Monday, May 13, 2013

Siberian (Over Unity Characters)

I'm back from a posting hiatus to take a look at another Worm-verse character. In the unlikely event you have no idea what I'm talking about, look here. Worm is a supervillain web-serial that, aside from being very well written and engaging, has absolutely fantastic characters. No one has a simple power-set (I'll extend the compliment to the way the characters are realized and portrayed--but that's a little outside the scope of this blog).

As such they make an excellent lens for us to look at the JAGS Archetypes rules through: they pose questions we have simply been unable to come up with on our own. The goal is to take a character and then try to simulate them to whatever degree the game-system allows (or that we want to--I'm not interested in literally being able to simulate every event in the fiction ... which might be an interesting post in and of itself).

In this case: one of the most powerful and troubling characters in the series--the savage Siberian.

I thought the name might apply to the Siberian Tiger--as the character is "stripped" in appearance--but the character is black and white--and Siberian tigers are normal tiger color. I'm not sure where the name comes from. Siberian is pure-villain: lethal, mega-powerful, and doesn't talk much at all. She is part of a group of 'monsters' (the Slaughterhouse Nine) who go around the country causing terror and misery as, more or less, performance art.

Siberian appears as a naked woman with black and white striped skin. She is semi-feral.

Siberian's powers--at least in non-spoiler mode--are as follows:

  1. Completely indestructible. She can lend her indestructibility to others through touch.
  2. Unbelievable strong--even for super strength types--and her attacks ignore, well, everything. She can hurt other "indestructible" characters.
  3. Super fast--both runs really fast and strikes super quickly.
  4. Doesn't need to breathe, eat, etc.
NOTE: As the story develops you learn more about her--I'm doing the "basic version" here as there is no need to spoil things (and the game system does handle the spoiler version pretty elegantly).

First Things First: Siberian is a Bazillion Archetype Points
JAGS Revised allows characters to be built on zero AP's (mundane humans) or 32 APs (talented agents--maybe Jason Borune like?)--or 128 APs (super heroes)--or a million APs or whatever (Optimus Prime?). For one of the "most powerful characters in a superhero verse" Siberian would clearly be a lot of points.

She's even way more expensive than most of the Slaughterhouse Nine--her teammates--if you want to think of it that way (and you don't have to go too far into game mechanics mode to think of it that way: if you could have any set of their powers for yourself, her's would probably cost the most money of all of them.

But ... there is a problem: under the current system, no amount of money will buy you Indestructible and Super Speed: both cost a percentage of your points and that goes over 1--meaning no matter how many APs you got--those two alone ... cost more than you have.

We have been looking at ways to address this.

The Easy Part: Part 1 (Basic Powers)
Being super strong and having your punches ignore armor--we got. That's Super Strength with the Ignores Armor modifier. No problemo.

Secondly, Doesn't Eat, Breathe, Sleep? Easy: 2 AP's for No Biological Weaknesses (okay, maybe she sleeps ... I don't know).

Thirdly? Super fast running? She's not like "the flash" where she can go from New York to LA in seconds--but she can outrun most cars, I think. That's still like 3 APs.

The Easy Part: Part 2 (Scale Number)
Siberian can, say ... I don't know ... chuck a car across a football field? Pick up a rock that weighs a few tons? Whatever--she's really strong. Exactly how strong is less interesting to me specifically than that she is just super-duper-strong.

We have a way to deal with this with some degree of elegance: Scale Number. You pick a number for your game (usually all PCs are the same Scale Number) and you multiply all relevant values by that number. So if she starts life with the normal 10 Damage Points and is Scale Number 10, she now has 100 Damage Points.

Easy enough? Siberian is some high Scale Number character. Exactly how strong depends on what exactly you want her to play like.


The Hard Part, Part 1: Punches Effect OTHER Indestructible Characters
In the story she doesn't just tear up really tough things--she can tear up just about anything--including other indestructible characters. Now: the system already handles this to a degree. If we assume that most characters who are "immune" to things buy a version of immunity which gives you TONS OF ARMOR (there is one--it's slightly cheaper than 'pure' indestructibility) then she's set: she punches Alexandria who has the TONS-OF-ARMOR version and ignores all of it.

But what if other people in the game buy Indestructible too--the pure form--can she take an enhancement that will hurt them?

In theory: yes. In practice: How much would it cost?

