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Issue:

I'm running a long campaign and recently one of my players mentioned feeling a bit left out, not being a caster. I kind of have to agree; all the PC's are pretty well-rounded so there isn't much that only this character can do, whereas there are many things that can only be accomplished with magic. I don't get the sense that it's about having the spotlight so much as a clear role on the team. The player is an equal participant in talking things over and solving the challenges, but the character doesn't then have an equal share in implementing the solutions.

Context:

  • The game is about 50-50 combat and puzzle solving (there's also dialogue to move the plot along, of course, but none of the PCs are that interested in social challenges.) Some of the puzzles have mundane solutions, others magical (this character has made good use of an Immovable Rod.) Combat has been primarily standard-issue fantasy monsters, including some casters.
  • The system is GURPS 3e, with Magic and Grimoire as the only supplements (though I've offered others). I don't believe this is a system-specific problem but perhaps there are system-specific answers. Everybody has points to spend and I've been pretty generous about letting people add abilities. However, I'm the only one with system expertise so the players don't necessarily know what's available until I point it out (and homework isn't too feasible with this group.) Also, magic has a number of practical applications, not just in combat (which I otherwise like, but it exacerbates the problem here.)
  • I did offer the possibility of learning magic but it doesn't really fit with the character conception.
  • Current PC's:
    • A Fragile Speedster (no magic, but clear combat role and quirky characterization mean the player is satisfied with this.)
    • A healer with a few other utilty spells who shapeshifts for combat
    • A fire mage with several other spells (especially defense)
    • The character in question, a quiet fencer and sailor with a practical attitude and skills (think Zoe but less sarcastic)
    • One slightly lower-level GMPC druid who's there for extra muscle and so I have someone to play when someone else wants to GM an episode
  • The PCs are around 175 points (except my GMPC at around 125); everyone is more well-rounded than optimized (the healer has 55 points in spells, for example, including 16 in Daze as their only high-level spell.)
  • I did have all my players fill out a character questionnaire about background, motivation, and goals; the responses for this character have helped with roleplaying but don't suggest an answer to this question.

Question:

I feel like I'm missing something obvious about why people play non-casters, possibly because I almost never do myself. How can I design adventures and/or suggest new and improved abilities such that this character is an important part of the team and occasionally essential?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @DennisChristian Please don't post answers in the comments; use an answer post instead. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 13 '16 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1: kudos for having the GMPC sit at 58% "power" relative to the "real" PCs \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 31 '16 at 22:01
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First, it's good if you can find out why the player is playing a non-magic user. You found out it matches his character, which is good, but it might be good to find out what type of gameplay he likes, so you know what to provide and what not to avoid, which might be tricky if you yourself always prefer to player magic-using characters.

Some reasons players might avoid magic-using PC's include:

  • They don't easily relate to magic powers, and are more interested in non-magic human experiences and situations.

  • They don't know how the magic system works, and don't want to have to figure out the complexities of it.

  • They are interested in some other aspect of play (say, detailed combat), and want to focus their skills on that so it will be more interesting and/or their character will be better at fighting.

It's good to know if the reasons are like the above in that there is disinterest in magic, because if so, it may not help to offer them, say, magic items, or a special kind of super power, or even unrealistic martial arts abilities, if they are similar to the things the players don't like about magic, that had them choose to be non-magic users.

In general, I think if a player chooses to be a non-magic fighter type, they will probably appreciate being given interesting combat situations where their character is valuable. Fortunately, you're playing GURPS, which is the best system I know for that. Use tactical combat with a map, and include foes the fencer will be useful against, and/or more (or more resistant) foes than the magic will be able to take care of.

There are other reasons players might choose non-magic-using PCs, which do invite adding magic or magic-like abilities:

  • A player might have a super-skilled fighter concept, and enjoy meeting a master trainer who can teach them super fighting skills, which may be somewhat magic-like. These can offer not just fighting skills, but skills such as extreme abilities in hiding, jumping, climbing, silent movement, chi powers, possibly magic resistance through will/meditation/chi, and so on. Probably the best source for this sort of thing in GURPS is GURPS Martial Arts.

