Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Random Supers! Character


I decided I'd try a session the Mythic way, with no idea where it was going. After listening to the latest BAMF! podcast, I decided to use Supers! even though my character will be nowhere near as cool as the Goblin Ghost.

I'll put up the character first and then at some future date I'll put up an adventure.

Random character:
Origin (2d6): 2,3: Special Training (-3D powers, +2D resistances, +1D Aptitudes)
Resistances (8d6): 1,2,2, 3, 4,4,4,6:  One to add for player's choice, one for competency.
Composure: 3D
Fortitude: 2D
Reaction: 4D
Will: 2D
He's good. And the origin means I get to add 2 more. Let's make him a bit more strong-willed (3D) and increase his Fortitude a lot:
Composure: 3D
Fortitude: 4D
Reaction: 4D
Will: 3D

Aptitudes (5d6): 2. 3, 3, 4, 5--so ranks are 2D, 3D, 2D, and 2D. What are they, exactly? We'll skip the nominal first aptitude.
2,2 Aircraft
2,1 Vehicles
6,6 Survival
3,3 Investigation

Well, clearly he was on an around-the-world tour when his plane crashed and he had to learn how to survive, which made him tough tough tough. Let's say he can fight, for that extra D6 from his origin. If he had streetwise, I'd make it guns, but he clearly wasn't a criminal.

Aircraft: 2D
Fighting: 2D
Investigation: 2D
Survival: 2D
Vehicles: 3D

Power ranks (7d6): 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5
Powers would be
1D 3,6 Telekinesis
1D 3,6 Telekinesis
1D 5,4 Plant Control or Weather Control
3D 5,3 Invulnerability or Life Support
1D 1,1 Absorption

Well, his origin means that I have to get rid of 3D, so I'm dumping the first 3 powers. He has devices that grant him Invulnerability and Absorption. Since they're both devices, I can up each by a die. I think I'll put the 4D of Invulnerability as Piercing, so it's useful against bullets. It's clearly some kind of body armor.

Boosts (2d6): 5,2 both Lingering Effects and Persistent Damage don't really fit. He doesn't have enough dice for me to scarf one up for a Bashing Invulnerability.
Complications (2d6): 3,1 Well, we have devices. And 3,1 is Burnout, which seems appropriate for the Absorption device. So his powers become:
4D: Invulnerability (Device) Piercing
3D: Absorption (Device) Some kind of energy. Haven't thought of what, yet.

Advantages (2d6): 4,1 Attractive or Celebrity; I'll pick Celebrity, because...
Disadvantages (2d6): 4,5 Public ID

So I figure this guy is doing things in public as part of a payback thing: it's his public service. He gets the suit, but he's followed by cameras (and probably wears a body camera to make sure he doesn't do things.) If it's payback, maybe the crime he committed is connected to the vehicles/airplanes aptitudes. Heck, the investigation is probably training he got in order that he doesn't destroy evidence at a crime scene.

Since his vehicles and aircraft aptitudes are high, he wasn't really a criminal criminal; it wasn't his life's work (or he'd have streetwise). No, something like a DUI and wanton property destruction. And the judge, who has a sense of humor, sentenced him to public works. As a superhero. So the armor is painted in the city colors and has probably been tagged by graffiti artists.

He needs a municipal kind of name, or a name from the graffiti tag on his chest. Maybe he's officially known as Community Repayment Individual Municipal (pronounced CRIM), but people have taken to calling him Bad Boy, because that's one of the graffitos. Yes, Bad Boy is a good guy.

Bad Boy ID: Karl Shiner
Composure: 3D
Fortitude: 4D
Reaction: 4D
Will: 3D
Aircraft: 2D
Fighting: 2D
Investigation: 2D
Survival: 2D
Vehicles: 3D
3D Invulnerability (Device) Piercing
3D: Absorption (Device) Some kind of energy. Haven't thought of what, yet.

Public ID

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sentinels of the Multiverse revisited: Aiding Others


FIgured out how to do Legacy's aiding power in ICONS. My first thought was rather complicated: Probability Control (good luck), Extra: Affects Others, Limit: Others Only, Extra: Duration of Level, Limit: Extra Effort Only.  In play, you'd also want some kind of recharge extra, and he has (say) 4 ranks so he grants it to each of his teammates. So each teammate gets extra effort on each roll for (rank) panels. 

But you can get almost the same effect with Probability Control (bad luck) applied to the villains and their minions. That one is Probability Control (bad luck), Extra: Duration of Level, Limit: never for actions against him alone.

Or you invent a new Aid or Improve Others power, based on some combination of this and Healing. 

(I know that Certain People always like new powers, so this is for them.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Adventure Seeds on a Theme

I have no ideas today, so we're going to take something and I'll riff on it, and see if we can produce one or more adventure seeds that way. This might be a bountiful harvest of ideas or it might be awful; if I edit this, it will be for presentation or spelling, not for content.

American Thanksgiving is coming up, but my (Canadian) Thanksgiving was last month. So, being between Thanksgivings, I'll take that as my theme.

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time of family togetherness. What if some big bad villain escaped from detention but it's actually so that he or she can spend the holidays with the family? Maybe Dad is dying or something, and this might well be the last Thanksgiving they spend together. The villain can't get out without the help of some others, so there's a whole group there (some of whom don't care about the holiday, so they're happy to loot or whatever, and when caught, they point the finger at Villain's family house. It might look like this:

The PCs are looking forward to their own festivities when the Midnight Throne escapes from his maximum security prison, with the help of several supervillain associates (past villains from your campaign or perhaps Dark Silver, Chicle, Solar Flare, and Limpet, to invent some names). Limpet and Chicle are easy enough to catch because they're busy hijacking a teleporter to get out of the nation, and they eventually point to a quiet suburban home, where the Midnight Throne is having Thanksgiving dinner with his two associates and his family. The ensuing fight puts Throne's father in the hospital--will the PCs let Throne go there to say goodbye?

Mind, there might be some juice to be gotten from avoiding a family get-together as well.

Lots of the team is off enjoying Thanksgiving but several people have volunteered to be on watch duty. They don't actually want to go home. The problem is that even the crooks seem to have taken today off. The PCs respond to an environmental emergency, and that's good, but there's still nothing. Else. To do. They're about to break out the D&D books (and really, don't you want to roleplay your heroes roleplaying D&D?) when the alarms go off. Someone is inside the base!

Now, it could be a story where their companions have decided to bring them some turkey and pie, or even one where the villains bring the food, but in the tradition of Kitty Pryde's Christmas, I'd rather it were other-dimensional invaders. The bad news is, there are a lot of mooks. The good news is, the interdimensional gateway has opened in the hallway on the same for as the Disaster Dungeon, where the team does its training. If they can't beat the invading force directly, maybe the Disaster Dungeon can do it (once they disable the safeties).

And I'm out of lunchtime, so there you go.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sex and the Single Superhero


This is my smut entry. I'll try to keep it fairly clean in terms of words but we'll be talking about some adult stuff, so if you want to skip this, now would be a good time.

Still here?

I was thinking about sex and superheroes this morning on the drive in. Most comics just ignore it and that's a perfectly fine genre convention to keep.

If you want to go all hardcore (so to speak), go off and read Larry Niven's famous essay, Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex. (The Wikipedia article is here, and a probably illegal copy of the text is here. No guarantees that either link will be good even a second after I post this.) I'm proposing something a little gentler.

For starters, let's ignore all the trained and gimmick-laden humans. They have no physical problems. (Maybe mental ones, but that's outside my purview right now.) We can probably not worry about lots of mutants: if your mutation is that you have wings or horns but everything else is standard equipment, you don't have a problem except maybe socially.

That leaves us the folks with powers that make things difficult or who aren't actually human: your super-strong or invulnerable types, your rapid regenerators, your superfast speedsters, or your aliens. It's not clear if Metamorpho even has genitalia any more, though he can probably produce something suitable.

