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When I started my Dresden Files campaign, I had 6 characters:

  1. A Wizard
  2. Not quite a Necromancer
  3. A Psychic Grimoire
  4. A Red Court Infected
  5. A Changeling Alchemist
  6. An Emissary of Power

Over the past year, first I lost the Wizard, and now the Necromancer to RL obligations. Without a Wizard in the party, I'm concerned that the party might be underpowered or "mis-powered" against opponents that have magic.

Is this a valid concern, and methods exist to mitigate this problem? The rules don't really talk about campaigns without Wizards.

UPDATE: There is a very good answer in regards to the situation at hand, but I think this still doesn't address the core question- are Wizards a balancing problem when the party doesn't include Wizards, and what can be done to mitigate this problem?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Situation

I think this is more an opportunity rather than a problem. A similar thing happens in the books -- Yeah, spoiler alert.

In Ghost Story, Dresden being dead, leads to a lot of problems arriving into town. Lots of minor powers ally and work together against major threats. How are they doing? That's hard to say but would make for a good game nonetheless. The one thing that would need to be considered is the drop in tone: it would be a much darker campaign where the PCs may just have to chose the less bad options...

If you really wanted to make things easier for the PCs, you could have a NPC warden turn up from time to time. But that feels forced unless the remaining players work to get said Warden to come and help...

Balance

Wizards in the Dresdenverse are massively powerful. It is a feature of the books. One wizard can do pretty amazing things and Dresden is an inexperienced wizard! He's still learning things, is a youngster, and does not have a full mastery of even some of the basics. Yet, he is able to defeat major powerful foes by cunning, clever use of magic, and his friends. Any group that does not have wizard is going to feel the pain of not having a wizard. That should be a feature of any Dresden game. So, yes they are not balanced and should not be balanced.

Mitigation

  • Who cares? So you are now playing small fishes in a very large pond. Use your brains to survive and not raw power. It should lead to some dark and gloomy game play but should be really rewarding when the players work out how to beat much more powerful foes with cunning alone. To be honest, this is my favourite option.
  • Fred, your friendly warden (or however is the NPC wizard called). Of course, the PCs should work to get the warden's help and they won't be at the PCs's call all the time. Still, for those hard core bits, they would be useful.
  • The One Ring. So, how about giving the players a powerful artefact? ... By the power of Grey Skull.... Nah, stupid idea. ^_~
  • Julie, your mate: Hey, remember Julie who always wanted to try role playing? Why not give her a ring and add another member to your party?
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Ooh! I didn't think about that angle... –  wraith808 Mar 20 '12 at 14:56
    
After thinking about it for a bit, I think that maybe this doesn't answer- or perhaps obliquely answers the core question, but instead addresses the situation, i.e. are Wizards a balancing problem when non-Wizards face them. Updating the question with this. –  wraith808 Mar 21 '12 at 13:03
    
Answer edited. Does that work for you? –  Sardathrion Mar 21 '12 at 13:25
    
Awesome! I'm going to leave it open for a bit to let others chime in (as I've noticed that once there is an accepted answer, people tend not to contribute :-/)... but this is just awesome! Thanks! –  wraith808 Mar 21 '12 at 15:46
    
You are welcome. –  Sardathrion Mar 21 '12 at 16:04
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In a weird way, the problem is actually easier in this case. To begin with, we can examine: what makes wizards a balancing problem when the party does include wizards? How do Wizard PCs balance against non-wizard PCs?

It's inherent to the system that wizards are not just powerful but flexible. Wizards can use their power for a wide range of different situations, whereas most other supernatural powers are more situational. This is important in FATE, where flexibility is a huge advantage.

The balance for this lies in part in the fate point economy. Mortal characters have a much higher effective refresh, and correspondingly greater power to change their fate.

Non-wizard supernaturals, on the other hand, are rarely capable of a comparable range of effects, but are usually more powerful and much more reliable at doing the things they can do.

So: There are balance differences with a non-wizard party, but a lot of compensation is already built into the system. The total refresh of a party matters a lot more to their power level than exactly how that refresh is spent.

With that comparison in mind, we'll look at some specific strengths and weaknesses of wizards:

General

  • Weakness: Refresh. Wizard PCs have few fate points available; NPCs should show a lack of control reflecting that. Don't give them a lot of fate in hand. Make sure they have exploitable aspects. (This is still true if there are wizards in the party, of course.)

Combat

  • Strength: Flexibility. A wizard's big advantage. Evocation lets you cover pretty much any combat action.

    The thing is, barring a large skill advantage it isn't as good as it seems. Without taking a lot of stress, it's hard to get an unbeatable amount of power out of evocation. A wizard can be treated like anyone else holding a big dangerous gun: take cover, but don't panic.

