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  • Powers and Game Balance

    Of my last half-dozen campaigns, three have been broken by players using powers, and one is severely crippled by the expectation among the group that the single power-using character will do the same thing to this game. (By breaking the campaign, I mean it devolves to the point where one power-user dominates the game and the other players feel they are just watching him have all the fun.)

    This seems to happen faster under SWADE than it did under Deluxe, partly because it is now easier to get powers (two per advance) and power points (by spending bennies) than before, and partly because modifiers make the powers more flexible and powerful.

    The three instances were different players, so I am tentatively ruling out players as the explanation.

    That leaves me with two possibilities, either I am not handling this correctly as the GM, or the players concerned are right in asserting that ABs are overpowered. I am thinking the former is more likely as the latter would surely have come up in playtesting.

    Options I have thought of to resolve the situation are:

    [a] Ban those players from the group. Undesirable as they have been my friends for years now.

    [b] Explain during session zero that yes, you can break the game with powers if you really want to, but I'd rather you didn't because it's no fun for anyone else. No guarantee it would work.

    [c] Nerf powers by dropping all Modifiers, and restricting the New Powers Edge to one power, which may only be taken once per Rank. Fast, easy, probably gets the job done, but risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    [d] Ban the powers that are causing problems; so far that's Beast Friend, Boost/Lower Trait, Puppet, and Sloth/Speed. That list will grow over time as the players get more creative, until eventually there are no powers left.

    [e] Go full-on adversarial rules lawyer and ruthlessly suppress anything outside the letter of the rules. Not really how I want to play, and no guarantee it would work - there's always a player who finds a loophole.

    [f] Introduce in-game restrictions like Arcane Backgrounds being illegal and heavily punished.

    Has anyone else had this problem, and if so, how did you address it?

  • #2
    Are your NPCs able to access Dispel Magic? Remember, whatever your players can do, your NPCs can do, too
    Like what you have read in someone's post? Hit that like button and let everyone know.

    I run Deadlands Reloaded. One of my players writes an incharacter blog here --> http://ballgownsandbattleskirts.blog...deadlands.html

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    • #3
      (I'd write more but am in the middle of soothing upset child.)
      Like what you have read in someone's post? Hit that like button and let everyone know.

      I run Deadlands Reloaded. One of my players writes an incharacter blog here --> http://ballgownsandbattleskirts.blog...deadlands.html

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      • #4
        1. What powers are the problem, and in what ways do they "break the game"?
        2. Are you using Power Points or the No Power Points setting rule?
        3. Are there any other Setting Rules or custom rules that you are using?

        In my experience the No Power Point rules always break the game. I absolutely detest that rule. I will never play with it again. Sure, it is nice to be lazy to not count your power points, but my response is "here is a tracker. Just move it down the dial.". Easy.

        I have found some other powers to be annoying, especially when stacked with different Trappings. For example, with different casters or versions of Protection, it is conceivable that they can stack. I just flat out said that only the best version (normal casting vs. casting with a raise) will go into effect.

        The other times that I have seen a power break a game is when it is not used correctly. This is fixed by reading its description again and going "oh, this is what it is saying". The worst offenders have been the six or seven or so powers that have two powers in one, like Sloth/Speed and Boost/Lower Trait. It is easy to read the wrong one. I wish they were never put together, I always insist on the Single-Aspected limitation without a PP benefit, but that it is quite a tangent topic.

        Some powers are poorly defined in the core book and the assumption is that the setting will do it for you: Shape Change and Summon Ally. I have been using a point-buy system where each Power Point is worth X points of capability for a couple of years and it has made those into non-game-breaking powers.

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        • #5
          Also, regarding power level of Deluxe vs SWADE. I love the SWADE way. I love Power Modifiers. In my opinion, they do not in themselves break the game.

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          • #6
            So what kind of campaigns are these anyway? Pure fantasy? Urban Fantasy? Other? My current favorite settings are Rifts and anything that mixes cyberpunk and magic. So while I don't tend to gravitate towards power users I don't feel too short changed as I have superior firepower on my side.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Sablemage View Post
              Of my last half-dozen campaigns, three have been broken by players using powers, and one is severely crippled by the expectation among the group that the single power-using character will do the same thing to this game. (By breaking the campaign, I mean it devolves to the point where one power-user dominates the game and the other players feel they are just watching him have all the fun.)

