Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Worm Characters: Skitter

Creating Oni Lee was a valuable learning experience--so we choose another character. This time the main character: Taylor--also known ... as 'Skitter.'

In the Worm-verse, characters get powers through a trigger event that is usually super-horrible. In Skitter's case it was being traumatically bullied by mean girls at school. Instead of getting something like flight, super strength, and invulnerability (which is 'common' and has its own name after the heroine Alexandria--the 'Alexandria package') she got ... the power to control bugs.

But boy can she--she can direct thousands of bugs to individual tasks such as making bullet-proof uniforms out of spider-silk or appearing as "copies of her" with masses of insects in the air (or using bugs to draw arrows for people to follow).

She also has a "bug sense" that allows her to 'see' a huge area and even determine things like body language (skin-mites) on people.

Skitter is also a "Thinker" meaning she is treated as a master-mind type with great strategy and tactics. Part of this is clever writing where she uses her powers to maximal advantage in unusual ways. Part of it is her ability to 'see' everything that is going on--she can tell where invisible people are or whatever as she can use her bugs to sense all kinds of things.

More Notes About The Worm-Verse
The act of making these characters is educational--they are reasonably unique and well defined. There are clearly places where using the JAGS system to model them either breaks down educationally or ... breaks down altogether.

Super-Speed and Invulnerability: The Worm-verse has several "over unity" characters. Over-Unity is the term that the perpetual motion guys use to describe a machine that gets out more energy than you put in. In JAGS, though, I'm using it to describe a character where the Total AP cost multiplier is greater than one. That means that the character is "more points" than "his Total AP Cost." It's a paradox.

In JAGS super-speed is a % of your character points. So is Invulnerability (in fact, INV is like 80-90% of your character points if it's total and to-everything). Worm has some characters who have both--and more (super-strength). Characters like Siberian aren't just "high points" they're "impossible points" (depending on "how you do the math," anyway).

To be fair, as good as these characters are, they are treated as impossibly high scale by the fiction too--so having the math get weird around them isn't that bad. I'll talk about how we're addressing them later.

Shakers: There are characters who can change the world on a substantial scale. One character can warp space making the battlefield longer or shorter. One can instantiate other worlds on top of the 'real one' during the fight. These are things that JAGS could potentially model but are kind of beyond the scope of what we're doing with these rules right now.

Skitter's power-set poses a few interesting questions. The first is: how do you model a swarm? It turns out we have rules for that--albeit ones that needed some work / review.

How DO You Model a Swarm?
A swarm in JAGS is a bunch of ADP ("hit points"--but no "wound levels or effects"), near invulnerability to normal attacks (bullets and punches do 1pt of Damage no matter what--other attacks usually take large negative damage modifiers), a relatively light "attack" (of various kinds--teeth, poison, etc.), a basic movement power, and an area-covered (and the swarm is selective within that area).

However there were not easy rules for buying this package so I had to create them.

Skitter's Swarm is "Level 3" clocking in at around 75 AP's (she actually pays less, I'll get to that in a moment).

Animal Control: Bugs!
When I first sat down to do Skitter I thought I would use Battle Beast as my primary power. This is 75% of your points and you get a 100% AP cost ally. This is the classic kid with the giant-robot friend or whatever.

My second instinct was to buy Skitter an "Animal Companion"--Swarm. This was actually pretty easy to do with the system. My basic problem with this was that I wanted Skitter to have more than 32 APs worth of her own powers (although that does seem like a lot for an 'un-powered' teenager, doesn't it--that's like super-spy level APs ...).

So I looked at Animal Companion: Swarm. That was pretty easy to do. She would have about a 75 AP animal companion and it would do what her player told it to (the player would play both). I might buy "expendable" for it and "telepathic link"--both fairly cheap--to represent actual in-game telepathic control and the fact that she isn't emotionally attached to it.

The problem here, though, was that Skitter doesn't just have a friendly swarm of bugs that follows her around--she actually has Animal Control. If she runs into "the Beekeeper" who uses sonics and pheromones to control his swarm of bees (or whatever) she will hijack control of them and run them herself. An Animal Companion doesn't do that.

So I looked at Animal Control. It didn't work the way I wanted it to--so I modified it (slightly) so that AP's in Animal Control equate to the APs of the animals that you control. If what you control is one specific thing (insects) then took a look at the rules around summoning a swarm.

Skitter has two limitations on her swarm that come up regularly:
  1. It takes her time to summon it. She generally travels with bugs--but if they're killed or whatever she has to call insects, They come quickly (in combat, even) but are not "instant" or "teleported in."
  2. She is limited to the insects around her. This is often not a problem as she has high-caliber insects with her if she's ready (and later in the series gets access to more exotic insects)--but sometimes she's stuck with roaches.
I considered the first a LARGE (-.31) defect and assumed a not-already-summoned Swarm would accrue at "one level" per Round. This means that she'll usually be at full strength on her Third Round (and summoning the Swarm costs 5 REA). Note that the full Swarm is not subtle and is definitely creepy. Even if she takes time to conceal it in the walls or whatever, the GM could well rule that it is 1 or 2 Rounds away if she's being at all sneaky.

I considered "access to Insects" to be a SMALL (-.06) defect since if she is put in a compromising situation she loses her good insects--but otherwise, most of the time, she has them.

Each 4 AP's invested in Animal Control gets 6 APs worth of "Swarm." She has Level 13 Animal Control for 52 APs. This results in 78 APs of Swarm. A pretty powerful attack over a large (30 yard) area.

