Monday, March 11, 2013

Modifying Powers: Sample Characters

As the proofing and playtesting ... and careful reading ... continues (indefinitely, it seems--although once everything is proofed, I'm publishing it even if other stuff is "in the works") I want to look at our on-going struggle with power modification.

Power Modification
The Hero system is sort of the ultimate in "effects based" power-mod systems. They sell you Energy Blast and then you modify it to get Fire Blast or Ice Blast or whatever. They have an extremely good system and if you are interested in customizing abilities it is one of--perhaps the--best place to go.

What are we doing in JAGS? I've talked about this before--and this actually is not the place for our current in-flight thinking (you've seen, maybe, post about Mod Points--and how to deal with attack mods like "Armor Piercing" and so on). We are not currently satisfied with the presentation of our thinking and we're looking at options.

Here is a brief overview of what is happening:

  1. Modifiers are either +(an advantage) or -(a disadvantage)
  2. They are expressed as a double-digit fraction multiple (i.e. .22). You take AP-Cost - (Mult x AP-Cost).
  3. These fractions correlate to a 1/4th AP reduction for an 8 AP power (if that's not clear, okay--just skip it for now).
  4. Fractional APs are made up for with DPs. If something winds up costing 3.75 AP you pay 4 AP for it and get an extra DP. Or you could pay 3 AP and lose 3 DP. Your choice ...
  5. You round to the nearest .25 AP
So if I have an 8 AP power and I put a LARGE (.31) defect on it (-.31) the cost is 8 x .31 = 2.5 = 8 - 2.5 = 5.5 AP.


No--so, okay. No--it isn't. But that's the thinking right now. If you have something better, let me know.

So that was probably mind-boggling.

The Experiment: Worm, a Web Serial
We want to take our (large) existing power-set and use it to model characters. We started by choosing guys like Captain America and Batman. These posed several big problems (what, exactly, is "Batman" like?) and we felt reasonably side-tracked. We also didn't like the big names as a pool to choose from: our powers list pretty much already covered them to some degree.

We tried power randomizers, Marvel-Character-Randomizers, and even Supers games with random character creation rules. We weren't happy with those results either (I could write some posts on that too). Then I pointed out something I was reading: Worm, a Web Serial.

Worm is a super-villain story told in serial posts where a teen aged girl gets the ability to control insects, sets out to be a super hero--but falls in with super villains and ... well, that would be telling. There's a lot of it. It's published regularly. It is very well written. And the characters are wonderfully complex and (mostly) unique. It is deep and rich source material for thinking about powers and modification.

I'm a big fan of the work which is by turns tense, complicated, and intricate. The characters are sympathetic and the power-base is, well, it's interesting

So what we're going to do is select a character (major, minor, two-bit--background color, etc.) and discuss how exactly that works (or doesn't) in JAGS.

Without further ado ...

Oni Lee
Oni Lee is a two-bit street thug bad-guy. He's an Asian martial-arts firearm / knife using assassin who has the following power: he can teleport and, when he does, he leaves behind a duplicate of himself which can continue fighting for a few seconds before turning to dust! His power is subtle: when you see him appear and attack you have no idea that you are actually fighting a dupe! He's already teleported away or behind you or whatever.

How would we do him?

Basic Powers: the default for "supers" is 128 AP and around 50-75 CP. Oni is a badass in terms of combat training so he's probably closer to 75 CP. His powers, aside from teleporting would probably be something like:
  • Tough Guy (a level or two)--strong, harder to hurt--but not super human.
  • Athletic for speed. He's fast but not "super fast."
  • He will pay AP for Guns / Knives. Note: he would use several weapons (hand gun, knife, sniper rifle, sub machine gun, etc.--whatever he can get his hands on). The standard super-hero rules say he will pay for weapons. So he has to pay around 20-24 AP for his most expensive gun. At a minimum, maybe 16 AP for a really bad-ass handgun? Something like that.
  • He spends around, maybe, 20 AP on "fast, armed, tough guy." He may also spend 4 AP or so on body armor.
That leaves "around 100 AP to go."

Teleport + Duplicate: So now we need to add in Teleport and Duplicate and so on. This is, in our lexicon: Linking Powers (combining them in some way to create a new power). In this case we are actually linking: Teleport + Duplicate and Flicker + Duplicate. 

Teleport and Flicker both allow the character to teleport--but Flicker allows it "as a dodge action." So if you attack Oni, he can declare a dodge action (3 REA) and leave behind a duplicate (does it get hit? Yes--if he actually uses it as a dodge, the dupe will get hit--many dupilcates die this way in the story). He can also just take the standard Teleport Action (8 REA Long) and leave a duplicate behind.

The Duplicate ability has a defect: Duplicate lasts 1 Round and then has an 11- chance of lasting one additional Round (roll during Initiative). This is a "pretty big limitation."

So the things to look at are:
  • Normally creating a duplicate costs 5 REA and is a Medium Action. In Oni's case it is a 3 REA Short Action.
  • Teleporting is usually loud--Oni's is subtle. That's a small advantage. As no one can tell when he teleports characters must either see him appear somewhere or just guess as to whether they are fighting the real him or not. Creating a duplicate is usually quite obvious (unless the duplicate is invisible).
  • Duplicates usually last ... well, a long, long time. You can send your dupe in to negotiate for you. You can be "two places at once." Your dupe can rob a bank and then "flicker out" when caught. Stuff like that. In this case, Oni can't do any of that--it's a HUGE defect. BUT: having a few dupes around is so damn good in combat and is, really, still pretty effective (the dupes appear with full REA and stuff so while Oni spends his precious action points to teleport he leaves behind fully capable actors).

So here's what we come up with: 
  1. LINK: SMALL advantage. When you link two powers you usually take the "worst" REA cost of the two and the "worst" rule for using them--however, it's generally a medium advantage to take the better of the two so long as this does not result in "free attacks." In this case, having a duplicate appear and take the hit even removes some of the "dodge" potential so it clocks in at SMALL (which is +.06 in case you were wondering).
  2. SUBTLE: SMALL. Attacks which are "silenced" are not "that much better" than loud attacks. Some attacks (psionics, gas, etc.) make no noise anyway. In this case the Subtle is a small advantage on both Duplicate and Teleport.
  3. DUPLICATE DECAYS: "SIGNIFICANT." This is not as big a deal as you would think (it's 50% off). The complete rack of "roleplaying" value in the quickly decaying duplicates is superceded by the value of the duplicates in combat.
The total defect is around .42 as a multiple.

While I have not done all the math, the character works well at 128 AP.

A NOTE ABOUT WEAPONS: Oni makes the case for a "Guns and Knives" power which allows an AP "pool" which can be spent for easily accessible modern weapons upto the total AP. So if Oni spends, say 24 AP on "Guns and Knives" it allows him to carry hand guns, knives, assault weapons, and so on, up to that limit so long as (a) they are reasonably available and (b) he can "only use one at a time." I haven't made a final call on this--but it seems like a good idea. Maybe the pool of guns costs an extra 1 or 2 APs or something?

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