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In an upcoming game set in the Northern Realms of the Witcherverse, two of my players decided to come up with this character concept: One plays an older established Witcher, the other plays their in-training apprentice. Said apprentice might even be pre–trial of the grasses thus leaving something exciting to do in-game.

The concept does not violate any of the game prerequisites so I want to allow. However, I have a massive concern about it: the master Witcher will be clearly much better at everything than his apprentice. After all they are the master, right? While I care little about game balance, I want all the players to have equal screen-time and have their characters shine in and of themselves. Having one character that can do everything another can only much better is worrisome: what is left to do for the apprentice that the master cannot do better?

How can a combination of master and apprentice work?


Why a system tag and a system agnostic one? I care specifically about answers set in the Witcher setting, but any arbitrary RPG system -- e.g. freeform, or in Fate rather than the specific Talsorian Witcher RPG system aka Fuzion. I do not care about artificial system psuedo-balance, I care about system-agnostic Witcherverse answers, and shared narrative significance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are the master and apprentice the only players, or do you have more? And if you do, where do they fall on the power-spectrum? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 21 '16 at 8:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik None of the other players have returned with a character concept yet. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Oct 21 '16 at 8:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JPicasso If you have a question about how the site operates, Role-playing Games Meta is the place to ask. A comment tucked away on a random question somewhere on the site isn't going to be seen by the people who know the answer, and even when it is (like now, because it was flagged), comments are too small to properly answer such questions. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 28 '16 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since the problem (“I care little about game balance, I want all the players to have equal screen-time and have their characters shine in and of themselves”) isn't about balance but is about fairly distributing spotlight time, I've edited the tags to suit. If that's in error, an edit for clarification or emphasis may be in order. (Considering some answers have focused on power balance instead of play time balance, that might be in order anyway even if the tag change is correct.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 28 '16 at 17:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I don't really see the difference from [spotlight]. For example, the student having “more spotlight” but no narrative effect doesn't make sense — spotlight isn't just “time on screen”, spotlight is “time contributing to the story in your own unique way.” \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 28 '16 at 23:04
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Actually, the master don't have to be better at everything. For example he may have been targeted by a curse which makes him unable to use magic/less good at combat. Maybe despite all his years of experience he remained very socially awkward and the apprentice will have to do most of the social interactions with NPCs. Maybe the apprentice has a special gift that makes him better than his master in some specific situations (he can be able to speak with animals, to underwater-weave, etc)

Even if the master is strictly better in all fields of competence, the game can still be interesting. The master wants his apprentice to become better, so he won't do everything for him, even if he is more qualified. He will have to estimate the difficulty of each task to determine if he can let the apprentice do it alone or if he has to take care of it. If he keeps the apprentice too far from danger, the apprentice can dramatize about his master not having enough trust in him. This brings interesting RP scenes !

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question has been updated to be about the Witcher stories, and agnostic of system but not of setting. The door is open if you want to add any Witcher-specific details. This is up to your discretion though; this comment is only added as a notice to you and you may flag it as obsolete when you like. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 21 '16 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ As I am far from having a good knowledge of this universe, I prefer to let someone else add these details. BTW I don't care about someone completely "stealing" the structure of my answer and the ideas it contains if it can make a good basis to better answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Oct 26 '16 at 7:25
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The assumption that the master is better in everything because he is the master is false. The master is better in the relevant aspects of his craft. There is no need to weaken him, simply make the pair face challenges a bit outside the craft.

A master witcher will be better with the sword and will know more about monsters and magic, but being feared and called a mutant tends to hamper normal social interaction quite a bit. Also, while Witcher schools tend to teach the same "curriculum" to their students, depending on the backstory of the characters the trainee might have had a different focus than his master (master is great at Signs, trainee is very good at Alchemy etc.) Or the trainee could have picked up skills before he has gone to school, and depending on those he could have fields where he outstrips his master.

In the usual trio of Combat-Social-Intellectual challenge, the master will be better in two, but it is believable that the apprentice has an edge in the third. Build it in during character creation, and you have a dynamic (if mismatched) duo where one won't outshine the other.

