Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Body Powers

I did a little preview of how powers will be formatted the other day and then discussed one of the ways that the Scope of powers is defined (Breadth).  Today I want to focus on another way to define powers: Category.  

A power's Category is a sort of genus for powers.  Categories are thematic and there are seven Categories: Body Powers, Energy Powers, Matter Powers, Mental Powers, Movement Powers, Sensory Powers, and Super-Qualities.  Categories have little direct mechanical impact on play, but they provide a great deal of the flavour of the power.  And that can have mechanical impacts when deciding what does and doesn't fall under the scope of a power.  

For example, Air Blast and Power Blast are both...well, blasty.  The principle mechanical use is to damage something at range (this is the Effect; I haven't discussed that yet, but the idea should be familiar from Champions and all the effects-based games depending therefrom).  However, Power Blast is from the Energy Powers category and Air Blast is from the Matter Powers Category.  In a game, there may be something that functions as an Energy Deflection Shield.  That would probably be effective against Power Blast, but not Air Blast.

Categories are also the foundation of the Random Roll Method for powers (the last version is here, although I have made changes in the interim).  Let's look at the Body Powers Table:

You'll notice that several of the powers require you to make a further roll on a sub-table.  Sub-tables!  How often do we see those anymore in these anti-wargame days?  Well, take that you haters of sub-tables.  I got sub-tables out the wazoo here.  OK: I have four for Body Powers which may not be out the wazoo, but it's some way along the wazoo.  Here's the sub-tables:

The dice mechanic here goes from a variety of simplified D66 to a straight 2d6.  Why?  It's all about the numbers, baby.  The main Tables have a lot of entries so that 2d6 just doesn't work, not without making really odd probabilities such that every other hero would have Invisibility.  I wanted the odds on this table to be pretty equal with the notable exception of Resistance (which is what I'm calling the generic Armour/Damage Resistance/Invulnerability power) since pretty much every other hero does have some form of super-protection. 

But the sub-tables have too few entries to make D66 practicable.  Plus, I wanted to have less balanced probabilities on the sub-tables.  Alert, imaginary readers will note that I have put rough odds out to the right on the sub-tables.

Some of these powers may be Focused or Meta-Powers.  Sub-tables 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4 make that determination, as does Table 9 which is the generic Power Breadth table discussed last time).  One Power (Inhuman) is automatically a Meta-Power.  The player who rolls this is free to choose the exact nature of his inhumanity (Alien, Robot, God, Hard-Light Hologram, Golem,  Living Planet, whatever) and he and the GM then work out appropriate sub-powers.  Consider it my homage to Villains & Vigilantes' Body Power (speaking of which, that venerable game has finally passed back into the control of creators Jeff Dee and Jack Herman, who have released a cleaned-up version as edition 2.1).

Some of these powers, such as Animal Powers and New/Extra Body Parts are similarly open to interpretation, while others, such as Size-Change and Stretching are fairly straight-forward.  This is something I agonized about a great deal: how specific should the powers be?  Make them too general and you lose the point of even having a random roll method; make them too specific and you end up with characters who look more like Gamma World mutants than super-heroes.  I again took a leaf from V&V and mixed it up a bit, producing what I think is a nice balance.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grief & Trouble: A Hero's Constant Companions

At it’s heart, conflict in HoI is a relatively abstract affair resolved by having both sides roll 2d6, add the MOD of whatever Qualities apply, and see who got the higher result. The difference between the two is the amount of Grief which the winner inflicts upon the loser.

Grief is my reworking of the Damage Ranks and Failure Ranks in core PDQ.  Grief is an abstract measure of damage.  The most common conflict to occur in super-hero stories is the combat: two super-guys punching the living daylights out of each other.  Therefore, combat is usually the easiest way to explain how conflicts are dealt with in HoI.  However, that doesn’t mean that combat is the only kind of conflict. Other kinds of conflicts include navigating some kind of environmental effect (trying to rush through a burning building to save a child), a contest of wills (trying to scare the hood so badly that he tells you what he knows), or a puzzle (trying to work out how the alien Spatial Field Generator works before the asteroid crashes into the city).

This is why combat isn’t about inflicting wounds or injury.  Besides, most combats in Bronze Age comics are fairly bloodless affairs: super-fists crash into faces without knocking out teeth or flattening noses; radiation blasts pick people up and throw them far away, breathless, but essentially unharmed (and certainly free of radiation-poisoning); and nobody ever seems to wake up the next day with whip-lash or lower back injury. Therefore, in this game, super-combatants give each other Grief.

The exact nature of the Grief given in any conflict will depend upon the nature of the conflict. Players and GM’s should feel free to narrate the nature of Grief. Most of the time, Grief vanishes as soon as the conflict is over. The heroes and villains pick themselves up, dust themselves off, maybe make a wise-crack or two, and are fine and ready for more in the next scene.  Occasionally, however characters can pick up Trouble, which is a sort of Grief that lingers (discussed more below).

Mechanically, Grief acts as a downshift on the victim’s Qualities.  Each point of Grief represents one downshift.  Whenever someone takes Grief, he decides which Qualities take the downshifts and how many.  For example, The Nemesis of Crime has a pile of packing crates dumped on him by the gang he is pursuing.   The gangsters and hero both make their rolls and the Nemesis' roll is 10, while the crooks roll is 13, leaving a difference of 3. That means the Dark Guardian takes 3 Grief.  The hero’s player decides to spread out the Grief and take 1 downshift to 3 different Qualities. If he wanted to, he could taken all three to the same Quality or give two to one Quality and the last to another. It’s the player’s choice.

