size -2), see here and here.
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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#5 Postby ogbendog » Thu Mar 31, 2016 5:31 pm

It also depends a bit on trappings. Does your gear go with you or fall an the ground? If the latter, you can't really use it to cross a river.
Also, you can't talk (presumably)
I had a PC once where Shapechange was used for animal possession ()like the GOT wargs) which left your body vulnerable. OTOH, it let you turn a foe into an ally, potentially

It's also worth noting that the combat forms come up at higher ranks (as I recall); whre other pretty powerful spells are
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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#6 Postby Ndreare » Mon Apr 04, 2016 11:03 pm

So far we have used trappings to cover this. For example a character would not take just one spell and have the ability to cast every single shapechange spell there is. Instead the character would learn "Form of The Wolf". Likewise a characters trappings would define what other spells can do. The only three spells I have found easily abused is Boost/Lower, Summon and Shapechange. All of which can be controlled by useing trappings to make it fit in the senario.

Janus has "Blessing of War" his boost/lower can affect vigor, strength, fighting or shooting. But would do nothing for magic skills or other effects.

Bravestar has "Strength of a Bear, Eyes of a Hawk, Ears of a Wolf and Speed of a Puma" he can boost strength, perception and has haste.

I think you get the idea.

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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#7 Postby Kirigi » Tue Apr 05, 2016 1:43 am

Ndreare wrote:So far we have used trappings to cover this. For example a character would not take just one spell and have the ability to cast every single shapechange spell there is. Instead the character would learn "Form of The Wolf".



I like that. Never thought of doing it that way.


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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#8 Postby ogbendog » Tue Apr 05, 2016 11:43 am

That's about the equivlant of break bolt into 4 spells.

Lighting bolt - 1 2d6 bolt
or
Forked lightling 2x 2d6 bolts

etc.

basically, by using the trappings to limit the usefulness, you are making the spell weaker.

I'd be tempted to allow them to pick up more forms. Or maybe saythen need a something, a wolf skin to do a wolf, a bear skin for a bear, etc.
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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#9 Postby Jounichi » Tue Apr 05, 2016 2:49 pm

I would certainly allow for multiple forms of a single power being learned all at once, though I might put a material cost on it. For DL:R I'd say a Huckster's soul blast (bolt) consumes a card from a poker deck, but such flavorful restrictions may not fit every setting. Summoning an elemental, for example, might require a suitable source of power nearby; though that does put air elementals at a distinct advantage.

I like the idea of draping yourself in skins to shapeshift into animal forms, but for smaller critters I'd likely require a rabbit's foot or bird feather. In either case, I'd simply say they unlock new forms as they rank up. It takes a while for a magic user to be able to shift into really strong forms (lions aren't available until Veteran) and when they do they lose the ability to cast their other spells. While it's almost always been true that magic users have more tools at their disposal to solve the typical problems an adventuring party can face, Savage Worlds does a better job of balancing it than some others.
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Re: Shape Shifting - overpowered?

#10 Postby jebbou » Tue Apr 05, 2016 4:33 pm

If you take a core power, nerf it by sacrificing versatility, you should balance that loss with a bonus of sorts. Cheaper PP cost, increased potency, added effect, etc.

I like how Zadmar's Savage Spellbook compensated the loss of versatility with an increased effect. Like the Boost/Lower trait that is restricted to a single trait, but with doubled trait boost or penalty.

Edit: if you restricted the shapechange to a single form, you could increase the power of that form, allow certain powers to be used, or increase duration.

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Re: Shape change - overpowered?

#11 Postby PainorB » Sun Apr 10, 2016 7:16 am

Thanks for all the input.

I do like that the power inspires creativity - it does so partly because it offers so many options. I still think though that the versatility of this one edge is so much higher than most other edges and therefore can (for some play stiles) seem overpowered. It obviously doesn't allow everything (to pick a lock, drive a car etc.) but still, opens the option of temporarily acquiring a large number of edges.

Restricting the spell to one animal is certainly something we thought about. I am just careful about tempering with the system too much in case there are unforeseen consequences. I just discovered Zadmars Savage beast guide (and all the other material - wow). There is a bunch of good ideas as well - I guess I will try out different options and see how they feel...

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Re: Shape change - overpowered?

#12 Postby Damian Magecraft » Sun Apr 10, 2016 4:49 pm

PainorB wrote:Thanks for all the input.

I do like that the power inspires creativity - it does so partly because it offers so many options. I still think though that the versatility of this one edge is so much higher than most other edges and therefore can (for some play stiles) seem overpowered. It obviously doesn't allow everything (to pick a lock, drive a car etc.) but still, opens the option of temporarily acquiring a large number of edges.