              ...
              That leaves me with two possibilities, either I am not handling this correctly as the GM, or the players concerned are right in asserting that ABs are overpowered. I am thinking the former is more likely as the latter would surely have come up in playtesting.

              ...
              [d] Ban the powers that are causing problems; so far that's Beast Friend, Boost/Lower Trait, Puppet, and Sloth/Speed. That list will grow over time as the players get more creative, until eventually there are no powers left.

              ...
              Has anyone else had this problem, and if so, how did you address it?
              I have not encountered that effect, and you have not provided sufficient information to determine why you are experiencing this problem.

              Do the player characters have exclusive access to magic? If not then why does the setting not have mechanisms for dealing with magic? (Similar to how modern society has had to adapt to widespread super-computers, reference libraries, and recording studios being in pockets.)
              If so then why were you mad enough to give player characters exclusive access to magic?

              Are you being overly generous with the effects of powers? Getting better at a skill for 30 seconds can be very useful, but it should not be eliminating challenges. Being able to get guard dogs to stand down, or local rodents to chew through wiring, or dolphins to rescue the characters when they go overboard is really useful but should not be breaking the campaign - unless you throw in communication for free. 30 seconds of mind control can be potent but it shouldn't be able to defuse most encounters, and certainly shouldn't be able to eliminate longer-term issues - 30 seconds is barely long enough to tell someone they are asking the wrong questions.

              Is it possible that you've constructed all challenges with a single point of failure? One NPC, object, or whatever that can be resolved to end the challenge. That kind of design is common in narrative fiction, especially TV, movies, and novels, that feature a single protagonist. Table top gaming generally has multiple protagonists, so the challenges should have multiple key points to ensure everyone gets time to shine; this has the added benefit of making the challenges better match with life experiences, increasing the verisimilitude of the game.

              Without more information, those are the only directions I can suggest.
              I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.

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              • #8
                I would try option B first. I’d explain that these certain Powers are causing issues and no fun for other players. Before you out right bam them, you would rather see them use them used responsibly.

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                • #9
                  How exactly are they using Powers to 'break the game'? More intel required.

                  I mean, sure, I've had power-users ace on their spellcasting/damage rolls to one-shot a villain, or perhaps bypass an elaborate trap/set peice because I forgot they had Intangibility, but I would not describe that as game-breaking. Moderately annoying at worst, but usually - brutally honest smackdown incoming - it was my fault for not designing/adapting the scenario to present an appropriate challenge.

                  There's a reason most high level dungeons in D&D or Pathfinder have some (usually bullshit) reason that players can't use Teleport or Dimension Door to just warp to the last room, or leave at a moments notice for a lovely long rest. I guess what I'm saying is, you might need to wield the in-game narrative as a club to nerf troublesome players.

                  Saying that... I did throw my group into an arena fight once, with a nullifying aura that prevented powers or magic items being used. The power user did not respond well, felt personally attacked, etc... You would think grown men would behave better, but I am often suprised.
                  Last edited by mikeawmids; 10-12-2021, 09:16 AM.

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                  • #10
                    Tweak the Benny=5 PP rule. Limit it (possibly to zero), and see what happens. Seems the least drastic option.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Sablemage View Post
                      [c] ...and restricting the New Powers Edge to one power, which may only be taken once per Rank. Fast, easy, probably gets the job done, but risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
                      One Power per Edge, and only once per Rank seems excessive. Try one Power per Edge only. Keep in mind, then if they're taking multiple Powers per Rank, they are not improving their Traits, taking other Edges that might be useful, etc.

                      Savage Summaries-RAW, with added info from Clint:Combat Actions,Cover,Healing,Using Powers,Grappling,Chases (all SWD)
                      Also:Persuasion (SWADE),Better Bosses (SWADE),Handling Illusions (SWADE), Better Combat Rating (system independent)
                      And:historical tech levels,generic SW sci-fi tech levels (both system indepdent)

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Joe Brown View Post
                        Tweak the Benny=5 PP rule. Limit it (possibly to zero), and see what happens. Seems the least drastic option.
                        One iteration of the Savage Pathfinder rules had a version where a Bennie = 1d4 extra Power Points (or was it 1d4+1?). They eventually rolled that back, but I thought the impacts were interesting.

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                        • #13
                          Thanks everyone - so, more information and reflections...

