How to build a Mafia: A guide

KiradaweaKiradawea Member Posts: 1,750 Transcendent
edited August 2016 in Mafia Hideout
Since @Sylandra suggested it, I'm gonna write up a guide on my thoughts on how to balance mafia games for the Lusternia forums, in case you ever want to run your own mafia game in the future. There's gonna be a lot of theory, but don't worry. No math. The charts would seem overly convoluted to tabletop RPG players anyway. So without further ado, allow me to present a guide on how to make set-ups for the third most popular activity on the Lusternia Forums (after talking about the other side on tweets and liking @Daraius's cake pics.)

We start with the assumption that we want the game to be as fair as possible, so I'll initially only discuss a basic setup with town, one scum group and a basic set of powers. Third party roles, be they pro, anti, or neutral in regards to town, will be discussed in their own segment.

We begin by creating a game of sixteen roles. You can go for less, but I recommend sixteen as a sweet number that allows many people to play, without making the game drag on for too long. More than that can lead to burnout and exhaustion in your players. Especially if there are no Mediums in the game, but we'll get back to that later. A completely vanilla game with no powers outside of the mafia's ability to talk to each other at night, and their ability to eliminate a town player should be balanced at about 25-33% of players being scum. Thus, a scum group for our vanilla game of 16 players should have 4 or 5 scum members. The amount of players should be the first balancing factor you consider. Powers are useful, but there's nothing more powerful than an extra body on your team.

"But Kira, the show/game/book/real life event I'm basing the game around had more/less bad guys than that." I'll get back to that under flavouring and how the game flavour impacts the game balance, but for now remember that these are guide-lines. If you want to move away from the 25-33% threshold, feel free. Just make sure that you compensate the other team appropriately with powers and specific roles.

Doctor: The doctor is the most basic of all roles, and a skilled doctor is perhaps the most powerful tool available to town. The doctor's primary role is to negate the scum's nightly faction kill. Her power is diminished the more individual town-aligned killers there are, and it becomes more valuable if there are more scum kills. Doctor is a very swingy role whose viability depends a lot on the player. A doctor who can protect herself is also a very safe claim, and you should take steps to ensure the doctor would not want to claim on day 1.

Investigator: The investigator learns information every night. Along with the doctor, he is a basic role that usually shows up in all mafia games, there in the form of the cop who can investigate one person and determine if they're town or scum. This is also the strongest incarnation of his role. It's usually not very swingy as the role needs to balance when to reveal with how much of a target it makes him. If there's a doctor, he can become very powerful, but see specific strategy counters below. Weaker variations that learn other things exist, but we're dealing with how to balance specific roles later on.

Roleblocker: The role stops another role from acting during a night. The strength of this role is to reduce the swinginess of a game by denying a night action from going through. Since the Nightphase by design should favour scum, they put more power back into the dayphase and are thus moderately powerful town roles. They also have a strong ability to identify scum by lack of night-kills.

Jailer: The Jailer is perhaps the single most powerful role in the hands of a skilled player. It acts as both a roleblocker and a doctor against their target, which in skilled hands means you can choose to act as a roleblocker or a protector at night. It also has utility as a balancing factor since the protection it offers high value individuals diminishes their value by denying them night action. They are a moderately powerful town role.

Vigilante: The vigilante is the swingiest of roles. Once per night, they get to eliminate another player, ostensibly in service to the town. However, since vigilantes kill townies and villains with equal abandon, the only thing that's certain about them is that they make the games shorter. More than any other role, they're highly influenced by player skill, and in the hands of a skilled player they can win or lose the game single-handedly. When you balance the game, consider it a moderately powerful role unless you're aiming at a specific player to get this role.

Watcher: The watcher can see a specific individual and will know the names of all who targetted them that night. Due to their ability to with accuracy and certainty determine who the potential killers of a certain victim is, the watcher is perhaps the most powerful of the observation roles. It leaves few openings for bluffs, and also requires the least skill to use

Tracker: The counterpart to the watcher, Trackers are weaker cops, in that they can generally only determine scum if they follow someone who kills that night. This may still be the kill of a vigilante, and thus it's a weaker role than the cop. It also requires more skill to use.

