Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Trickster Part 2

After completing Trickster Part 1 in our ongoing series of play-test creating characters from the Worm-verse (an excellent web-serial about super heroes/villains), we had some discussion and did some deeper examination. Here's where Trickster wound up:
He's Bigger In Real Life

So a few things:

Area of Effect-Selective
The ability to hit an area but only hit specific targets in it ("Smart Bomb") has to be less attractive than the ability to have a few additional attacks every other Round (which is what I gave Worm-verse uber-villain Jack Slash). After doing some math it looks like the "damage divisor" that hits the sweet spot is 3.5.

What does that mean?

It means if you have an "attack" (like, say, a gun) and you want the ability to hit multiple targets you have two choices: (a) buy something like Mass Attack which gives you the ability to fire directly on separate targets--but usually something like "every other Round" or "once every three Rounds" or something or (b) hit an area-of-effect but within that area only hit enemies.

These have to be "roughly even"--one choice should not always be better than the other. The deal is that the attack that gives you more to-hit rolls every other Round should do a bit more damage than the attack that always hits "everyone you want to" within the attack's effective radius.

It turns out dividing the damage you do by around 3.25 is that sweet spot. The "Area-Attack-Selective" does less damage per attack than the shots-every-other-Round. It's better at taking out larger crowds though.

Trickster has this--and he pays dearly for it.

The Swap Other People Attack Further Examined
I'd call this attack Castle after the chess move and while it may not make it into the game in print, here's how I'd do it:

  • Standard Effect: Targets are swapped but this does NOT redirect any attacks they can make (they simply re-target if they were launching an attack)
  • Major Effect: Targets are swapped and any attack that was being launched will miss harmlessly.
  • Critical Effect: Targets are swapped and the target (a) will be hit if there was an attack coming at the swapped character and (b) if one of the targets was launching an attack it may be re-directed at someone else.
  • Catastrophic: Same as Catastrophic effect but targets placed in line of fire are at -4 to Block/Dodge.
I'm rating this a B+ as before.

Bodyguard and Defender
I gave Trickster these powers because they allow him to (a) use his power defensively for 1 REA instead of 3 (so he can do this a lot and often) and (b) he can use it to defend "his team" 2x per Round.

NOTES: Bodyguard Level 2 isn't especially cost effective. It costs 8 AP for another +7 Damage Points (a bad deal) and the ability to do one more defense per Round. Maybe additional "levels" should cost 4 AP instead of 8?

Trickster Is Over Points
I experimented with a few builds and some ideas (what if he had a "mega swap" usable once per combat for a lot of extra juice?) and decided to just build him on "more points." He is, after all, the leader of a powerful group of supervillains. I selected 192 AP as a large number and put a whopping 160 AP into his attack. We'll discuss the ramifications of that in a bit.

Trickster In Combat
Trickster pays a huge 160 AP for his ability giving him 120 Intensity. This is enough to 'swap' Weld or Jack Slash reliably but NOT enough to swap them into immediate danger or reliably re-direct their attacks. In the web serial he swaps Crawler--a massive character--with a garbage truck. He can't do that either.

A 64,000lb garbage truck would have about 4200 Damage Points in JAGS so it's out of scale for any normal character. If Trickster was Scale Number 50 he could do it pretty easily--but then he'd have 50x as many Damage Points too--and be virtually indestructible.

On the other hand: Trickster on the battlefield will be enormously disruptive for any sane group of characters to deal with. He will be constantly interrupting any action they take and then making rolls to swap characters around. In addition to the spatial/tactical issues (swapping hand-to-hand characters out of combat-range or the like) every attack launched--and especially those launched at him--will have the risk of landing on an ally--a substantial risk.

If he was 128 AP--a legal "starting character" he would clock in at around 76 Intensity--which is still enough to swap most 128 AP characters for spatial movement and can swap Coil's guards around all day long. He could massacre a team of mercs.

So What About The Garbage Truck?
One of the things that JAGS (and, I will submit, simulative RPG's in general) has problem with is characters who are very, very effective outside their ability to "take it." Consider Purity. Her blast, at full power, can "level a building." There doesn't seem to be much by way of limitations on it--she can fire it often and accurately (when she is fully powered up, anyway).

What if she were to "fight herself"? The mirror-match is not the end-all-be-all of good gaming but it's a decent litmus test to see if your characters and system is going to work well. If the test comes down to "who fires first" then you are possibly setting yourself up for some bad gaming if the characters are "intended to fight."

