Monday, October 4, 2010

What Do Attack Powers Look Like

I'm working my way through the Innate Abilities attack power list. This is supposed to be ... well, not definitive but "very robust." That means that every energy style attack and every bio-weapon that anyone would want that would be classed as either natural (like "claws" or "pincer" as it appears in nature) or "super" (Power Blast, Flame Blast, Frost Blast) should be in there somewhere.

I can leave out a lot of magical stuff because there will be a magical section. There is also a Chi section so I can leave out Chi attacks.

That still leaves, frankly, an infinite number of possible attacks to choose from.

Now, Of Course It's Not Like That
I'm not literally going to do Red Energy Beams vs. Blue Energy Beams unless I can think of a very different way to model them and there's a reason for it. However, I am going to try to have a bunch of fairly obvious attack powers (Sonic Scream, Power Blast, Flame Blast) and then give them a lot of variations on the theme in the "what you buy" section.

Is That Like Champions?
The Hero system is one of the most brilliant RPG systems ever developed (Champions was the original name and now is the name for their super-hero supplement). Their idea was to take a basic power ("Energy Blast") and then apply enhancements ("continuing attack"--keeps burning) and disadvantages ("not under water, not in space") to make a specific power ("Flame Blast").

While there are possibly some drawbacks to this it's frankly brilliant and I'm going to use the basic idea as a guiding principal in doing the JAGS Energy Attacks list. I plan to separate out stuff like Flame Blast from Power Blast (our term for Energy Blast) but a lot of the modifiers (is it explosive? Does it fire once per Round?) will be folded into the actual power description rather than occupying a chapter somewhere else and having you multiply.

There are a couple of reasons for this (one being that JAGS usually deals with far fewer numeric points than Champions did making small modifiers either fractional or not changing the cost) but essentially I'm also doing it because it fits my vision: I want to be able to sell Fire Blasts and Freeze Rays as specific powers rather than having Energy Blast and a Chinese menu of modifiers that let people build them.

Aside: I do plan on having a way to modify the existing powers so if you need to do something I didn't think of, you can. My current plan is that rather than reducing the cost (if your modifier increases it, it just increases it) you will get some number of Damage Points in exchange for the defect.

So What's This Post About?
So the question I have now is this: I plan to have a fairly "standard list" of "common modifiers" for a lot of these abilities. Things like "Explosive Radius" and "One Shot Per Round" or "Long Action To Fire" or "Acts as Damage Field" and so on. I'm not clear on precisely what this list of modifiers ought to encompass, however and that will require some thinking. What are the common modifiers I should test each attack for?

  • Explosive
  • Slow (Long Action either 5 or 8 REA)
  • Charge Up (1 or 2 Rounds)
  • Cool Down (1 or 2 Rounds)
  • Breath Weapon (only active every-other round or so but requires 1 or 2 rounds of Cool Down after fired--this is meant for powerful Fantasy attacks)
  • Power Up (Costs 5 REA to 'charge' and must be charged for a Round before it can be used)
Is that enough? Am I missing anything?



  1. No area effects? Or have I misunderstood what you are after?

    No armor piercing attacks?

  2. These are good points.

    1. Right now Explosive /is/ Area of Effect (so Tear Gas grenades get the Explosive modifier). We don't presently have a Champions-like "Area Effect, Does Not Degrade" but it would be identical in cost (and effect) to Explosive with a positive modifier for have the same strength at some radius from ground zero as it did at ground zero).

    2. Armor Piercing is missing from the above list and that's a good catch. It's actually in my notes though. For Impact Damage the effect is "Ignores Armor." For PEN it's "Ignores Armor if Armor Fails It's Armor Save."


  3. About the menu versus build case: The question you need to ask is what you really want JAGS to be used for. Superhero games and some kinds of of modern fantasy games are essentially boxes full of one-off powers; while you may see some common tropes, pre-canned powers are simply not going to cover the ground in those. That was one issue I had way back in the day when I first looked at the first incarnation of the JAGS Supers rules: the options were far too narrow to really cover the ground properly.

    Now, that doesn't mean I don't understand the point about having predesigned power sets too, but which you do first probably should depend somewhat on what you see the likely target use for JAGS is.

  4. I'm not sure I fully understand your comments--but I do know that taking an "all things to all people" approach is almost always destined for failure.

    What I want is a 'general-best-fit' solution. That means:

    1. If there is a power called Clairvoyance it should (a) be pretty helpful at holding the player/GM's hand in letting them figure out how to use it (b) allow for, in this case, 'remote viewing' that will simulate both what we see in fiction and on TV (I watched Uir Geller on Larry King many years ago and while I believe it was a magic trick, it was impressive). It should also (c) scale to become both a fantasy-style sense (PRETTY good) and a super-sense (REALLY good).

    These are not incompatible things.

    The second thing I want to do is DISTINGUISH different kinds of Esper. It doesn't have to be a huge number of options but I want to make it possible (as it looks like we are) to have a game with several 'psychic detectives' where they all have Esp-style powers but all play a little differently).

    That's a guiding principle for JAGS where we isolate large-scale stereotypes (most psionics, magicians, martial arts fighters, etc.). I don't just want one kind of mystical kung fu, I want the system to handle many. And then I want mystical karate to be able to play next to that.

    We do that with a base set of core abilities and then a mix-and-match set of special abilities.

    In terms of covering Supers-ground, I think that it's the hardest thing to attempt. No one is going to get /everything/ because there are characters in the 'supers' space who are just so bizarre that the odds of 'covering them' is zero (I am reminded of a character, I think in the Elementals--but I'm not sure, named Bloody Mary who could cause you to bleed out anywhere in the world just by thinking about you. I think I could possibly do that power in Champions but I have no idea of the champions-ascribed cost for it would be "right." I'm not even sure how to determine a cost for that).

    So I'm not really interested in getting everything or getting it all right. I just want the list of powers we do have to be (A) very rich and interesting (B) costed as correctly as we can so the PCs can be "turned loose" with it and (C) have enough coverage that when we do miss something big the PCs and GM can take a very educated guess at it.


  5. What I was responding to was the ethos of "here's a bag of bits, put the power together" as compared to "Here's the power and some tools to modify it."

    The latter, by its nature, makes assumptions about how a power is going to work. This can be a little problematic no matter where you use it (because it essentially dictates properties of the setting and character) and is sometimes unavoidable to some degree (any time you're dealing with phenomena that are (at least as far as we can tell) counterfactual, _any_ assumptions you make will be arbitrary, and you've got to make some).

    But the more open-ended the setting is, the more problematic being too specific in powers becomes. Its not a coincidence that one of the places GURPS ran into a wall was when doing Supers; there were other reasons for this, but part of it was that they really wanted certain special effects to have certain properties, but in supers you just don't get that kind of consistency.

    Even in more realistic settings you can run into problems if you say "Well Fire will behave in X fashion and electricity in Y" if the setting features much ability to manipulate natural law.

    I guess what I'm saying is that for certain kinds of usage, pre-canned approaches to powers is not only not helpful, its sometimes detrimental, and this is particularly true if its the only tools you have; it forces the game around the rules in an area where it tends to really show.