How to make adventure design easier ?

I made a rough-and-ready arts calculator for NPC magi that takes their Hermetic age and spits out three different arts templates: specialist, typical, generalist.

It allocates base xp for apprenticeship then a fixed number of xp per year (I should make it allocate more for youth and less as they age), then converts that into arts scores.

For when you quickly need 'arts for a wizard 35 years out of gauntlet' it's great. It's not super-accurate, but its usually good enough.

As for per-player balancing - it gets really tricky when you start talking specialists. Magi can be super scary in combat, but they can also be total wusses if their area of specialty isn't something with a combat focus.

It's one of the things I like about Ars Magica: age isn't necessarily an indicator of combat prowess.

There is a similar system in one of the Tales of Power adventures. Not as detailed as you mention, but it does a pretty good job IMO.

There are two things I'm a fan of for interplayer balancing.

  1. Niches. If Bob is great at Creo Te, and builds all their houses, Jim has hilariously cool combat tricks, and Mary has awesome wards they are all super useful. It basically auto-balances. Now, yes you need stories where they need to build buildings (or islands), and combat, and wards (although you always need more wards). Everyone shines.
  2. Support roles! It doesn't really matter how awesome someone is at warding their fellow magi if the other magi do all the work. They can't really overshadow anyone. Now you need a player who is okay with support, but if they are okay it prevents anyone being overshadowed. (Well them overshadowing anyone.) It might mean you need to rebalance the adventure of course...

In my experience, this is only OK in very small doses.

It is a very dangerous idea as it is all too easy, as storyguide, to fall into the trap of changing things to undermine the clever plans of the players/player characters. Storyguides sometimes forget that it is often all too transparent, to the players, when things are being shuffled around to frustrate the unexpected ideas (or luck) of the players, and I think that nothing kills the interest/fun in an adventure/scenario quicker than the players realising this.

For my two cents, I think that there are basically two "adventures" in ArM.

  • Stories which the player-characters proactively cause.
  • Stories which antagonist NPC characters cause.

The first sort basically write themselves; the players decide what the player characters are doing and go out and do it. For these kind of stories the storyguide, really just has to get out of the way, but he can "prepare" by thinking in advance about who the surrounding supernatural, and mundane inhabitants (and nearby magi) are. So when the player characters do something the storyguide has an idea about who might notice, who might be offended, who might be in the way, and what they might do about it. In this sort of story it is responsibility of the player to ensure that her character is doing something that makes an interesting story. It is perfectly fine for a player character to have a goal of sitting around in a lab working on some long-term Fabulous Extension of Hermetic Theory. But the cost, to the player, is that this is generally boring. So, it is possible for the players to thus preclude this kind of story by having player characters that are either too cautious or too boring. The storyguide can also preclude these sorts of stories, by being too aggressive at blocking the attempts of the player characters to do things.

For the second sort, I think that the important thing is for the storyguide to not worry about balance, whether each PC will have a chance to "shine" etc, but just to have a really clear idea of what the antagonist is trying to do, and how the antagonist thinks he/she will achieve that (and to pick an antagonist who is doing something that will run into the magi, of course). The story can then just naturally develop in-play based on the player character responses. Where these stories tend to run awry, in my experience, is when the storyguide doesn't have a clear idea about what the antagonist is actually trying to achieve, but instead has some sort of pre-planned "narrative" in mind. Maybe the storyguide thinks there will be an "investigative phase", followed by "a skirmish", followed by "a chase", followed by "a final showdown" (or whatever). The problem is that if the storyguide has such a pre-planned "narrative" then a lot of the in-play activity/decisions tend to be around frustrating the player's attempts to deviate from the "narrative".

I don't think adventures need to be about combat. But many adventures can benefit from an "action" component in one or two scenes. As for myself, I do like playing combat magi, but with depth of character. In fact, Roberto of Flambeau is such a well designed combat magus, that he hardly ever gets a chance to fight. SG's throw mysteries and riddles at him, and he (or I rather) am just not good at that. So I was forced to rely on developing depth of character.
Click the link and feel free to clone Roberto for your saga. Use him as a template for others.

You are assuming my players don't know I do this. I'm quite explicit in saying that I do this.

My game's not much about combat though, so...

If I designed a combat magus, and the SG then deliberately prevented me from being in combat, I'd be pretty annoyed. I think my character design is a pretty clear signal of my idea of fun.

Sure. But if you designed a combat magus for a game about politics, and we're told explicitly what the saga was about, then what?

Oh, sure. That's just not the vibe I took from the earlier post.

That's my point; it makes it much less fun, if the players know this is happening. It is OK in small doses, when used to compensate for catastrophic creature/plot design mistakes by the storyguide. But it should never be the default option.

The problem is, if it is the default, that the players will come to feel that (or are explicitly told that) if they have a clever idea (or a good dice roll) which unexpectedly foils the NPCs, the storyguide will just shuffle things around to counter the PCs good idea/luck. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about a combat, political, or other sort of story.