  • Weakness: Endurance. A wizard's combat power is limited by their ability to evoke; when they run out of spare mental stress they get less dangerous. Let the party make plans to drag the fight out (or catch the wizard when tired from dealing with expendable cannon fodder...)

    A smart party with mental attacks can exploit this, of course.

  • Weakness: Lack of resilience. Wizards simply aren't as physically tough as other supernaturals, and don't generally have skills and stunts to spare for many combat skills.

    Of course, if the wizard is another type of supernatural, that's a whole other level of nasty. (Mavra is dangerous!) Don't go there until you've got the hang of the balance with a 'standard' wizard first.

  • Weakness: Numbers. Wizards don't generally come in large groups. Unless you have a very large advantage in skill level, it's very hard to raise a defence that will block strong attacks from several people, and still have actions and evocations to counterattack with. So dealing with a wizard in a simple fight isn't actually particularly difficult - just cooperate to get attacks through from a number of different directions.

  • Strength: Preparation. If the wizard is expecting a fight, none of the above weaknesses apply. A prepared wizard can deal with them. I'll discuss this in more detail under 'thaumaturgy' below.

Social

  • Strength: Contacts. A full White Council wizard (or That Other Group, he said in a vague and hopefully spoiler-free way) has a lot of contacts and friends in the magical world.

    However, this isn't particularly big problem for balance; it can be handled the same way as any other well-connected opponent. It may also represent an avenue of attack, of course.

Magical

  • Strength: Magic items. A wizard can easily craft focuses that shore up weaknesses or enhance strengths.

    This isn't a problem, as it actually balances out fairly well against stunts / skills / spare refresh. The fate point economy already takes this one into account.

  • Strength: Planning. A wizard can almost always achieve his goal, given time.

    This is the big plot problem to be aware of. Avoid plotlines in which an NPC wizard is planning to kill a party member directly, or other such goal. Instead, allow the party to interact with the wizard in such a way that the wizard is the focus of their attention - but not necessarily the other way around. Don't make them deal with a fully prepared wizard unless they've had a chance to find a weakness to exploit or a 'busy time' to attack. (Note that even Dresden usually wins against wizards when they're busy with some other thing and can't interrupt.)

  • Strength: Thaumaturgy. This is the number one issue that you must address. In Dresden Files a prepared wizard can build up a truly ridiculous action bonus to produce a spell that simply can't be countered effectively. (The example in the book covers how to produce the 'instant death, no survival' spell from Storm Front, after all.)

    The thing is, that's just as true if the party does have a wizard - a major prepared working will still blow through any defence the PC wizards can throw up with a hasty evocation. The standard advice on how to handle this still applies:

    1. Remember that thaumaturgy needs preparation. Give the players chances to find out what's coming, to interrupt the gathering of ingredients, or to simply attack before the ritual is complete.

    2. A wizard can't prepare for an attack he's not expecting. Let the players naturally happen onto, and interfere with, the wizard's plans, instead of being a threat he's aware of in advance.

  • Strength: Thaumaturgy. Yes, I already said that. But it goes both ways. The biggest weakness of a non-wizard party compared to one with a wizard is the lack of ritual power. Without that option, the party can't build a single killer trick-up-their-sleeve in the same way.

    Compensate for this by making sure they don't need to. Don't protect the vampire's lair with a single massive barrier to overcome (unless you've also provided some C4); substitute a number of weaker walls. Don't use single very-tough creatures without weak spots, because the party has less ability to research a 'killer punch' - again, use more weaker creatures, or an opponent who can be beaten without requiring a single massive skill total.

Addressing your specific party: It sounds like your party still have a flexible range of magical punch even without the actual wizards. (Psychic grimoire? Awesome!) If you find you need to give them a little extra magical cover because they're losing horribly, the Emissary should provide a convenient plot hook for emergency help from something bigger... and an appropriate price tag.

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+1 - Very nice writeup! One thing that I will say that I think that you didn't address (especially in relation to combat) is rotes. A rote doesn't require stress to cast, and depending on your conviction, discipline, and lore, can be very powerful. Of course you're limited in the rotes that you can have, but they sort of blow this section wide open. –  wraith808 Oct 19 '12 at 17:22
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Hmmm... good point. I sort of had them in mind under "preparation", but should have said more. I'll think about this and edit later. –  Tynam Oct 19 '12 at 18:31
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I believe in the chameleon NPC principle. Especially with the modular milestones of the FATE system. One day Mr. Carpenter shows up, another day Murphy tags out. Conversely, the Necromancer character can still be around and just be NPC'd, something like out of the movie "The Gamers" where the character is there for all intents and purposes but every excuse in the book will sideline them when it would bog the game, or they get a little scripting for when their talents are vital.

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