Monday, April 27, 2009

Supers: Supers? Yes, Supers.

I've long considered a good supers FATE conversion to be the Holy Grail (or at least the Questing Beast) of FATE conversions. I've tried it, others have tried it, but I've never really been satisfied with anything any of us have come up with -- no offense to you if you're one of "us." Everything I've seen or thought of has been either too hand-wavey or way too anchored in crunch. FATE is a relatively rules-light system; anything that uses it should stick to its "core values," as it were, and not overcomplicate things with intricate stunt chains or HERO- or M&M-style effects-based power constructs. It's just that, well, most supers games work very well with an effects-based system for powers, so those of us who've played them naturally want to go that route with FATE, too. But that way lies badness, if you ask me.

Recently, I've been going back and forth on FATE supers stuff with Joe Meyer, host of "Meanwhile... The Super Gaming Podcast," which is good and should be listened to, and darned if those discussions haven't produced some pretty great ideas for supers. We'd each come up with some things independently that were more or less along similar lines.

Joe had the idea of revisiting FUDGE for its scaling rules -- specifically Strength and Speed -- and a couple pretty good ideas came of it. There's so much stuff in FUDGE; I oughtta revisit it more often. Anyway, I'm not sure if we totally agree on anything yet, but here's where I am with things right now.

Strength Scale
This measures relative physical strength between normals and the super-strong. Note that this is different from Might, and exists independent of the skill. In Might tests, add your Strength Scale to your Might effort. In hand-to-hand combat, compare the attacker's and defender's Strength Scale ratings. If the attacker's is higher, increase the degree of consequence dealt on a successful attack by a number of steps equal to the difference. For example, if the attacker is Strength Scale 2 and the defender is Strength Scale 0, a Minor consequence becomes a Severe consequence. Yes, it's rough, but, y'know, don't get into fisticuffs with Superman.

Conversely, if the defender's Strength Scale is higher, then reduce the severity of the consequence dealt by the difference -- in the example above, if that Strength Scale 0 guy is fool enough to land an uppercut on Mr. Strength Scale 2, he'll have to achieve a Severe consequence just to put a Minor consequence on him. Again, this is why your average bank robber doesn't want to go mano-a-mano with Supes.

(This owes as much to FUDGE as it does to a recent thread on Savage Worlds supers by Hudson Shock.)

Speed Scale
Like the Strength Scale, this also exists independent of the skill pyramid. For any physical action, reduce the time required on the Time Chart by a number of steps equal to your Speed Scale.

This does necessitate fixing up the Time Chart a bit, however, to give it a little more relevance in combat round. Fortunately, I've already done this!

Free action / Instant
An action / A few moments
A full action / Half a minute
Two rounds / A minute
Three rounds / A few minutes
A conflict / 15 minutes
A scene / 30 minutes
An hour
A few hours
An afternoon
A day
A few days
A week
A few weeks
A month
A season
Half a year
A year

For example, let's say the Flush (no relation) has Speed Scale 4. If a normal Speed Scale 0 guy wants to move one zone and attack, he'll be at a -1 for taking two actions in one round, each of which requires "an action." The Flush, though, can accomplish this at no penalty -- for him, moving a zone is something that can be done as a free action. It might take the average person an hour to dismantle a transdimensional particle disruptor, but the Flush can do it in a minute, tops, plus any shifts he can spend on from his Engineering roll, which could get it down to mere seconds. Running across town takes Mr. Nobody an entire afternoon, but with a decent Athletics roll the Flush can make it in 30 seconds or so.

What about multiple attacks? Well, you still can't do that, but you can make a single attack and apply it against multiple targets, although anything that actually requires a die roll will take a minimum of an action. Attacking three targets in one zone would take anyone else three rounds (one attack per round), but the Flish can do it in a single action. (He'd still only make one roll and apply it against each target's defense, because I kinda have this thing about only making one roll per round.)

How to Improve Strength and Speed Scales While Maintaining Game Balance
Uh... I'm not sure. Next!