Restricting the spell to one animal is certainly something we thought about. I am just careful about tempering with the system too much in case there are unforeseen consequences. I just discovered Zadmars Savage beast guide (and all the other material - wow). There is a bunch of good ideas as well - I guess I will try out different options and see how they feel...

there is also the druidic restriction route if one form seems too restricting... limit them by type of form. IE: Avian, Hooved, Reptilian, etc...
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Re: Shape change - overpowered?

#13 Postby Jounichi » Sun Apr 10, 2016 10:30 pm

I'm still not crazy on the idea of restricting the power, so I decided to go through the core book and see roughly where different forms would come up.

The Novice-ranked forms are all basically Size -2, and while not always suited for combat (such as the humble house cat), the hawk most certainly is. Another comparable creature would be the venomous snake found on page 163. These forms are defined, in combat terms, as not only having a fairly limited damage potential, but also being rather "squishy."

The Seasoned-ranked forms are where things begin to get interesting. We have the dog/wolf and deer; which I'm not sure where to find statistics for. The dire wolf is a possibility. It's technically a wolf, and it's statistics don't read quite as high as the lion; which is a Veteran entry. Another possible entry is the constrictor snake. In general, these forms are Size -1 to 0. They're on the low end of medium, and their statistics are largely comparable to Novice players build for combat. I find their special abilities are more interesting than straight combat enhancements. Aside from that, the riding horse is a solid option. It's big, fast, decently powerful, but lacks additional weapon dice. It's not great for long-distance travel, buy it could make for an odd tag-team in the middle of a fight.

Veteran, on the other hand, packs some real power. Big cats like the lion are impressive, but only somewhat. Improved Frenzy is standard, but then again a regular character build for combat could do the very same. It's real advantages are Low Light Vision, Pounce (an improved Wild Attack), and extra Toughness from being Size +2. The war horse and alligator/crocodile would seem to fit here as well.

Heroic is an incremental leap forward, but not necessarily a big one. We finally have a creature with a statistic above d12 (the bear), and the shark is opened up. Aside from being quick in the water there's nothing special about this form. Using the maneater as a baseline I'm tempted to list the giant spider here, but the potency of the venom (-4) makes me want to put it even higher.

And then comes Legendary, which has two different point costs for two different tiers of creatures.

###

I'm going to say there are two major steps up in power and capabilities: Seasoned going in to Veteran, and Heroic going in to Legendary. Hitting Legendary is it's own can of worms so we can mostly discount it. The real game-changer is hitting Veteran, and the thing is a dedicated combat character can be comparable on their own fairly easily. A player changed into a lion, for example, is CR 17, but the Novice great weapon fighter archetype in the front of the book (with some leather armor and a great sword or maul) is CR 12-13. A Novice fencer, appropriately outfitted, is roughly CR 8-9. The Martial Artist is 7 without any gear, but it's first Advance could easily be Bruiser; which technically brings it's CR up to 10.

That being said, CR is not perfect. It doesn't factor in Parry or weapon special qualities. Also keep in mind that if you are going to use it as a barometer, 8 more advances can go a long way to closing the gap.

Oh, and one more thing.

The caster who changes forms not only loses immediate flexibility in that they cannot cast spells in their new form, but some cast in advance might not even work at all. You cannot, for example, cast smite on yourself and necessarily expect it to transfer to your new form's teeth and nails. I suppose it boils down to trappings, but honestly not having smite work is a pittance compared to gaining a natural attack.
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Re: Shape change - overpowered?

#14 Postby Ndreare » Sun Apr 10, 2016 10:49 pm

Savage Worlds was not designed for a single power to be omnipotint. While in some situations they may be versatile, if you read the powers section and specifically you can see (because it is stated plainly) that trappings are the heart and soul of the system. When a character selects a power he should not just write down blast. He should be writing Arcane Fire as a combination of blast and the trapping of fire.

When stripped of trapping the magic users become ridiculously powerful in my limited experience.

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Re: Shape change - overpowered?

#15 Postby PainorB » Mon Apr 11, 2016 12:56 am

Yeah - the "types" of animals also crossed my mind. That works with some things (e.g. fish or birds, or hooved) where one can find animals ranging in size from small to large worthy of Novice to Veteran.

interesting breakdown of the power - I still believe that one of the major problem with the balance comes from all the unforeseen options outside combat in addition to the advantages during combat (that even a totally non-combat type magician) could get.


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