Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How To Handle Cosmic-Scale Powers

One of the many elements of PDQ that I like is that I don't have to do much math.  Add up two d6 plus a modifier of no more than 6; that's pretty much it (if you use my rule for upshifts beyond +6).  The Ranks then cover a pretty wide range of whatever it is they are describing and that's generally a good thing for my kind of gaming.  But sometimes you find yourself needing to bring out the Ultra-Mega Big Guns - the Imperial Star Destroyers and Cosmic Space-Gods that blow up or eat whole planets for breakfast respectively.  Actually, you don't even need to go quite that far.  In Storn Cook's write-up of his very entertaining Grey Legion campaign, he notes that having competent characters face up against a Target Number that maxes out at 13 can be kind of anti-climactic.

The new iteration of PDQ, called PDQ#, acknowledges this by adding some higher Ranks (Impressive, Intimidating, Impossible, and Inconceivable).  What is interesting about these Ranks is that they have no Modifier associated with them; only Target Numbers.  This essentially means that these upper-tier Ranks are unavailable to characters and can only be used when setting what I call Challenges in Heroes of Industry.  In a game like Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, for which the PDQ# system was created, that makes good sense.  

But in a super-hero game, that may not be true.  Maybe the really Big Guns ought to have a larger modifier, even if you restrict it to NPC's.  This is a bit of a fine line to me though, because once you go beyond a modifier of +6, the roll of the dice makes less and less of an impact.  As is my wont, I have more than one idea on how to handle this:

1. Unearthly Ranks - this is my name for those "off-the-scale" Ranks above +6.  I'm not going to use the same names as PDQ# because they don't fit the supers-genre (as much as I think "Inconceivable" is awesome for a swashbuckling game).  A major consideration in play is that my version of PDQ is normally hard-capped at a dice roll of 18 (boxcars + 6), unlike regular PDQ and PDQ#.  That means that a Rank with a Target Number of 18 is the extreme limit of mortal possibility; something with a Target Number of 19 is literally impossible for someone operating on the usual scale of Ranks.  A Rank with a Target Number of 18 would have a Modifier of +11, which would effectively set the upper limit of these Unearthly Ranks.

I think that judicious use of these Ranks could be pretty fun.  Fighting a being who brings +11 to the table means that the deck is heavily-stacked against the heroes, but they still have a slight chance.  That's important because, sometimes, the heroes aren't supposed to have any chance at all.    Trying to the punch out Eternity may simply be impossible and, in those cases, setting a number - no matter how high - is the wrong answer.  The right answer is Option No. 2:

2. Revoltin' Development - This is already a part of the rules, but I would have to emphasize how it is useful in these sorts of situations.  If the heroes are not supposes to have any chance, don't try and a make it practically impossible by setting a Target Number they can't beat; that is a form of illusionism and amazingly frustrating to players.  Instead, just hand out a Revoltin' Development give the players the Hero Point to make the thing palatable.  They can then use that Hero Point later to come up with some clever idea that doesn't involve punching the incarnation of all Time and Space.

I'm pretty comfortable with those two options.  But here's where I get less sure of myself.  Because I thought of a third alternative using the Scale mechanic: add a "Cosmic-scale" on top of the existing "Normal-" and "Super-scale".  It might work something like this:

Cosmic Scale in Conflict
Opponents who both operate on the Cosmic-scale interact in the usual manner: roll 2d6+Modifier and see who rolls higher.

Cosmic-scale versus Super-scale works just like Super-scale versus Normal-scale: the higher scale actor adds or absorbs TN extra Grief.

Cosmic-scale versus Normal-scale effectively turns the Normal-scale actor into a Goon: any success on the Cosmic-guys part zeroes-out the normal-guy, while the any success on the normal-guys part does 1 Grief only.  A Normal-scale actor is no more than an annoyance to a Cosmic-scale actor, but sometimes that can be quite an heroic thing to be.  For example, the normal-scale Dark Avenger might do his best against Galaxus, with the hope of just delaying the Muncher of Worlds until his Super-scale buddies show up.  He keeps hopping around doing little bits of Grief and trying his damnedest not to squashed like a bug.

I think Cosmic-scale is kind of neat and I like that it basically works using the rules already there.  But I'm not sure if it really adds anything.  Right now I plan on including it in a box as an option, but, as usual, I'd be eager to here anyone's thoughts on the matter.

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