Monday, August 16, 2010

Smack on the Head: Power Breadth is Pointless!

The drawback to being as anal as I am and re-reading and re-re-reading my stuff is that I keep finding things that I have written that are, to put it politely, stupid.  Case in point Power Breadth.

About two months ago, I posted on how I was going to describe Powers in Heroes of Industry using three "view-points": Breadth, Effect, and Category.  I have no idea why that seemed so clever.  Maybe it was at that stage of the writing process.  But today I had one of those "smack on the head" moments where I realized that Breadth is totally pointless.  Well, it is once I realized that Meta-Power can be used as an Effect.  That is, a Power's Effect is either set (Attack, Defense, Alter) or it is a Meta-Power, which let's you use the same Power for various Effects.

At the same time, I realized that I had left out something vitally important in a game like this: description.  In a game like this, the way in which a power is describe in words is really as important as how it is described in terms of mechanics.  It's one of the things that avoids the logical-insanity of purely effects-based games ("Can I use my Fire Blast to light up the room?"  "No, illumination is a Visual Illusion effect and you only have Energy Blast.").  So here's the new text:

Power Scope
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?

Now 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: Effect, Category, and Description. When you Describe an Effect within a certain Category, you have created a Power (congratulations). That’s the DIY motto of the game. There are a list of powers located in this section for your convenience, but you don’t actually need them unless you are using the Random Roll Method of character creation (in which case you definitely do need them).

Effects describe how Powers work in play. The various Effects appear in almost all of the Categories: there are energy attack powers, matter attack powers, and mental attack powers.

Some powers have a single Effect; others have a variety of Effects (a Meta-Power), and some come in both versions. In that last case, the player is free to choose the power’s Effect at creation if using the Modeling Method; if using the Random Rolling Method, the player must roll on Table 9: Power Effect to determine this.

The most common Effects are discussed below. Keep in mind that there are characters who appear in comics and in the heads of players with odd-ball powers that don’t comfortably fit into any of these Effects. It’s up to the GM to either disallow the power or come up with a way to make it work, using these effects as guidelines. When making up an effect, try to keep in mind MOD, TN, and Scope: most powers will involve the hero rolling the dice and adding the power’s MOD. His opponent will usually either make a defense roll of his own and either comparing the difference to determine Grief or to try and beat the hero’s TN.

Categories are thematic: energy powers, matter powers, mental powers, super-devices, and so on. They have little mechanical impact on play, but they provide some of the colour of the power. They exist mostly as a way to organize the Random Roll Tables. However, see the discussion of Description below for more thoughts on this.

A Power’s Description is how you would explain the power in words, without reference to mechanics. It is the way it would be described in comics: “the proportionate strength of a spider!”, “nigh-invulnerable skin!”, and “heat vision!”. Powers with exactly the same Effect and Category can still be distinguished by the Description.

It might seem as if Description is only useful for narrative purposes, but Description can have a real, mechanical impact. It helps the player and the GM determine what are and what aren’t reasonable uses, stunts, and limitations of the power. Fire Blast and Magnetic Bolt, for example, both have the Attack Effect and Energy Category, but only one of those Powers can reasonably be used to light something on fire. In a high-trust game such as this, a Power’s description can have a real effect.


  1. That sounds good. I'm really looking forward to seeing this when it's finished!

  2. Thanks very much. That kind of encouragement is really appreciated.