  • A player may not want to cast spells, but might like having/using magic items. If there are enough of magic items available that are useful for non-casters, and the groups gives enough of them to the non-fighter PC, then that can give that PC abilities the others don't have.

  • There may be other types of super powers available in your world that are appropriate to the non-magic-user PC, such as religious-based powers, or psychic powers, or super powers, or whatever. If the player is interested, those can give the player abilities that the magic-users don't have.

In many games, there is so much common magic and magic-like abilities, and they are so useful and/or powerful, that PCs who avoid magic are just going to be much less powerful than those who do. Fortunately, GURPS isn't one of those unless the setting or magic system used makes magic very common and strong. Standard GURPS Magic is quite strong and if most or all of the spells are available and common, there is a lot they can do, but there are still good niches for good fighters.

Another approach can be to have the adversary NPCs notice if/when the players defeat their minions or some situation/puzzle with a conspicuous use of magic. The adversary NPCs may then try to use that knowledge against the party, and come up with ways to challenge the party that counter the magic they know the party has. Something that looks like it can be burned, but can't, to bait and use up the magic of the pyromancer, for example. This can create a situation where the party needs to fight, and the fighters get a chance to shine.

Similarly, you can study the non-magic-user PCs and see what abilities and knowledge they have that are outside the domains of the magic users, and let the PC get chances to notice those. In your case, the sailing thing comes to mind. If he's the only one with seamanship and they're on a ship, he'll have advantages in knowledge, getting around the ship, not getting seasick, and avoiding DX penalties for a rocking deck, etc.

Having studied the PC's abilities, especially when (as you wrote) the player is not as familiar with the game system as you are, you may want to give that player extra information and prompts and ideas throughout the game, based on those abilities, because there are things the PC might think of that the player may not, and this can help the player grow familiar with the opportunities their skills offer.

There may also be places or factions in your campaign setting, who are opposed to magic, or certain types of magic, so that it may be criminal or at least attract attention of ill will if people know you use that magic.

GURPS-specific tips:

  • Always use a hex map. This makes combats more interesting for fighters, and results in more situations where fighters are needed and useful, and casters have more difficulties, due to range, obstacles, being engaged by attackers, etc. When you're using all the rules, including range penalties and casting times, it often isn't actually all that superior to be a mage in GURPS, as it may take too long to cast a spell, or the target may be too far away, or there may be obstacles to line of sight, or someone may come grapple you, etc.

  • Get GURPS Swashbucklers for some realistic & cinematic fencing-related abilities, tricks and equipment, as well as some sailing-related stuff.

  • Have situations where the characters have several challenges with not a whole lot of time to rest in between. In GURPS Magic, the magic-users use up mana when they cast spells, and so they'll need to use it sparingly, or run out of mana by the time they get to the later situations. Meanwhile, the fighters tend to be able to do more per fatigue point. The party may even realize that it needs to save mana for healing and even to restore fatigue on the fighters, if it is to overcome a series of challenges without running out of mana to cast spells.

  • There are situations in GURPS that call for fencers, such as multiple attackers, or dangerous foes who attack multiple times per turn and are best parried, or that are best disarmed.

  • GURPS has the concept of Low Mana and No Mana zones, and Aspected Mana Zones and so on, which can also take the magic users down a notch in some places.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I take my hat off. Idea about talking to player and finding out exact reasons why he prefer to play fencer is absolutely beautiful and logical in retrospect. It would help to heal the cause of the problem, not symptoms. \$\endgroup\$ – Jaiden Snow Apr 9 '16 at 16:18
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In a GURPS, 3rd Edition game using traditional magic, a nonmagic-using character can feel generally outclassed, especially at higher point values. However, this is usually mitigated by a few factors.

