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I have been GMing (or judging if you use the vernacular from the rule book) a game of freebooters on the frontier, where 3 of my players have all chosen to become magic users. Each player has a focus which grants them some meager spell power allowing them to cast spells. Between the three they have 2 magic wands and an arcane orb. Each magic wand gives it's holder +1 spell power while the arcane orb gives it's holder +2 spell power. Now for a little while everyone was using everything as intended but at a certain point one of my magic users stole the arcane orb from its owner to get +1 power when casting a crucial spell. After this the players realized that the power gained from the magical focus could be stacked, and a single player could use every focus from the party to get +4 spell power and cast a very powerful spell. For a sense of scale each player has between 1 and 2 base spell power. To compound things the wands don't even have weight so for the magic-user already holding the arcane orb there is not even a weight penalty.

Now in principle I don't have any issue with this. If the characters pool all of their resources together they should be able to cast more powerful spells, however players have instead begun to perform a item shuffle each time they want to cast a spell that doesn't require immediate action, meaning that for the most part everyone just always casts very powerful spells. This I take issue with, because for one I feel like it starts to break the fiction and become more of a exploit and for two the players are just more powerful than I feel they ought to be at this stage in the game.

So this leads me to the question:

What can I do that will deter players from performing the item shuffle so frequently? I'd like to hand out reasonable consequences or costs for doing so while remaining in the fiction. For example one I like is telling the party that if they exchange items they are going to lose time (about 10 seconds or so), which in some cases is really valuable but in other cases is really inconsequential.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are these items specific to the Freebooters game or your own creations? Do their descriptions not include any stacking restriction? \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri May 15 '18 at 4:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri They are specific to the freebooters game and don't come with any stacking restrictions, they just give a plain bonus to spell power. \$\endgroup\$ – Wheat Wizard May 15 '18 at 4:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does Freebooters explicitly say they can be stacked? Because disallowing that would be easiest solution and also makes fictional sense. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe May 15 '18 at 5:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @okeefe No, the rules don't say much on whether they can be stacked but I would be rather surprised if it was not directly implied. The foci are each marked with a power bonus in a way identical to spell components which are most certainly designed to be stacked. While it doesn't say they can be stacked, if it were not the intention for them to be stacked I would really expect that to be mentioned somewhere. (Like armor in Dungeon World). I'm also hesitant to ban the practice outright because I do feel it does make sense to be able to draw from multiple power sources in certain circumstances. \$\endgroup\$ – Wheat Wizard May 15 '18 at 5:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ So basically the problem is one PC takes two wands and one orb and the player assumes this gives him +4 bonus, right? But why not, say, 10 wands for +10 bonus? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor May 15 '18 at 8:33
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There are two places you can push on this. They live more in story than in hard rules, so ultimately it's a matter of persuading people that you're right rather than pointing to the rulebook. Kind of a "hey, I've had some time to think this over, what's past is past but this is how I'm ruling from now on" thing.

1) Hands

If something works just by wearing it, it's got the worn tag. Other than that, equipment generally needs a free hand to use. There's only a two-handed tag in the base game, but the need to use hands is pretty well understood by everybody.

I mean, they don't think they can buy 20 shields (+1 armor) and be invincible, do they?

Hands aren't a hard limit generally. Even if you've got a two-handed weapon or something, it's assumed that you're not using stickum and you can get one hand "free enough" to use adventuring gear or whatever, just not while you're also using the weapon to full effect.

But "to full effect" is exactly what you're getting out of a power focus that you're using to cast a spell. So unless these channels for arcane power work just as well when you're using them like a circus performer doing a juggling act, the best you can hope for is one in each hand.

2) Personal

On the magic-user's playbook, their starting orb, staff, or wand is listed as their "personal magical focus". That suggests a certain "this only works for me" nature to them. Magic staves and orbs that anyone can use are rare finds worth hundreds of silver pieces.

If they do manage to come by an orb in their adventures, and the circumstances permit passing it around like the hags of legend, that's one thing. But that's something to work toward, not something you can just do with your freebie starting gear.

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As always, with Dungeon World: follow the fiction (and, of course, design more plausible fiction around itself)!

Zeroth, I recommend to always use the Same Page Tool before starting any campaign so you talk about your game together and everyone knows what to expect and in what direction to direct their play.

First, you haven't mentioned what these wands and orb look like and how they are handled so I'll presume default expected behaviour: they need to be held in hand and gestures of some sort need to be performed for them to do anything.