The super-strong or the invulnerable might be in danger of hurting their partners or of, er, not being accessible. If regenerators happen to be capable of regenerating and there's a noticeable hymen, that might be a problem. Speedsters probably have a problem syncing up with their partners.

The obvious solution, and one that might feed nicely into any campaign that features any kind of super/non-super stratification, is that supers of that sexually-isolating kind only date other supers.

There's something terribly lonely about the woman with the permanent force field who can only date the person who nullifies force fields, whether a hero or not. The Obelisk might pine for Nancy Normal, but can only be intimate with Suzy Strength.  The Zipper might remember her old boyfriend fondly but the foreplay takes so damned long  (hours by her standards, even though he's known as Quick-Draw locally). And Quirk the being from Planet Z doesn't even find humans attractive, but dolphins work.

There's a subclass of supers who can only have relations with other supers, because they're afraid of hurting a normal partner. (I suppose there's a subsubsubclass of those that doesn't care about hurting a normal partner, but I prefer not to think about that.) So what kind of things are you going to see developing because of that?

MetaDate is the online dating service for metahumans. The customers (with exceptions, obviously) have a higher tolerance for unusual appearances. Gender categories include male, female, trans, neuter, and fluid. The profile form includes relevant powers, but they never ask which side of the law you're on.

The Underground is a dating club for metahumans. It can be classified as either a place for a date or a pickup bar, depending on what section you're in. The Underground is, well, underground: under an embassy of a country without an extradition treaty. In fact, it has an agreement with the embassy: activities on its soil are not considered to be bound by the laws of the host country, and while they might be technically illegal in the embassy's country, there is no access between the Underground and the embassy. The embassy's staff practices "don't ask, don't tell." The Underground is not a place for actual assignations; the staff is quite strong and there are other staff members who handle some of the more outre abilities. (There is a member of staff normally immune to suggestion or mind control, for instance.)

Dimension X has nothing so abstruse's just a place for aliens. It started small, and is gradually growing to fill the warehouse block where it exists. There are a number of small rooms, each of which attempts to mimic "home" for some alien species. Most of the rooms can handle a number of environments, but the number isn't infinite, and there are some things it can't handle at all. They used to have a problem with theft (supervillains kept stealing their gravity repulsor technology or their red sun filters) but a few retired heroes work there now, and that has lowered the incidence considerably. It is expensive, though the local agency that deals with and controls aliens (the Bureau of Extra Foreign Affairs) supports it.

Uplifted animals have different problems...but that's for a different post.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The care and feeding of secret identities

Secret identities are not particularly in, right now. On shows like Flash and Supergirl they seem to reveal their secret identities at the drop of a hat (mask?). The biggest group, the X-Men, don't really have secret identities, though some of them wear masks in sort a half-witted attempt at hiding their identities. Though the original X-Men wore masks and still do, most of the New Mutants don't when I look at covers. (Really...they're hated and feared. You'd figure they'd wear more disguise, not less.) The lamented Fantastic Four just say who they are, and Tony Stark admits to gallivanting around in armor. Thor has no secret identity, and Hank Pym seems to use his name as often as any of the other identities he has.

And, really, secret identities have a bad rep. It feels in retrospect like there were a bazillion stories where Lois suspected Clark of being Superman, but was foiled because Clark dressed up a robot, or Batman, or pretended to be dead, or used super-ventriloquism (really? I mean, really?) to pretend he was in the next room from Superman.

Not to mention that in the context of most superhero RPGs, your secret identity as Pablo Pinkwater, crusading blogger, doesn't matter except as a way to feed you information or get you in and out of scrapes.

So what's a GM to do with secret identities?

Obviously, you don't need them. It's totally okay if a player is fine with playing Frank, whose public name is Ionic Column, or even just Frank. If that's the game you want to play, great.

But if a character has taken a secret identity--has made a point of saying it--then what do you do with it?

There are, to my mind, three reasons why a player might take a secret identity for his or her character:

  1. It makes sense for the character (the sole trained normal in a group of demigods, for instance) but the player doesn't really want to play it. In that case, trying to bring in the character's secret identity is going to be frustrating for both of you: you'll get annoyed that you keep throwing out plot crumbs that get ignored, and the player will get annoyed that you're wasting all this time on unimportant things. A variant of this is the player who is actively trying to keep you from giving them stuff that will distract from what they consider the cool gaming part. You see this in players who are there for the puzzles and game rather than the story. (No knock on either.)
  2. It makes sense for the character because they have something to hide from the other characters. I had this in a recent M&M3E game, where one character was the child of villains and was actually working on behalf of the supervillain community. This wasn't underhanded as a game thing: The other players knew the character was like this, but their characters didn't. So we did a fair but of almost-lost-identity stuff that revolved around that.
  3. The player likes all the angst and the convoluted solutions to pretend to be other people.

In the first case, both of you should just agree that it's the case. "Do you care about this stuff? I notice you didn't take secret identity as a complication or quality." As a GM, you can avoid certain areas easily.

The second case is really the easiest. The important thing is discovery by the other characters, and if your players like your basic fewmet football, then the other players are going to seize on every opportunity that the character provides.

The third case is the one I'm going to talk about. These ideas can also be applied to the second case.

A secret identity is just a specific case of A Terrible Secret. What matters are the consequences of exposure. Once you have sufficiently high consequences, you can play around with the threat of exposure. If there are no consequences, who cares? Your PC can be Hugh out in the suburbs who gets in the car every day, drives to a secret location, and changes. The super team is no different than, say, your secret government organization as a job.

So what are the consequences of exposure, and how do you make them obvious to the players? What are the consequences of exposure?

Generally, the negative consequences of exposure depend on a couple of things that might or might not be true for a given character;

  • The hero isn't indestructible all the time. Similarly, trained guys need some kind of down time. If your hero is vulnerable if attacked in his sleep, suddenly there's a reason not to let people know where he lives.
  • The hero's associated aren't indestructible. Your hero might be very tough, but the girlfriend/boss/employee/cousin/paperboy isn't. 
  • The hero wants some privacy.
  • The hero wants to stay in touch with regular people.

So you make them care about exposure by playing with the things that are true for that character and creating situations that might take them away.

People say one thing about the general case and act differently about the specific. So J. Jonah Jameson is against superheroes and these whackos, but it's different when it's his son who has become the Man-Wolf. Your character's dependents might mention how awful the hero identity is, and might even have a plausible reason for hating him or her, but it might not hold up when it's someone the dependent knows. For instance, Aunt May in the early days repeatedly said things about that awful Spider-Man, which made Peter afraid to let her know. During the period where she did know, it was obviously fine with her. (The Ultimates version of Aunt May knew, and was fine.)

If a PC has some romantic potential partner, having the partner say, "I would never date so-and-so" might well be a partial argument against a reveal.

The PCs can see the results of a public identity generally and vendettas carried out by villains against their friends who don't have secret identities: if papparazzi camp out on the doorstep of team-mate Avalanche, or if the Murky Molemaster attacks the family of Avalanche, well, the player has a reason to figure you'd do the same to his or her PC's relatives or loved ones. So feel free to attack them; it's especially effective against people you can't hurt directly. If no one on the team has a public or semipublic identity, feel free to introduce a hero who is being blackmailed in just that way: maybe Fisher Prince doesn't patrol the Swamp section of town whenever he gets a signal from the Bone Gang. There's a whole adventure there trying to resolve Fisher Prince's problem while showing the characters what might happen to them.

Gossip or hearsay can be a powerful tool. If Joe Random Stranger mutters bad things or even threats against the hero, is it so far-fetched as to think a villain might do bad things? "What's that guy, covering his face? What has he got to hide, huh? I bet he's a criminal. And the guy who does show his face, why, he's got these shifty eyes." Feel free to use any photos that fit, just like a "Separated at Birth" joke.

Secret identities seem to be mostly out of place in modern comics or modern supers RPGs. You can still wring interesting things out of them.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Quality of your Origin


The ICONS system provides a suite of origin possibilities, each of which has a mechanical effect. You make different choices in the creation of your character and your character's backstory depending on whether the character is a birthright character, or artificial, or transformed, or trained, or a gimmick character, or unearthly.

