SO.. I’m playing in my first DW game on Friday. I play a lot of D&D so I’m sure it won’t be too challenging. I’ve been looking at Class options beyond the core. I initially saw the Mage class by Jacob Randolph and I found it appealing, but apparently it’s somewhat broken so I decided to try one of his newer mage classes. I’m currently leaning towards Clock Mage or Star Mage. I think I have the gist of how both work and it seems balanced enough, but I wanted to get your opinions. In a party of what will most likely be core classes, will this class work alongside them and be useful? Are these comparable in overall strength to the core classes? I’d love to be better than everyone, but I don’t want to put a strain on the group as a whole heh.

All advice is appreciated

39 thoughts on “SO.”

  1. “I’m playing in my first DW game on Friday. I play a lot of D&D…”

    My advice is to forget what you know about playing D&D. Or at least put it aside for a bit. DW is not D&D and if you approach them the same way you might end up frustrated and not having a good time. I’d also suggest sticking to the core classes for now.

    By the way, I’m assuming you haven’t run or played in other PbtA games here. If that’s not the case, feel free to ignore what I just said. 😉

  2. Christopher Stone-Bush Your first sentence was my first thought as well. Not to mention, Corbin Atkinson, I’m not sure why you would want to be better than everyone? Isn’t it an adventure with others for a reason? More entertaining and more more creative wins the session for me rather than having the strongest or fastest character.

  3. I’m afraid you misread my post or didn’t read it in its entirety. The whole point of my post is that I want to make sure these are balanced class options. I am choosing a non-core class as I’m looking for a unique experience. I know this isn’t D&D, but it is very much the same. Not mechanically, but a group of people sitting around a table roleplaying various fantasy classes is a common trait shared by both games.  SO hopefully I’ve cleared up my intentions and I’m sure anyone who has played any/multiple tabletop rpg(s) understands why I’d want to play something other than the core classes. 

  4. Christopher Stone-Bush I was looking for advice and the apocalypse world forums recommended this group for discussions on the game. I apologize if this isn’t the right place to ask such questions.

  5. No, this is the right place. I don’t know about balance of the new classes, but why these over the originals? DW is different enough that they are well worth trying

  6. Robert Slaughter , I read over each class sheet and the spell lists for the spellcasters seem very much the same. I play a lot of games and I like to RP so being a little different stood out to me. If I’m losing something by not playing a core class, I’ll certainly reconsider. I wouldn’t be bothering you guys if I didn’t really want to enjoy the game. Thanks for the input!

  7. DW will let you RP /strongly/ , so enjoy. I can get the unique spells’ attraction. But core spells have some unique differences – they aren’t automatically lost, and the spellcast moves can let a spell be changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes not….


  8. As Robert Slaughter said, this is totally the right place to ask for advice Corbin Atkinson.  My advice for anyone playing a new game for the first time, whether they’re an experienced roleplayer or not, is to stick to the “core options” of the game.

    Sure. D&D and DW are similar, but they’re not the same. The classes aren’t really balanced against each other in DW the way they are in D&D. I’m not saying don’t use a non-core class, but for your first time out, why not use something from the core book so you get a good feel for the game?

  9. Corbin Atkinson​ – just get to playing. If you enjoy DW and play it for a bit, you will really learn why the core classes can be played uniquely, why class balance isn’t the concern, and why your desire to be better than other players has raised alarms.

    For now, just play. In a few months you may join us in admonishing other new players that DW is very different from D&D in its essential approach to gaming, how balance isn’t a thing, and how fictional positioning means someone playing as a domestic cow could be “better” then a dunce paladin with a vorpal sword.

  10. The Mage is a much more interesting caster than the Wizard. And not broken or overpowered. Just remember that it’s your job as the player to invoke your taboos, not the GM’s.

  11. Short answer: of the two, definitely the Star Mage. The Clock Mage is lots of bookkeeping, fiction breaking, spotlight hogging and headaches. The Star Mage has issues, but it’s far and away less trouble than the alternative. I don’t think you necessarily need to play core first, but there’s wisdom in that advice; third party classes can have problems that aren’t immediately apparent. Longer answer later, I’m at work.