Second, there's no sense in trying to shoehorn Dungeon World into D&D too much. Try not to think of the game as having power stages and things that ought to happen at any stage and things that don't. Dungeon World is 80% about making up an awesome story, and 20% about crunching numbers and rules. D&D is the other way around (it seems to me, never played it, but played the German equivalent of it, Das Schwarze Auge/The Dark Eye). There's no need to keep the enemies to simple Troglodytes if your players discovered way to conquer demons and stuff.

Third, 'prevent' is such a strong word. Why try to forcefully prevent your players doing anything? Instead try to give some incentives for them to think about what they're doing, instead of having a simple universal solution to everything without consequences. Nothing more boring than figuring out the most efficient way to play a game and then having to mindlessly exploit that because, well, just because you can, I guess. Talking about pretty much any video game ever, you name it. Luckily, unlike video games, we are flexible at the table and can dynamically adjust the gameplay to react to whatever the players come up with to keep them having to think!

As I see it, fictionally properly handling this depends very much at the situation, so there'll be multiple sections in this answer.

Non-time critical non-combat situation: There's no pressure, there's no danger? Sure, go ahead and channel all your power so that it may rival the gods' powers! You will be known as the Ultimate Trifecta! Surely though, your display of unfathomable magic will not go unnoticed. Many a loremaster will want to study your secrets, and surely enough more shady folk will want to possess your power for themselves.

Time-critical situation: There's something that puts pressure on the adventurers here. Maybe they're trying to scale a cliff during heavy winds, or they're trying to stabilize an arcane bomb that would shatter the whole dungeon. The required dexterity to hand over or throw a focus, with the receiver already wielding two wands sure is unnerving. Especially considering it's a slippery arcane orb going to shatter if dropped. On the other hand, arcane foci usually focus the arcane energy of their wielder. Shocker, right? Well that arcane bomb about to detonate? It's eery purple glow seems to rapidly intensify everytime someone lets go of the concentration on their focus. I would be very careful when exchanging them around it.

Combat situation: Do these enemies know your party? Maybe, from the stories told about your powers. Maybe they are intelligent enoigh to realize your trick, if they survive the first blast. Or maybe there were survivors of an earlier encounter spreading the news. In any case, the enemies will do whatever possible to keep you from exchanging foci. They will probably try to separate or disarm you. Anyway, what danger could a magic wielder be without their magic focus? What is their mode of combat while someone else wields their focus? Surely enemies will also realise some weaknesses there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the second paragraph is not very applicable to freebooters. Freebooters is still very much in the vein of telling an awesome story without crunching too many numbers, but in freebooters the characters are expressly not heroes. The are average people exploring a cruel and unforgiving wild. Keeping the players weak and vulnerable is part of the atmosphere of the game. Other than that I think this answer is quite good. I hadn't thought about how the characters use their items, I simply knew they had to hold them. \$\endgroup\$ – Wheat Wizard May 15 '18 at 6:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Here is a relevant quotation from the rulebook: "The characters in Freebooters on the Frontier are not the powerful heroes of Dungeon World. They are but some among many who have forsaken lives of medieval drudgery in order to pursue great fortune at the edge of the civilized world. They are generally regarded as fools, destined for early graves. Treasures glitter in the darkness, awaiting plunder—and that darkness is littered with the remains of many who have gone before." \$\endgroup\$ – Wheat Wizard May 15 '18 at 6:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WheatWizard They may be those poor no-names at the start, but when they begin discovering their true powers that sentiment surely must change! If you (and your players!) actually want to stay at a low power level though, you should have an out of game discussion about your goals for the game! Also, use the "same page tool" if you haven't before any new campaign you start! \$\endgroup\$ – iraserd May 15 '18 at 6:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Like in Funnel World, which I have played, where at the start of the game everybody is a nobody but after 4 hours of being pelted with dangerousities, a few lucky newborn heroes emerge from the pit! \$\endgroup\$ – iraserd May 15 '18 at 6:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are probably right in that regard. I do think that the characters will eventually progress into more powerful or notable actors. (Unless they really enjoy being splattered across the mountainside, in which case I am happy to keep doing that) However I do think that unlike Dungeon World, Freebooters requires a slightly more strict progression path. I haven't played D&D (nor the german version) so I don't have that point of comparison. I do think it would be probably worth it just asking the players what they hope to achieve as an overarching goal, and work from there. \$\endgroup\$ – Wheat Wizard May 15 '18 at 6:34

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