There is a notable exception to the abstractness discussed above. Whatever Quality takes the first downshift in a conflict generates Trouble.  Trouble is a special kind of attribute that partakes of both a Quality and Grief.  The exact nature of the Trouble is determined by the Quality that took the first hit. If The Presence, the mental projection of a man who no longer exist, takes the first downshift in a conflict to his “Inhuman Aura” Quality, then the Trouble has to be concerned with that. The player is allowed to create the Trouble, subject to GM approval. The exact nature of the Trouble needn’t be decided during the conflict and can be worked out after the end of the current adventure. In this case, the player of the Presence decides that his character is feeling depressed at his inhuman state, which reduces his effectiveness in conflict. He gives himself the Trouble “Depressed at Inhuman State”.

Like any other Quality, Trouble has a rank. When first generated, Trouble is Good +1 rank. But Trouble can never be used to help the character. Trouble acts as a constant negative modifier equal to it’s rank. Constant meaning that it applies to every single dice roll. Why? Well, that’s why the player and GM have to agree on the exact nature of the Trouble. A good choice is that the Trouble is causing the hero anxiety or worry or some other emotional problem that distracts him from performing at peak efficiency. Such as in the example above. Another option is some lingering physical problem.

Even worse, if the same Quality takes the first hit in a subsequent conflict, then instead of generating a new Trouble, the existing Trouble goes up one rank. So, in a later battle, the Presence loses a roll and elects to take the first hit to “Inhuman Aura” again. Now his Good +1 “Depressed at Inhuman State” becomes “Excellent +2 Depressed at Inhuman State”.

Which is a bummer, so most heroes will be anxious to rid themselves of Trouble. They can do so by playing out a reasonable way of assuaging the situation and paying out Hero Points equal to the Trouble’s rank. This can only be done in a later adventure than the one in which the Trouble was generated or increased. Doing this gets rid of the Trouble, but it also means that hero is down that number of Hero Points when he has his next conflict. There’s a trade-off, which is why some players might elect to let Trouble rise for awhile.

Using our example, the player of the Presence doesn’t want to let his Trouble get worse than Excellent +2, so he decides to deal with it at the next opportunity. At the beginning of the next adventure, he decides that the Presence disappears from a meeting with his super-pals and reappears atop a mountain in the Himalayas. There he sits, oblivious to the howling winds and ponders the meaning of “humanity”. The GM likes this and continues it, having a mysterious monk appear and lead the hero to a hidden monastery. Seeing the existence of men in such circumstances and feeling their goodwill, the Presence feels restored. He pays out 2 Hero Points, removes the Trouble, and waves goodbye to his new friends as he returns to Industry City. The game has now had a nice little soap-opera moment plus a mysterious new element has been added to the game. Just who are these hidden monks? Any GM worth his salt will have them show up again, in perhaps a surprising manner. Also, of course, the Presence returns to his duties to find himself in confrontation with the noble anti-hero Raptor and lacking two vital Hero Points. He’s really going to need those to defeat his foe. Oh well, such is the lot of the hero.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Far Beyond Mortal Men: Powers in Heroes of Industry

Although not all super-heroes have super-powers, the presence of powers is one of the defining elements of the genre. Plus, super-powers are just cool. Although Powers are a type of Quality, they require some special treatment as they are so various and yet so essential to the game.

Scope is the same for Powers as for any other Quality: it defines the Power, describing what it does and when it is applicable. Some powers have fairly simple Scopes: Fire Blast means you can shoot out a blast of fire.  But other powers are more complex: what do Air Powers do really?  

This is something that I have really grappled with for a while.  When you have a Random Power method of character generation, you need a little more definition than might be required otherwise.  Of course some of the answers can be discovered through play when a player suggests that his power ought to let him do such-and-such. But it is useful to have some starting understanding of the power shared by the player and GM. This game uses three different “viewpoints” to discuss the Scope of powers: Breadth, Category, and Effect. Put them all together and you have a specific Power.

I'll discuss Categories and Effects in another post.  Right now, I'll focus on Breadth.

Power Breadth
Breadth is how widely-applicable a power can be.  Look at the two powers mentioned above. Fire Blast is a pretty narrow power: you basically use it to burn things.  Sure, a smart hero can think of cleverer things to do, but that is the province of Stunts. At it’s root, it’s a hurty-thing.  Compare that with Air Powers. That would seem to allow for a great variety of applications: moving things with wind (as telekinesis), attacking people with focused blasts of wind (as an attack), blocking missiles (as defense), and so forth.  It seems that Air Powers would be much broader in scope than Fire Blast.

The basic distinction is between Focused Powers and Meta-Powers. A Focused Power is the usual sort of straight-forward power, like Fire Blast. A Meta-Power is more complex.

A Meta-Power can perform various functions all at the same time and it represents an extremely broad type of power. Each specific function is termed a sub-power. These sub-powers may be so diverse as to lack any obvious thematic link. Sorcery, for example, can do almost anything, while the inborn powers of certain aliens may be quite a varied lot.