Most characters aren't a pure strain of origin, anyway: very few trained characters have no gadgets; Superman could be considered unearthly or a birthright. In Marvel's current continuity, an Inhuman character is both transformed and has a birthright--only certain people are affected by the Terrigen chemicals. Usually the most important origin version is reflected in the character's qualities: "Feared as a mutant" or "Dedicated to being the peak of human ability" or "Curious outsider" or whatever you want.

Really, it's only important if you're translating a character from a different medium into ICONS (though really, you can just say, "Hey, she has seven with it") or if, like me, you have this compulsion to be "fair," by some definition of the word.

You could, for instance, say that every character gets a bonus on creation, and you don't care what kind--it's one of four extra specialties, or a +2 to a power or ability, or you can change one power without doing some kind of Extra dance.

And that would be fine.

But what if the origin were an extra quality that you could call on during play? Yes, you might still want to have "Exiled Lemurian Prince" as your quality, but you could always invoke your origin. I'm not thinking anything you can't already do with Advantages, but you can always tag your origin as a quality. My first thought is that it's just a freebie Aspect. But you could restrict it a bit more and use the Quality instead of the mechanical aspects that are currently part of the origin.

Trained: Pay an Advantage, get a +2 to your effort as if you had the appropriate Specialty. Because you do: you're Trained. You can invoke the Trained origin for that Advantage.

Transformed:  Pay an Advantage, get a +1 to any power's rank.

Birthright: Get a free recovery without spending an Advantage, but you have to take a turn..

Gimmick: Pay an Advantage and stunt any power because you just rewired the framistat.

Artificial: Pay an Advantage and treat your Life Support as rank 10 for the rest of the scene, or increase an ability by another 1 at the cost of some kind of Trouble that will later cause you to seek repair/refurbishment.

Unearthly: Stunt any power but as Trouble be vulnerable to something in the scene. (You suddenly have Martian Vision but you are vulnerable to fire.)

I have no idea if it would make play too wild; I just thought of it this morning.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Reflecting on Mirrors

Let's take the idea of a mirror that allows what it sees to come to life--the reflection steps out of the mirror and does battle. You can tell them apart because the evil duplicate is reversed left-to-right (well, technically, mirrors reverse front-to-back, but it looks like left-to-right). (I suppose if you draw a beard on the mirror, the evil duplicates have beards, but....nah, too difficult to manage.)

But what about funhouse mirrors? Could you bend and twist the mirror to make some kind of funhouse copy? Perhaps the mirror creates strong or heavy versions of people, imbuing them with strength or great girth, and creating different kinds of foes. This might be an encounter by itself: the hero is attacked by these funhouse copies, even though the original has no idea of it. It just gets worse when the hero has to go through the funhouse, and copies of himself or herself are created.

What if the mirror cracks? What happens then? A mirror that's a portal becomes two smaller portals, but one that creates copies might create smaller twins or not create twins, or create terribly flawed twins (the bizarro copy?).

From a mechanical standpoint, I find the biggest problem with evil mirrors is that they create too many copies. If you don't have a mechanism in place to limit the number of copies, you can have to deal with one or two dozen villains. (This is one problem with the house of mirrors concept.[1]) But if you have something in place...the mirror has to be hit by lightning or a magic phrase...then it's a fun idea.

Or if there's some kind of time delay. Perhaps the mirror replicates the last person who is entirely reflected in it, but the mirror has to go in the dark for some time afterward to prevent "seeing" something else. Suddenly it sounds like a kind of seance or medium scam: "Gaze into the mirror of Erised and see... Oh, sorry, got to cover it up again."

What about other mirrors around? Dressing mirrors, mirrors in clothes shops, hand mirrors, mirrors in beauty salons, hair salons, barber shops, dentist or doctor office, surgical theatres, little round mirrors used in stores to catch shoplifters, vehicle mirrors (including bus mirrors). What could you do with "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear"? Are the copies smaller? Are they superfast? Do they have growth of some kind so they can suddenly be much closer?

Presumably they've done all of this stuff with Mirror Master, but I haven't seen any Mirror Master stories (though I did see the Flash and Substance episode of JLU).

1. Possibly fruitful typo: "Hearse of Mirrors" My first thought is, evil copies of dead people. They entice living relatives into...something. Signing things away is the boring possibility.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Parts of the city... (Locations part II)

I'm sure this has been done elsewhere...perhaps in a fine supers RPG product...but I haven't found something similar for years (not that I've been looking).

Most hints on RPG adventure plotting tell you to come up with an idea or a timeline for the villains first, which is great. Even the two superhero adventure random generators that I've seen are really about coming up with a plan for the heroes to disrupt.

But the place often gets ignored. It might be because the place falls out of the combination of plot and your campaign, or it might be because place is too random. Maybe it's better suited to a random encounter generator of some kind. So here is a random list of areas and some typical settings within them for stories. I did a location list before--many of those were specific. This is more where those locations might be put. These areas might flavour those areas: a mall in the middle of a depressed slum might have a very different tone than a mall in the middle of a ritzy enclave.

  1. Business district: corporate headquarters, travel agencies, office buildings with a variety of companies, mail order firms, restaurants.
  2. Civic area: city hall, municipal offices, arena, park, skate park, pool, main library, community centre, adult recreation building, jail, police or fire station.
  3. Disaster site: restricted access, fenced in, former supervillain fight or lair, smoking ruins, leftover cleanup equipment.
  4. Educational or military: area including a college or university or a military base, so there are cheap places to eat, the actual schools or base, low-rent housing for students or military families, stores for booze and groceries.
  5. Ethnic concentration: A specialized form of town, with a higher concentration of commercial establishments that deal with items unique to that ethnicity. We're talking Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, Little Moscow, Little Portugal, Tokyo Lite, and so on. In some campaigns, that will extend to aliens of a particular stripe or all aliens.
  6. Financial district: banks, stock trading houses, investment corporations, insurance companies, very high end stores, restaurants.
  7. Industrial district: factories, warehouses, illegal or low-rent housing, breakfast places.
  8. Hidden city: the disenfranchised, the homeless, a place to hide, large quantities of the underworld or criminal element.
  9. Residential: light industry, illegal industry (such as grow-ops), middle-class houses, lower-class houses, gated communities, golf course, coffee shop, beauty salons, suburb.
  10. Rural: Farming, test fields for agricultural work, clusters of houses that can't be called towns, service station-restaurants, various equipment stores, prisons, sewage or water treatment plant, power plant.
  11. Slum: houses, tenements, abandoned institutions, shining lab built as an inspiration, low-tech factories, bodegas, fast food places.
  12. The Strip: Some kind of entertainment area: theatres, restaurants, dance clubs, strip clubs, porn shops, head shops, cinemas.

Again, these are ideas only, not a strait-jacket. You might find one element inside another, or oddball things certainly happen. Maybe this city has a farm in the middle, because the Bauer family refuses to sell, and they own enough that  they can enforce the fact that this university campus includes an alfalfa field. Or any section might have a police station or a fire station, a water tower, construction or destruction of some kind, a power transfer station, or a public transit hub.

And I formatted this nicely as a one-pager and it's on the web:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The abstract, city

Just ran across this (though it's years old). I wonder if this could be profitably applied to random encounters in a city?

Abstract Dungeoneering (by the Angry GM)

The care and feeding of the cliffhanger

Watching both Supergirl and The Flash this week, I got to thinking about the difference between feeding information on an ongoing plot (Supergirl) and the cliffhanger (The Flash). There will be spoilers ahead, so get out now if you care about that.

(Actually, it's interesting to see where the shows are similar and they differ, because both deal with similar themes and have an overlapping executive. Barry is pretty consistently dealing with father issues, while Kara is dealing with her mother and her aunt. Both of them have collected this surrogate and not so surrogate family. End digression.)

