Character Based Victory Conditions

Character-Based Victory Conditions

by Jay Richardson

This is a set of custom Victory Conditions tailored to each specific character, replacing the standard Victory Conditions rules. When my old gaming group finally “burned out” on playing the first edition game, this is what we developed to try to make the game interesting again. We only played a handful of games with these, however, before we discarded them in favor of working on what would become our “Book of Quests” variant.

These custom Victory Conditions, therefore, are neither well-developed or well-playtested… but they might give you some ideas about how to fix the worst rule in Magic Realm: the Victory Conditions.


Some players may wonder how anyone could ever get burned out playing a game as deep, complex, and unpredictable as Magic Realm — and truthfully it takes a lot of plays for this to happen (about 70 in our case). You’ll just have to believe me when I say that, if you play the game enough times, eventually you will run into some of the same problems we did. These problems included:

Characters always choosing the same victory points

We realized one day that we had reached the point of always using the same victory point settings each time we played a specific character. We thought that we had “solved” each character and found the best VP settings for each one. Whether this was actually true or not doesn’t matter… we felt it was true, and that influenced our games in a negative way: we almost always knew what the other players were choosing for VP, because they would choose exactly what we would choose if we were playing their character. The variety and uncertainty that had been present in our early games was gone.

One-dimensional play

The game play in Magic Realm is very typical of most RPGs: kill monsters, hunt for treasures, and repeat (endlessly). The game was great fun to play, with a game system far superior to any other boardgame RPG… but compared to reading a fantasy novel or watching a fantasy movie, there just wasn’t anything there. A fantasy story where the heroes did nothing but fight monsters and hunt for treasure would be dismissed as utter dreck… but that’s all that Magic Realm had to offer. Once we had played many games, it was no longer enough for us.

Unchallenging play

The choose-your-own Victory Conditions originally seemed like a great idea. But what the rule is actually saying is: find the easiest Victory Conditions for your character to fulfill, and then use that to win the game. The only time the Victory Conditions challenge a player is when he makes a mistake in selecting them! This emphasis on finding the easiest path to victory can cause many play balance problems in the game, and eventually the lack of any unique challenges became tiresome.

Repetitive play

Despite the incredible unpredictability of the game, our games eventually became repetitive: each specific character was doing much the same thing from game to game, regardless of who was actually playing them. We thought that we knew all the tricks; we had used all the treasures; etc. The game was becoming, well, …boring!

No well-defined world

Magic Realm seemed to have it all: great heroes, fearsome monsters, fabulous treasures, an incredible map, etc. But, all of these great elements just never came together to form an interesting world… one where things happened for a reason. Playing in a “world” where nothing mattered except killing monsters and finding treasures eventually became tiresome for us.


In reviewing our growing dissatisfaction with the game, we identified the primary culprit as the Victory Conditions rules. So we made up our own Victory Conditions for each character, keying them closely to the nature of each character (as we perceived them).

We felt that these custom Victory Conditions greatly improved the game. Each character was presented with challenges that they had never before encountered, and the actions that a character needed to undertake to win the game were logically related both to him and to the world at large.

We abandoned these custom Victory Conditions fairly quickly, however, because we realized that they themselves would soon become repetitive and boring after repeated plays. They were a good improvement, but not a final answer. However, the 200-page Book of Quests variant that we eventually ended up with will not be everyone’s cup of tea either, so perhaps someone might be inspired by these to come up with a good, simple, replacement for the awful Victory Conditions rules.

Here then is our last custom victory point schedule from May, 1984. I’ve added in new explanatory material to help you understand what we were doing (or trying to do). These were originally patterned after the 1st edition’s “sudden death” Victory Conditions, but I have changed the wording now to be compatible with the 2nd/3rd edition game.


MAGIC REALM VICTORY REQUIREMENTS

Characters do not pre-assign victory points as they do in the standard rules; they instead earn victory points from their actions during the game. At the end of the game, the character who has earned the most victory points wins.