The possessor should make a list of the typical sub-powers. These can all be used at Rank-3. Should the possessor wish to use a sub-power to use a normal-scale Quality, he will get Rank-3x2, just as if he was buying Intense Training. The GM is free to limit the number of sub-powers readily available, as additional powers can always be accessed as a Spin-off Stunt. Most Meta-Powers should come with a Vulnerability and/or Limitation. In addition, the player should expect there to be at least one other being out there with the same Meta-Power.

Possessors of Meta-Powers can respond to almost any situation and the Meta-Power is generally their only power. On the flip side, once they start taking Grief to the Meta-Power, they quickly lose competency. 

Examples of common Meta-Powers include Sorcery, Power Cosmic, Kryptonian Powers, or a Power Ring.

Some powers are inherently Focused or Meta-Power; others come in both types. In that case, the player is free to choose the power’s Breadth at creation if using the Modeling Method; if using the Random Rolling Method, the player must roll on Table 9: Power Breadth to determine this.

So, let's take a look at an example to see how this works:

Exotic Energy Powers (Focused/Meta, Energy Power, Various Effects) – A catch-all category for less common forms of energy. The most common appearance of this power are the multifarious Energy Blasts that come in pretty colors with optional Kirby-dots. The other common variation is Cosmic Power, which seems to be some sort of meta-energy or vaguely scientific sounding form of magic.

If using the Random Roll Method of character generation, the player must roll on Ta-ble 9, Power Breadth to determine whether the power is Focused or a Meta-Power. If using the Modeling Method, then player is free to choose.

The most common Focused versions of this power are:
• Energy Blast – Generate a bolt or beam of energy to attack.
• Energy Field – Create a bubble of energy that functions as a force field.
• Energy Flight – Emits a thrust of energy to allow for flight.
• Energy Construct – Create pseudo-matter or tangible energy forms, such as scoops, bonds, etc. as Create Matter.

The Meta-Power version of this power would likely include at least all of the above as sub-powers. Other sub-powers could well include Adaptation (for travel through space), Resistance (exotic energy suffuses the body to resist harm), Lightning Speed (to span the galaxies), Cosmic Awareness (cosmic power puts one in touch with the cosmos funnily enough), and almost any Super-Quality (energy permeating the being makes them far more than human).

There aren’t many common Limitations associated with Exotic Energy Meta-Power. Depending upon the game, the Meta-Power might be granted by some more powerful being who places certain restrictions upon the hero. Similarly, in certain games, an Exotic Energy Meta-Power might be opposed by Sorcery with the power limited against magic or even suffering a Vulnerability. A common Quality for those with the Meta-Power is something representing the alien nature of the possessor, such as “Not From Around this Planet”.

Am I Evil For Not Being A Follower?

I just suddenly thought to check and found, much to my astonishment and delight, that I have 34 followers. Now, that may not be enough to conquer even a minor City-State, but still. Which realization made me wonder: am I evil for not being a follower? I subscribe to any blog that I like, meaning I get updates whenever there is a new post. I make comments anytime something grabs my attention. But I honestly never think to be a follower of anyone's blog. I don't really even know what it means. Should I? Is it a sign of respect or just something to put on your virtual lapel?

Manners in the virtual age.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Brave and the Bold: Super Teams in Heroes of Industry

[One of the things I really enjoy about Truth & Justice is the ease of stating up things.  Not just villains--although Kirby knows that's a sine qua non for me these days--but inanimate objects and even abstract entities. That's the jumping off point for my rules on creating and running Super-Teams in Heroes of Industry.]

What’s better than one super-hero? Why, a team of super-heroes, of course. The team-up has been a staple of supers stories almost since the beginning of the genre. In game terms, a Super Team is an entity much like a Vehicle: it has one basic Quality (“Super-Team”) and can have as many other Qualities as desired.

To create a Super Team, two or more heroes must have the Super-Team as a Quality (“Member of the Super-Team”). Adding up all the ranks in that Quality gives the Team it’s rank in “Super-Team” (a maximum of Monstrous +6). So if, four heroes decide to team-up and each has the Quality “Member of the Super-Team” at Good +1 rank, their group begins with “Incredible +4 Super-Team”. The hero’s rank in the “Member of the Super-Team” Quality indicates his relative standing and authority. If all the heroes have the same rank, this a group of equals; if one hero has a substantively higher rank, then he may be the Chairman or a more informal “back-bone” of the group.

In addition, the Super-Team gets a like number of Quality Ranks to be assigned as desired. These new Qualities will often include the “Headquarters” and “Vehicle” Qualities, but may also have Qualities related to popularity, legal status, or even inter-group dynamics. Any such Qualities belonging to the group can be used by any member, but remember that these are not personal Qualities and can’t be the used to take Grief. These additional Quality ranks are assigned by the player on a one-for-one basis, so that if one hero has the “Member” Quality at Excellent +2, he gets to assign 2 ranks.

In play, any member of the group may call for a downshift in a team Quality. Each downshift gives that member 1 Hero Point to use immediately. This is the principle use of the Super Team: it provides a Hero Point reservoir that can be tapped by any member of the team. A member of the group is limited to drawing on these Hero Points by his own investment in the Team: no hero can draw more Hero Points from the Super-Team than his own rank in the “Member of the Super-Team” Quality. This limit is per adventure, although the GM may change this to per scene if he desires.