My first thought was to say that one resolves the main plot and one doesn't, and that's certainly a big part of it:  Supergirl beat Reactron, but the Flash didn't beat Zoom.  We could have easily made the Flash episode into not-a-cliffhanger: Barry beats Zoom but pays the price of his powers: we've resolved the main conflict but made the main character pay a price.

Now, not resolving the main story isn't the only way to go. You can resolve the story but the new information about any plot kicks it into high gear. The audience wants to know what happens next.  A twist where they suddenly see things in a different way but where there's nowhere to go is a twist ending. The revelation at the end of The Sixth Sense closes things off, rather than opens them up.

So it's a cliffhanger if they want to know what happens next. When you dole out information about, say, a conspiracy that the Girl Scouts are involved in (thank you, JLU), it remains abstract. [1] But when it's information about a person that the players know, it is much more likely to become a cliffhanger.

Or have the information be a context shift for the character. Barry's words at the close of The Flash are a fine cliffhanger, but the same sentence spoken by, oh, Joe West wouldn't have the same impact.

1. Memo: Find out whose job it is to add fluoride to the water in areas with fluoridated water. That's the guy your supervillain wants to coerce or blackmail in order to poison the city's water supply. Even if the water flows over a bar of stannous fluoride, someone has to put that bar there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Your superhero puzzle adventure

As I was driving in today, I realized that I don't do a lot with the traditional superhero puzzle game, where you have the nigh-unbeatable villain until you learn his secret (He's vulnerable to cheese!...yes, the lactose-intolerant villain).

In a sense, this is a puzzle adventure: you need to tease out the weakness and then use it. In a non-superhero puzzle adventure, you have other issues, but finding the right kind of stake for the vampire or figuring out the identity of the actual bad guy is the same sort of problem...yet I don't seem to have the same issue when dealing with non-superhero things.

There are a couple or three reasons for this. Most of them are just me avoiding things I'm bad at.
  • Superheroes punch.
  • Character reuse
  • Making it discoverable
  • Making the final battle satisfying

Superheroes punch.

Part of it is that in this genre, combat is most of it. Not research, not character interaction, but punching. The superhero solution to a lot of problems is to punch it until it falls down. ("World hunger? What do I punch?") As GMs, there's a tendency to personify problems as particular villains. (This can be kind of tricky; I tend to avoid it.)

So there's a tendency for the adventure to be all about combat. That's certainly where an improvised adventure will go for me.  It doesn't have to be that way, but that's certainly where I'll go. I have to think about the adventure first in order to avoid it.

Character reuse.

Once you have had your players discover the weakness, it's still there. The character is a one-shot, which offends me. Historically there's a precedent for one-shot characters--I do not think that there's really enough attention paid to the fact that comics were (and are) a business. Certainly, the DC model was kids where the audience turned over every four or five years. You tore through a tremendous number of villains, and some of them were pretty awful, just because you had dozens of comics coming out a month, each with two or three stories. They couldn't all be gems. (In fact, I suspect that pressure was part of the reason that Gardner Fox came up with the multiverse idea: he'd written Flash comics in the 1940s, he had a tremendous backlog of characters, so putting Barry in that world might have been easy for him.) This view is also informed by something Alfred Bester once wrote about his time in comics. But for every multiverse, there's The Eraser, who even as a child I thought had a ridiculous getup.

There are ways to bring back a gimmick character.
  • The character has fixed whatever weakness the PCs discovered. Usually the fix introduces a new problem, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it heralds a new tougher version of the villain. A lot of supervillain reiventions are like this--the secret of the Moon Mirror is retrieved by some other person, who says, "Hey, his mistake was so-and-so, and I'm not going to make that mistake."
  • The character has a new gimmick based on the same theme. I always feel obliged to figure out why the character doesn't just go public with the invention and make money off it, at least until they've made the transition to obsessed-enemy status.
  • Sometimes you bring back the character as part of the supporting cast, no longer a villain but a resource. He or she becomes a court-ordered ward of the hero, a stoolie, an inventing assistant, whatever.

Making the weakness discoverable.

This is a mechanical storytelling thing.

It is a genre thing that the obvious weakness isn't appropriate or isn't exploited. The Flash never takes Captain Cold's gun away. (Well, almost never. Side note: I was never a big Flash reader, simply because during the heyday of my comics renaissance, the 1980s, every Flash issue seemed to have something to do with the death of Iris Allen: either his new girlfriend looked just like her or he was off the rails because of her death, or she was in the future. It was like there was no fun in it at that period. I know a lot of people treasure their memories of that run, but to me it just seemed depressing and confusing, and hard to get into. End digression.)  And, when you think about it, there's a difference between a guy with a gun and a villain. The first is a threat until you take away the gun. The second is a threat even if you take away the gun. Maybe that's a touchstone you can use: a guy with a gun is an environmental thing: you don't choose to have a make-out session in Crime Alley because there are bad guys there; however, a villain finds you wherever you're having your makeout session.

Anyway, making the weakness something that players can discover and use is a big thing. I have invented aspects on the fly that can be used, but that always seems like cheating to me. Having laid clues before-hand seems fairer...but I know they can miss it. I know as a player, I totally missed something that I should have caught. I'm thinking of a couple of particular instances, because Jim Gardner is very good at making sure the clues are out there. (The reveal of Hexshark, one of his villains, had clues that were obvious in retrospect, but it was a total surprise to me.)

So when you're thinking about weaknesses, you have to think about how the players will discover them. And when they miss that clue, how will you show it to them?

On an episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff they used an example of monsters who were powerless against silver, and they had all sorts of examples about showing that the monster couldn't affect silver, and I recommend it to you (they were talking about varying monster powers), but the mechanical part of inserting the clues still seems problematic to me. Obviously, the villain picks a crime site without that weakness.

Still, if you're doing a puzzle adventure like this, you kinda have to structure things to lay the clues down. So the structure seems to be something like...

  1. Original meeting: villain gets away with everything because the weakness isn't present at the crime scene.
  2. Next meeting: the PCs bring their A game and because of that, the fight goes on longer than expected and hints at the weakness.
  3. Some kind of research (actual books, talking to informants or scientists) indicates what the weakness might be.
  4. PCs bring the weakness, but it doesn't work. Turns out the villain has prepared for it, knowing that's the weakness.
  5. PCs undo the protection for the weakness, and use it successfully.

And that is a big hint for dealing with my last problem...

Making the final battle satisfying.

The players still have to have the final battle, and in a storytelling sense it has to feel like it's actually worthwhile. If the PCs show up with insecticide and the villain Katydidn't falls down immediately, that sure sounds like someone made their "Defeat bad guy" roll instead of figuring out what to do.

Sometimes that's appropriate: sometimes the apparent bad guy is just a step on the way to the real bad guy. ("Who turned her into a giant insect?") But if you don't have that in mind, my temptation is to pull powers out of my ass.  I am ashamed to admit that this is the area where I have fudged the most in my GMing career. And that's something I want to fix.

So assuming you want the final battle to be satisfying, I can think of the following approaches.

  • The PCs are subtly wrong. They still have all the ingredients, but they try the method they've worked out and it doesn't work...but the battle reveals how it should be done, and they do it.
  • Using the weakness is tough. It takes effort and skill to exploit, but it shouldn't be something that can't be done multiple times (or it doesn't require a roll). A spell that can only be cast at midnight and the villain has to be present. Maybe the villain has to hear it, and part of the battle is keeping the villain from covering his/her/its ears, or just leaving. You can't knock him unconscious because he has to be able to process it.
  • The villain has taken precautions against this weakness: the battle is really about undoing those precautions so you can use the weakness. I've often wondered why various Kryptonians don't fly around in an articulated lead suit. They're strong enough that it doesn't hinder them, and with all the metric tons of Kryptonite that fell to earth in the Silver Age, you'd think it would be practical. This is really a variation of the last one.
  • The weakness is hard to get to. Kryptonite and magic are rare now, and the PCs don't get to them without the bad guy appearing.
  • The villain has assistants; he or she is just the final capstone. 
These aren't the only ways of dealing with this, just the ones I thought of in a moment..