  12. I don’t know many alternate wizard classes – I played in a game with an Artificer once, he was pretty cool but I didn’t get a close look at the mechanics.

    That said, every Wizard in DW can be unique, Corbin Atkinson​​​​. If your GM is worth their salt, they’ll ask you about your magic. How do you cast spells, where the every comes from, how common or rare spellcasters are I the world? As the Wizard, it’s all for you to decide.

    IMHO, the spell list is secondary when you can be a Hell Mage who powers his spells with firebat blood and whose magic missiles are the screaming souls of the damned. Or an elf maiden with dancing magic and kisses that do charm person. 

  13. I had a player in a convention who decided his Wizard was an Insect Mage. His attack spells were swarms of ravenous, flesh-eating flies and beetles. His scrying spells let him see as if he had multifaceted eyes. His teleport spell took him through “The Bug Zone”; a place so horrific (by his own description) that the other characters refused to allow him to teleport them. It was pretty cool. 🙂

  14. That is awesome! Spell thematics (and aesthetics/style in general, for any and every character) are a great way to make your magic user stand out. Making that explicit was one thing The Mage did right, I will say that. Point to take away from the above: you don’t need a quirky playbook to have a unique character; you can have that with any core class. #backtowork

  15. Also (provided the GM plays by the book), you’re well within your rights to establish your Wizard is the only magic-user in the world. If this isn’t a unique character, what is?

  16. That goes for everyone else too, by the way, which is a good thing to remember. The playbooks have ‘The’ in the title for a reason; the default assumption is that nobody else in the world even approaches your level of competence in your respective fields. The Fighter knows battle better than anybody, The Thief can crack locks that nobody else can even touch, and so on. You are all Wolverines.

  17. Christopher Stone-Bush, how about the Highlander? 😛

    In all seriousness, Corbin Atkinson, D&D and DW are completely different in terms of how to approach them. For instance, initiative is not a thing. There are no turns. The flow of battle is more narrative, and in my opinion, more natural than “ok roll for initiative!”

  18. Maria Rivera , I acknowledge that mechanically they’re different games, but thematically they’re very much the same. I’ve read up on the rules and I’m very excited to play the game. I was just thinking it’d be fun to RP as something I haven’t RPed as before. -Thanks for all the input! (Now I want to be Wolverine) 

  19. Corbin Atkinson But the options for roleplay are limitless! Not every cleric is the same, not every fighter is the same, your class does not define who you are, only what you can do. Hell, even in what you can do there is a massive amount of variety. 

    How is a mage any different to the wizard in terms of roleplay? 

  20. Corbin Atkinson, We’re not talking about mechanics or themes, we’re talking about the mindset to play the game. DW is generally speaking more roleplay-heavy than D&D, and if you’re going in with a more D&D mindset, you’re going to have a harder time grasping the DW mindset. Again, not talking about mechanics or themes.

  21. The original Mage was a great alternative to the Wizard. They were somewhat similar. The revised Mage classes e.g. Clock Mage, Star Mage, etc. appear much different mechanically. E.g. No Spells and D6 vs D4 for Damage (assuming I’m reading it right). So.. with that said. I see that the majority suggests sticking to the core classes for the first game. I am definitely reconsidering my initial plan. (Though my DM suggested that I play a Mage). Has anyone here played the Clock Mage or any of the other mage variants by this same author? The Clock Mage sounds really fun and I’ve spent a couple of hours of thinking up the character and personality of a Clock Mage. 

  22. I have a player that is playing The Mage primarily to avoid yet another Vancian magic user (I think). It is easier to see how to theme The Mage than it is The Wizard, so that helps, as well. (He wants to focus on Illusions, though that has since come to incorporate Shadows, as well. And he has an Eternal Smile. He’s basically the Cheshire Cat Mage.)

    In other words, I understand your motivation, Corbin Atkinson . 

    We’ve only had one session, so I can’t speak to The Mage being broken. Seemed fine. If something happens in which it seems broken at some point, I would think you could simply resolve that issue with your GM, tweak the class for your purposes, and go from there. 

