Sunday, October 18, 2015

Team resources: some thoughts about headquarters

What do you want your team to have? What are the resources that they share? What are the freebies and what should they work for?

While you could use the excellent location-building rules in Stark City for this, I wouldn't get a blog post out of it if you did. I'll also skip specifying a system on this one, though I'll use ICONS for the examples. (Later, I might come back and add examples written in other systems.) ICONS, in fact, doesn't talk much about headquarters and team resources, because they are mostly plot devices.

Which they are, but I'm going to talk about them anyway.

(If you want to build team resources because they're really extra-special, maybe you could have a "Team Resources" power: every level or rank of Team Resource gets you five points of resources. Some of the resources are levelled--the size of the headquarters can be small, medium, large, or extra-large--and some are not--communicators for everybody!.)

Almost every team needs a place to meet and some kind of communication. The other common resources are contacts and vehicles.

I have run a campaign where the heroes met in a back room at a coffee chain: the Circle Perk. (That was Wild Justice, my reaction to Dark Champions, where they fought against the excesses of the Blue Moon Killer.) Still, the heroes probably want a more private place to meet, and they might want other equipment. Here are some ideas for your standard crimefighting, beat-the-conquerors kind of team.

Size. How big is your headquarters? I think there are four useful categories:
  • Small: a back room somewhere, a hidden desk when a wall turns around, a private garage
  • Medium: an apartment, a hidden section of a floor in an apartment, your magical study
  • Large: a floor in a building or a hidden basement, a forgotten subway station,
  • Extra-large:  a building on an island in the river, a satellite orbiting the earth, a pocket dimension
Hidden/Obvious. A hidden headquarters is underground (a cave, an abandoned subway station, a warehouse basement, what used to be a speakeasy, a wide (dry) section of rain sewer, or a forgotten long distance repeater station), or disguised (a back room in a dance club), invisible (the thirteenth floor of a building, hidden by magic). Obvious is the free default. It's in the phone book. It's the penthouse of Vigilant Tower. It's the library...er, Hall of Justice.

Inaccessible/Accessible. An inaccessible headquarters is tough to get to. There are three levels.
  • The first is accessible.
  • The second suggests that anyone could get there if they knew what to do (knew the combination for the entrance, turned widdershins six times and said the magic phrase, pressed the buttons for twelve and fourteen on the elevator at the same time, hired a plane to get to the Fortress of Solitude). 
  • The third requires special abilities (the Avengers card, the strength to move a giant key, dimensional transport magic). It's your call whether you think a satellite above the earth is the second level of accessible or the third...given how it's used in the comics, usually the third.
Accessibility is also security. A receptionist at the front is accessible, while a magical bioscanner is utterly inaccessible. I can see the virtue in separating them, but I think for the most part it's difficult. If something has loads of security, it's just a different flavour of inaccessible.

A headquarters is usually also accompanied by one or more qualities: Secret magical school, interdimensional train, teleporting street.

A headquarters can also have bonuses to skills or specialties. The description of the place serves as a source of qualities that the player can tag for +2 to the effort or to actually do something. "I'm in the library where we have lots of old information, so I get +2 to Occult" or "Here in the lab I can do mass spectroscopy, so that's a chance to do/redo Investigation."

I'd also avoid using set numbers for anyone trying to get in. Instead, I'd use the accessibility quality to create trouble for anyone trying to get in stealthily. Something that's inaccessible is a minus to their attempt; something very inaccessible is a double minus.

Weapons and durability can be modeled with powers. This is where you want an exchange rate between the advantages that the players put in and the number of points you can spend.

Senses (the TroubleAlert?) are probably best done with Qualities rather than trying to make ranges work, because the range rules in supers games are usually meant for people, not machines.

Communications are probably best described by their limitations. So what kind of information is transmitted (only voice?) and how far? Can it be overheard? Can it be blocked? In my games, communications are usually an excuse to keep everyone involved because they're going to talk anyway. Sometimes I care that character X is not there (and the players are good about it), but usually I'm fine if they communicate. Off-hand, I can think of the following:

  • Radios (voice, short range, can be overheard, don't work everywhere, device complications)
  • Smartphones (voice, occasionally visual, can be overheard, don't work everywhere, global range, device complications)
  • Mind link (usually voice but can be enhanced, range has to be defined, can't be overheard, not so good for characters trying to hide things, usual limit is conference call size, switchboard complications)

Communications also have a security aspect which you might want to spell out.

Stuff like sign language for stealth missions is usually spoken by the players and invented by the players as necessary.

Vehicles can often veer from the pure plot device category, as the characters hide in the vehicles or use the vehicles as weapons. They are the resource that are most likely to have to be statted out.