Monday, November 9, 2015

There's no I in Team

The first superhero game I played repeatedly was Champions. Champions, like D&D, encourages tactical play, so teams tend to have types: there's the lots-of-damage-melee guy, the damage-at-range guy, the hits-what's-hard-to-hit guy, and the oddball, who either does damage to folks the others can't touch, or has some sensory thing that the others can't duplicate, or works as a support person. Your fighter, your wizard, your rogue, and your cleric, in other words.

And in terms of gaming, that's certainly what I did for years and years and I don't even want to admit how old I am.

But that's not the way that teams work in the comics.

Teams, as I've said elsewhere, exist between one of two poles: the IP parking lot pole and the Peyton Place pole.  An IP parking lot is a place to put characters just to prove that the Intellectual Property is being used; and Peyton Place is a foment of internal passions and discord. In the first, the villain is essential; in the second, the villain is, well, secondary and exists primarily to point out character things. ("This is why our love can never work, Moonsilver: Because you were not horrified when Amy Geddon said she wanted to kill everyone and start over...")

These distinctions are hardly absolute: the deMatteis-Giffen era Justice League tweaked personalities so that the interaction of the characters was primary and the villains were secondary, but it would be hard to find a purer example of an IP parking lot than the Justice League. On the other hand, the freshly-Kickstarted Masks RPG has a set of personalities and powers are almost irrelevant: what's important to the story is how the characters are going to react.

Most traditional games approach it from the tactical end. Each character has a role. In games such as Champions, the role is about what the character does. In games such as Masks, the role is about what the character is or how he/she/it reacts. A game with random character creation is more like an IP parking lot because you have no idea what's going to show up. It might be the burrowing guy with the magic staff, the interstellar cop with the light sabre, the speedster who has trouble hitting Mach 1, and the cosmically powered witch.

I assume that most players want something in the middle. They want something that isn't just tactical, but the idea that the villain is secondary isn't quite their cup of tea either. So how do you fit them together?

If you don't know what characters you're getting, maybe the answer is to take a page from FATE (and sort of Masks): Powers are irrelevant to working together. What they have are Aspects or disadvantages. The Aspects or disadvantages are crafted to make the team work together (or to create friction while making the team work together).

For instance, the X-Men all have the mutant disadvantage. It doesn't just mean that they show up on bioscanners that the bad guys also means that the world hates and fears them, that there are strong social pressures to keep them with the group. Most of the X-Men are young, so they fit into the school setting. That's an example of social pressure holding them in place, and perhaps it could be gamed that way.

Did they ever do the road trip with X-23, Sabretooth, Logan, and his son Daken all trapped in the car for a long journey? Because that's pure comic book: that's four people with essentially the same powers but different ways of reacting.

Maybe you can use something like that instead of saying, "Hey, we need an energy blaster."

Or, like, you can re-roll your character until you get an energy blaster. Whatever works for you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Systemless Random Hero Generator

If I were going to do a systemless random supers generator, which I'm not, I'd have them roll for a theme first. The themes would be broad; so would skills be, because it's a trope of the system that "Dr." in front of your name lets you do any science-y thing. I don't know if theme would affect the roll for origin, but it probably determines which disadvantage/quality/aspect chart you pick from/roll on.

I'd use levels something like FUDGE or FATE: everybody starts at average and we're checking the deviation.

Then attributes overall, and give them points depending on how they deviated from "Excellent" because superheroes are gorgeous and wonderful-looking by default. They get to spend the points.

Powers...the biggest default might be a pyramid of powers, maybe like the FATE skill pyramid. (Other choices would be "One-trick pony" and "Broad and shallow"). That gives you a number of powers, so you then roll to see what they are and interpret them according to the theme you already rolled. You get to chose which one is great, which is good, and so on.

Then qualities-qua-disadvantages.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A solo adventure: Gorilla My Dreams

In honour of Solo Gaming Appreciation Month...

This one will use a character I already have here, Haemophile. She doesn't have any opponents, so I'll look at her Qualities, which provide surprisingly little help...Ah. Idealizes "normal." The two possibilities that occur to me are that her opponent is Trained in some way and is planning to give everyone superpowers, or the Gorilla Grodd thing of turning everyone into apes. The first sounds more like what I just did, so we'll go with the second, and use the prime Ape X writeup.

I started this as a test of the story point system I was using and quickly abandoned that, though I did use the four stages. Instead, this adventure used the ICONS rules and once the Mythic GME. As is typical with solo stuff I write, tense jumps all over the place.

For convenience, we'll put both characters here. I've slightly modified them for solo play.


Origin Birthright
NameHaemophile (Chloe Grace)OriginBirthright
SpecialitiesMartial Arts, Stealth
Powers Invisibility Good5
Strike (Slash) Great6
Extra: Secondary Effect: Affliction Amazing7
Qualities Idealizes "normal" because she's a mutant
Mid-level assassin for a shadowy agency
No one but her builds up immunity

Ape X

NameApe XOriginTransformed
SpecialtiesAthletics, Mental Resistance Expert, Technology Master, Wrestling 
PowersSuper-Senses (Enh. Hearing, Enh Smell)2
Telepathy 7
QualitiesGenius Gorilla
Hatred of Humans
I Will Do What's Necessary Even If They Hate Me

Every once in a while I'll put in a status summary, like this:
HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions

Stage 1: Threat

Chloe is all about the normal, and the most mundane thing I can think of is sorting your clothes at the laundromat. So we'll start there.

The laundromat was a slice of normalcy for Chloe: it and the library were the things that kept the rich filling of weirdness from dripping and staining her... She couldn't figure out what the end of the metaphor should be, except that life was truly a weirdness sandwich. She found that last bra and threw it in the washing machine, then carefully counted out the quarters. She looked at the remainder and counted them. She wouldn't have enough to dry everything. She turned to the woman at the counter—

Everyone turned into a gorilla.

Chloe checked her arm—not hairy.

So everyone had turned into a gorilla except Chloe.

And they didn't notice. The woman (woman-gorilla) at the counter was still flipping through her tabloid.

Chloe looked around. One of the gorillas noticed her and the eyes started to widen—

And then the change flickered off. Everyone was human. The woman rubbed her eyes and went back to chatting with her friend.

And except for Chloe, no one seemed to notice.

This was something beyond her ken: either insanity or a plot. She stepped outside to a private place to make two calls. The first was to Dr. Jessop, her government psychologist. (Killing was hard for Chloe, even though it was her job.) Chloe felt out Dr. Jessop to find out if she—Chloe—was due for hallucinations.

"I think we'd better see you this afternoon. I can stay late tonight." Dr. Jessop had a warm voice, like honey, and Chloe agreed. After that call, she tapped the phone against her thigh. Then she called her agency handler.

"Everyone just turned into a gorilla," she said, without preamble. "I already called Dr. Jessop. So if I'm not crazy?"

"I didn't notice anything," he said. His voice was scratchy and high.

"No one did."

He paused a moment and then gave her a name—Dr. Timothy Coop—and an address. "He does all that Kirbytech stuff for the university. He has clearance. You can talk to him."

Chloe went to the counter. "I'm sorry, but I have to get my kid from the sitter," she lied. "He's throwing up. My basket's right there. If someone needs the machine, I don't mind if they put the clothes in the basket." The woman waved her hand without looking up from her tabloid.

Thus endeth the threat stage. Though I introduced a couple of people the big thing the problem. So points are not as important in this stage, I think.

HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions

Stage 2. Investigation

Dr. Coop's office was cluttered, decorated with tall piles of books and printouts, and a few dusty pictures of the family. Dr. Coop was sitting at his desk between two pillars of paper and putting away a small flask.
I'm just randomly associating things with characters so that they have motivations to be involved later, if I need them.
Chloe introduced herself, using the cover name that the agency had given her. "What do you know about gorillas?"

He looked straight in her eyes. She could smell the booze. "Nothing," he said slowly. "Biology was my wife's area."

"Because earlier today, I saw everyone change into a gorilla."