In JAGS firearm combat is fairly deadly for normal people--it isn't as deadly as real life (we looked at real firearms data) but it's pretty bad. We don't even enforce things like blood-loss and realistic you-get-shot-you-aren't-playing-for-the-rest-of-the-scenario healing times. However, when you get to "destroy a building" any hand-waving no longer works.

If Purity can shoot a beam that'll do 4k damage (destroy a garbage truck) then if she does fire on anyone--Jack Slash, Weld, whatever--if she hits, she'll total them. And then some.

So it's not clear what the "right thing" to do is in that situation. Our Scale Number rules allow for extremely powerful characters but they increase your ability to take it too. 

A Thought: We do have some (sketchy) rules around 'over-powered' attacks. These are really not meant for super-hero characters--but if an attack is designated as 'over-powered' then if any "PC or Named NPC" (important character) is targeted by it, they get some very powerful defenses such as "Any defensive action ALWAYS works." You could do Purity this way: if she fires her full power beam at Jack Slash and he has any action points for a defense it'll miss--but if he doesn't, he's in big trouble--but you can't really do Trickster that way since he pretty much "never misses."

Basically, in JAGS, something like Crawler is modeled at such a high power-scale due to his size and durability that even basic super-scale attacks are like trying to beat up a garbage truck: you'd better be really high power-level.

A NOTE: A lot of superhero fiction doesn't get the variance in power-level right either. I can kick the door of a car and maybe dent it. I can't do that to the size of a garbage truck. A 9mm would probably bounce off the side of a truck--but a 125mm shell goes right through it (they did in Iraq when garbage trucks were used against modern armor). There is a huge difference in the kinetic energy of a handgun to a machine gun shell (which does not equate 1:1 to damage--but it is probably semi-proportional). If a super hero can be hurt by a powerful rifle shell, the plasma cone of a Rocket Propelled Grenade (which will cut anything but main-battle-tank front armor) will leave a fist sized hole in them ... at least.

One More Note: Crawler isn't really hard to teleport because "he's so big" but rather "because he has so many Damage Points"--which, yeah, he has because he's so big. Remember that we're using DP as a proxy for how-bad-ass someone is. If Trickster in JAGS tries to swap Accord (a pretty big-league super-villain) for someone about to be incinerated in a nuclear reactor it'll probably fail too because Accord probably has a ton of Damage Points (even if Accord is armored his armor will give him DP or ADP in JAGS). Again, this is intentional: the game system wants to maintain a level of 'balance' that prevents someone with a small investment in a "cheap shot" from taking out heavy-hitters.

In this case it doesn't really jive with the fiction.

What About Trickster As a Leader?
I considered giving him (a) A success Point Pool for defensive actions. This would help ensure that, during the early stages of a fight at least, he was almost always successful in redirecting attacks and (b) some Commander type stuff--but I didn't.

For one thing the first wasn't really necessary: his investment in the Swap attack will tend to make him very successful against anything he'll reasonably fight and for the second? Well, he's not much of a leader. He's good with the psychological aspects of manipulating teammates to kinda keep them going (although their innate loyalty to Noelle is really central to that) but he doesn't seem to present much of a "leadership" role in their combat effectiveness.

JAGS has ways of handing the more mundane elements of leadership with "normal character stuff" and I think that would work for Trickster without necessarily requiring that he hand out Success Points.

In the end, I give Trickster's build a C+. His power "works" but it requires (a) a new Resisted Attack (which, okay, people are expected to be able to create--but even so it required a lot of modification and a little interpretation) (b) he's over points to have the base-line level of effectiveness I think he needs, and (c) he still can't do everything in the stories the way his character did (that's, again, a willful interpretation but still).

On the plus side, Trickster as a character--even at 128 AP--would be absolutely AWFUL to fight against which is in keeping with the story.

Exit questions:
  • If Purity hits a clone of herself with her beam is it instant death--or does she have some native defense that allows her to absorb that level of damage?
  • If Trickster tries to swap Accord (or a similar bad-ass) into certain death does a master super-villain have any "working defense" against it? Is there some way to "break out of Trickster's grab effect before it lands?"
Post Script: Trickster should have some kind of 'tactile detection sense' which he can use with his power. He can "feel if he has someone" before swapping them--so that's maybe 4 AP and some extra Damage Points. It's also possible he can lock-on to someone and then swap them "shortly after." If that's true then that might be another enhancement.

