Thursday, July 8, 2010
Using Maho in your Game
I recall when we first took a look at the maho rules during the early parts of playtesting. Like many people who read them now, we were concerned that they may in fact be over powered. But Design assured us that that was the point. Maho in 4th Edition was meant to represent a stronger, darker and scarier thing.
And in that regard I believe the design goal has succeeded. Maho is scary. There are of course concerns that using maho may unbalance a game. The side bar on page 267 gives a way to balance maho in regards to it's use with PC Spider characters. Those same methods can also work for NPC's. What follows are a few more suggestions on how to use maho in a game with out turning it into a party killer.
First a few simple House Rules that can make surviving an encounter with a maho-tsukai easier. First and foremost is allowing fingers of Jade to act as protection. For every finger of Jade a character possesses increases the TN of a maho spell targeting them by 5. A GM may also consider allowing the Advantage Magical Resistance to work with maho. Combined with Jade protection these two alone should help to increase surviving an encounter with a maho-tsukai.
In addition to the above house rules a GM should also remember that a maho-tsukai can not wound more than one victim per round. This can be handled in one of two ways.
The first is that the maho-tsukai be allowed to wound his first victim at the end of the round he completes the spell on. Treating the action as a part of the spell's chant.
The second is to require the maho-tsukai to wound his victim at his action in the round following the completion of his spell. This method treats the act of attacking as a normal complex action. This only allows for one attempt at spilling blood to power a spell per round, unless of course the maho-tsukai in question is allowed to make the attack as a simple action.
When dealing with willing cultist ready to lay down their lives for the maho-tsukai the GM may wish to roll initiatives. This gives your players a chance to restrain and otherwise remove the cultist as a threat for powering the spell. Do note that the act of killing them by the PC's won't count towards powering the spell.
There are of course non mechanical concerns as well. You wouldn't toss your PC's at a Rank 5 Hida if they were rank 1 characters so why toss them at a maho-tsukai who has spells that can kill the entire party?
Careful spell selection is key to using a maho-tsukai. A maho-tsukai should only cast Touch of Death, for instance, if you're seeking to destroy the party, or you truly think they can handle it. Such of spell of course is likely best used when the party itself is close to the spell's Mastery Level of 5.
In some cases the spell's themselves should be treated as plot points. Summon Oni is a great spell for an arrogant maho-tsukai who thinks he can control what he brings forth. The point of the encounter would then shift from trying to kill the maho-tsukai to dealing with the summoned Oni. Other good plot spells are Summon Undead Champion and Essence of Undeath which can lay the ground work for the evenings encounter.
A more subtle balancing factor is taint and shadowland powers. When deciding what maho spells you're going to give your prospective holy terror of Jigoku you should bear in mind how much taint he has and what shadowland powers and mutations he might have. Shadowland powers can go a long way to making a maho-tsukai more challenging with out arming them with spells that you feel might bring an abrupt end to your campaign.
However the most balancing effect for a maho-tsukai is to consider his personality of the maho-tsukai. I have found when designing an NPC villain for a game that I can make him as powerful as I want, so long as I give him the right personality to fit the kind of threat I want him to be.
If I make a maho-tsukai who is most likely to go off the deep end and kill everyone in the village then I will probably limit his maho spell selection to useful spells but ones that won't ruin my campaign when the inevitable happens.
On the flip side a smart calculating maho-tsukai may have Touch of Death, since he is more inclined to wait till the right moment and the right person to use it on. Villains who show some restraint are villains more inclined to have the patience to learn the more powerful spells. They also live the longest.
The last piece of advice I can give with dealing with maho is don't be afraid to fudge a few rolls in favor of the players. GM's are people and sometimes we overestimate the resourcefulness of the party. If it seems like the maho-tsukai is on the cusp of destroying your adventuring samurai then pull back from the brink. Have him fail that crucial role. Or maybe he remembers he left the iron on somewhere.
Time and experience will of course help you better judge what is and isn't to much for your players where maho is concerned.