His shoulders sagged. "Thank god. I thought I was the only one. You're a mutant, right?"

"No, of course not. Why would you think that?" Chloe had known she was a mutant since she turned invisible at thirteen. The claws and the poisonous venom had only reinforced that.

"You're latent. That's okay." He looked behind her. "Shut the door." She did. "I'm a mutant," he told her. "It's a knack for technology. Put something in front of me, and let me touch it, and sooner or later I'll understand it." He smiled tightly. "Makes me good at my field. But I was teaching a bunch of first-years today, and they all turned into gorillas."

"So I'm not crazy."

"No, the Moreau ray is obscure but documented. Villain, early 1960s. His only affected one individual, though, and required a tremendous energy input. He stored lightning in capacitors— I digress. Your power?"

"Claws." She didn't tell him about the others, and the claws were itching to come out. Side effect of feeling threatened. She slid them out, and then back.

"That's not a lot." She shrugged. "Okay. Where were you when it happened?"

"South side."

"It looks like it affected at least the city, perhaps more."

Chloe nodded and pulled out her phone again. "Can you cancel my appointment with Dr. Jessop? I'm not crazy. It looks like at least this city turned into gorillas. Check farther afield." She put her phone down. "If the area is big enough, it's not my problem."

"That seems rather un-hero-like."

Chloe laughed. "Trust me, I am not a superhero."

A light started to flash. "It's the vault," said Dr. Coop. "I store high tech items for study, and someone's breaking into it."

"The police—?"

"They'll be too late. Come on!"

* * *

They ran to the vault—and found a huge silverback gorilla tearing the door from its hinges.

-I'll find it easier to look at the contents without that door,- rumbled the gorilla. He glanced at both of them, and they froze, as if a force had paralyzed their bodies.

Mind Control 7 versus Willpower 5. Major success, so she'll be controlled for 7 pages. It's a massive success against Dr. Coop.

He left the vault with something the size of a shoebox that has a blue gem fastened on top. They "heard" him but his lips didn't move.

-I can't risk you breaking the power source. You'll stay like that for an hour. That should be enough time.- He looked them up and down. -Interesting. You remember everyone else changing. Well. We'll have to hunt you down once I'm done.-

Chloe is going to use a Quality to try and remove the Controlled condition he has put on her. She'll use her urge to be normal, and it costs a Determination point. Fails. She'll recover in a minute, but he'll get away.
About a minute after he left, Chloe tumbled to the floor. She helped Dr. Coop and then phoned her handler again.

"No, really," she said. "Now I have the need to know. Tell me everything in your files about the telepathic gorilla."


They were sitting in Dr. Coop's office. She had a mug of tea in her hands. "They claim they don't know where he came from, but he represents a troop of hyperintelligent simians." She saw his hand tremble as he reached for his tea. "You feeling better?"

Dr. Coop grimaced. "It's still an effort to move anything. Thank you for the tea."

She shrugged. "We were paralyzed by a telepathic gorilla. A cup of tea can't hurt. Hell, I'd drink if there were booze handy."

Dr. Coop reached into his desk and held out the silver flask. She waved it away.

"I think I have to be alert. What was the box thing he took?"

"I don't know yet. It came out of a crashed spaceship during the Kootlismik invasion. He, the ape, implied that it was a power source, and that's probably correct—I just haven't got to it yet because I have other things with more urgent deadlines."

"It takes you time? I thought you just, you know, understood things."

"I always check. I'm afraid that I'll interpret my understanding wrong because I lack the background. A radio is a radio, but if you don't know about radio waves, it's a murder weapon: you drop it in the bathtub with someone and it kills them."

Chloe nodded. "But you think this thing is a power source?"

Dr. Coop said, "I think he burned out his previous power source. Check for standard power sources. See if any of them went dead." Chloe just looked at him. "Can't you—?"

"I barely graduated high school," she said. It was a lie: she had never graduated high school.

"Right." He sat down at his computer. "My theory is that he's using some variant of the Moreau ray. Mutants like me--like us--aren't affected because the Moreau ray affects a specific allele, a marker. His ray triggers certain biological changes. Our allele is's a marker."

"He's making everyone into mutant apes?"

"Sort of." He scanned the results on his computer. "He tapped into the power mains for the army base."

"How much more powerful is the thing he took?"

"Assuming it is a power source?"

"He thinks it is."

"Granted. The weapon it came from vaporized the entire hull of a tank in less than a second." He scribbled for a second. "Assuming that it does the same number of kilojoules with the same losses for efficiency... I think he could make the change permanent for the seaboard. Possibly the nation."

She chewed her lip. "Man, we definitely need real superheroes here."

"Mine is not really a fighting power."

"Mine is only a fighting power." Claws flickered out of her fingertips and then she withdrew them. "I hate it." She sighed. "Where is he now?"

"Who knows? Now he's freed from the need to tap into the power grid."

"But his lab had to be hooked up originally. The machine, the ray generator, is there. He's smart but he's not super fast."

"Mechanical lab space, not necessarily official lab space, where he can hook into the army base generators."

"That's going to be in or near the army base. They won't have lain cable outside the base."

"Then he's in the vehicle maintenance building or in the underground lab."

"The underground lab?"

"They have an underground lab. My wife—my ex-wife. She worked there."

"Of course they have an underground lab." She rolled her eyes. "It's that simple? Surely someone else has noticed this."

"Well, you have to have clearance and know about the underground lab." He printed off a map. "I don't know where the entrance is—I was blindfolded the only time I went there."

"Super." She looked at the map. "You're sure no other superheroes have responded to this?"

"They would come to ask me—I am the expert on rays that turn people into gorillas."

"I guess." She sighed. "I guess I'm going to an army base."

Stage 3: Challenge

It was so easy to get into the army base while invisible that she wondered why they didn't have protection against invisible assassins. Really, she couldn't be the only one.

The blow was entirely unexpected and sent her sprawling along the ground.

Whoops. We suddenly need another character. Fortunately, generating a character in ICONS is pretty fast. Let's roll some dice. I'm already assuming that this is whatever the military does to protect against superfolk, so it's a Trained or Gimmick origin, and if Super-Senses doesn't show up, it'll have to be an extra.
NameAPHID: Armour for Parahuman Incursion DetectionOriginGimmick
SpecialitiesMilitary, Technology
Powers Resistance (Damage)  Good4
Binding Great5
Stunning Average3
Super-senses Infrared Vision, Radar sense, Telescopic vision Average3
Qualities Military hierarchy
Just a guy in a suit (Abilities are 3 outside it)
Open for later development...probably unique to user.
Chloe rolled out of the blow, her claws already out. She heard, "Infiltrator, female, invisible to normal sight. Trying plan 51 for guards." She didn't actually want to know what plan 51 was. She could feel the claws unsheathe.

She spun, staying on the concrete of the side walk. The man wore a light patchwork of armor, a helmet, goggles, and a bulky backpack with a hose that led to a three-barrelled gun. His pistol looked high-tech,too.

The venom trickled from her fingertips.

StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions

Her invisibility was her only defense, really. Now there was nothing left but to go on the offense.

She unsheathed her claws and attacked, aiming for a weak spot in the kevlar coverings.
Seven versus six,so she hits, but it's not a great hit. Still, it's 6 damage versus his Damage Resistance of 4, and the possibility of Affliction besides. The Affliction doesn't need a roll to hit (it's a secondary effect of the slash), so we test Affliction 7 versus Strength 5. (We could make an argument for Strength 3, but we're just going to go with the easy numbers.) That's a success, 10 versus 8. He loses 7 Stamina.

StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions

He backed away and pulled the trigger on his odd gun. Some kind of gooey fluid gushed out and caught Chloe squarely in the chest. It quickly foamed up and swelled fast, immobilizing her.

But next phase he fails the Affliction test again (Totals: 6 versus 11), so he falls over unconscious. He will die (good thing help is coming). She has no problem getting her claws into the foam (material hardness 5) but it will take her several panels to cut free.
A question for Mythic: Are there more APHID suits active (yes)? No, so the suits are expensive: they have one per shift per base. I presume they can scramble the other two, but it will take a few minutes.

