Thursday, March 14, 2013

Worm Characters: Flechette

Making Worm-verse characters is proving so educational, we're doing another. This time: the cross-bow wielding super-heroine Flechette.

Flechette can "tune" an object so it can pass through and then embed itself in some other object--it also ignores some wind resistance and gravity. She also has enhanced reflexes and timing (and a "sense of angles") which allows her to fire swing-lines from her crossbow (Arbalest) and parkour around the city.

From a construction standpoint she is dead center of what JAGS ought to be able to do. How did she turn out?

Thoughts On the Worm-Verse
When converting any character from fiction to game mechanics you will likely have to make some intentional interpretations and decisions similar to what, say, Peter Jackson did when converting Lord of the Rings from the page to the screen. Not everything will work the same and that's okay: the two mediums are fundamentally different no matter how closely they line up.

Invulnerability And Damage In the Worm-Verse
As noted previously there are a lot of characters with "invulnerability" to damage. Often this shows up as near-instant regeneration but sometimes it's literal invulnerability (Siberian) which is something like "I didn't actually get hit even though the attack appeared to land" and something close to it (Alexandria) where the interpretation might just be that the character is defended "above the scale" of anything reasonable.

In this case, Flechette has a power that can penetrate anything: what happens if she uses it on one of the many invulnerable characters? What happens if she does it in the fiction? What happens in JAGS?

What happens if Flechette shoots Alexandria or Siberian?

In the fiction we don't know--it hasn't happened--in JAGS, here's my take:
  1. What's the power definition in print? Siberian would take full-spectrum Invulnerability. That, in JAGS, equates to "does not take damage from attack." It, in essence, reduces all done damage to zero. The bolt would not penetrate (the unstoppable force bounces off the immovable object). JAGS Also contains "Nigh-Invulnerability" which is a whole lot of armor (and Alexandria probably has a Scale Number multiplier as well). In this case the armor goes to zero. The bolt penetrates. If Alexandria has biological systems under that invulnerability (if she relies on her invulnerable heart beating to get blood to her un-cutable brain) then she could die if shot in the heart. NOTE: Alexandria might even be comparatively light on damage points after being so well defended otherwise--although if she has a Scale Number multiplier it would apply to those too. Flechette might be able to really hurt or even kill Alexandria in JAGS but she'd probably have to get pretty lucky and it would take more than one shot anyway.
  2. Go to the definition of the powers. JAGS has a stasis power (it doesn't work exactly like Worm's Clockblocker who can also stop time but is close). It renders things indestructible when in stasis. In this case, as as with "invulnerability" the definition of the power is that the laws of physics don't apply: the bolt would bounce off a stasis field as the molecular modification effect just doesn't apply. 
I wanted to give her Fast Company--a package ability that gives characters the ability to dodge bullets, enhanced acrobatics, and damage reduction (due to reflexes) when they are hit. There are four levels of it and I gave her Level 1. I wanted Level 2--but it proved a bit too expensive for what I was trying to do.

I also wanted to give her Expertise +3 to attack skill due to her enhanced native ability with angles. That, too, proved a bit pricey and I went back to +2. That's not bad.

The Arbalest itself is a L4 (32 AP) PEN attack which Ignores Armor. This is, to my mind, almost entirely dead on in terms of effect: she can stick the bolt "in an Endbringer" (a world-scale supervillain monster) as it has a ton of armor and her attack just doesn't care.

On the downside, after adding the Ignore Armor rule, the attack just does 21 PEN damage. I say "just" as that is roughly what a bullet from an assault rifle does. She can fire it two or three times a Round (depending on how fast her normal character is--but probably 3x) and she is going to hit on, probably, a 17- which will do a lot of damage to characters who aren't either immune to PEN damage or rely on armor to protect them. An average shot will do between 42 (2x damage) and 53 points. 

She could kill Skitter in one shot.

The Flechette power has a couple of interesting effects.

Pin Someone To The Wall
Flechette can use her crossbow to shoot someone's clothes or shoe, have the dart go through it, and then release her power fusing the bolt to the wall. She can do this to a person, fusing the bolt inside them (she did this to Skitter, of all people, fusing Skitter's costume to the bolt and the bolt to her bone so she had to get a doctor with a saw to cut her out of it before she could get the incriminating costume off--it was bullet-proof too).

How do you do that? I discussed that with another person and the conclusion was that this was a trivial advantage: it costs Flechette 1 Damage Point. Why? Well, if the bolt was just cruelly barbed it would have a very similar effect but with more blood and pain--but it wouldn't really cost more points (you could, maybe, give it a higher Damage Modifier--but I'm not explicitly modeling that right now).