Swarm Sense
Animal Control lets her detect things through her animals but she can do better than that. She has a kind of omniscience over a large area when she wants to. That's done with Life Sense with a limit to "only things with bugs on them"--which is kinda everything and "doesn't get detailed medical information" (Life Sense detects cancer, cyborgs, and mutants--Skitter can't determine that unless there is some outward sign). This allows her to 'see' (as in "target") people rooms over. This is an expensive sense (8 AP). I considered the limits to be a 'wash' as the lack of medical information is made up for by the fact that she can uses bugs to "see" the terrain by having them crawl over things. If her bugs get killed, that's a limit--but even that gives her info Life Sense wouldn't.

Skitter Is Smart
While I am not making the "basic characters" here, Skitter would be pretty easy to make. Modestly athletic and, uh, smart. That's about it. She may have some low level skills (first aid) and can climb and run okay--but mostly she's smart if no genius computer hacker. 

I wanted to apply that to JAGS and I wanted her to have a couple of Success Point granting powers: specifically Commander and Strategist. Both of these give you Success Point Pools (usable each combat) which you can lend to your friends by giving them orders or advice. Commander also gives your side +1 Initiative! Skitter, however smartly or dumbly the player plays her has a bunch of SPs to dole out each combat to her allies. This is not to be underestimated: it makes her both a valuable team leader (she has to be 'the leader' to give the Initiative bonus) and "buff" character for her side.

I gave her L1 Commander and L2 Strategist. This is a valuable combination.

What About Atlas And Super-Bugs?
During the story Skitter gets a giant bug she names Atlas (created by a bio-manipulator) she can fly around on! She also gets some "range extender bugs" from the same character (but they self-destruct after a time). How would I model those? JAGS "models those" by just declaring them. If you have Insect Control and there's a giant flying bug within your AP level? You can control it. That's what she does (as it has no autonomous direction she doesn't worry about it flying off if she's not actively in control at all times).

Same for the exotic range-extenders. If the GM puts in "death wasps" who are bred with super-neuro-toxin and they're within her AP range (which is a whopping 78 AP) she can just control them too.

This is the difference between an Effects-Based approach and a more power-definitional take. My initial "Animal Companion" model was, also, effects based: I was just paying points for the Swarm effect straight up without thinking about the Control aspect.

Another thing along this line is that she creates "decoys" of herself by using masses of bugs (it helps, of course, that she is often covered with a mass of bugs). Again, this has no specific cost: her player has her order the bugs into a roughly humanoid shape and then people get perception rolls to see through the ruse. She usually does this at a distance.

I'm not charging her for "talking" through her bugs as, again, the Control Power allows them to "hum" in whatever way she orders them. If you have Animal Control for dogs you can have them bark out morse code. If you control birds? You could just have them talk.

Skitter In Combat
Here's her stats sheet:
You Don't Have To Tell Me It's Unreadable ...
She gets 26 DP for her Animal Control and I gave her 6 Armor (coverage 4, probably) and 12 ADP. She's still grossly under-defended without using her SPs to dodge attacks (which she can do--but then she's less of a buff for the team).

A lot of Worm characters have this issue. Assuming she is at -1 to be hit by ranged attacks (A 12 AGI--not unreasonable--but a little high for her) she will be hit at a 13- by skilled attackers. About 80% of the time. She an spend 4 Success Points to make them miss if they get an average roll of a 10. Her SPs will go fast.

In combat she must stay pretty far back and let the Swarm do all the fighting. 

The Swarm itself is fairly bad-ass against normal people. It can deal around 11 PEN per Round over a large area. This will kill normals quickly. It will start to hurt even armored people (so long as they don't have skin armor or a sealed suit) in 4 Rounds--a long time--but if she can hold out she can hurt a lot more people that way.

I divided her combat points between: 
  1. A PEN attack to represent insects tearing at eyes and arteries--something she does in the serial, albeit reluctantly.
  2. A Resisted Poison Attack and Pain Attack. This is actually very powerful at the points listed. She can cause a lot of pain without having to breach armor (the RA will work on anyone with exposed "flesh" even if she can't penetrate it). The Poison attack does have to breach armor--but after 4 Rounds she can get around worn armor.
  3. A Spider-Web Tangle attack. It starts at Grapple 20 and can get up to Grapple 120 if someone waits around for it. This is fairly easy to break the first Round but if you don't you are quickly webbed up. For a more detailed build I might look into "Subtle" as a modifier since many of her targets don't realize they are being webbed until it is too late.
My analysis is that she is weak in 1:1 combat--very weak for 128 AP (an 11 AP PEN attack is good against normal characters but won't do well stopping any power-house kind of character) but can be quite an annoyance with the pain attack and actually extremely deadly with the toxic stings. Her value would be around 80 Intensity for a B-class attack (potentially deadly toxin--but not insta-lethal) and that would take out or at least mess up most 128 AP supers.

In short, if she can hurt you ... she can really hurt you. If you don't have biological weaknesses and exposed skin? She's got nothing.

This is, I think, very true to the writing and I consider this a success.

NOTE: I learned a good deal--mostly that the framework around swarms--the directional thinking--allowed me to create the necessary powers (actually buying the Swarm, actually determining what would be necessary for Animal Control to provide it)--but it wasn't all there to start with. If I'd tired to make Ant-Man the system would've failed me there too.

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