As with any other Quality, the Super-Team's can be used as complications. Resultant Hero Points are not assigned to any individual member of the group, but are attached to the Super-Team, to be drawn on by the members as desired.

As always, no Super-Team Quality can be downshifted below Average +0. The down-shifted Qualities will be restored at the end of the adventure as usual, but any Quality downshifted all the way to Average +0 will generate a Good +1 rank Trouble based upon that Quality.

Example: The players of Gilgamesh the Mighty; Force, the Man of Action; the Space Messiah, Logos the Lost; and the mentalist and crusader, Empower, all desire to create a Super-Team. However, they envision a loose alliance of independent heroes who may spend as much time squabbling among themselves as stopping crime. They see their group as so informal as to have no official headquarters, but rather tend to meet at the mansion of Empower when they get together. They aren’t much liked by the local law enforcement and are virtually unknown to the public. They decide that the informal name of the group will be “the Strangers”.

With that in mind, Gilgamesh, Force, and Logos all take the Quality “Good +1 Member of the Strangers”. Empower, however, takes the Quality at Remarkable +3; she sees herself as the one who holds this motley assembly together and the only one who really believes in the group. The three Good +1 ranks plus the one Remarkable +3 ranks =6 ranks. So the Strangers are created with the Quality “Monstrous +6 Super-Team”. This is a powerful assemblage of heroes, even if they can’t decide what to watch on TV any given night.

Because they have 6 ranks in the basic Quality, they also have 6 ranks to spread around in other Qualities. The players, being far more agreeable than their characters, decide how to assign the ranks. They give themselves an “Excellent +2 Mansion” (even if it does actually belong to Empower, she lets anybody who wants to crash there), “Good +1 Medic” (turns out that Empower’s loyal butler was a Green Beret medic), “Good +1 Quarrelsome Non-Group” (which will be a source of complications and general fun), and “Excellent +2 Assemblage of Outsiders” (nobody is actually sure how to use that yet, but it seems an essential part of the nature of the Strangers.)

And so the Sensational Strangers  are born!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Don't mistake the quietness here as a sign of inactivity.  I've been ferociously busy, but not at the putative subject of this blog.  For whatever reason, ever since I got that ridiculous and somewhat self-caused pneumonia, my brain is just stuck on super-heroes.  Like when you get the theme to Dr. Snuggles lodged in there and can't help but sing it over and over until even your small children tell you to shut up.  That hasn't happened to you?  Oh, well, the point is that that work on Under the Dying Sun has screeched to a total stop.  Not forever, but, just like when I can't help but sing "Friend to the animal world!", it will stop until I get this super-hero thing out of my head.

That may be obvious considering that I've been posting about super-heroes for some three months now.  But it's been piece-meal: a house-rule here, variations on random tables, some thoughts on settings, and some re-envisioned villains.  Well, I've finally got to admit that what I am really doing is writing a different product.  I wasn't clear on that myself for a while.  Then the idea began to grow on me.  And so now I'll confess: my intention is to write an official supplement for Truth & Justice featuring my rules tweaks and additions and a 1970's setting heavily inspired by Marvel Comics of the time.  The theoretical title right now is Heroes of Industry.  The PDQ license is worked out, I'm hoping that I get the money to pay the well-known-but-for-now-mystery artist and know...writing the actual product remains.

Loyal, hypothetical readers will recall that in my very first post, over a year ago, I wrote that I was starting the blog because

...I have a little old-school project I'm working on and I thought this might be an interesting way to approach it.  My usual method is to hole up behind my computer for months on end and never let anything see the light of day until it's perfect.  Which, of course, is pretty much never.  So, I thought maybe I'd try something a little different this time.

What's funny  is that as soon as I started working on the supers-game, I found myself again wanting to hole up and never let anything see the light of day until it's perfect. Hmn.  Recognizing that now, I'm going to start posting more frequently with design stuff.  I realize that most of the interest in this blog has been on the old-school D&D thing and the Dying Sun setting.  But that's okay.  Maybe now I can get back to the good old days of truly having imaginary readers again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Raptor: Noble Anti-Hero

Name: Prince Varex XXXI of Zouar
Fight: 28
Amazing +5 Warrior Arts
Incredible +4 Sense of Honour
Remarkable +3 Ruler of Zouar
Remarkable +3 Duty to Protect the World
Excellent +2 Anti-Hero Reputation
Excellent +2 Weirdly Attractive
Excellent +2 Orator
Good +1 Knowledge of the Ancient Mysteries

Powers: Amazing +5 Metapower: Zouarian
--Amazing +5 Super-Strength *
--Incredible +4 Invulnerability *
--Remarkable +3 Flight (Limitation: Wings) *
--Excellent +2 Super-Agility
--Excellent +2 Super-Endurance

Good + 1 Sorcery Meta-Power (Sub-Powers Weak -2)

Origin: Raptor is Prince Varex of the Bird-Men of Zouar, a city hidden within the Transantarctic Mountains. Varex displayed his family’s ancestry from an early age: the previous Princes of his line had all been longer-lived and stronger than the average Zouarian who are, themselves, super-strong compared to normal humans). He grew to manhood during the early part of the 20th century, isolated like all his kind from events in the outside world.