On your specific example: Witchers are generally social outcasts, and a pre-Trial trainee — one who doesn't show signs of mutations — could get a lot of knowledge out of the locals that his master won't. Or he could gather a lot of intel which would be hidden from a true witcher until the end, like the fact the villagers don't have the money to pay for their services.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Referring to the actual Witcher stories, when Geralt is traveling with Dandelion, Geralt is clearly more powerful in most aspects, but the dynamics are very interesting nonetheless precisely because of this mismatch. \$\endgroup\$ – Peteris Oct 21 '16 at 9:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ To expand on the this excellent answer, depending on background, the apprentice may well be substantially better at very useful skills such as stealth, lockpicking, dealing with traps. The apprentice might also have more knowledge based skills that are outside a normal witcher's repertoire, such as languages and history which can come in very handy. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Oct 30 '16 at 21:33
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Master and apprentice is a popular scheme. Whether it's Jedi or medieval knights, stories are full of those pairs. Obviously the master is better in whatever he is a master in. On the other side he has sacrificed something to get there. Most popular (probably because very realistic) is that he sacrificed time. The master is no 20 year old healthy guy, he's older, wiser but less healthy and less athletic. Maybe less inclined to charm young members of the other sex.

As you tagged this , let me add examples of D&D games: I have participated in a few games where there was a master/apprentice duo. As D&D is very dependent on levels, it just would neither be fun nor working very well, to have one player be many levels below the other. So we picked other classes instead of levels for the apprentice. That way the apprentice is more athletic, charming and "seems" more young compared to the master, without even using rules for age.

For example:

  • Master: wizard, apprentice: bard.
  • Master: fighter (as knight), apprentice: thief or scout (as squire).
  • Master: cleric, apprentice: cleric/monk

They have different focus and the master is always better at his core domain. But the game balance is still there (assuming the balance was there from the start, this is not about whether wizard and bard are balanced in D&D).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The question has been updated to clarify it is about the Witcher setting, agnostic of system but not of setting. You may flag this comment as obsolete whenever you've read it, as it's a notice to you. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 21 '16 at 11:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I don't know the setting or system, but as long as it has more than one class or a classless system, the way to build one focused character and one with a different focus or broader focus should be fine. \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Oct 21 '16 at 11:24
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Master being better than the apprentice is not inherently bad. I will expand one point of Anne's answer that I find extremely important.

The master wants his apprentice to become better, so he won't do everything for him, even if he is more qualified.

This allows for a lot of situations which do not arise in the conventional "all-players-are-equal" setting.

  • At the start of the task, the apprentice will ask for the master's advice. The player who is roleplaying the master will have to come up with some in-game lore-based advice.
  • Even if the apprentice is good, he is bound to fail at some point. After that, the master will have to take his turn at the problem, starting from an unfavourable condition (think an apprentice knocked senseless by a Troll, or put under an effect of some evil mage's charm). This allows the apprentice to have his part of screen-time (with easier tasks), as well as some time for the master to shine and make use of his better skills (with harder tasks).
  • An apprentice failing a task is also a perfect opportunity for a GM to introduce a side plot line, should you wish to introduce any.
  • After the completed quest, some blamestorming has to happen: a master analyzing the actions of his apprentice, which is also not a part of usual roleplay.
  • An apprentice, should the GM say so, could also get more experience from encounters, reflecting his younger age and peaking ability to learn.
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I'll start a bit from afar.

If I remember psychology of Witchers correctly they are a set of ideologically and socially motivated specialists who strive to produce effective result. If this model is correct then cultural reason for Master to have Apprentice would be one of these two:

  1. Help. In real-world trades of martial arts and survival trades Master + Apprentice > Master. In martial aspect - two pair of arms with swords are more dangerous than one. In survival aspect - it is stupid to go to woods alone as you can have someone to keep a guard at night or help you when some incident or decease reduces your mobility.

  2. Reproduction. As apprenticeship is the only way for Witchers to propagate their culture and trade, Master must take care of producing a proper Witcher from Apprentices. To produce a proper Witcher who will survive in their chaotic lifestyle, Apprentice must be ready to overcome chaotic and everyday challenges of his trade, thus he mustn't be clutz. Thus on his own skin, Apprentice must gain familiarity with those situations and become complex enough to become a reliable help to Witcher's cause rather than useless asset.

Now, to the point: how that model can be useful for you case:

"1" could be interpreted as situations when Master + Apprentice work together to break through problems that would be impossible for Master alone to handle. That must be highlighted - Apprentice made difference as minor as it was.

"2" could be interpreted that Master have to make Apprentice work and develop. Thus Master must delegate his Apprentice to do some practical tasks. Ergo Apprentice will be capable to snatch highlight for himself while doing those.

Generally they can play around a question - which problems are solvable only by Master and which could be solved by delegating those to Apprentice. Master can't solve them all - and if he tries and fails - they are in trouble. "So choose carefully... And yeah, clock is ticking!" :P

Also this problem could be approached from another angle: Although Witchers' trade is very close to natural selection, which should produce Masters who should be quite keen and experienced there are some catches. First of all natural selection is not "what doesn't kill you makes you strong". Rather than that, natural selection is "what doesn't kill you makes you a crippled mess". Master could have long-term problems like missing limbs or concussion.