  23. The Clock Mage can be abused, if you pick the right moves. The Mage is ok, but kinda vague with what you can do, making it even harder on a player who is used to spell lists. The Star Mage I had a lot of fun with, however, that was more because I was playing a character I loved. Again, the mindset is key.

  24. There’s nothing in DW that makes it more RP intensive than D&D. It has things that can easily inspire RP but nothing that magically makes RP appear out of thin air. Every group is going to approach it differently with different outcomes, the same as with any RPG and in most groups, Balance is always an issue. Very few people like being stuck in Useless Mode while someone else is in God Mode, especially if they didn’t sign up with that understanding. I know it is trendy to diminish that aspect of gaming, but the mechanics is why you are using a given system, because you could RP just as much and just as well in 1st Ed. Dungeons or Dragons as you can in the most modern game out. 

    That said, I would suggest you want the class that is the simplest mechannicall for your first taste of a PbtA game. IMO that will make it easier to jump into the whole concept behind it. 

  25. John Alexander I disagree. The GM has to Address the Chracters, Not the Players, have to Give Every Monster Life, have to Begin and End With the Fiction and the PCs have the bond mechanic. All of these features necessitate roleplay.

    As for balance, it is very rarely inherent to a class, but is instead emergent from how the GM works. If the GM isn’t sharing the spotlight equally, isn’t giving each character a time to shine, then the game will be unbalanced in a narrative sense. Additionally, failure in PbtA games don’t make you feel useless, because failure is fun! When you fail a roll, it means that fun stuff is going to happen, the move snowball speeds up. 

  26. Elliott Ambrosetti We are probably going to have to disagree, but I don’t see any of those things necessitating RP. They encourage it. With good GMs and good groups, the RP will definitely flow from the use of those things. However, it would be entirely possible to perform those actions with little to no RP. 

    On the subject of balance, yes failure can be fun, but few people want failure to be their character’s  defining characteristic. Fewer still will be happy with that circumstance if they weren’t planning on it when they created the character but discover that mechanically their character can’t do what they thought it could. Yes, a good GM can work wonders and make an under-powered character seem great, but that is GMing skill that can be applied to any game, any system. It doesn’t mean that balance isn’t a factor in enjoyment of a game and that classes shouldn’t be roughly balanced.

    Maria Rivera I definitely agree with that Maria. Particularly if you are talking 3.5 or Pathfinder. The bookkeeping gets in the way far too often, to the point where I’ve seen new players who had no idea what their characters could even do, because it got lost in the jumble. The bookkeeping is one of the reasons I’ve been meaning to look into some of the non spell list magic options out there for DW, because I feel leafing through spell lists defeats some of that lack of paperwork that is amongst DW’s greatest strengths.

  27. OP – check out The Vancomancer by David Guyll / Awful Good Games. It’s all the good things about being a wizard and more without the shit that doesn’t make sense

  28. DW doesn’t worry about “balance” in the way that D&D does (i.e. each character should do X damage per round, and a PC that does more will break the game and a PC that does less will be useless and die a painful death), but it is concerned with the spotlight. The Fighter is better at any of the other characters at fighting. The Cleric is better than any of the other characters at healing. The Thief is better than any of the other characters at poisoning people and disarming traps. Are those “balanced” against each other? In D&D terms, there’s no easy way to tell; it’s apples and oranges. However, in DW terms, they each have their own moments in the spotlight; everyone has something they do better than everyone else. So while we don’t really like to talk about balance in terms of class design (just like fantasy authors don’t worry about making each protagonist exactly equal), it isn’t unreasonable to say that a character that fights as well as or better than the Fighter, but also casts spells, would be unbalanced, since it would steal the Fighter’s spotlight. A Wizard can do literally anything, given enough time and resources, while the Fighter is just really good at hitting stuff, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unbalanced, since sometimes you need someone who’s really good at fighting! Everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, and everyone’s happy.

    Which, uh, isn’t really relevant to the OP, so sorry about that. I agree you should start with a core class for your first time out. Take it as a challenge to come up with the most creative interpretation of a core class that you can!