Varex left his hidden world in the early 1950's to investigate the strange energy readings his people had made for some years. These energies turned out to be atomic testing being carried out by the United States. Varex came to America and quickly found out what was occurring. Fearing for his people’s safety--and that of the world-- he launched a one-man war against the U.S. Army for some years after his attempts at negotiations were unsuccessful. During this time, he adopted the name Raptor. As the Raptor, Varex was considered a super-villain and came into frequent conflict with the few super-heroes operating at the time. He occasionally team-up with super-villains such the Atom-Master, but such alliances never lasted long as Varex's old-fashioned sense of honor was generally at odds with such criminals' methods.

The Raptor's war ended in 1954 not because of the United States or it's heroes, but due to his own people. In Varex's long absence, a vicious power struggle had occurred back in Zouar. Eventu-ally, Varex's cousin Zoran emerged as the power. He was convinced that Varex's actions would eventually cause the United States to search for and found Zouar. Thus, he issued an order that Varex was to be captured and brought back to the hidden city.

Varex spent many years in imprisonment in Zouar. During that time, Zoran began to succumb to madness. Unknown to all, he had acquired a copy of The Drama of the Crimson King which contains the blasphemous and mad rituals related to the worship of that reality-destroying elder being. Prince Varex was eventually freed and retook his throne. Since that time, he has made his home in Zouar, but has made repeated trips to the rest of the world, establishing himself as envoy to the land-bound humans and a passionate advocate of nuclear disarmament. In this capacity, he has had occasion to act as a super-hero to protect the world from disasters. The Raptor has also had occasion to carry out unilateral attacks upon nations who he fears could upset global peace. This ensures that his reputation will never remain simple.

Commentary:  I don't think I'll even offer a No-Prize for figuring out the basis for this character.  It may be a little too obvious really.  But I always loved the Sub-Mariner and his tenuous relationships with the super-heroes of the Marvel world.  On the other hand, I'm fairly sick to death of sunken Atlantis.  It seemed to me that a race of winged folk accomplishes the same kind of alieness than the water-breathing Atlanteans do.  But where to hide a bunch of people sprouting bird wings?  That's hard to do.  Then I thought of Antartica, which reminded me of At the Mountains of Madness, and I thought of a neat little back-story, which is just the sort of stuff I was talking about with supers-settings.  I get to tie in the Lovecraftian Crimson King and the Kirbyesque Ultra (the latter of whom I am inordinately fond of).  I also have just a whiff of Elric of Melnibone too for kicks.

Mechanically, one should note that the Raptor has been around for some years and is better than a starting character.  He has boosted up several of his Zouarian powers and has several more ranks in Qualities.  All in all, he's a pretty heavy-hitter, who can pull off the occasional bit of cool magic with an investment of Hero Points.

And no, I don't have a picture for him.  I can't find a Dee picture to steal.  :)  But the Zouarians are taller and more etiolated than humans, with massive chest muscles to support their wings.  They have amber-coloured skin and display a wide variety of hair colours.  Nevertheless, the Raptor is weirdly attractive and the women are all hot.  Because...well, that's just the way it goes in the comics.

Super-hero Settings

In addition to creating random power tables and tweaking the hell out of Truth & Justice, I have also been busy at work on the setting for my super-hero games.  In good, old-school fashion,  I try to let a setting grow organically.  But creating a super-hero setting is a little bit different than a D&D-style sandbox.  The standard supers setting is a big city which really doesn't need mapping (although you can do so if you like).  Your super-heroes are not likely to wander around the city, trying to avoid getting lost and mapping what they find.  To me, the replacement for geography in a supers game are the heroes and villains who populate the place.  Super-beings are literally what shape the supers-world and set the tone.  Is there a glorious legacy of heroism from the late 30's, as in the real world?  Did the supers fall out of favour during the 50's?  Are there so many running around that you can't catalog them?  Are the villains global powers or street thugs?

I grew up a Marvelite in the 1970's.  And whatever else I might enjoy, that setting and style are what say "Super-Heroes" to me.  Social injustice, student protests, Satanism, the Energy Crisis, Women's Lib, lonely cosmic space Jesus spouting poetry in psychedelic space-scapes, classic monsters, disillusionment with the Government, Golden Age legacies, barbarians, Vietnam fallout, wacky cults, drug problems, Alien Astronauts, and the power of Kung-Fu. Like that.

Some of that has come up in the Villains & Vigilantes re-imaginings I posted a while back (don't worry, there are more coming!).  STRIKER gets at social justice issues, while Ms. Anthrope presents a cartoonish version of Women's Lib such as began appearing the books at that time (go reread the Valkyrie's dialog from the early defenders if you have forgotten).  Furor gets at the punk movement.

I've begun posting a sort of gazetteer of the setting over at wikidot.  Mostly just as an exercise to see if I liked that service more than googlesites (verdict: undetermined as of yet, but not super-impressed).  It's a player's view of the setting, so some things are not on there and there are no game mechanics.  Over here on the old blog, I'll continue posting full write-ups. 

I should also return to my comment at the beginning: I'm continuing to fool around with the rules of T&J and that will be reflected in the character write-ups.  Try and spot the changes--it's fun!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Random Powers in Truth & Justice: Smaller and Betterer-Still!

Oh come on, lads, you knew I wouldn't be content after having made a paltry two attempts at this eh?  The first attempt was Random Powers in Truth & Justice.  And it was pretty good.