Another aspect I clashed with while dealing with kids is - all people are different. Apprentice could be more useful than his Master for approaching different social/physical situations because of his (for example):

  • race,
  • size(perhaps he can sneak into the hole his Master can't),
  • weight (perhaps can climb to the tree higher before it breaks, perhaps can pass through the flimsy bridge),
  • youth(seduction attemts? health checks?),
  • friends,
  • naiveness(he can lie to guard better about things that Master lied to him because he really-really believes that those are truth :P).

Also Witchers are not that sociable creatures so Apprentice with good "charisma" (which stems from his character born from the way his brain works) whose personality is good for connection to people could be more useful sometimes than angry, cold, effective and slightly insane Master.

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The Master Can't Be Better at EVERYTHING

So, the previous points are great regarding the self-restriction of the master. Master and Apprentice is cool, but if you do it like Star Wars, its generally better to do it NPC and player. A way you can do it however, although it requires roleplaying on behalf of the players, is to give the master and the apprentice very different high points. Doing this, instead of Obi Wan and Luke, you go for a more Podrick and Tyrion Lanniester feel. Maybe the master is very intelligent and powerful, but lacks certain skills. Maybe he easily overlooks things that the apprentice notices.

If you don't want to go for this, an alternate way to go is a sort of branch. Say they're both wizards. I'm going to use a D&D example, but of course tweek it for whatever system. Maybe the master is a necromancer, terribly powerful in his field. His apprentice is far less powerful, but is (either secretly or openly) more interested in studying the similar, but far rarer art of Nethermancy.

In conclusion, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but everyone is different too. Play on both the master and the apprentices strengths AND weaknesses, and your players should feel meaningful.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This has nothing to with the Witcher setting! \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Oct 24 '16 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ As i said, I was using examples that you can adapt for your own game. I wasn't actually suggesting you have a Necromancer, because i realize this does not have to do with the witcher setting. I simply used it as an example of two things that are different while sharing the same ties. I was simply giving 2 options for roleplaying in this setting, changed to fit your setting. Using archetypes does not mean I'm not answering your question, I'm giving an outline. Sorry for the misunderstanding. \$\endgroup\$ – Palywally Oct 24 '16 at 22:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Palywally, you've enthusiastically jumped into answering questions — and that's good! But this site is intended to provide expert answers. So we would much appreciate if you'd temper that enthusiasm just a little bit, and be a bit more choosy with which questions you answer — look for questions where you have experience and expertise and can write a solid, knowledgeable answer and be sure that you're not making any beginner errors caused by assuming things about the question/game/situation that turn out to be mistaken. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 24 '16 at 23:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I totally understand, and in the future I'll do my best to fact check before posting. A lot of my answers were ones that I planned to edit in the future when I could fact check, but I completely understand the need to do that before posting. Sorry, and thank you for being patient! \$\endgroup\$ – Palywally Oct 25 '16 at 2:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Palywally I'm going to add my voice to SevenSidedDie here. I do appreciate your enthusiasm but it does not help me solve me current problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Oct 25 '16 at 7:14
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In all stories of Master and Apprentice, the reason the Apprentice shines is because the Master is unavailable or distracted.

The way you deal with this is to get the Master working on the bigger issue while the Apprentice handles everything else.

The Master deal with a dragon while the Apprentice keeps the dragon's minions occupied. The Apprentice cleans the castle, washes the clothes, cooks the meals, and does the dishes while the Master studies. (However, the Apprentice could use his mundane spells to help in doing his chores...ala Mickey Mouse as "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", but, Mickey let the magic get out of hand and caused hilarity.)

I suspect this might work for a session or two, but would get boring for the apprentice, real fast.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So your advice is to split the party or run two games. Yeah, not gonna happen. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Oct 28 '16 at 16:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Uh, no. My advice is for you to talk them out of doing it. It sounds great when thinking about the interaction, but soon one of the two will get bored. But, if you are incapable of convincing them of the bad idea, I offered how you play it. You cannot use a challenge/monster equivalent to the master, because the apprentice will be ineffective. You cannot use a challenge/monster against them that s equal to the apprentice because the master will make quick work of it. You must throw a challenge/monster at each of them that is equal to the individual. \$\endgroup\$ – Sensii Miller Oct 28 '16 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ You do not need to split the party. You control the monsters. Have the monsters choose their targets. One more thing, if the master chooses to make quick work of the lesser challenge, you need to make the bigger challenge difficult for the master to conquer so that the next time, he'll think twice about doing his apprentice' business. \$\endgroup\$ – Sensii Miller Oct 28 '16 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ These are the cards I was dealt with. The problem has solutions as other answers show. Not possible is a cope out. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Oct 28 '16 at 16:59

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