Final Note: we describe enhancements as Small, Medium, and Large with explicit decimal multipliers for these. This doesn't work for tested effects like Armor Piercing or Area-Effect-Selective where the numbers don't fit neatly into those categories. So we need to think on how to explain that to people.


  1. If Purity hit herself, she'd likely absorb some of the blast, because she absorbs light.

    Mirror matches are liable to be tricky in Worm because the act of gaining powers tends to afford one additional effects (even breaker 1 benefits) that reduce the risk of self-harm and extend to a defense against the medium in question.

    That said, I'm wondering about the system as described here - yes, you don't want the game to devolve into 'rocket tag' (he who shoots first with the most devastating attack wins), but what happens if you do have a scenario where two combatants do each get their hands on a rocket launcher? Do the rules change around them to accomodate this new situation?

    In regards to question two - in one fight in the 'snare' arc, Trickster and the Travelers go up against the Nine, with the Undersiders in tow. His initial goal is to catch Jack Slash, but Jack:
    a) breaks line of sight
    b) takes cover before Trickster can get enough of a grip (primarily, Trickster needs to absorb enough ambient air to offset a difference in mass).

    Trickster changes targets, swapping and then shooting Cherish, if I recall correctly.

    In brief, it takes anywhere from a half-second (just the time to ensure that both targets are in his field of vision) to a few seconds to seize both of the subjects he's swapping and account for any difference in mass. I don't know your system, but I'd say that in the case of the d20 system, it'd be something like a reflex save, available only if there was sufficient cover and the target was cognizant of Trickster.

    So, suggestions/questions: Is there a way to instill a delay on an action? The ideal way to emulate his fighting style and powers would be to have the teleport setup be delayed.

    Teleporting individuals so they get hit by their teammate's fire would involve either setting up and holding off on triggering the teleportation link or a success action as you describe in part 1.

    Further actions would impose a delay. Either he'd be putting off his next turn in a pseudo-casting time (again, with the ability to hold off so it -looks- instant) or by delaying his position in whatever dynamic determines turn order in combat.

    It wouldn't be resistable, but the twin drawbacks of having roughly equal targets and the casting time would define his style to the point that he'd have to be strategic and plan ahead in terms of how he applies his ability and anticipates enemy movements. It also allows the scenario with Crawler and the garbage truck.

    1. I want to address this really quick as I'm in the middle of something--but as to the rocket launcher question:

      1. Some games allow you to carry "whatever" (most D&D style games are like that as well as most "modern day games"--like Call of Cthulhu or whatever). In this case, no--there is no change: you get a rocket launcher, you have a rocket launcher.

      2. In *some* games (supers, Chi Martial Arts like Street Fighter) or whatever--the group would decide that you have to pay APs for (most) attacks. In that case, deciding to carry a rocket launcher you didn't pay APs for would be poor form.

      The idea is not to squash "legitimate action" per se (i.e. if Batman's Robin finds a rocket launcher, the rules don't descend on him and say you-may-not-use-it) but the Game Master (with input from other players) might say "If you wind up carrying that thing all the time either pay points for it or it'll be treated as a non-paid for attack with some characters getting special defenses."

      These are called out as optional rules.

      The issue is that if I exist in a world where mundane attacks can hurt major characters then it's to my advantage to carry those weapons if they are free and spend my points on things mundane gear can't buy. So we have some rules/guidelines that can be invoked around that.

      NOTE: The gritty nature of the Worm-verse and the built in actual explicit "rules" around non-lethal actions would probably make it a category-1 game (no one wants a kill order on them, most actions fall short of deadly force). As we see, Skitter carries a gun. Even in a category 2 game, however, Skitter would be charged at most 1 AP for that gun (there are rules about back-up attacks of much lower value). Oni pays for his weapons since they're his primary attack and characters in the game are generally expected to pay APs for their primary attacks.

    2. Thanks for answering. I meant more in the context of... there's lethal, high end weapons (and powers) out there, to the point that rocket tag will inevitably happen in some circumstance if you allow real world situations to unfold. So does it crop up, or do the rules naturally adjust for these situations to accept the existence of these items or powers?

    3. If nothing was specified at the beginning of the game then the default is 'NO'--the rules don't auto-adjust. However, for supers games where almost every character will spend points on an attack power the general prohibition against using mundane heavy weapons (or just weapons of equal scale to what others paid for) would hopefully be explicit.

      The rules don't mandate the use of special defenses against unpaid for attacks (in fact, they're not in the current beta version of the book--although they may well go in the optional back-of-the-book section).