Do encounters need to be balanced?

It is worth bearing in mind, that:

  • it is possible for resurrection (and other miracles) to occur in ArM --- just that it is more-or-less at storyguide / troupe fiat rather than being an easily PC accessible mechanic.
  • the troupe style system means that even a TPK doesn't have to be the end of the story / saga (if the troupe doesn't want it to be). Even the total destruction of the covenant doesn't have to end the story. This holds true for other games too, even in D&D a TPK doesn't need to end the campaign. ArM is just more obviously set-up to continue despite such events.

Although that's true, the respawn time in our game seems quite long for a game which is designed to allow TPK.

I do recall a wonderful opponent I threw in the way of one covenant. They were dealing with a nearby small town to curry some favor with a noble. They were searching all around the village in different ways to try to track down the demon or diabolists who were tormenting it. It was actually a really wimpy faerie who needed people to fear the presence of such and then cleanse the town. They spent a lot of effort working through different avenues to try to find who and what they were looking for. Once they found it a quick Pilum of Fire left nothing but ash. It had such low Might and was so small there was no issue penetrating nor reaching overkill on damage. But it was a great challenge for the mighty magi. And they played into its story beautifully in the end, while also doing what they agreed to do. I loved that it was such a good challenge for them without having to balance the combat strength of their opponent against their combat strength at all. It felt a lot like "actual size" from the Halloween episode of Buffy; that was probably in the back of my mind when I sketched out the story.

I must respectfully disagree. I think that's fabulous and would help immerse me very much in the world. I mean, Faeries are literally there for the stereotypical storybook act. Angels and demons are there to play the morality checkerboard pieces, for creatures you need to play those roles. Magic creatures, however, are pretty much more perfected natural things. Most intelligent creatures prioritize their survival and the continuation of their goals, and I would expect them to do such unless they have some sort of valid (though not necessarily sensible) reason not to. If I'm going after an intelligent Magic creature and there's some sort of bargaining chips that could be put on the table, I imagine one or both of us will go that route to try to reach a mutually-advantageous agreement rather than risk death on a battle that may or may not be worth more than the agreement we could come to.

In other words, I think you're wrong about your talk about how the drakes acted. They acted exactly how I, at least, would expect a Magic drake to act. If I want to fight a drake, I'll go after a Faerie drake, assuming they're just as strong. Faerie vis isn't even worth meaningfully less to magi. Expecting a straight fight with Magic creatures who don't have a good reason to fight is like expecting an Infernal creature you signed a pact with to stay and risk itself to protect you during a disadvantageous fight; it might be what a player would want or even expect, but that doesn't mean it would match the fluff. Mythic Europe has its own fluff, separate from that of many fantasy worlds.

In regards to the topic, I usually try to balance a creature or person around their role within the world. My usual style of worldbuilding to keep things coherent is to imagine "what would the world do if the PCs didn't do anything?" between sessions, and decide character roles and the like around that (unless I'm busy basing them around things relevant to the PCs, like their backstories and Flaws and such). This includes deciding how powerful something needs to be to fulfill a certain role in the context of the world, modified slightly if I need to cover certain bases to make them fun challenges for the PCs to deal with.


You're not getting it. It's a drake. The magic/faerie/infernal/divine realms are purely an Ars Magica artifact, and authors of the line have explicitly acknowledged this. In thinking about dragonkind, we go back to sources as original as possible, and to a lesser extent to modern ideas about how drakes behave. None of this material discusses the realm, because realms exist within AM only to help us play. They are pure game artifacts.

So if we have a drake not acting like a drake because of the rules, it might be what you expect, because you are playing the rules, but is not what anyone ignorant of Ars Magica rules but who has a very good idea of what drakes are likely to do would expect. Though of course, once that person had seen my absolutely great (no smiley here; I am preparing for the Trump era) rp of that drake, he'd agree that it was the best thing ever, and that I made drakes great again.

The issue wasn't that an intelligent character did the smart thing, but that under very few circumstances does it make sense for the character to do the things that are things the thing does.

It's sort of like having a version of Ars Magica in which reading books and doing things in labs are bad for magi. Of course, the intelligent magus is going to avoid doing those things, and that's the point.



You can build a really intelligent ArM5 magical dragon acting like you feel it should. That's what Personality Flaws and RoP:M p.48 Essential Flaws are good for. They also help to pay the extra qualities of your dragons/dragonets.

