Saturday, May 15, 2021

People's Hearts are Filled with Schemes to do Wrong (GLOG Superhero Campaign, Characters, Advancement)

    Trashed this draft a few times. My first superhero post was written in an evening — I believe that is the correct way to produce a blogpost like this one.

    I've received questions about the general wisdom of "an eleven-category descriptive (not prescriptive) point buy system for generating supernatural abilities of roughly equal power, compatible with your basic d20-like games, with a Worm flavor" presented in the original post, which I will answer in no particular order:

1. Won't classifying superpowers make them feel ordinary, not transcendent?

    I don't want them to feel transcendent. I want them to be grungy and limited in your Worm and My Hero Academia sort of a way — wondrous abilities, certainly, and versatile and interesting tools, but not (at first) drastically altering the human condition. Again: Worm flavor (or if you're unfamiliar with Worm, X-Men). The powers might change how you live your life, but don't change what it means for you to be alive.

2. Why these eleven and not (something else)?
3. Wha-Huh?
4. Why do only some of the powers have scores?

    In short, of Brawn, Durable, Martial, Think, Perceive, Create, Shift, Fly, Zap, Weird and Ace I anticipate the first five categories coming up often. The majority of PC powers (like most in the source fiction) include one or more of the following: the character is very strong, the character is miraculously resistant to damage, the character is good at scrappin', the character is highly intelligent, or the character is sharp on the uptake in ways regular joes can't be (if you think this one's a stretch, consider Spiderman, Wolverine, Batman or Sherlock Holmes).
    The players are familiar with these concepts and are likely to want them, so I listed those powers first and attached them to D&D stats — easy to ask for, easy to get. I gave them scores from 1–3 because I expect questions like "who's the stronger of these strong dudes" to come up a lot in the kind of superhero campaign I want to run.

    The next four are less universal. I'm setting a tone with them; I (as the DM) think common miscellaneous powers will include permanent creation of material, possession of non-human forms, flight, and some sort of 5e-cantrip-level ranged attack thing. I could have included "Invisibility" or "Teleportation", but they're not so interesting enough that I'd want to dedicate sentences to them (Worm didn't, after all). Likewise, these aren't normally assigned scores. One laser-blast is much the same as the other, and most fliers fly about the same. Two fliers competing with each other can be resolved with normal checks — a player could invest in extremely good flight, but the normal kind will do for most encounters and I don't want them to feel like they wasted points on excessive flying ability.

    Finally, there are the catchalls of Ace and Weird. Why do I split them up? I have no idea. Probably because Worm had unclearly-differentiable Master and Stranger categories. Maybe because I wanted Ace to be scary and so teleporting and invisibility needed to go somewhere else.
    They make sense to me now, though. Ace is for existential threats and rule-fuckery (mindcontrol, precognition, time travel, power nullification), and Weird is for ignoring rules (invisibility, teleportation, walking through walls) or just inexplicable shit (seeing an invisible friend who gives you good advice on committing crimes, swap personalities, control one's own emotions).

5. Aren't you concerned in presenting these categories you are limiting the possibilities players will consider? Even if you assure them it's a "descriptive system" and they may have what powers please them, you will affect their conceptions of the world by providing examples, leading them inevitably towards certain conclusions.

    Yes, a little, but let me explain: coloring the players' perceptions is inevitable. If I have any rules it will affect how the players will construct their PCs. Instead of abandoning my responsibilities, I must lead those players down the path of righteousness and sensible superheroes who can fit in an OSR-y sort of a campaign. It's what I wanted to play; you can do it differently if you wish.

    Thinking about it, an "Occultism" or "Divinity" power scored from 1–3 would make a lot of sense for your Sorcerers Supreme and your Thors. I have enough wizards and demigods in my other games, but if you wanted that DC Comics feeling then those would make sense as categories.

6. Enough of your (extremely cool) original characters! Merely demonstrating that the designer is capable of writing out the words of that designer's own system does not demonstrate that the system is usable, let alone good! Show us some real superheroes!

    Are you fucking stupid? Do you not understand what a fucking "question" is? Why are you still talking to me? Why do I still talk to you? When I kill you, you don't die. When I silence you, you return, to urge me towards wicked ends.

    Anyway, I'll stat out some popular superheroes.