The second attempt was Random Powers in Truth & Justice: Bigger, Better,!  And it lived up to it's name.

This third attempt?  Smaller and Betterer-still!  Now, what does that mean?  Well, the second try hewed a bit too closely to it's source (whose identity is still a mystery and the subject of a beautiful, shiny No-Prize).  It worked, but it didn't quite take full advantage of T&J's strengths: powers that are meant to be broadly defined.  T&J doesn't need several different versions of the same power.  The reorganization of the Senses category is a good example of this.  Similarly, I didn't like having a specific Attack Power because so many powers can be used that way.  Even if you can't generate a Magneto-Bolt with Magnetic Powers, the canny hero can still come up with ways to attack which, mechanically, are best represented as just an Attack (no, I'm not sure that made sense either).

Second, I decided that having a specific Meta-Power category just didn't work optimally.  Unless you rolled it first up, odds are you won't have enough ranks to invest to make it useful.  Which is fine, actually, but I felt that players needed more of a chance to roll them up.  So I placed the Meta-Power within several different categories, allowing you roll a Body Meta-Power (Kryptonian), an Energy Meta-Power (the Power Cosmic!), or a Mental Meta-Power (Sorcery, high-level Psi abilities).

Third, I juggled a bit more with the odds, making things less balanced and more representative of the comic-book source.  For example, there are damn few heroes with super-burrowing powers, whereas almost every other cape can fly.

Fourth, I decided to remove the Device category and let the player decide whether to give himself that Limitation or not.  This is, to me, the most difficult decision and I'm not fully convinced of it yet.  My decision was partly based on the fact that Device was it's own, weird category that involved re-rolling and putting the gadget limitation on the result.  Not terrible, but felt a bit off.  Still, as I say, it might go back in.

Fourth, and most obviously, I missed a few powers that I felt needed to be in there.  Radiation Powers, how could I forget you?

So here's what I call version 2.2, as it is an evolution of the second version:

So, let's take this for a test-drive, shall we?  As before, here are thirty random rolls of 2d6.  If I need a single die, I'll just take the first one in the pair.  Let's go!

Example 1:  My first category roll is 4:1, giving me a Mental Power.  The particular power roll is Clairvoyance.  OK, hard to get any ideas from that.  It's not at all a bad power, but it also doesn't to be highly-ranked to work, unless I want to be able to read the morning headlines in Kuala Lumpur.  I give it Good [+1].

Next up is 4:5 a Sensory Power and we already seem to have a theme developing.  The power roll is 4:3, which is New Sense.  Meaning I get to make something up like Smell Mutants or Detect Magic.  I'm not too sure about this, but I like the sound of the latter okay, so maybe I'm a demon-hunter who scans the area for supernatural beings?  Maybe I'll limit my Clairvoyance to demons so that I can detect them and see them.  I don't know.  Anyway, I'm giving this a Good [+1] as well since A)it might as well equal the Clairvoyance rank and B)I'm hoping to get something better next roll.

Four ranks left to assign and I roll 2:6, Matter Power.  The power roll is 4:4, a Meta-Power.  Now, this is an intriguing possibility.  If I gave all the remaining ranks to this Power, I would have Incredible [+4] rank, which means that all my sub-powers would be acting at an effective rank of Average [+0].  Not awesome.  But then, this is sounding like kind of a low-powered guy anyway.  Still, the smarter move, I think, is to drop one of the sense powers and boost this up to Amazing [+5].

That leaves two very different options: If I keep the Clairvoyance and drop New Sense, I could make a hero who embodies the Spirit of the Land.  With his Meta-Power, he can reshape the land, animate plants, control animals, and, if the GM agrees, maybe call on the power of the land to boost his stats (note that these would all be sub-powers at operate at Good [+1] rank).  Then I might limit Clairvoyance to stuff that happens on or near "the land".  Of course, I think GM ought to let me know what happens on the land as part of the Meta-Power.  But we'll work something out.

A different option might be to keep the demon-hunter idea and have my Meta-Power be Holy...something.  Can I convince the GM that Holy Fire is a Matter Power?  If not, maybe I'll control the weather, calling down lightning to smite evil.  That could work.

Let's do some Qualities now, pretending I stick with the demon-hunter.  My first roll is 3:5, a Profession; my second roll is 5:3, an Emotion; and my third roll is 5:5, a Gadget.  My profession is going to be Demon-Hunter and, as it's my main shtick, I give it Remarkable [+3].  My emotion is Empathy for the Mistreated, which kind of gives me a human-side and might help me help others who have been victimized by the Powers of Evil.  I give it Excellent [+2].  My third Quality is a Gadget.  Hmn, some kind of tricked-out demon-hunting weapon, I'm thinking.  Like a big gun in the shape of a cross that shoots out holy water.  I'll stat it later, but call it Incredible [+4].

That leaves one rank to assign.  My last Quality roll is 5:1, something physical.  Feeling whimsical, I give him Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking.  I think I'll use my option to reassign one rank from Empathy for the Mistreated to bring it down to Good [+1] and make my Take a Licking Excellent [+2].  Now I just need to stat out that Holy Water Gun and get a name.  "The Gabriel Hound" pops into my head as a cool, semi-religious sounding name that evokes a hunter.   This guy sounds like he should be a guest-star in Tomb of Dracula and maybe get involved in some sort of bad-ass pissing contest with Blade.