Think of Mr. Arkadin's story of the scorpion and the frog ( ):

And then check the end of oh so clever Mr. Arkadin proper at ... mr-arkadin and find

BTW, by reading this thread end to start it took me several minutes to figure out that your drakes did not look like this :slight_smile: :


Given that faerie drakes are designed to act like storybook drakes, the rules do support this. What you appear to be claiming is that the rules are broken because they also support a story that you admit was fun to play. I have to admit I find that perspective difficult to understand.

(Timothy's conception of the Faerie realm is genius, even if it can be described as "faeries are narrativist roleplayers, and some of them even know it". It's like Excel having an embedded flight simulator; Ars Magica has an embedded narrativist RPG.)

Quoted because... Well, just because.

I don't think I agree with this statement. One the one hand, any Ars Magica game can be as narrativist as the storyteller and players want. On the other hand, working with Faeries involves every bit as much of the Excel-like fiddly bits as a story that does not involve Faeries. Actually, Faeries even involve extra levels of complication with the additional rules for pretenses and the like.

In general, the stark split between Faerie and Magic doesn't work for me. The faeries come off as much too ephemeral to me, while the magical creatures come off as rather dry and static. I'd like Magic to be just a bit more Faerie-like and Faerie to be just a bit more concrete.

While I really, really like how faeries are depicted in Ars Magica 5th edition, I would point out that one should give credit where credit is due: "faeries are narrativist roleplayers, and some of them even know it" is the concept at the basis of Exalted:the Fair Folk, published about 4 years before RoP:F.

Incidentally a flight simulator embedded in a spreadsheet software is really, really bad, for many reasons - among them size and security issues!


Yeah. Either my perspective is even weirder than usual, or I need a better way to explain it. Or both.

One more try.

I don't need game rules. But I do like them, sometimes obsessively (that's on me.) It's fun to crank the gear and see what comes out. Or find loopholes. Or something. I also like 'fluff' because, well, that's where everything is. Without fluff, I could be playing Go. (Poorly.)

When people online, and not just here, talk about rules being "broken," they tend to mean "that character is more powerful than I like," or "that option is too powerful." But to me, it just means powerful.

When I think of something being broken, I think in terms of "I turned the crank and what comes out does not match the 'fluff,'" that is, the descriptive and narrative world and the mechanical world do not correspond nicely.

For example, a lot of people don't like demons in AM. I actually do, but that's another story. Regardless, the rules for them are not broken: Follow the rules and you end up with beings incapable of doing good, not even able to pretend for long. The rules for Goetia result in Hermetic Goeticists that are perhaps too powerful because they get to use 2 Arts instead of 1 Art + 1 Ability, but I don't see that as broken. (I still might want to fix it though :smiley:.)

The issue I had with the intersection of the rules for playing magic drakes versus the words I would normally associate with drakes is that they don't correspond. I had fun just shrugging, playing the drakes who lived by the rules, and ignoring the narrative that told me what drakes are. But I can have fun with things I consider broken. Why, I drove a Toyota pickup for 18 years, and all sorts of things were broken on that...

Total genius. I greatly admire much of what Timothy has written for AM5. I laughed out loud for real when I started reading Faeries. "Faeries live to be NPCs. Cognizant faeries know it. Most players and GMs are Incognizant, and their characters certainly are." (Inspired, I wrote up a teenage faerie princess who eloped with a magus to satisfy his story flaw. Her signature insult, especially to her mother the queen, "You are soooo incognizant." (She herself was only partially cognizant.))

(Though there is a flaw: Immersing a character in the embedded narrtivist game can inflict penalties on the character in the surrounding game. This anti-reward does not encourage more. Not a big flaw though, because it is right in a larger sense: A Journey to Faerieland is not to be Taken Lightly.)

And by my lights, the rules for Faerie are not broken at all, in fact the opposite: Turn the crank and you will get things that act like faeries, and the stories around them are right too. (I'm sure someone can come up with an exception.)

OTOH, I can see why some people dislike those rules: The AM faerie 'fluff' does not correspond to any conversation medieval people would have about supernatural beings. It is difficult to wrap your mind around that crank and start to turn it. It might have been more apt (to use another Timothy contribution) to choose a simpler crank.



I will sidetrack my own thread a moment to say how much I strongly agree with you. I hate the term "broken," because it really means "more powerful than I think the baseline level of the game should be," but that takes a lot longer to write, and requires one to admit that the opinion on whatever is being examined is just that, opinion.