Superman, six-sigma (wow!)
Brawn-ב — Bet is notation beyond 1–3, for extreme cases. How much Strength does Superman have? Stronger than you can measure. This is story-game level strength; if Superman said "I will take apart this battleship and lay its component pieces on the beach in sorted piles" I would reply "Well, that sounds like tedious work. It'll take you at least five minutes".
Durable-ב — Same here. How much Constitution does Superman have? Well, there's one specific rock that can hurt him. Besides that he's immune to damage from any source.
Martial-1 — Superman isn't actually super great at fighting. We'll give him 15 Dexterity and Intelligence, and a proficiency with thrown cars.
Perceive-2 — This one is a tough call, since exactly how super-perception works has changed over the decades. You could reasonably argue for any score depending on what comic you're working from, but I'm giving him a 2 under the assumption he can see through walls and perceives time slower. 30 Wisdom, plus the other shit.
Fly-ב — Again, story-game level. Superman can move however fast he feels like.
Zap — He's pretty precise with this; we'll say on a successful attack Superman can deal 2–12 fire damage to anything he can see (his choice). A good zap for a big boy.

    Bit of an odd character to ring it in with, but you can't pass up Superman. I think the system handles him well. Didn't include Super-Weaving or Super-Freezing Breath, or spinning the world backwards so time reverses, but I guess you could if you wanted to.

Spiderman, three-sigma
Brawn-1 — Haven't read the comics, but the 90s animated show made him seem pretty buff. 18 Strength, unarmed attacks medium weapons, normals must make a move check against being knocked over when he swangs his ass into them.
Martial-2 — Spiderman's a heck of a pugilist. 24 Dexterity, unarmored AC as chain, two attacks a turn.
Perceive-2 — Sometimes his spider-sense seems explicitly supernatural. Like, it'll get tripped by evil ghosts, and Spiderman will be swangin' around the city muttering "what the fuck is happening" to himself. Assuming movie-ish canon of bug-like panic-senses: 30 Wisdom, Danger Sense as a 5e Barbarian, Evasion as a 5e Rogue, can never be surprised.
Shift — I'm going to call his wall-crawling and his web-swinging Shift; sometimes it's technology, but I like it as biology. He can walk on any solid surface and he's got built-in grappling hooks that also disable enemy limbs on a successful attack. Neat trick.

    That's a high-level Spiderman. A baby 2-pointer could get away with the Shift and a single Perceive (18 Wisdom and can't be surprised). If his webshooters are technological then he probably has Think in there somewhere.

Batman, one-sigma (ha!)
Martial-1 — Charles Atlas style. 15 Strength and Constitution, always get two attacks against surprised opponents.
Perceive-1 — The greatest detective in the world gets 18 Wisdom. After winning or losing a fight against a named NPC, Batman may choose to consider them a favored enemy. He gets a +4 bonus to checks to track favored enemies, and once per scene he may ask the DM to point out evidence they were present (whiff of poison gas, clownshoe footprint, big glowing ?!, &c).

    Batman's real powers are, of course, having 1,000,000,000s of dollars to spend on airplanes and cars and cool gadgets. Assuming your DM lets you have that as a background feature (I won't), then you're good to go. The rest of his powers are firmly of the 1-point, limit-of-human-ability sorts.

Source: in the description.

    Need to put this information in a pdf, but here's the basics:

Character Creation
    You need a Superpowers (two points worth), a Cool Codename (your choice), a Real Name (also your choice), a Shitty Day-Job (blue-collar or service industry, between $10 and $20 an hour, provides background skills and an income during the week), a Starting Cash (Xd10*$10, where X is a small integer), and an Equipment(s) (purchased with starting cash).

Character Advancement
    You get 25 XP for surviving a session, 10 XP per NPC superman encountered for the first time, 20 XP per newspaper headline you were personally responsible for, and 1 XP per $10 earned through heroics (according to your split of the take). Major XP bounties may be provided for completing long-term goals, beating powerful supermen in fights, and at the DM's discretion. You level up at 200, 600, 1200, 2000, 3000, 4000 &c XP. Extra HD every level, extra point to spend on powers every odd level.

Campaign Structure
    Every week or so an NPC contact will inform a PC of an opportunity for hero-work. These opportunities include breaking into places, beating people up, crashing parties, nabbing high-value targets, and other things you might do in Shadowrun. PCs have an opportunity to prepare (by buying equipment, casing the scene, reaching out to other contacts for help, &c), and then the mission begins. Complications ensue; perhaps the mission is more complicated than originally presented, perhaps another superman shows up, perhaps the PCs receive a better offer. The mission ends and the survivors count their cash.
   Then downtime begins. PCs have 70 hours during the week to work, train, research, purchase or build equipment, and whatever else they want to do. Newspapers run bogus headlines, NPC factions struggle for power in the background, and then it's time for the next mission.