How does her "shoot someone and pin them" attack work? It's probably a hard shot at like -4 to hit on top of any other modifiers. As she is definitely Level 3 (Expert level) with the crossbow she ignores -3pts of that making it a fairly easy shot for her if the target isn't otherwise hard to hit. The pinning power is limited to the strength of their clothes.

Super Parkour
JAGS has a couple of "urban movement powers." The Swing Line Gear ability allows for a super-version that lets you "swing around the city" without having to make Acrobatic rolls or have a chance of falling. There are two versions: the Swing Line (1 AP) for 10 yards per second (20mph) or the Speed Line (which is about the same but goes 30 mph). I felt the Swing Line was better as she's not that fast (even a sustained 20 mph is probably a little fast for her but still ...)

Damage Points / Armor?
I gave Flechette 32 Damage points (and she gets 10 for Fast Company). She gets an additional Generic Archetype Ability for 4 AP with Fast Company which could be a lot of things. Clocking in at a likely 15 (tough normal person) + 32 + 10 = 57 DP I think she's pretty well defended (especially with her good dodge and her negative damage modifiers). 

I'm not entirely sure what I'd give her. Possibly 4 / 10 Armor (I don't know if her costume is armored or not). Possibly Gunslinger which would give her an extra 2 PEN damage (after the reduction) and a little more defense? I could spend it on +16 additional DP or +24 ADP for more defenses.

Here is Flechette
I know, I know: unreadable

Even the simplest characters do pose some questions though: in the case of Flechette she can use her power without shooting it. She can attack hand-to-hand with her Ignores Armor spikes. How do we do that?

The easiest answer is to just let her use her power at "point blank range." In this case nothing really changes and game-effect wise it's like a shot at point blank. That's not how the fiction reads, however.

The second way would be to give her two powers: a ranged Ignores-Armor-PEN attack and a HTH Attack that's the same. The HTH Attack would do more damage (partially because HTH Attacks are simply more efficient damage-wise in JAGS but also because she would get to add her Strength to it. Her Strength damage is not all that high--but she might get a point or two).

The problem with that is that JAGS generally charges extra for a different attack and HTH vs. Ranged typically counts!

What would I do? Well, firstly as the GM, I wouldn't blink: she can use the attack HTH and add her Strength damage adjusted downwards for the Ignores Armor attack. She would not get the "more efficient damage" when she uses the attack at point-blank range though. For that she would have to pay extra.

Secondly, as the game designer, I think there needs to be some general rules about attacks that are "really similar" being grouped together for a very small cost. Just as I think Oni would benefit from a "he can have any normal gun up to the biggest he paid for--and a knife" rule, I think here there is space for some kind of "Flechette can use any weapon strike or shot with the Ignores Armor effect" for a little extra (maybe 1 AP?).

This also gets to Hawkeye style characters who probably WILL have to pay more for their giant array of arrows--but not as much as the current rules would imply (the real value of having great versatility is usually not as high as the value of doing A LOT more damage with one attack).

A Note About The Bow: The Arbalest gets a SMALL (-.06) defect which winds up (a) saving her 2 AP and then (b) saves her 5 AP total after the multiplier for Fast Company and +2 to-hit. The "defect" for the Bow is that:
  1. It's a device so it could get taken away. Yes, she can still use her power on something else but probably not as easily on a common gun (or else why doesn't she carry one)? And, anyway, she still probably needs to have something like a weapon to do maximal damage.
  2. It's a device so it can (albeit very rarely) suffer mechanical failures, get jammed in the rain or mud, need (albeit rarely) to get reloaded, etc. The game system assumes most super-devices are pretty resilient, rarely get taken away, and that the players are not tracking bullets--BUT it could come up--so it's worth "a little."
  3. It's two-handed and big. The crossbow is obvious, hard to conceal, and takes both hands to operate normally. This is contrasted to, say, eye-beams which could be used if you're tied up or even "power blast" which, if fired from the hands, at least just requires one hand free.
In JAGS you don't get much for having the device be a gadget though.


  1. Arbalest, not arbolest.

    It strikes me that the outline, as described, doesn't account for the fact that the shot doesn't allow for healing/regeneration due to how it sticks in the target, nor does it necessarily count how it hampers the victim's mobility if it sticks in place.

    Just putting that out there.

  2. Thanks for the edit. For anyone not keeping score, that's the guy who writes Worm. Very glad to have you commenting (I'm sure the mechanics stuff isn't nearly as interesting as the character commentary).