One victory point can be earned for each of the following:

30 gold
20 Notoriety
10 Fame
2 spells learned
1 Great Treasure
1 location “entered” (discovered)

Gold, F&N points, and Great Treasures earn victory points only at the end of the game.

Each character is limited in what he can do to earn victory points, according to the schedule below.

For example, the Dwarf can gain victory points from the amount of gold he has at the end of the game; he can gain F&N points only from killing Goblins (he gets no F&N points for killing any other monster); he gains VP from holding Great Treasures at the end of the game; he cannot add Treasure card F&N to his F&N totals; he cannot gain VP from learning spells; he cannot add Artifact & Spell Book F&N to his F&N totals; and he gains 1 VP if he discovers the Lost City chit.

Characters that are allowed to add F&N from Artifacts & Spell Books may only do so for ones that have the same Magic type as the character’s Magic chits. The Pilgrim, for example, can only add F&N from Type I and Type VII Artifacts & Spell Books. This only comes into play for characters that cannot add F&N from all treasures.

To “enter” a location a character must discover it using the Search tables. The Lost City and Lost Castle chits are placed on the map in the clearing matching their number; they are discovered just like treasure sites, but do not contain anything.


AMAZON

Gold: No
Monster F&N: all
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: No
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: none

The Amazon seeks to match her fighting skills against the toughest monsters she can find.

All of these character descriptions are new, based on my somewhat shaky memory of what we were thinking of 20 years ago. In some cases, I have no remaining memory of what we were thinking of!


BERSERKER

Gold: Yes
Monster F&N: all Tremendous monsters
Great Treasures: Yes
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: No
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: none

When it comes to battling monsters, the Berserker wishes to take on only the biggest and the baddest. He also has a weakness for gold and Great Treasures.


BLACK KNIGHT

Gold: Yes
Monster F&N: none
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: Yes
Learned Spells: No
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: none

The Black Knight seeks gold and treasure… especially if he can simply take them from someone else after they’ve done all of the hard work. He’ll leave the dangerous business of battling monsters to fools like the White Knight.


CAPTAIN

Gold: No
Monster F&N: Goblins
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: Yes
Learned Spells: No
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: Lost Castle

The Captain seeks fame & notoriety from treasures, and is curious about the ancient castle he has heard about in tales… fortifications are always fascinating to him. When the Goblins start causing trouble, he is the one called upon to drive them off.


DRUID

Gold: No
Monster F&N: none
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: Yes
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: Yes
Location: Altar, Cairns

The mysterious Druid seeks the site of many past Druidic rituals, and the treasure that’s so closely guarded by the Spiders.


DWARF

Gold: Yes
Monster F&N: Goblins
Great Treasures: Yes
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: No
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: Lost City

The Dwarf values gold and Great Treasures; lesser treasures hold no interest for him. The Goblins are his mortal enemies, and every Dwarf dreams of returning to the ancient Lost City of the Dwarves buried deep beneath the earth.


ELF

Gold: No
Monster F&N: Goblins, Ogres, Vipers, Wolves
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: Yes
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: Yes
Location: none

The Elf is the guardian of the woodlands, hunting the creatures that would dare to invade them. The Goblins are his mortal enemies.


MAGICIAN

Gold: No
Monster F&N: none
Great Treasures: Yes
Treasure F&N: Yes
Learned Spells: Yes
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: Statue

The Magician is irresistibly drawn to the moss-covered Statue. He seeks spells and treasure.


PILGRIM

Gold: No
Monster F&N: none
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: Yes
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: Yes
Location: Chapel, Shrine

The humble Pilgrim travels across the land, seeking to visit Holy places and learn beneficial magic.

Remember that these were developed for the 1st edition rules, where everyone starts at the Inn. The Chapel does not need to be discovered, but if the Pilgrim chooses to start there he should obviously forfeit the chance to earn a VP by travelling there.