Motion detector: Unlike the tracker and watcher, the motion detector does not receive any names. They only notice how many individuals visited a certain player and if they acted that night. This is the weakest of the standard investigative roles.

Mayor: The mayor is a role who can reveal himself as a mayor. In doing so he confirms himself as town and gains increased vote weight. The further into the game the mayor survives, the stronger the role becomes as it controls a greater percentage of the total votes available. This role is powerful, is not very swingy and is easy to use.

Masons: The mason is a group of two or more players who can talk to each other at night. The strength of this power is highly dependent on if the two players know with certainty that the other masons are not mafia. If they know this for sure, then the game starts out with several strong investigations in town's favour. For this reason, masons are usually town, but not confirmed town with one another.

Scum roles:
Godfather: The Godfather is immune to investigations and nightkills. These immunities are worthless if there's no cop or vigilante or serial killer in the game. The godfather also usually decides the mafia kill and who performs the kill. Even if the decision ends up being taken to vote, the godfather is the tie-breaker.

Framer/Lawyer: The Framer makes a town appear as scum to cops. The lawyer makes scum appear town to cops. A highly useful role that helps prevent investigator dominance in the game.

Consigliere: A rolecop in the service of the mafia. He discovers what particular role a player has in order to help the mafia direct focus on particularly high-value targets for elimination.

These roles may be modified in various ways, and it is not an exhaustive list. The list is meant as a basic of roles you can include and how they work. So how does knowing that help you balance? Especially when you want to make your own roles you say? Sheesh. I'm getting to that part.

First though, let me discuss third party roles and their presence in the game. Third parties generally have their own win condition and have to keep the game going until they fulfill that condition. Primarily, their existence helps relieve some pressure from scum because, while they generally wish to be helpful to town to avoid being lynched, when push comes to shove they'll side with anyone who can help them win. This creates a problem of priority for town. A third-party is hard to trust, but town rarely have to kill a third-party in order to ensure their victory. And if so, lynching a third party means wasting a day. How to deal with a third-party thus becomes a meaningful choice.

Different third party roles push the decisionmaking on what town should do with them in different directions. Here are a few of the most common third party roles.

Serial Killer: The serial killer reduces the length of the game by increasing the number of nightly eliminations by one. In any mafia game, this role is usually considered the most difficult role to win as because the serial killer is alone, and everyone will want to eliminate them if their role ever becomes known.

Survivor: The survivor wins if they are not eliminated during the course of the game. To help with that, they usually have some sorts of death immunity. Since they win with both scum and town, they are neither enemy nor friend to anyone and must generally make themselves valuable enough to town to not be worth a principle lynch, while not being so valuable that mafia feels forced to kill them.

Cult leader: The cult mechanics are a chapter unto themselves, but the third party cultleader seeks to convert town to the cult, die if he targets mafia, and may or may not end the game if the cult ever reaches majority. Since players can't know for sure if a cult will end the game in a loss for noncult or not, they are generally considered dangerous. Cult-members generally revert to being townies if the cult-leader dies.

So how do you use this to make your own roles? First, you have to remember the core principle of the game. Information. Information is the single most valuable commodity in the game. More than votes. More than kills and protections. Town thrives on information. The more things they can confirm, the less scum can do to guide the decisions of town. When you create or balance a role, you need to ask yourself "Can this role be confirmed by others? How easily can it be confirmed? Are there any non-obvious ways this power can reveal information?" For example, every role that reveals to the target that an action was performed on them confirms that power's action for that night. For this reason, if you can avoid it, do not reveal to a player that they had an action performed on them.

However, while scum should have the opportunity to misdirect, lie and in other ways confuse and confound the town, that does not mean that the game master should help them with that. Clarity is paramount, and the players need to be able to trust that the game-master is not lying to them. If a power acts in a peculiar way, for example if a kill makes it so that the death reveal does not appear for some reason, ensure that the player knows this. Players, scum and town, need to make informed decisions for the game to have a meaning. If they utilize a power and something unforeseen happens as part of their power, rather than active interference from a different player, then the game will feel arbitrary. Players should never feel like their decisions don't matter, and that the game is determined by things outside their control. Never undermine the trust your players have in you as a game master. It will not be amusing for them. So when is it okay to lie or keep information from a player? Generally, you shouldn't, but there are three instances where such lies are acceptable.