Clearly your mileage varies, but again you seem to be assuming that the point of this is in some way adversarial. It's not, and, no, it simplify doesn't have the deadening effect you suggest. Your assertions that it must do not accord with my experiences.

I think you're discounting the frequency that many of us have encountered the "killer GM." Changing things at the last minute smacks of the moves of a "killer GM" and the relationship between players and a "killer GM" is entirely adversarial. You really need to examine closely as to whether or not changing things at the last minute is going to make the overall scenario better, and what better means. You mention the game contract a lot in your posts, so I tend to think that you make this adjustment to encounters to keep them challenging explicit in the games you run. Do you always do this, so that the PCs never overcome an obstacle easily, or just sometimes? What is your rubric for deciding to change things last minute?

I generally prefer to stretch things out in the campaign rather than adjust the encounter. It's so much simpler to handle things in a broad story arc, and it doesn't invalidate the PCs actions entirely, and is much harder to detect what some players would call shenanigans. Players like to know the rules under which they play, the more the SG controls those rules and the world, the less the players will enjoy the overall game.

My rubric for when to change things is based on the feel of the table. There's a cure for the Killer DM. Just never play his games. It's that simple. The Ars Magica combat rules are not balanced, or fair, and if you look back to 2nd edition, you can see they were deliberately not designed to be. Faeries in ArM5 can change role in midcombat, deliberately, and it's not to make life easier for killer GMs, it's because simulating the feel of faerie stories, rather than the feel of realistic combat, is the goal of the book.

Also, I'd point out that your idea that I'm controlling the world less if I don't adjust monsters during combat is false, because I create the monster in the first place and if I were a killer DM who did not want to manage the combats in this way, then my monsters would just have greater combat power. I'm not clear how that's fair, and I'd suggest that you saying what my players will or won't enjoy is you projecting you needs onto my game.

Your last statement works two ways. You see that, right? :smiley:

Yes, and? 8)

The OP asked : "How do I make it easier to design adventures?" and my answer is "Don't sweat the detail on the monsters." Yours seems to be "Stat everything, because if you make stuff up as you go along then you are a cheater and the players hate that." How does your style assist the original poster? So far as I can see, you're just telling him to put in more work.

Ars is ridiculously overburdened with setup: why demand more?

Perhaps it is my experience with the Boy Scouts.

Adventure design is easier when I know who is on the adventure, before I've fully designed it. Whether I have to contrive story events to make it so that certain characters are unavailable, or engage in some meta-game discussion with the players is irrelevant. Where I have the most problems with an adventure is when everyone wants to bring their magus along on the adventure, oh and their companion character, too. If players want an adventure like that, I'll oblige, but it will be different than one designed for one or two magi who bring assorted grogs and one or two companions along. I'm flexible enough to allow for some last minute changes, too.

I never said I made stats for everything, but I do stat the really important stuff. I also design the adventures for the characters going on them; a mix of challenging and easy encounters placed to make things interesting[1]. Not every encounter has full stats, but the ultimate, and possibly penultimate ones do. My method involves controlling the characters involved and designing accordingly.

I was a Scout leader for eight years (we dropped "Boy" from the name when we let girls in in the 1970s). 8)

I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that you should contrive moments for characters with particular strengths to shine, if that's what you mean by designing to the characters attending.

Scouting, here in the US, I think is still segregated. I can't be sure. I left before getting my Life badge, as I wasn't going to do the work necessary to be an Eagle Scout.

Sure, I want characters strengths to shine. Of course, sometimes that means highlighting another character's weakness.

At the risk of stirring the hornet's nest further, I think that AM5 is designed and sustained editorially as something of a sandbox game, and one of the principles of a sandbox is that the GM has everything figured out ahead of time and the players can do whatever they want, and go wherever they want, and whatever they encounter will be what is "actually there," by which they mean, "what the GM knew was there before we decided to come."

This is, I think, in contrast to a lot of more free form or story-based gaming where, for example, the GM changes things as the players are moving through the story because everyone at the table agrees its more fun that way. Tim's example of a dragon which suddenly develops acid blood is a classic example of this. It's not done to screw over the players, it's done because, hey, we have been building up to this dragon fight for three hours now, and we want it to be exciting. What is written down on the dragon's character sheet is, honestly, not especially sacred.

There are a lot of games today that do this, and there's a long tradition of it, from the recent Fate to classics like Amber Diceless and plenty in between. Every table is going to have a different tolerance and enjoyment level, but for my part, I very much enjoy both ends of the scale. And although AM is officially very much a sandbox, in which a GM can know a bewildering amount of detail about the setting before the players even make characters, it can absolutely be run -- and can be enormous fun -- as a more free form experience where no one even rolls dice, and where the GM and players are all making shit up as they go along.