  • Spells usually take at least 1 second of concentration to cast. A magician is often forced to stare off into space undefended because spells come into effect at the beginning of the caster's next turn. A swordsman with the Fast-draw (broadsword) skill, for example, is at no such disadvantage and begins an encounter immediately.
  • The volume of spells a magician can cast is usually limited by the magician's ST. Unless the magician is also a weightlifter or powerstones are extremely common, a magician won't be able to carry much gear or stab very hard after casting only a handful of spells. Then the magician will need time to recover if the magician's going to cast again. A swordsman (unless optional rules have been introduced) can sword all day.
  • Spells are often as effective as swords. A skilled swordsman leaves foes just as dead as a mighty wizard, except a skilled swordsman stabbed the dude in the eye while a mighty wizard, for example, lit the dude on fire. However, dead is still dead, and methodology is rarely as important as the result.

But let's say that the 175-point magicians have ramped up their primary combat spells so they can cast them instantaneously, have sufficient powerstones that casting their primary combat spells multiple times isn't an issue, and that the primary combat spells are more effective than swords (hitting more easily, doing more damage, affecting more foes, or whatever). Then there's a problem because the balancing forces that can make magic unattractive just aren't present anymore. Here're two solutions that don't make the character just change characters.

  • Have the character learn a martial art. Fencing is a particularly powerful combat skill in GURPS, 3rd Edition, and, with some digging, gets some pretty serious splatbook support in, for example, GURPS Martial Arts. A couple of points in the maneuver Aggressive Parry or Stop Hit, for example, changes the game almost completely for any warrior, but especially for a fencer who can make multiple parries. Be unafraid to develop new maneuvers or let the PC develop new maneuvers; he's adventuring alongside someone who can change shape in combat; throwing three daggers simultaneously into a dude shouldn't be impossible.
  • Have the character learn unusual skills; then let those skills do interesting things. There are a variety of skills in GURPS, 3rd Edition that are only vaguely defined, left to the GM to decide their actual effects in play. The skill Intelligence Analysis, for example, has almost no text describing what it does, allowing it to be used in whatever situations the GM wants. If feeling truly outclassed, allow the character to perform cinematic feats with his skills by paying the cost of an appropriate Unusual Background (that 10 points likely costing less than the wizarding PCs spent on their primary combat spell).

A mundane character's maneuvers and unusual skills can be largely equivalent to (albeit not exactly equal to) spells. The mundane character should have some, and they should be just as interesting, fun, and limited as spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an aside, GURPS Warriors and Rogues contain templates that show the incredibly wide breadth of skills a mundane warrior may want but has overlooked; likewise, the templates in GURPS Wizards list skills that a normal guy might want if trying to get by mundanely in a heavily wizarding world. Further, even the most primitive firearms, if they can be drawn then immediately fired, are phenomenal mundane equalizers. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 9 '16 at 16:53
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  1. Minions! To interact with many things that adventurers could meet, and interact in specifically non-magical, conventional way - they would need tools. Or sometimes you need tools + artisans. But you can't go adventuring with a toolbox - it weights too much for example to scale a wall or to be effective adventurer - to march/run/climb/dig/rest - those kind of things. Magic gives a toolbox that weights nothing and always handy to use - it has zero weight, and it is comfortable to carry around (in your head). But what people did when they needed a lot of tools to carry around in good old times, they used (ta-dam!) lots of servants or hirelings to carry tools around and what even more interesting - to use those. So those would be the 'living-spells' walking around your party. To make your fencer significant - in could stated that it would be mechanically more advantageous when he controls them - perhaps leadership or charisma-style bonus, or they are much more loyal to him than to the party as a whole. In my mind I have a picture of hirelings that are not versed for battle but can be used to set up a camp, and can produce things that can be used to tackle puzzles in unconventional and creative way. But of course you could have a body of archers.

  2. Magic items. There is a reason why humans invented spears, hammers, saws, and computers. There is an extent and limit to capabilities of human strength, speed, durability, counting speed and focus. Tiger grows claws, wolf devises new tactics, human create tools. So when incapable of using magic per se, it would be natural to use a medium - magic wand/magic staff/magic sword with special abilities.