  29. ^Wisdom here. Spotlight balance (i.e., the ability to engage with, and allow others to engage with, the fiction) is the only kind of balance you need to worry about[1]–which is the main reason why The Mage is generally considered to be a bad class[2], and why I would call The Clock Mage a bad class. For the former, the Cast A Spell move is like a faster version of the Wizard’s Ritual–it can do essentially anything, with very few restrictions. On top of that, it has bad consequences even on a 10 plus–and while it’s easy to misread that as being a balancing factor, what it really does is require that the GM write more fiction for your character than for others, and make it so that you’re throwing a monkey wrench into the scene flow every time you activate the move regardless of your intent.

    The Clock Mage, on the other hand, has time travel, which allows you to take control of (and say no to) the fiction on a level that other characters simply cannot approach. Aging Backwards means that things will never go wrong for you without GM fiat (and even basic Rewind lets you say “nope, that didn’t happen” at any time), while Stopped Clock makes you invulnerable to any sort of physical consequences. Perfect Timing means urgency will never be a problem. This is not even getting into advanced moves, or any of the more subtle problems the class presents. I admire the level of clockwork engineering that went into it, and how everything builds off of everything else, but I would not qualify it as a good, playable class. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for someone just starting out in DW.

    Caveat: like literally anything, either of these classes can work at the table, with the right mindset and behavior, plenty of trust and artful play on both sides of the screen. But I suggest taking a playbook that will work at the table because of what it contains rather than despite what it contains.

    That said, I will touch on the Star Mage in a moment, but before that, a quick recommendation for sticking to a core class at first, and why you might want to do so. You’ll find that a lot of the time, you’ll be falling back on your basic moves rather than widgety playbook superpowers more often than not, and the nice thing about the core playbooks is that they lend themselves well towards that, and integrate nicely with the existing basic moves. The Fighter as an archetype reminds you to use Hack and Slash, and gives you the abilities to wade into combat and solve things with force. The Thief reminds you about Defy Danger by rewarding stealthy and careful play. The Bard is the consummate face, encouraging you to Parley with people instead of just bashing faces in. The Wizard inspires logical thinking outside of their spellbooks, reminding you to Spout Lore to see what you know about a situation, and The Ranger is an acutely aware tracker who benefits from Discerning Realities to see what their senses tell them. They all have their subtle ways of reminding you to look back at the basic moves list and put the fiction first–and while some third party classes do this as well, many of them in their earnestness to put forth a cool concept throw a few too many mechanical widgets and minigames at you. Hence, the core classes are generally better for getting your feet wet.

    Anyway, as for the Star Mage, I think that it’s one of the better Revised Mage classes that I’ve seen, and it does a little better job of integrating itself with the fiction and the basic moves as I describe above; Origami Universe and Fold Space inspire you to think about the fictional space that you’re in and how to manipulate it, without being mechanically distracting. Mobility is the class’s main fictional capability, which is useful but not, I think, overwhelming. You will be able to bypass certain types of traps and hazards, which may step on the toes of characters like The Thief, but you also won’t be able to do the things that they can do like actually disarm traps and locks, so that’s probably fine.

    Some things to look out for, if you do take this class:

    ~It’s not very thematically tight; the backgrounds and gear options suggest a variety of different ideas that won’t necessarily mesh well with one another, most of which do not fit especially well in traditional fantasy and some of which read a bit like a fanfiction character. Work with your GM to see what works for your table, and modify thematics as needed.

    ~And the Kitchen Sink is badly worded, and I’d stay away from it. Can’t tell if it’s supposed to essentially let you Volley at any time with unlimited ammo, or if you can just turn anything near you into thrown ammo, or what.

    ~Two Places can essentially double spotlight time on you, especially if one of your doubles goes out on their own. Tread carefully here.

    Other than that, just remember the other people at the table and leave them their wheelhouse. Take your moments in the spotlight when they come, and defer to their expertise when it’s their time to shine. There are a few other things which I think are a bit poorly done (too many +WIS things when other attributes would make more sense;  Fold Space and Origami Universe being two separate moves when they do similar things and could have been merged into one; Personal Gravity saying that you can always Defy Danger with WIS despite what the situation says, etc.), but not in a way that will ruin your gameplay. Whatever you decide to go with, have fun!