Actual, Y'know, Powers
Powers would be not effects-based, but special effects-based. That is, start with the power theme, and make it a skill. Stretching, for instance, or Telekinesis. There'd be a good-sized but finite list of these. Each comes with a number of trappings indicating how the skill can be used. When you take the skill, you get one trapping for free, and pay for more with Refresh or Drawbacks in some proportion -- 1 Refresh for three trappings, say.
You can stretch your body. Yadda yadda yadda.
  • Offense: While you still use Fists or Weapons (I guess) to attack, with Stretching you can use these skills from up to a zone away at no penalty. You can also stretch as a supplemental action to get around shields or other barriers.
  • Defense: Your rubbery body is hard to damage, and makes it easy to dodge bullets and blows. You can use Stretching to defend against physical attacks you're aware of.
  • Maneuvers: You can use this skill to Block, Grab, or Disarm in combat.
  • Utility: You can stretch one zone as a supplemental action with nearly any other skill.
  • Movement: You can use this skill instead of Athletics to cover ground or sprint.
These are pretty much like M&M's complications in most respects, except they're -- you guessed it -- aspects. Specifically, aspects of a predominantly negative nature, like "I can't control it!" or "You wouldn't like mee when I'm angry" or "Powered Armor Requires Recharging." They should be compel-fodder. I'm not sure what the exchange rate would be (2 trappings for 1 Drawback?), but... it'd be something.

Associated Aspects
Of course, each super-skill would require an associated aspect anyway, like "Faster Than A Speeding Bullet" or "More Powerful Than An Eco-Friendly Monorail." So would improved Speed or Strength Scales, like... well, like "Faster Than A Speeding Bullet" or "More Powerful Than An Eco-Friendly Monorail."

At any rate, there's obviously still a lot to work out here, but I like where it's going so far.


Unknown said...

As you can see. We're still in the early stages of this.

Darren Brewster said...

Hey guys, just weighed in on the RPGnet threadIt is mostly talking about the strength scale issues.

Anonymous said...

In terms of the strength scale, it seems like it'd be better to call it 'power level' or 'heroism level' or something and make it more generic than just strength. Like, Batman hits harder and takes less damage than a normal dude, not so much because he's strong and tough but because he's freakin' Batman. (Divorcing it from 'strength' seems like an especially good idea if it's not going to be connected to the Might skill).

Presumably you can price a different scale than the baseline as a couple stunts, or let people buy it with refresh -- it feels to me a lot like having a Red Court Vampire adventuring with a normal dude in Dresden Files.

The other thing I'd like to see this touch on is superpowered normal skills -- like, what does the Hulk have for Might, or Reed Richards for Science? Are you thinking of just calling it Superb Science, or are you going to put in scale for everything?

Mike Olson said...

inkylj: The reasons I'm going with distinct Strength and Speed Scales right now are twofold. Possibly threefold. I dunno. We'll see how many folds I can rack up in this comment.

One, it's how FUDGE does it, and looking at it again, FUDGE does it pretty well.

Two, not every skill works on the same principles, so having a one-size-fits-all scale called "power" or the like would probably create more problems than it solves.

Three, with one scale for everything, the Hulk can't be super-strong without also being super-fast, super-smart, and super-empathic.

(Fold Total: Threefold.)

As for what the Hulk has for Might, if I'm using a Strength Scale he can get away with Great Might, or even Good Might and Great Fists -- but his Strength Scale is 4 or 5 (or higher). I'm having trouble seeing a use for most scales apart from Strength and Speed. Although... a Smarts Scale could work like Speed in terms of automatically reducing time required, and like Strength in terms of bumping up consequences dealt in conflicts (for example, disabling a technological device using Engineering or Science).

Mike said...

Hey Mike,

I whipped up a simple Supers conversion for a villain game I ran a couple years ago. I like what you have done here and I did similar things independently.

One minor thing that I did was to expand the stunt tree for some of the things that Supers can do.

For example, I had a series of skills called "____ Manipulation" which include lots of forms of energy or matter such as fire. Then the stunt tree for these manipulations skills included:

Power enhancement = + 1 stress on attacks with this skill
Distance enhancement = + 2 zones to attack distance with no penalties (-1 per zone afterwards)
Internal generation = power for skill comes from the Super rather than an external source, exemplified by the difference between Iceman and Pyro.

Jonathan Breese said...

I have been thinking about Super Hero games quite a bit. I think their failing over and over again, is the attempt to define powers. I think a theme system is the best. Super Heroes may have limits on what the can do, but they are able to use their abilities in creative ways as the author sees fit. So, basically establish a theme such as, "Super Strength" and then let the player run with it. Assign difficulty where appropriate.