  3. Magic-nullifying ability. It could take a form of protection from magic or a form of offensive/environment ability - your choice. So you could either have a character that can tank out magic nuke, or character that can scrape through magic traps like wall of fire, or character that could be burning out enemy mana, or character that could use something like 'Anti magic sphere'.

  4. Long-ranged attack. Fencers are close-combat creature. But if any sane fighter has a choice to go to war either with sword or with sword+modern-silenced-pistol - he will choose a second option. I mean - when you have any missile attack - you can harass your opponent from a place where you are not in danger, but opponent is. It is the essence of combat. So throwing knifes, axes, spears, sacks with dust, flacks of acid, mini crossbow, pistol. Something comfortable to carry around and perhaps with one-shot-long-reload style. Or a full weapon like bow, proper historical crossbow, musket. (But firearms are bad for dungeons - in closed quarters they will traumatize ears so characters will become deaf quite soon)


And for the last part of your question - here is bit of my experience - why I play non-casters myself.

  1. Rules-dependent situation: DCC. When I play DCC, I am sharply aware that magic is dangerous and unpredictable it that style of the game - it is part of setting, expectations and rules. It feels very much like Appendix N. When you need light - if you are sane person - you use torch, you are not casting spells or use magic items - because otherwise you introduce a chance to fail and this can go ugly - I wouldn't be surprised by having any of those results when rolling 1 on d20 (and for spells you always roll) - fireball/blindness/summoning-something-nasty/caster-body-mutation. Pacts make things even more funny. Caster in DCC is on the road to become a broken wreck - slowly scarred and corrupted. Not the bad story per se but quite a grim one, you need a certain mood or tenacity to play that. I'm not always in state of mind that is proper for that. On the other hand other classes are interesting. Fighters and thieves or halflings or dwarves - each of those has their own class-dependent sub-games systems that allow players to be creative. Fighters and dwarves has acess to creative actions during combat. Halfling and thief dance with luck.

  2. Setting-dependent situation: When setting says that spell casters are rare as 1 of 100000 - it would tip of my suspension of disbelief that we have a whole party of casters. In those situations I am willingly choose to play mundane creatures not to ruin game for myself and for other players. It is also incredibly satisfying to take down a mage with a party of non-magic-users - as it feels like a kind of achievement and 'take that' kind of feel.

  3. As GM: As GM, you actually have to adjudicate actions of non-spell casting NPC, so you could say that GM always plays non-casters ^ ^

  4. Universal: When you are a new player to RPG, you choose by your own criteria and expectations. Those first choices of class for new characters often doesn't take a balance of current rule system in consideration as player has no experience adjudicating what choice would be more 'powerful'. They go by their own real-world experience, their expectations and personal criteria for Rule of Cool.

  5. Universal: After a certain age in real-life and after enough of loses you learn that there is a limit to your own potential. You can't be smart/strong/creative enough to do something interesting/essential-for-survival/create-awesome-work-of-art/important-for-your-ideal-and-dreams. Disgusting feeling, I must say. But if you reached a certain age - that means you found a way live despite having disabilities/weaknesses. Perhaps the main tool for 'living against you weaknesses' could be wits (ability to combine your strong points in a pattern that allows you to solve a problem in a round-about way), stubbornness (ability to take care of repetitive/boring jobs. they don't become awesome artists or musicians without a hell of practice), friends (when you lack some skill - your friend could have it; or one man can't take down an elephant - but a pack of 10 can). Playing as non-spell caster in a world full of magic - is expression of that disgusting feeling of being limited, an act showing a middle finger to the skies, and the essence of being 'despite'. Like being a blind in a land on one-eyed people that player is at disadvantage. Yet, it feels 'as real-life' where odds are against you, and achieving something 'despite' in-the-game is awesome. It also helps to express a repressed anger and negative feeling in a cultural way even if character achieves nothing ^ ^