The first is the existence of sanities in investigative roles. Sanities occupy a specific spot in the meta to remove some power from the alignment cop. Without the possibility that an investigator may be insane, every investigation becomes a mod-confirmation that person X is of a specific alignment. Coupled with a doctor and the cop becomes an untouchable force, drastically pushing the game balance in favour of town, to the point that the mafia ends up powerless during the dayphase. Sanities are frustrating in the moment, and should be used sparingly and wisely. But their power as a role in the meta of the game can not be understated. You may see sanities show up in other roles, such as an insane doctor who kills, rather than heals, his patients. This however is not a proper use of sanities. A doctor who kills is a vigilante, and to tell the player anything else is to lie to them.

The second is the existence of disruptive roles. These are roles like the framer or lawyer, who makes a target appear guilty or innocent respectively from investigations, or busdrivers that swap two players around. Their existence occupies much of the same space in the meta as sanity does. A way to cast aspersions on investigation results. Their advantage lies in how they enable play and counterplay. As a framer, it feels fantastic to frame the doctor as the cop investigates him, especially if this is behaviour you properly predicted. Disruptive roles add a layer to outsmarting and outplanning your opponent.

The third is the existence of hidden roles. Some aspects of a character that remains hidden until a certain trigger condition happens. As an example is making the backup doctor unaware that she's the backup doctor until the doctor dies. As powers tend to dictate behaviour in the game, hiding the knowledge of certain powers helps control behaviour. For roles such as an awakened serial killer, it also ensures that they can fulfill a role of a late-game threat without causing too many eliminations early-game. As well as ensuring that if the player is eliminated early on, they still have a chance to win as town. Just make sure that you're honest with your player and that none of the hidden knowledge will drastically ruin the gameplay experience for him. Refer to earlier for examples.

When you now make a role, value the information it provides more than anything else and never have your roles give out so much information that scum becomes unable to bluff or lie their way to victory. Remember, in a perfect world the mafia should win about half the time.

As a final point of interest, here is a list of roles and the values I generally ascribe to them. Try to make the sum of values for town and scum about even as a base-line if you need help balancing your game. All roles assume standard roles, with no frills attached. Counter roles assume there's something to be countered. A framer with no cop is essentially vanilla.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the numbers can be read as a total value for certain roles. However, the role points are meant to be added to the base value of a specific role. So a town cop is worth 3 vanilla townies. A mafia Godfather is worth 5 townies, assuming there's vig and cops in the game. Furthermore, the values should not be taken as absolutes. The further you deviate from a standard 12/4 setup with the following standard roles, the less exact the numerical list is. Four motion detectors do not equate a cop.

Vanilla mafia: 3.5
Vanilla town: 1

Mafia roles:
Godfather: 1.5 (2 if there are other NK immune townies)
Framer: 1
Lawyer: 1
Consigliere: 0.5 (for every cop, doctor, jailer and watcher in the game, max 2)

Town roles:
Cop: 2
Doctor: 1 (0.5 for mafia)
Roleblocker: 1 (1.5 for mafia)
Jailer: 1.5
Watcher: 1.5
Tracker: 1
Motion detector: 0.5
Vigilante: 1
Mason: 0.5 (for a two mason group, add 0.5 for each additional mason, double if masons confirm one another as town)
Mayor: 0.5

This list is only a recommendation. Feel free to deviate. Just make sure that you know why you deviate from the setup and you should be fine.

Happy mafia creation. If you've got any questions, feel free to ask.

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Post edited by Kiradawea on


  • SylandraSylandra Join Queue for Mafia Games The Last Mafia GameMember Posts: 4,731 Transcendent
    Would also like to add in this as a resource, as I find it gives a lot of additional good feedback!
    Daraius said:
    "Oh yeah, you're a naughty mayor, aren't you? Misfile that Form MA631-D. Comptroller Shevat's got a nice gemstone disc for you, but yer gonna have to beg for it."
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