    Ah, and to answer your earlier request for actual play experience: I’ve played both the original Mage, and the Winter Mage. I arrived at the above conclusions about the former. The latter leaves you without a lot to do much of the time because of how dreadfully specific its fictional effects are, unfortunately.

    [1] This is true in DnD and any other system as well. It only seems like power is what needs balancing in DnD because at its heart it is a tactical combat game, so prowess in that area basically is what determines spotlight balance. Take a look at the optimization community and you’ll see that people are at least implicitly aware of this; the builds and strategies which are considered most powerful are generally those which render combat (i.e., most of the assumed fiction) irrelevant.

    [2] Note that Jacob Randolph, the class’s creator, acknowledges this problem, which is why he made the revised Mage playbooks in the first place. I have a lot of respect for that, despite my thoughts on a few of the results. 🙂

  30. On the question of rules vs roleplaying. There is this fallacy around that calls the idea that rules affect roleplaying a fallacy. The argument goes like this: No matter how hefty or crunchy the combat rules are, I can still roleplay the heck out of it. On the face of it, it is true. I can roleplay the heck out of chess or Monopoly. But there are things that follow on rules-heavy systems that impede roleplay, by breaking the suspension of disbelief.

    1) Looking up rules. How far can I jump in platemail? This happens with some of the most experienced GM’s. It can be something as simple as just asking the GM who answers in mechanical terms, eg “one square”.

    2) Initiative order. “I hit him with my sword.” “No you don’t. Its not your turn.” Suspension of disbelief is gone.

    3) Player downtime. Start playing on your smartphone while the wizard calculates his area of effect.

    4) Combat encounters eating up all the table time.

    This is my uniform and repeated experience playing Pathfinder for about three years.

    The other side of the coin is that some systems tie the fiction intetionally into the game with mechanics. DW gives XP for playing your bonds and alignment. Moves like “I am the law” are primarily roleplaying moves. Fate allows you to compell almost any fictional element in the game. These mechanics definitely contribute to storytelling.

  31. Sorry Corbin, not wanting to distract from your original questions. However, I did want to respond. 

    1: Looking up the rules isn’t a factor of the rules as much as a gaming group’s familiarity and comfort with a given set of rules. A group that is intimately familiar with a ruleset can make a rules heavy system feel light and breezy, and that same group trying out something lighter for the first time might stumble and have to look up rules constantly, even if those rules are minimal. Rules aren’t something that are in direct opposition to RP, or we would all still be playing without rules like we did as children in the playground. Rules are there to help us and inspire us. They aren’t the enemies of RP. DW isn’t a great game because of how few rules it has, there are plenty of games with less rules. DW is great in how it shares authority.

    2: There is always an initiative system. You can call it whatever you like, but even in a one on one game, the GM is probably not going to let you “swing your sword” every time you want to. There will be times when they might want to finish their description. In a multi player game, everyone at the table probably has things they want to do, and a GM can only resolve one at a time. That’s initiative, again, call it what you will but it is present in any game. 

    3: Player downtime is awful, but there aren’t any games out there that enforce players sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. Rules don’t cause this, lack of familiarity/comfort with those rules do, though IME the more common cause is GMing and a failure to move the spotlight around.

    4: Does combat get in the way of RP? Is it possible to RP in combat? is it possible for RP to inspire RP? I agree it can often become mechanical and soul sucking when done incorrectly, but when done correctly it can be a source of great roleplaying. 

  32. This is just my experience, so it is fully subjective. Of course others will experience it differently. I continued playing Pathfinder for almost a year after I also started to play DW, and then stopped, The difference was, in my subjective experience, just too big. 

    Pathfinder combats are like a board game, in the group I played there were always attempts to roleplay during combat. But the in DW it was like being inside a movie instead of a boardgame. That was the difference for me. 

    As far as downtime is concerned: As DW GM I am always very sensitive for players whose attention wander. As soon as a player starts fidgeting, I make a move to pass narrative control to THAT player. I put the spotlight on him. In a system with initiative order it is impossible. You HAVE to wait until the wizard has found the perfect target square for his aoe spell, and the rogue has mapped all the possible routes to a backstab. 

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