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    \$\begingroup\$ I tried to disambiguate DCC and couldn't; could you spell that out? (In my defense, no matter how it's being used here, it's also an abbreviation from the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.) Further, while I didn't downvote, GURPS has some pretty specific system quirks that make characters and their development different from class-and-level and even other point-buy system; those should be, if possible, addressed in this answer (e.g. the advantage Ally Group is a real in-game thing and incredibly powerful, but prohibitively priced post char-gen). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 9 '16 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's one of many RPG products out there - Dungeon Crawl Classics. Not THE BEST RPG ever but one of those I have a soft spot for. Some reviews could be found here: rpg.net/reviews/archive/15/15648.phtml and here: goodman-games.com/5070preview.html You can easily find free beta version of rules on official site by googling it. Yes, it's is very far from GURPS. SirTechSpec wrote: "I don't believe this is a system-specific problem" so I read this as non-system specific answer is acceptable for SirTechSpec. His problem is often encountered in D&D-style systems. \$\endgroup\$ – Jaiden Snow Apr 9 '16 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ And also it was interesting to read answers that are GURPS-specific. Quite an interesting reading that was. \$\endgroup\$ – Jaiden Snow Apr 9 '16 at 18:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ And speaking about hirelings - I feel, I should leave this reference here: warehouse23.com/products/SJG37-0326 start-of-quote Hirelings You don’t need points to hire help. Wealthy delvers can augment their numbers with paid assistants. These use the same templates as Allies, but cash – unlike points, which rep- resent a perfect match, a karmic bond, or suchlike – can’t guarantee loyalty! On the other hand, hirelings need not be treated as well as Allies ... end-of-quote So you don't really need to spend points on Ally when using those rules... \$\endgroup\$ – Jaiden Snow Apr 9 '16 at 21:04
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Something that can help any character with a background feel more involved: create a scenario that grows out of something in their background. That makes them the link to it, and gives the player some power to decide on the details.

For this particular situation, the scenario needs to be one that can't be solved by blasting it with attack spells. This doesn't mean "monsters immune to magic", just a situation where the social and/or political downsides of treating it as a combat problem are both significant and obvious.

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Interesting group dynamic. Here are my short answers as a DM to try and involve a finesse melee character more.

  1. Surround your PC group more often. As enemies attack from all angles your fencing champion will move to the front to engage and protect the magic users.

  2. Surprise attacks! As your magic users bombard oncoming enemy hoards a few have flanked them. Duelist to the rescue.

  3. Taking things a different way I'd include a duelist as an enemy NPC with an enchanted rapier. Perhaps as a bodyguard to the big boss. After that epic battle of parries and multi-attacks the duelist will come to discover the sword gains power after dealing killing blows. Buff appropriately to encourage him to engage in battles more often. Easy enough to give him an extra crit number for each kill. I would have the effects wear off if the party chooses to rest. This could offer some good in game friction with the magic casters who want to regain spells.

  4. The PC's are likely going to see through this last one but done right they'll play along. Build one dungeon where each room contains an anti-magic totem that must be destroyed before anything can be cast. Your magic casters are going to get frustrated but if you only hold them back for a turn or two of combat it likely won't be much of a problem. I'd craft a lot of foreshadowing before this dungeon. A new baron has gained control of the town and outlawed the use of all magic. It's imperative that this is handled quickly as the town was the source of all healing potions in the surrounding area. The potions you want to buy have already tripled in price and it's expected to get worse! The surprise twist is that the new baron is a magic user himself and the heir to the competing wizards guild manufacturing the potions. He was destroying supply to drive up profits. The payoff for your adventuring wizards is gaining incredible renown in their community and also making some very dangerous enemies who will likely seek vengeance.

My final note is if the player selected a fencer with a sailing background he likely had hopes that his pirate style character would be engaged in these heroic sword battles but finds himself marginalized because his wizards are constantly on cast, rest, repeat. Changing his fighting style (ranged pistol, etc.) or giving him some magic isn't going to fill the void. Give that man his epic duels!

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