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”.

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