    The way to model that in JAGS would be to have a Resisted Attack (similar to how Poison, Mind Control, Petrification etc. work) which can, depending on the "level of success" hamper a victim's ability in many ways (such as dropping their Agility Bonus against being hit).

    I'm not too clear on exactly how much the effect is unlike just taking a lot of damage though in general: If I shoot someone in the leg (either in JAGS with called shot optional rules or in 'real life') their movement is hampered a lot just from the wound.

    Is the idea that the bolt can hamper targets she could in no way kill or seriously injure by fusing a bolt with them so she "punches above her weight class" when it comes to hindering targets (I don't recall her hindering Crawler much even if it hampers his regeneration and did, actually, hurt him. Did she slow down Leviathan effectively?).

    Also: what's the Worm-verse's populace's general opinion about what happens if she shoots Alexandria? (NOTE: Not asking "what happens in the story" as that's totally an unfair question--but what do the super-hero fan-boy message boards in the Worm-verse think would happen).

    1. I think that before you model impediments to movement as a Resisted Attack, you should consider modeling them as trick shots / special moves: in theory, anyone could achieve the same effect with a mundane bow and arrow until the arrow was removed (and as you mentioned, a barbed arrow would be hard to remove for a variety of reasons, making it the equivalent (in combat) of Flechette's).

      Conceptually, there are a bunch of special moves -- pin (to the wall), knock down, cripple, maybe "disarm" and "distract."

      All of them would be prohibitively difficult to pull off for anyone but an absolute expert. I think Flechette's "angles" ability would remove some of those negatives, as would level-3 or level-4 skill.

      Beyond that, not being able to remove the arrow without serious work would be, I'd think, a small advantage.

    2. I agree: I think most of the enhancement is around "does not heal without serious medical attention." This means you can't just go home and lick your wounds even if you *are* super tough--you need specialized medical care.

      JAGS supports trick-shots but there is no "remove special modifiers" power as of now. Maybe something for the Fast Company book to add.

      I will say that "disarming people" or "pinning them to the wall" is pretty hard to model: if you make it easier to disarm people than to defeat them you have situations where the team of fantasy adventurers are "disarming the orcs" and then slaughtering them--this is not something you want the game system to encourage (and the fiction, to my knowledge) never reads that way.

      So getting the difficulty level has to be pretty exacting (or it could be a purely optional rule with some guidelines around when these kinds of things are legitimate--I'd have to think about it).

  3. Another note: "Doesn't heal" could be an enhancement on the damage--but it would be a small one (it would be what we think of as anti-player-character since "who cares if NPCs don't heal?"*)

    In that case the damage would prohibit Regeneration which is a good deal rarer in JAGS than in the Worm-Verse (it is *expensive* in JAGS to have the kind of instant kill-me-all-at-once-or-else regeneration that some characters have, although slower healing over a few minutes isn't very much at all).

    It might cost her a damage point or two.

    * Not actually true to our experience for a lot of NPCs--but, really, it's the main characters of the story who generally worry most about the long-term view. I don't think most *players* would pay a lot extra to have weapons that, say, inflict long-term disease on targets even though it would be pretty scary and grim as being shot or stabbed is usually "scary enough" for most purposes ...

  4. Against some of the heaviest hitters, Flechette's shots would likely operate as follows:

    Alexandria - Bypass invincibility, damage her as it would a normal, unarmored individual.

    Leviathan - Damage him as it might a normal, unarmored individual, inhibits regeneration as long as the bolts remain in place.

    Hadhayosh - Damage him as it would a normal, unarmored individual. Inhibits regeneration as long as the bolts remain in place.

    Siberian - Unstoppable force meets the unmovable object? I'd say leave it for the physicists to handle. I'm not sure if I want to venture into spoiler territory for anyone reading that might want to read Worm, but I'd say the arrow wins out. The power that makes Siberian what she is cuts out briefly, and then she's back to being as strong as ever (I'm sure you can draw the necessary conclusions from that).

    1. Okay, great--so in JAGS:
      1. Alexandria has Nigh Invulnerability possibly with a "scale number" multiplier giving her hundreds or thousands of points of armor. The bolt ignores these.

      2. Leviathan actually has relatively low armor but thousands of damage points (and immortality). When his damage points are gone he suffers cosmetic effects of damage but eventually he can't die so he runs. The bolt ignores his armor and won't let him heal but it's not going to single-handedly take him out.

      3. Hadhayosh. Same as Alexandria. LOTS of armor. But the bolt will bypass.

      4. Siberian is interesting. I would (if not for the note) do her as a "Force Field" manifestation which the bolt would bounce off of (it does not "ignore force fields"). With this note I'd do her differently!

      Next up: Jack Slash.