Example 2: my first category roll is 2:2, Body Power.  The power roll is 3:6, Quality Absorption, which lets me take abilities from others.  Not my favourite power, but hey, that's what random roll is all about.  I'm going to gamble and give it Remarkable [+3].

Next roll is 6:3, Super-Quality.  The power roll is 3:3, Super-Endurance.  Hmn, I don't quite know what to do with it, but let's make it Excellent [+2], leaving me one rank to assign.

And that is 4:1, Mental Power.  This should be good.  The power roll is 5:5, Telekinesis.  Wow, that's hard to work together.  It might be fun to do so, but I'm feeling too lazy to make something off that.  My TK only has one rank, but I reassign all the ranks from Quality Absorption, so that it goes to Incredible [+4].  This gives me powerhouse guy with fantastic TK.  Maybe the TK isn't really mental power, but is a projection of his vital energies (whatever they are).  His vital energies are so powerful that he can actually emit them from his body to do stuff.  That's kinda cool.

OK, Qualities.  Let's do three at a go again: 5:3 is Emotion; 2:6 is Skill; and 5:4 is Vehicle.  I'm riffing off off his super-endurance, and give him an emotional Quality, Steady as a Rock at Excellent [+2].  For skill?  Cripes.  Well, he has a vehicle, so why not give him the skill Stunt Driver at Excellent [+2] and a Motorcycle at Good [+1].  Maybe I'm in too 70's a mood, but I see the guy riding his chopper in this zen fashion.

That leaves five more ranks.  I roll 3:5, Profession; 6:2, Mental, and 1:2, Contact.  I decide ahead of time to reassign any ranks that I might give to Profession, because Zen Harley TK Man don't work.  I give him a Mental attribute of Cleverer than He Looks at Remarkable [+3] for no other reason than I like it and a Contact of Friendly Rivalry with Police Chief at Excellent [+2].

Right, now I need a name.  Tricky that.  How about "the Stunt Master"?  And maybe he uses his telekinesis in ways that make spectacular stunts?  Yeah, maybe I ought to change his emotional Quality from Steady as a Rock to Daredevil?  Oh yeah, that's the ticket.  Now I see him as some sort of mash up between Johnny Blaze and Vance Astro.  Is that wrong?

Two more heroes that I would never have created using a modelling or point-buy method.  Quirky?  Definitely.  But perhaps a bit more endearing for that.  One result that may be obvious, but which I often forget, is that random-roll heroes have to be a lot clever in their heroing methods.  Even playing a bit with the odds, characters are much less likely to have the two most common attacks (Blast of Energy and Super-Strength) or the most obvious defenses (Invulnerability and Force Field).

Now, that may be a bug if you are really striving to emulate all aspects of comic-books, but it really opens up a great deal of--dare I say it--tactical game-play in a game that doesn't seem very tactically-oriented.  Consider the Gabriel Hound: he can't swoop in, blast the baddies, and bounce bullets off his chest.  He has to think a bit more when fighting.  Can he use his Meta_power (whichever I decide on) to level the playing field when fighting an energy-blasting, invulnerable baddy?  He better if he wants to win.  And Stunt-Master: the GM might let me use the TK for force-blasts and shields as spin-off stunts, but to use his power most effectively, he's going to need to interact with the scenery, which is a very common element in the comics that often gets forgotten in super-hero gaming.  Stunt -Master should be tossing stacks of packing crates onto baddies as he ;leaps his chopper from roof to roof.

But I still think maybe I should add the Device category back in.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Random Powers in Truth & Justice: Bigger, Better,!

Not too long ago, I posted a little stab at doing random hero creation in Truth & Justice, based off of the tables from Villains & Vigilantes.  Now, the method is back and better than ever!

One might ask why I'm doing this?  A few reasons (including the pure mental exercise of the thing), but I'm posting it here primarily because of my belief that Old-School gaming (which generally regards random character creation in a totemistic fashion) and Indie Gaming (which often revels in free-form character creation) are a helluva lot closer in spirit than is sometimes thought.  I've posted on this topic before.

And now I'm back to it.  I like this new set of tables a lot more than the first stab.  I think they are perhaps 75% self-explanatory, but I'm not going to fill in the rest on this post.  I may do so another day.  They will probably wind up in my house-rules document which is growing exponentially every time I turn to it.  The method remains the same as before, but now I have added Qualities to the mix:
  1. Every hero starts with 10 ranks of Qualities and 6 ranks in powers to distribute (as RAW).
  2. Roll 2d6 and consult the Power Categories chart to get a Power Type.
  3. Roll the indicated number of d6 on the appropriate Power Chart to determine the actual power (this is usually 2d6, but a few categories only use 1d6).  If the result is "Choose", the player is free to pick any power form the list or make up a new one.
  4. Assign as many or as few ranks as you wish to that power.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you run out of ranks (6 total). 
  6. Now Roll 2d6 and consult the Qualities Chart to get a Quality Type.
  7. Assign as many or as few ranks as you wish to that Quality.
  8. Repeat Steps 6-7 until you run out of ranks (10 total)
  9. Now figure out what the hell the hero can actually do and come up with a name and uniform!
(Optional: allow the player to discard one power at any time and reassign those ranks. This allows a little bit of customization as a power that was rolled early and given few ranks might seem better by the end.)