                          In all cases, the NPCs can access the same ABs and powers as the PCs. Maybe I'm just not as good at using them, maybe I need to read the power descriptions more carefully and be harsher in what I allow the PCs to do.

                          Three of the campaigns were sword & sorcery. The fourth is SF.

                          Campaign 1 used core Deluxe powers with the No Power Points setting rule (all others used Power Points). There were two spellcasters, the one with AB: Miracles didn't cause too many problems (Boost/Lower Trait was available but used sparingly) but the one with AB: Magic was overfond of Blast. However, the players concerned controlled themselves in the interests of the story. This was the least badly broken campaign.

                          Campaign 2 used Deluxe with the Beasts & Barbarians setting. The Enlightened Monk loaded up on Edges and Powers to increase both attacks per turn and damage per attack, and by Heroic level the party felt that if they could hold the line for the 3-4 turns it took him to power up, he could deal with whatever they were facing. (They were right, except for once.) The power that broke the camel's back here was Speed, by doubling the number of attacks. The player concerned resolved this unprompted by voluntarily retiring the PC and starting a new one.

                          Campaign 3 used vanilla SWADE as an experiment. Here someone with AB Magic did a lot of damage with Beast Friend, spying using the Mind Rider power and controlling various animals to attack on his behalf. (One thing I definitely did wrong here was allowing him to control multiple animals by controlling the herd/pack leader; he may be correct that horses follow the herd leader (he rides horses, I don't) but in game terms he should be charged 2-3 power per horse.) This was not helped by the party being mostly evil characters, with the AB Magic guy being the most out-and-out evil of all; that is not something I will allow again. The other players said they felt they were just along for the ride, watching the spellcaster solve all the encounters.

                          Campaign 4 is ongoing, again using vanilla SWADE. Here we have one psionic PC who has not done anything game-breaking, but is constantly being told by another player that powers must be nerfed because they are grossly overpowered (second player being the one with the AB Magic PC in campaign 3). A third player wants to try out AB Weird Science and is getting the same story. There were NPC opponents with the Puppet power, and the group was talked into fleeing the area of space they inhabited by the second player since "Puppet is so overpowered there is nothing we can do against it" (that despite the party having thoroughly defeated said NPCs once in combat).

                          Re-reading those paragraphs, it seems like the problem is one specific player. That suggests the answer is a conversation with him rather than reworking the rules.

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                          • #14
                            Well, at the very least in SWADE Speed as been retooled so it's not really broken especially given the action economy in SWADE. It's certainly possible to get to the point where a character can perform three action without MAP but it's still a three action limit and most players can get to the point where they can do 2 actions without MAP so there is less of a monopoly on having the most actions.

                            I'm not a huge fan of puppet myself even when used by the PC's. If allowed to its ultimate extreme it can make it so the puppeteer is the only one in the party that matters. Not much fun for everyone else. Having said that, however, there are counters to deal with it. Set guidelines as to what kinds of creatures can be puppetted and those that can't. It is a resisted power so it's not a gimme and it's not like the targets can just turn and slaughter teammates. At the least that's another check to resist the power. Also, the puppeteer doesn't get to give detailed instructions to their puppet. So whether NPC or PC there is a certain amount of wiggle room in following instructions.

                            Me: Kill them!
                            Me: Wait, what are you doing?
                            Puppet: Killing them with kindness, master.
                            Me: But that takes so loooooong!

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Sablemage View Post
                              ...by the second player since "Puppet is so overpowered there is nothing we can do against it"
                              Not trying to call this person specifically out, but it sounds a lot like someone who once tried to say that a Puppeted character should do anything as long as it doesn't physically harm themselves or allies.

                              I pointed out that the power says nothing about physical, and that it's limited by anything that could be defined as "direct harm," no matter the type of harm.

                              And of course as Radecliffe pointed out, the power is very specific that the controller does not get to dictate how the command is carried out.

                              I have to admit I think it's kind of funny the players were convinced to leave "the area of space" they were in because of a power with most likely a maximum 60-72 yard range. And if it's a futuristic game, it would also be a power that could be "defeated" with a smoke grenade or heck, possibly even a good Stealth roll (a character has to be able to see their target to affect it with a power).
                              Clint Black
                              Forum Admin & Rules Answer Guy
                              Savage Worlds Brand Manager

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