This is interesting. Firstly, pure invulnerability is probably really rare. It costs 94% of your APs--this means:
  1. To have anything left you better be over 100 APs
  2. You can't have any other TAP (percent of your Total Archetype Point) abilities unless they are .06 or less.
But ... come on--someone's going to have it. In the Worm-verse ... maybe a lot of people (Crawler is said to be "immune" to things after he survives them--is this literal or does he just get a lot of extra defense? If he survives high-heat--can he survive falling into the sun? Probably not).

So let's say there's an enhancement: Hurts INV characters. We will propose it is either Small, Medium, or Large in cost (don't worry about what that means right now).

Enhancements are evaluated based on (a) how often they come into play and (b) how good they are when they do. I would say that this is relevant 'very rarely' (one time in 10 play sessions) but that it is extremely good (in fact: it wins the battle) when it is in play. Does this cancel? Kinda--which would tend to make the enhancement small.

But there's another issue: for characters with Invulnerability (of any sort) this enhancement being out there is a BIG DEAL. If I spend 94% of my points on not being able to be hurt--and you can spend, say 4% of your points to hurt me ... I'm screwed. Even if it's pretty rare that someone does do that--when they do, my whole character is wasted.

So I think that this is actually Medium or Large. I'm going to go with Large on the Game of Risk rule: Tie Goes To The Defender. That's always felt fair to me.

The Hard Part Part 2: Loaning INV to Other Characters
If Siberian is touching you she can shield you--from anything. In one battle this giant steel-melting 'sun' passes over her and her allies and she saves them. This thing presumably uses all the oxygen--so it saves you from asphyxiation too? This is a really good power (note: in JAGS we don't track asphyxiation from fire attacks--although at one point some optional rules did and it was considered too fiddly even for me ... which is saying something ... and that something isn't good).

So how much does that cost?

Well, we assume that groups have about 3-5 people in them on average. If you buy a super-sense that you can just "give to all your allies" we think that's 5x the cost (so if you have 10 people in your group--yay you!).

The requirement that you touch the people, though, limits it. I am estimating to around 2x the cost since it seems a bit unlikely that this will be in play all that often if the battle is at all dynamic. Maybe 3x?

The Really Hard Part: Over Unity
So now we get to the hard part--the really hard part--how do we handle Super Speed and invulnerability combined? We looked at one option a few post ago (we called it 'Stack' for bad reasons--but we're ditching that). What's our current thinking?

Our current thinking is something called BaseLine. Remember that these TAP (Total AP Cost) Powers are based on a percentage of your total points. If you are a 100 AP character, invulnerability cost you 94 AP.

We think that there is a way to "exceed" your Total AP cost with higher Scale Number characters: specifically to say "if you are Scale Number 10 and 100 AP, you can buy TAP abilities as though you were 50 AP--but then you're Scale Number 5."

You can do this again (and again, and so on)--if you want to be Scale Number 2.5 your TAP powers are treated as though you were only 25 AP (so Invulnerability now costs 25 AP. Super Speed costs around 13).

This leaves plenty of APs for her Super Strength, Running, No Biological Weaknesses, and so on.

Exactly what Scale she starts at (I'd start her at 400 as a test-case) and how much she cuts down (I'd cut her Scale in half twice--so she's SN 100 and buys TAP abilities as though her Total AP cost was 32 AP).

If we decide we like this BaseLine approach--and we already like what we've tested of it--it provides a good mechanism for doing extreme characters like Batman or Captain America who also have more TAP stuff than is generally allowed. Just build them at Scale Number 2 or 4 and they come out "human scale" but can load up on TAP abilities.

This does raise a few harder questions:

When Do You Do This?
The answer is that most PCs are expected to be the same AP cost and Scale Number. If I am playing in the Super Friends game and wish to play Batman, my buddies may be Scale Number 100--but I can cut down to Scale Number, say 2 or something and buy TAP stuff for next to nothing.

Of course I'll be utterly irrelevant when it comes to dealing damage or, for that matter, unless I buy Invulnerability of some sort, taking it. I'll have to rely on large SP point pools so as not to be hit.

Is It Fair?
What we like about using Scale Number reductions to allow more TAP is that our tests seem to indicate that, if you choose the numbers with some care, the results are good. The problem, if there is one, is that you quickly run out of roles for characters who are 1/2 or 1/4th as powerful as the "power houses." 

That is kinda how the fiction works--but I'm not sure most gaming I've seen simulates power-imbalance in a fun fashion.

That said, this build does Siberian pretty well: she's a holy terror and her Scale Number might be equal to, say, Crawler, when all is said and done (if Siberian and Crawler were the two even-scale PCs ... that'd be one strange game).

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