On a side note, I personally hate the terms "fluff" and "crunch" as well, as I feel it tends to denigrate setting over mechanics, at least in other fora. I don't often find it discussed here. It's not usually the intention, but occasionally it is, and often people don't even think of it, but I do, and that's what I think.

Back to your excellent discussion of Ars Magica and whether encounters/scenes/situations need to be balanced.


I strongly agree with that definition of "broken". That's probably why I also agree with most of your specific examples.

Here, I disagree, because I think you have mistaken the world intention for Magic creatures. Faerie creatures are the ones that follow all the classic stories; Magic creatures do not care about the stories. From a meta-game perspective, they both exist because it is fun both to follow the genre conventions, and to violate them. (One could say that Hermetic magi have to be magic, because they violate just about every convention that the real Middle Ages had for anything.)

To me, the big advantage of this crank is that it gives you faeries that are beautiful and dangerous, hard to characterise as good or evil, and utterly alien from a human perspective. Those characteristics strike me as being central to the modern conception of faeries, and since the magic/faerie distinction is a modern import, that's appropriate. The bonus is that it is actually quite easy to play faeries defined in this way, which is not something that can be said for most utterly alien motivation sets.

The dates mean that it could be an influence. Timothy?

Didn't stop Microsoft.

There is a lot to digest here. Many comments and counterpoints. Where to start?
To begin with, I state the question is invalid to begin with. It is like asking if conversations should be green or if songs should be on the left side of the shelf. I exaggerate because I do know what you mean and what others mean when they use that vocabulary. But "balance" does not exist. It is not a war game or a strict strategic simulation. It is a story game. The goal of the game is to create stories. Therefore the true objective is to create &/or participate in an enjoyable social experience and be able to move on to the next one.
Balance never enters into the equation, except as part of the illusion. Rules are tools used to create illusions. Pixels if you will. A means by which to communicate one's vision of the setting and/or their place in it. It is not a machine, it cannot be maintained purely by "turning a crank". It is always and ever a social construct. Mechanics, rules and house rules, also serve as a Social Contract. If you don't want to deal with the social game, play a computer game. If you don't like the rules and just want to socialize, hang out at the bar/coffee shop or post on forum boards and have philosophical discussions abut niche topics. If you hate rules and people just the same, then stfu and write a novel or something.

As for encounters, i actually never know what to expect. I just let people do stuff. And they find all kinds of stuff to do. Which, by the way, brings me to something that irks me about ArM5. Specifically unique to ArM5, afaik. The whole "Story Hook & Story Flaw" concept. Flaws are just Flaws. And every aspect of defined game reality is a potential story. Every Virtue, Flaw, Boon, Hook, and more. I can use your Mentor as a story, I can use your Inventive Genius as a story. Or any V/F you have can cause you to act in such and whatever way that inspires/drives a story. Or I can pretty much ignore it an let you deal with it. Hooks/Flaws provide more of a frame work of the fictional world at hand.
I partially retract that. Since I pretty much sandbox everything, your character's story flaws often influence what you want to build in that sandbox and/or others may want to build upon it.
Still, they are all story potential. Virtue or Flaw.
And sometimes "hooks" are "bumpers".
Most of the time they are just there. Sometimes things never ever ever come into play. That Virtue only got used once years ago, that Flaw has slid by for years and no one seems to care. But it doesn't matter. The character did many other things anyways and has ups and downs and has grown and provided fun all along the way.

Is that what you mean by "Balanced Encounters"? Should they flow in a wave with consistent ups and downs? Should the players feel that the ratio of challenge versus reward is appropriate for the abilities of their characters and actions as players?
The long answer is No. For all the reasons I have just gone through.
The short answer is Yes. I can say no more upon that.