She became invisible again as she cut herself free. At a glance, it would look like she had freed herself and knocked him out.

Then he shuddered and his chest heaved. She knew he was dying, but she was only free from the waist up. She rocked herself until she fell over, and called into his radio. She hoped it was transmitting. "He's down. Need medical care--full tox kit." She didn't want an innocent life on her conscience.

She still wasn't quite free when the first guards showed up. They quickly formed a circle around the fallen figure, trapping her.

Almost as if they had been trained.

Okay, the military did have ways to deal with invisible assassins.

* * *

Chloe had a couple of thoughts as they led her into one of the buildings. She was handcuffed and surrounded.
She's used a Determination point to recover, so she has only 2 Determination but full Stamina. The Guards are Soldiers from the ICONS main rulebook, with the specialties Military and Weapons (Guns): they have a Prowess of 4, a Stamina of 7, and a Strength of 4. If she attacks, I'm going to put her Prowess one lower if she tries to use her claws.
What was with the handcuffs? Didn't they know that all the trendy Hollywood types dictated zip ties now? She knew how to break zip ties. She couldn't break handcuffs. And while she had picked handcuffs once during training, she needed a paperclip or lockpicks, and she'd left the lockpicks back at her apartment. She had been doing laundry.

And where was the secret lab? How did you get to it? They hadn't conveniently put signs up saying "This Way To Underground Lab." If she were doing it, she'd put the entrance by the washrooms, so everyone had an excuse for being there. Maybe in the mess hall....everyone went to the mess hall.

Well, she was not going to the mess hall. She was going to the stockade, or the brig, or whatever the Army called it. The soldiers led her into an elevator and three guards squeezed in with her. All of them were wearing night vision goggles presumably so they could see her.

They had guns, but it was a closed space. They couldn't fire. Really, there wasn't going to be a better time. She swivelled at the hips to plant a knee in one gut. Before they could react, she kicked out at another.

She burns another Determination point to get an Advantage that lets her put Burst on her Strike attack, because she's going to attack all three in a flurry of  movement. She hits all three (10 to 5, 10 to 7, and 10 to 6). In terms of slams and stuns, the first is stunned and knocked to zero Stamina, the second and third each get slammed to the floor, and lose 5 Stamina. Since they only have 7, this is bad. (I could do this with them as minions, but I choose not to.)
One was unconscious, and the other two guards were down. They stayed on the floor. Both MPs stay on the ground. They try to grab her ankles to reduce her mobility; both manage marginal successes, so she doesn't get to hit them but she doesn't go down, either.
That sounds like wrestling, and no effect on a marginal success (10:10 and 6:6) She still has the burst stunt up, so they are done in a quick stomp.
As the elevator slows, she grabbed the handcuff key and freed herself. By the time the door opened, she was invisible. She looked out at the office--or offices, because there were glass windows in the walls. In direct view was a gorilla working at a lab bench. Incongruously, the gorilla wore a lab coat and protective goggles.

Holy crap, she thought. That James Bond stuff about being captured so they'll take you to the boss works. I should have tried it on purpose.

Step 4. Comeback

The gorilla—yes, it was the one she had seen at the university; the white streak was distinctive—looked up.

The windows were a clever touch, she thought. He needed to see you to read your mind. With the windows, he could do that. While she was invisible, he couldn't read her mind.  She saw the gorilla reach forward to a stud on the wall.

"I've unlocked the doors," came a man's voice over the loudspeakers, dead of emotion. "Come and get me." She could see a man near the gorilla mouthing the words. The solders and technicians in the room with the gorilla kept working, but the others stayed motionless.

The gorilla would certainly know she was coming. Not for the first time, she wished she could walk through walls.

She got out of the line of sight, grabbed a carbine from a frozen soldier, and fired at the window. The shot was deafening in the room. A filing cabinet across the room suddenly dimpled as the bullet entered it. She looked at the window.

The window was only scratched slightly.

"Bulletproof glass," came the voice over the loudspeaker. "Would you like to come here? Because I'm not coming there."

Great, Chloe thought. She looked around for a shield. The desk wouldn't fit easily inside— Ride one of the wheeled chairs? Ah.

She came up behind a solder and grabbed him at the belt, holding him in front of her. Poor'll have a wedgie when this is over. With him as a shield, she moved through the first door.

Once the door had closed behind them, the soldier suddenly moved, drawing his weapon and firing at behind himself. He narrowly missed her, but the sudden noise made her drop him.

"See?" came the voice. "They don't want to pass up the improvement that is a simian existence."

Two punches later he was unconscious, and she quickly stepped away so the gorilla couldn't figure out where she was.

Sorry, guy. Won't do that again, she thought. She didn't risk saying it out loud.

She didn't have to use a shield, she realized: all she had to do was prop open the door. She wriggled along the floor to minimize him seeing her. Dimly she heard the sound of breaking glass, but didn't get up to look. This new room had two doors and some lockers. One door led to a bathroom; the other to a decontamination chamber.

"I'm almost done. Once I flip the switch, you can turn invisible, but you won't be able to hide your hairless self."

How were people decontaminated? A shower? There were nozzles in the walls and ceiling. She crawled into the decontamination chamber. The gorilla lumbered to the window to look at the room.

The far door didn't open. The voice came over the speaker.

"A safety measure. You can only open one door after the other door is shut. Shall I get that for you?" The open door closed by itself. There were multiple clicks and a hum of electronics.

A fine mist poured out of the nozzles.

"Decontamination," came the dead voice. "Makes you visible."

HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions
102Revealed in outline; Decontamination takes three panels (1)13None

-Now I can talk to you directly,- came the voice in her head. -You've done quite well, for a hairless one.-

Chloe hammered at the door handle. It didn't budge.

-What's the worst pain you can remember?- She tried not to remember, but she had been beaten by terrorists on her third mission. They had broken her arms and legs, and beaten every inch of her—

HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions
32Revealed in outline; Decontamination takes three panels (2)13None

It's just my imagination!
She spends a Determination point/Advantage to Recover; she gets 5 Stamina back. And because Ape X stunted the Mental Blast, she gets a Determination point for that. (She doesn't get one again during this fight; the Mental Blast stays stunted until the end of the scene or the fight, whichever comes first.)
HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions
82Revealed in outline; Decontamination takes three panels (2)13None

We wash, lather, and repeat for the next panel: she loses 7 from his Mental Blast, gets 5 back by using an Advantage, and then she's in, and invisible.

HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions
61Revealed in outline; Decontamination takes three panels (3)13None

She yanked the door open and rolled into the room, the decontamination mist billowing around her and then fading. There was glass on the room floor, in front of every human but Chloe. She didn't have time to think about it; the huge fists of the ape came down where she had been just a moment before.

"I can still find you physically by smell," came the dead voice of the man, echoed over the loudspeakers in other rooms.

HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions
61Invisible; Smells like disinfectant13None

I'm going to give her a +1 (instead of 2) to her Prowess for being partly invisible, plus the 1 for Martial Arts. So he got a 9, she got a 10. He missed her. When she strikes back, it's just even: a 10 versus a 10. That's marginal, so half damage and I'm going to claim that the side effect (venom) doesn't happen. Three points of stamina.

HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions
61Invisible; Smells like disinfectant10None

The gorilla gasped. "Ready!" said the man. Every human in the room but Chloe raised a shard of glass, pressed it against his wrist.

"I will kill every human in this room, unless you reveal yourself to me."

She burned her last Determination point to recover, for full Stamina.

Chloe looked at them, then walked in front of Ape X and flickered into sight, vulnerable to the gorilla's fists.

In fact, this is a tactic: she's making herself vulnerable so that she has an Advantage to use.

HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions
100Smells like disinfectant; has 1 Advantage; Trouble: open to a hit10None

He smiled in his simian way and brought his arm across her face, snapping her sideways...while Chloe jammed her claws into the belly of the great ape. She had positioned herself for this shot, even though it hurt.

