Monday, January 25, 2016

Digging a hole for myself...


There are a couple of superpowers that show in games where I look at them and go, "What?"

Now, these are perfectly cromulent superpowers. They have reasons to exist, and they fill those reasons very well. However, if you have a random character creation system, you look at the power and say, "Hey, maybe I can trade it for a Boost or an Extra."

For me, one such power is Burrowing.

I recognize the utility of it, sometimes. I think that the Troll, in ICONS, should be able to dig himself a hole where he can hide. I think that giant ants should have a way to make their giant anthills, and the machine from The Core should be buildable in your favorite game system.

But man... Burrowing.

Part of the reason is that it's slow. In some one-buttocked attempt at realism, many designers throttle back when it comes to burrowing, just like swimming. "Yes, you can burrow, but only at a speed that is one quarter of your overland movement speed." That's kind of like the M&M game where I suddenly realized that although the bad guy could fly, he could only fly at fifteen kilometers an hour. The heroes just paced him, occasionally whacking him like a beach ball.

We've got a game system where people fire blasts of concussive energy from their eyes, where people have mouths in their hands, where people make plants grow tremendously fast, and you're seriously concerned about how fast they can dig?

It should be a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where the tiny line of dirt is heading at the same speed as a running man. (And seeing the line of dirt is a complication or a limit.) It should be a total surprise when the building suddenly collapses because the hero has removed two meters of topsoil from under the foundation, or that the heroine uses her burrowing claws to trace a circle out on the floor, so they fall through, just like that woman in Underworld escaping.

Another part is that you start down the reasonableness path: well, if he can dig through gravel, maybe he can dig through that fencing that sticks down into the ground. Maybe he can dig through that concrete foundation. Maybe he can dig through that guy's's no harder than concrete. And the Champions players say, "Well, she can fly, so maybe she can go through water at the same speed. It's only a thousand times thicker." The characters just do it, and occasionally get a bonus when they launch themselves at the target like a cannonball. (This is one of the areas where the existence of bonuses and extras makes it seem like you ought to be able to or not to do something.)

Sometimes I wonder if there should just be a power called Movement, and the player gets to limit it by defining the medium...or doesn't. ("She can fly, and she's just punching her way through the rock.")

A special form of Burrowing might be an incredible knowledge of the sewer system—you know the paths like no one else does, so maybe you can get places no one else can. Your Burrowing level is actually your knowledge of the area. You fail the roll, there is no connection that you can get through. At low levels, that would work quite well, actually.

Or another special form might be a limited form of animal control: you can manage to control the ants and moles and what-have-you that they will make the space for you as you go.

Well, maybe Burrowing isn't so lame. But Dream Control....there's a power that's tough to play in a game....