And now for my Drakes!
[size=50](use me as an example, tell a story no one knows anything about, cite things out of context, muttermuttermutter...[/size]
Ovarwa mentiones the time he played a set of 3 NPC firedrakes in my saga a long long time ago. Before the reboot. What he forgets to mention is that crazy Ken K has all kinds of crazy ideas and I did a crazy song and dance to satisfy what he was looking for. :mrgreen:
They were all intelligent, one was just smarter than the rest. And he reconceived them as Vis eaters. Which was way out and wonderful and worked as a great gimmick ever since. And they had twice as many Virtues, not Qualities. RoP Magic says to do that anyways. What I mainly changed was Dragon Breath, to be projected from Personal Range instead of Voice.
I remember that adventure now. It was just a random "go out there and hunt some dragons and do whatever" sandbox thing. Then it forked into two or three different stories. The one set of characters defeated the biggest baddest drake wayyyyy too quickly. Players will always outnumber the SG and the odds are they will outwit or surprise you more often then not. So I improvised and had the grandfather dragon step in using mortal guise, bargained for his favorite son's life and banished him to Africa for seventy seven years. And in that deal, the three intelligent drakes were made off limits to hunting.
So that whole encounter, dating back however long ago, is an excellent example of a successful encounter that was utterly unbalanced and succeeded because of that reason! Terribly unbalanced. The PC's defeated the "first boss" with a multicast spell I didn't account for. One Flambeau magus was all it took to knock the dragon out cold. Understandably, I quite appreciated that. Then, improvising on the spot, I introduced a "top boss" the PC's had no hope of defeating. Might score off the scale. But they had an advantage with which to use as negotiation. So the end result was a satisfying challenge with a satisfying reward.
And that event continues to have reverberations years later down the line!
So the rules work. Yes. I had to make them work. It is a social RPG, not a computer game. So if the question is "can I make these rules work?", the answer is Yes. And though I am talented I am not that smart. So therefore the rules work well enough as to serve their intended purpose. Which is to entertain people of our niche.
My Name is Mark Faulkner, and I am proud to be a Gaming Geek :mrgreen:


It might help to think of rules as something found in a bed. Then "fluff" is a good thing and "crunch" is entirely unwanted.



No, I've not read Exalted.

My take on faeries is based on the work of an Australian (UK resident) academic called Diane Purkiss, published as "Troublesome Things". If Exalted has the same approach, it may be that they also used her work as a foundation.


That might have been the intention. But I only got to see the implementation, and that intention did not happen, or at least did not happen with sufficient consistency for me to notice it. Certainly, however, that intention was never stated in the rules. Also certainly, counterexamples abound, in which things that conform to story and tradition were relegated to the Magic Realm. Examples:

  • Titans and anything related to them
  • Ghosts
  • Witches
  • Various Celtic stuff
  • Benandanti and others of that sort

We even get a magic kelpie (!! I found that absolutely weird, even unfortunate, without knowing about this intention) and magic mandrakes and.... All based on the stories.

So no, I expect dragons to act like dragons, with different emphases based on their domains. Just like the 4 wolves in the core rules, which I thought was wonderfully done.

The rules talk of faeries being focused on people, and talk of magic beings caring or not caring according to their nature. Nothing about this intention, which is absolutely new to me.

The faerie/magic distinction in AM is modern, because I think it was invented for AM. I have not seen it anywhere else, except perhaps in games that were influenced by AM. (But I have seen distinction between faeries and other beings of folklore, simply on the basis that faeries are specific to certain cultures. This distinction is very common in other rpgs, though usually the original cultures have been lost or ignored.)

I totally agree with you about these advantages, to the point of suggesting that a GM would do well to play all NPCs as faeries, with some minor rule changes to suit each kind. So demons are faeries whose stories are about corrupting people, and they even bring auras to suit, and that peasant girl NPC exists only to look as pitiful as possible in order to inspire the PCs to do something about the local baron, who is also a faerie who exists only to make life difficult for the PCs, and who in a very real sense is the same faerie as the peasant girl: The GM.

GMs are faeries who suck the vitality out of players. This vitality is measured by the hours wasted, sacrificed to the faeries, time that could have been spent in the real world.

And don't get me started on writers, let alone line editors....



...and God forbid the most perilous faeries all, Sid Meiers and Brian Reynolds...


Conversations should be green. Too many people's emissions exhibit a woeful content to CO2 ratio.

It depends upon the the shelf, and the system for cataloging what goes where.


Would it help to think of it as using a True Name for an AC to summon you? :slight_smile:/2

In other words, it was utterly unbalanced and succeeded despite that reason. You added stuff on the spot to create a new balance.

(I have been avoiding details that I don't think are relevant to this thread for clarity and to save typing.)



As I see it, the peasant girl doesn't exist to motivate the PCs. I put here there to motivate the PCs, which is a totally different thing.

I really like ArM5's narrativist elements. Elements like Vitality. The idea that faeries enact stories - that's not an embedded narrativist game, it's... just a weird NPC.

I don't really care if the idea of faeries existing to enact stories is medieval or not - what I care is that it isn't an idea I'm attracted to. I'm not saying it's bad, either - just that personally, it doesn't work for me.

Now, I do agree it makes faeries very alien yet playable. I just don't like them being alien like that. (The same goes to Fifth Edition's virtue-less demons.)