She had an effort of 9 (Prowess+Martial Arts+3 on the die), he got a 6 (Prowess+die). She hit him and used her Advantage for +1 in the power, so that's 7 Stamina. He totally succeeded on the Affliction roll, though.

HaemophiliaApe X
StaminaDeterminationNotes & ConditionsStaminaNotes & Conditions
100Smells like disinfectant3None

"Then they'll die!" said the man, his voice cracking with emotion for the first time. Every human but Chloe slashed across their wrists. "You killed them, hero."

"I am not a hero," said Chloe, and slashed again.

A marginal success, but that's enough: the gorilla fell down, unconscious. He wasn't bothered by her venom this time either.

The MPs found her kneeling beside the one soldier she had been too late to save, holding his hand, and with a stain on her soul that wouldn't come out.

Your random superhero environment

So I was wondering if you could do a random environment—not just an urban encounter table, but a series of tables that build the important part of your city for you. Part of this is inspired by the Stark City world-building rules, but converted to a set of tables so you don't have to do the same thinking. (You still have to think...sorry.)

This tries to straddle a middle ground between simulations or "realism" and narrative. Interesting things come up more often than if we were just extrapolating the reality of the setting, but not to the extent of every roll result being something you have to act on.

Some hasty thoughts jotted down while waiting for a meeting to start. Will come back to this later; expect it to grow.


First, we match your hero and your city. If your hero already has a mood or theme (Superman is about optimism; Batman is gritty and noir; Spider-Man is about perseverance when things go wrong), well, heck, give it to your city.

But if you feel the need to contrast, or if you have some heroes of different moods, then you can roll d6-d6:

d6 - d6 RollMood
-4, -5Corruption and nihilism: Hub City in the 1980s Question series
-3, -2A corrupt city that needs a beacon: Gotham City, or Daredevil's Hell's Kitchen
-1, 0, 1There are good places and bad places...some are very good and some are very bad
2, 3Things are pretty good here, though there are still some bad things: any of the DC midwest or western cities
4, 5Scientific utopia and optimism: Metropolis, Kandor...though there are bad spots, villains are often trying to tear down what's good

Keep the roll in mind; it will be a modifier for other things. (That is, when you roll for a location, a corrupt city might get as much as -5 to the roll, while a city on the hill like Metropolis might get as much as +5. Or for some rolls, I might make it half the modifier, rounded toward zero: -5 or -4 is -2, 5 or 4 is 2, and so on in between.)


Again, if your hero already defines a scale, go with that. Your flying hero can cover more area than the guy who only swings, or has to take a bus. Still, if you're willing to give your hero a car, plane, transporter, or spaceship, add 1 to the d6 roll. If your hero does not have any fancy method of travelling high speeds, subtract 1. Use the Mood modifier to determine suburb or inner city.

d6 RollScale
2Inner City (if Mood is negative) or Suburb (if Mood is positive)
7Solar system, cosmic, or interdimensional

When you start a new scene and randomly generate "a new location" it can mean something appropriate to the scale, though of course you can always choose to go wild ("Suddenly, Batman finds a clue that leads him to Fictistan!"):
  • A different room or apartment or building
  • A different section of town
  • A different borough
  • A different city
  • A different state or province
  • A different country
  • A different world


A chart to provide weather isn't a bad idea; I'm totally on board with the sympathetic fallacy, and weather can provide interesting challenges for your hero. Pick or roll for the season. If you get a 6 (special occasion), roll again and check on the last column.

d6 RollSeasonSpecial Occasion (also a D6 roll)
3SummerIndependence Day
6Special OccasionBirthday, anniversary: something personal

Remember that it's always bad weather in noir stories, so add half the mood (you end up subtracting if it's negative and adding half if it's positive):

d6 RollWeather events
1 and belowBlackouts: Snowstorms or thunderstorms, howling winds
2Extreme temperatures.
3Precipitation and maybe fog.
4Mixed seasonal: cloudy, clear, maybe rain, maybe not. Unsettled.
6Great weather for the season.

Time of Day

Some heroes are nocturnal...usually they're your grim-n-gritty noir heroes. Nocturnal is more common (possibly because heroes have jobs, too). Still, if you don't know what time of day it is, roll and add half the mood modifier.

d6 RollTime of day
1 and belowNight and all right-thinking people are asleep.
2Night, but most folks are still awake.
3Dusk (if Mood is negative) or dawn (if Mood is positive)
4Early morning or late afternoon.
5Mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
6Broad noon.

So you know when it is.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Murder Hobos: The game

Someone must have done this.

For a one night adventure, it might (emphasis on might) be interesting to run actual murder hobos, possibly as the PCs, possibly as the villains (depending on where you stand).

Say, set it during the Great Depression, about 1933. The PCs are a set of hobos who are awakened to their greater purpose, which is to whack the evil dudes, and they know who the evil dudes are...the wealthy, of course. The corporate fat cats who are still doing well while they are out of work. (Fantasy dressing: the characters know they are the reincarnation of some mythic hero, just as they know the villains are reincarnations of something or other.)

First, the murder hobos need weapons. No sweat: there's a cache of weapons in a nearby dungeon (well, the basement of a university). They can get to it through a sewer system, and they know about the sewer system because some guys hide there.

After killing only a few people (who must be the reincarnation of bad guys, too), they have ancient weapons befitting their original souls.

If you're playing as the murder hobos, well, this is all straightforward: the assault on the bad guy is an assault on his mansion.

Otherwise, you might be doing this as a kind of Call of Cthulhu thing, and the good guys are actually the local cops, who have been cast as "lawful evil" antipaladins or something.

Either way, you could play it in a way that makes the player characters (whichever they are) in the right. You just have to decide which way things are before you start.

You'd want a fantasy system that's easy to use and learn; you'd want the characters to be mid-level if you had a levelled system. Call of Cthulhu could do it. PIG's Iron Gauntlets might work. It's based on the Impresa system, and I think you can find guns and stuff as well as the fantasy equipment. Maybe CORPS, if you want something lethal. I think the equipment is around for BASH, too. Heck, you can probably do it with Unknown Armies or Over The Edge, too.

Gaming and GMing

I think I have to admit that, with this schedule, I can't game on Wednesday nights until this job is done...which could be a while. I have to be in bed by nine, and asleep by ten, preferably asleep by nine. That leaves me a whole half-hour to game. Doesn't really work.

So I think that I'll do two things (as I struggle to try and manage my time correctly):

  • I'm going to look for something I can do on the weekend. (If you have a superhero game on Saturday or Sunday, and you're in driving distance of Kitchener, Ontario--say, Guelph or even a monthly jaunt to London or Hamilton, and you'd be willing to have me, let's try each other out.) The something might be online gaming.
  • I'm going to fashion some kind of survey for my regular gang to try and figure out what I need to improve for them, when I'm GMing next. 
Just to expand on that last point. Even when I've tried newer-style games, I notice I fall back on the same habits (I'm deathly afraid of the whole "you lose until I say you win" structure which I think I can fall into). I want to fix those problems...but I also want to fix problems that individual players have.

For instance, Viktor posted here saying that he prefers a more puzzle-oriented style, and that's not what I do by default--again, I have a tendency to get railroady if I do it: either my solution is the only solution, or I can be convinced as a wishy-washy guy that the offered solution will work.

I also don't want him or anyone to feel unsatisfied. We're all at the table to have fun. My fun doesn't take priority over his fun, just as his fun doesn't take priority over mine.

So if I can figure out some kind of useful survey, that might give me some answers and I can use the enforced free time to try and make my style more appropriate for that group. Yes, apparently I have drunk the Continuous Improvement Kool-Aid. At a guess, two of them are more puzzle oriented, two are more character oriented, and one is, I think, more story oriented. But I'm only guessing; I would never have pegged Viktor as a puzzle guy, though in hindsight it makes perfect sense.

Those things will go on the back burner pile of Things To Do, I'm afraid, as there are other things that take priority. But still...I want to do them.