    If I had more time, this blogpost would have been shorter, but I have to go and eat egg salad right this moment. Ciao.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Simplified Classes

I have grown tired of long blogposts; for a change of pace, here are some of my classes shortened to a few sentences each

    You are a practitioner of the First Art of Manufacturing, which deals with the creation of material and the element of Hot Metal. The Academy of the Manufactories sends its students out into the world, after an initial period of training, to gain hands-on experience with immolation and the military-industrial complex.

    Things You Can Do: eat fuel instead of food, light a cigarette with a touch, handle hot objects cooler than glowing, create small (hidden in closed mouth) objects of frangible potmetal at-will. When you wake up in the morning, you may choose a problem to be able to solve with a wave of your hand and a flash of poison fire:

    Powerful Manufactories produce objects of better-quality material. Manufactories who strain themselves (such as when pushing the definition of their problems) produce worse-quality material for a time, for longer and longer each time, until they burn out like matches.

    You are a follower of Aeshe, the Great Sage, who directed your forebears to wear a mask depicting a powerful totem that allowed them to commune with the celestial bureaucracy. While you wear such a mask you are attended by invisible angels with mystical abilities and strict requirements of your personal behavior.

    Things You Can Do: speak and be listened to, ask for food and lodging and get it, see angels and other supernal beings, and live for a long time unless you die first.
    You wear a mask which determines minutiae, but all Clerics are followed by Hallow and another angel of their choice (from this list or a mask-dependent one). they are only interested in helping while you are furthering their interests in the world.
1. HALLOW. In one hour she may hallow an object (dispersing evil, preventing the dead from rising, other things) and with three she may hallow an area for a full day. Minor undead cannot enter hallowed areas, nor rise while inside them.
2. HEAL. Guides your hands to set bones and sew up wounds, occasionally repairs with a touch of her own delicate fingers. Complains all the while about how poorly designed humans are.
3. TURN. With a word, drives everything and everyone at least twenty paces away from you in the manner of a large dog. Intelligent foes can still throw things at you.
4. KINDLE. Sets things (like weapons and people) ablaze. She likes to grab projectiles and fly along behind them.

    Powerful clerics are followed by more angels, who are more willing to bend the rules for them. Clerics who break the angels' rules damage their soul, and risk permanently losing themselves to Chaos.

    You are an agent of the Company, an organization authorized by the Emperor to operate in secret and protect people from themselves. You have been directed to do something nebulous and occult, possibly, unless that was a smokescreen and your real memories will only surface when a trigger phrase is spoken. Such is life as a Metatron.

    Things You Can Do: talk your way past most legal authorities, challenge people to a sword-fight and probably win, make eye contact with someone and keep them from looking away.
    When you touch someone on the roof of their mouth, center of their chest and between their eyes, their memories of the past hour are replaced with a lie you tell them in d6+2 words which their mind will try to accept.

    Powerful Metatrons may edit memories with greater precision, inflict horrible waking nightmares, and other Men In Black bullshit. When stressed (such as when their lies are revealed), Metatrons are prone to losing their mind and believing they are someone else with the same memories and personality trapped in the same body.

    You are in possession of some of the favor of Alden, who was the first and oldest of the five brothers who made your world. For you, this takes the form of superhuman martial ability with sword and bow. No one with abilities like these can escape an interesting life.

    Things You Can Do: win a swordfight against a single humanoid, land arrows in specified apples at any range, instill terror with a dark look, survive falls even when no one could have survived that.
    You perfectly understand weapons the first time you wield them. Mounts are always obedient, civilians are always obsequious, and weather is dark and stormy if it would be dramatically appropriate.

    Old Sword-Shepherds can catch blades and arrows out of the air, bend iron bars with their hands, and face entire armies alone and expect to win. But with every life you end, you become a little more dour. Eventually you will follow the path all Sword-Shepherds must one day take — the path up, the path down, the path on which there is no coming and no going.

    You are a wizened veteran who survived a hundred campaigns. For years you sat in the sun, dreaming of past victories and swapping tall tales with the other old soldiers. Now you sit in the sun alone.
    But why only past victories? Why not some new ones? And if things have changed since your day — so what? Old age and treachery beats youth and exuberance every time.

    Things You Can Do: win any barfight, kick the hell out of a man forty years your junior, construct and operate siege engines, enthrall a crowd with tales of glory, find your way around 'most any place, and survive indefinitely on hay and bootlaces.
    If you get the drop on someone, they die. No one can get the drop on you. You can smell booby traps, and you always know when you're being followed.

    Zouaves are already old, but if they can work the rust off they're more dangerous than ever. Ambush and crush armies under landslides; disrespect kings to their faces; walk the secret places of the earth; speak to elder things as an equal; and, one day, die.