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.


  1. what are the stats for the Grim Reaper guy in the picture with the jodhpurs and the golden dagger

    1. Grim Reaper, two-sigma. Possesses a magic "Roman Short Sword" (medium, +1) he got from a wizard in a cave.
      Brawn-1, 18 Strength, may throw medium/heavy weapons as if they were light.
      Martial-1, 15 Dexterity and Constitution, proficiency with bladed weapons, +1d6 sneak attack on targets fighting an adjacent enemy or who aren't expecting it.
      Fly, may change his personal "down" with a moment of thought. Immune to fall damage in the direction his gravity is pointing.
      Weird, Grim Reaper can meditate for sixty seconds to teleport to the position of his sword. When he arrives, he may immediately make an attack against an adjacent enemy (who is presumably surprised by this).

  2. In a different system, there is a "Money-1" power that means you have $1,000,000 in ready funds, and more tied up in investments. Each rank of Money multiplies that by 10 (?)

    When you level up, can you spend points on powers outside your original category?

    1. Naturellement, a "money" power would make sense as well.

      As for the second point, certainly. What I haven't explicitly written out (but what should be fairly obvious) is that these powers are less carefully-chosen-from-the-splatbook and more carefully-argued-for-from-the-DM. As your character develops, you can get new powers if it seems cool for you to develop new powers.

  3. These are really cool! I'd like to see what stats you'd give Dr. Strange or one of the other magic-using superheroes. Especially classic Strange, when he was the most absurdly op guy ever. I figure he'd have decent enough physical stats, pretty good stats in stuff like create, fly, etc, and then ב in weird, ace, and probably zap. Or just ב in occultism if you decide to use that.

    1. I suppose a lot of Marvel and DC's "magic" heroes (your Doctors Strange and your Zatannas and so forth) could be covered by Create. Thinking back (it's been 5 or 6 years so I don't fully remember the steps in my decision), that might have been one of the original reasons I put Create in the list at all - besides the trenchcoat brigade I can't think of a character whose main gimmick is "the permanent creation of matter", it's sort of a catch-all, in the same way that I classify many ranged abilities (telekinesis, illusions and the like) as Zap even if they aren't strictly-speaking a laser beam or lightning bolt.

      There were two reasons I veered from an Occultism category originally; one, arcane superpowers aren't to my personal taste (the Bayport setting has no gods, no aliens and no wizards, though it has people who might think they're one of those things); and two, I had enough trouble classifying levels of Think and Perceive (what does it feel like to have 2 points in Think and be, definitionally, smarter than the smartest human being? What makes one power a 1-point Perceive and another a 2-point?), and I didn't want to worry about classifying Occult powers as well. Were I to add them I'd probably make them like the miscellaneous powers (i.e. not on a point scale) and say all Occult powers can be mimicked by other Occultists, maybe have its own stat, and add a little minigame for wizard supermen to play around in on their downtime.

      Thank you for your comment.