SORCEROR

Gold: No
Monster F&N: none
Great Treasures: Yes
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: Yes
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: Yes
Location: none

The mighty Sorceror seeks Great Treasures and great magics.


SWORDSMAN

Gold: Yes
Monster F&N: none
Great Treasures: Yes
Treasure F&N: Yes
Learned Spells: No
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: none

The wandering Swordsman has no particular ties to anyone or anything. He seeks treasures and gold… and the finer things in life.


WHITE KNIGHT

Gold: No
Monster F&N: Dragons
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: No
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: none

The White Knight has taken Holy vows to drive out the evil Dragons.


WITCH

Gold: No
Monster F&N: none
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: Yes
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: Yes
Location: Lost Castle

The Witch seeks magical knowledge and hopes to return to the Lost Castle some day.


WITCH-KING

Gold: No
Monster F&N: none
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: Yes
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: Yes
Location: Shrine

The Witch-King seeks magic; especially the magic rumored to be found at the Shrine.


WIZARD

Gold: No
Monster F&N: Demons, Imp
Great Treasures: Yes
Treasure F&N: No
Learned Spells: Yes
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: Yes
Location: none

The Wizard seeks to banish Demons from the land, and is interested in Great Treasures and magic.


WOODS GIRL

Gold: No
Monster F&N: all
Great Treasures: No
Treasure F&N: Yes
Learned Spells: No
Artifact & Spell Book F&N: No
Location: none

The Woods Girl is exploring the wider world for the first time. She’ll battle anything, and is delighted by any treasure.


If I was going to continue to develop these Victory Conditions (which I’m not going to do), I think I would design several versions for each character. Then when a player chooses a character, he also chooses what Victory Conditions to play with. This would add in more variety, keep things from being repetitive, and no one would know for sure what the other players were up to.

The ideas presented above barely scratch the surface of what you could think up for the characters to do. You could give the Sorceror or the Wizard a VP for being in Crag-1 when the Crag is enchanted, or limit the Captain to only gaining F&N from monsters killed by his hirelings, making him into a true leader of men, or, well… almost anything!

Character-based Victory Conditions also give you an easy way to balance the game: if a character is too weak, give him more chances to score VP; if a character is too strong, give him less opportunity to score VP.

And a Final Consideration…

I really detest Magic Realm’s Victory Conditions rules. First edition, 2nd edition, 3rd edition… it doesn’t matter. To me they are all despicable junk that hobble & cripple an absolutely fantastic game system.

But more than that, they are the root cause of some serious problems in the game. For instance, at the time of this writing there are two situations that are causing many problems for some players: one with the regular game, and one with the optional combat rules.

In the regular game, a character can use the Absorb Essence spell to become a Tremendous armored monster, which is completely invulnerable to most other monsters, most natives, and many characters. So, having absorbed such a monster, they can then go on a killing rampage, scoring huge amounts of points, at no risk to themselves.

And with the optional combat rules, the Fiery Blast spell can be used to annihilate most native groups, again allowing characters who do this to score a large amount of points at little or no risk to themselves.

Efforts by the players to devise house rules to prevent these abuses are classic examples of treating the symptom instead of the disease. The disease, in this case, is the Victory Conditions. Consider the revised Victory Conditions I’ve presented here… the Witch and the Witch-King can still take Absorb Essence, get their big monster, and go on a killing rampage, but it won’t win the game for them, because it doesn’t score them any VP! To have a chance at winning, their time is now better spent doing other activities. Similarly, if the optional combat rules are in play, the Sorceror can take the Fiery Blast and still be capable of mass slaughter, but again, doing so is now unlikely to win the game for him.

These abuses that cause so much controversy are a direct result of the simplistic and ill-thought-out Victory Conditions rules that actually encourage players to do them. Properly designed Victory Conditions can allow powerful spells to exist in the game without having them upset the game’s play balance.

The revised Victory Conditions I’ve presented here are a long, long way from perfect, but I hope they will encourage more players to think about what Magic Realm’s Victory Conditions should be.