Here are the charts.  By and large, I have given even odds on all rolls.  In a very few places, I weighted the rolls.  That was done if I had an awkward number of results and/or felt that some powers ought to be more or less frequently represented.  Thus, there are better odds of getting Super-Strength than Super-Presence and of getting Invulnerability than Immortality.

As we all know, the proof is in the super-pudding, so let's try a few super-heroes.  I'm going to skip the Quality portion (Steps 2-4) because that takes a while and I really just want to see how the powers-thing works out.  I'm going to make a bunch of rolls on Invisible Castle and use those in order, just to prove that I'm not rigging the system.  Here are thirty rolls of 2d6 and ten of 1d6.

Example 1: My first Category roll is a 4:1 which is a Mental Power.  Rolling on that chart I get 3:4 which means Possession.  Nasty power that.  Possession is an All-or-Nothing thing, which means it needs to be pretty highly-ranked to work.  Also, it soudns like a foundational power, so I give it Incredible Rank [+4].

My next category roll is 2:5, which is an Energy Power.  The power roll is 3:4, which is Exotic Energy, a catch-all group of made-up energy-types such as Galactus' Power Cosmic! (which must be written with an exclamation point).  Hmn.  I'm already getting an idea here: maybe this character can manipulate Spirit Energy.  He's really good at using it to control other people (that's his Possession power), but he can also do other stuff with this Energy Control Power.  What other stuff?  Um...I don't quite know yet.  But that's okay.  I should probably give him all the rest of my power ranks in here, but I'm curious to see what happens next, so I give him Good Rank [+1] in Spirit Energy Control and have enough ranks (well, one anyway) to roll a last time.

My final category roll is 4:1 (again!) which means another Mental Power.  The power roll is 1:5, which is Empathy.  Although this soul-controlling guy probably isn't that empathetic in the mundane sense of the word, it makes some sense that he can read emotions, which, after all, come from the soul (or they do in this world-view anyway).  I have only one rank left so he get's Good Rank [+1] Empathy.  If we use the Optional rule, I could chuck the Empathy and give that rank to Spirit Energy Control to bring it up to Excellent [+2] which is probably a good idea.

The GM and I work out what exactly he can do with his Spirit Energy Control and decide that among, other things, he can use it to inflict spiritual pain or pleasure on people by repairing or distorting the spiritual energy field (and yes, I'm just making this up as I type).  If the GM lets me begin play with Signature Stunts, I would have him detect the presence of spirits and create spirit barriers.

This character could either be a frightening agent of the Beyond or a ministering angel whose powers can, unhappily, be used to hurt as well as help.  If I were rolling some Qualities, I would pick some now that would support the concept.  Since I'm not doing that, let's call this guy Soul-Scourge and make him some kind of avatar of the Wrath of Heaven.  Bad-ass.

Let's do one more.

Example 2:  My first category roll is 1:6, which is Matter Control.  The power roll is 5:1, which is Machine Control.  Personal bias time: I'm not a fan of machine guys.  I gibe one rank to make it Good [+1] and hope for soemthing more interesting.  i can always go back and add ranks at the end if I need to.

The next category roll is 4:6, which means Training.  Training doesn't have a chart: however many ranks I put into it, convert into twice that many ranks of Qualities.  Training is what lets you make highly-skilled heroes such as Batman and Captain America.  Tricky.  I think I'll put in 3 ranks to get 6 ranks of Qualities to be determined later.

That leaves me two more ranks of powers.  The next category roll is 3:3, Defense Power.  The power roll is 5:3, which is Pheromones.  OOOkay.  That's always a bit weird really.  And doesn't mesh very well with Machine Control.  But I can see a guy with some kind pheromone power, who is highly-trained to utilize this strange power.  I give it Good [+1].

I'll probably drop Machine Control since I don't like it and reassign those ranks to either Pheromones or Training.  But who can resist one last turn of the wheel?  Not I.

My last category roll is 6:2 which is Meta-Power.  The power roll is 6 (only roll a single-die in this category) which means I get to choose a Meta-power.  Which is awesome except that meta-powers are useless at any rank below Amazing [+5] and I only have one last rank left.  I don't want to drop Training, since that would only get me an Incredible rank [+4].  Because of that, I'm allowed to reroll.  Ah well.

Next stab gets me 5:3 on the category chart, which is a Movement Power.  That sounds good.  The power roll is 1:5, Leaping.  Not super-cool, but I can see that working with the animalistic Pheromones and the Training.  I drop the Good Machine Control and add that rank to leaping, to give me Excellent Rank [+2] in the power.

I've now got a guy a highly trained guy, with super-leaping and pheromone powers.  I ought to go through the Qualities now and get some of those.  But I won't for this example.  In any case, I'm seeing a hero who is some kind of mutant.  Not super-powerful, but he has extensively trained himself to make good use of his powers.  He'll probably get some kind of fighting skills, which he will use in tandem with his leaping (like Toad or Batroc the Leaper).  In addition,he emits some kind of musk that makes people fear him (I just decided that's what the pheromones do).  I decide to call him The Savage.

And there we are two super-heroes I woudl never had created in a thousand years in a point-buy system, but both are kinds of interesting and may well become nifty through play.

Oh right: I have another shiny No-Prize for the bright lad who can tell me from whence I adapted this method.  It's not the same as the first one.