Friday, January 15, 2010

Supers: In Which I Shoot Everyone Down

No, I'm just kidding. I sincerely appreciate all the feedback. It was great to come back from a day at Crystal Cove and see all the discussion my last post engendered. I'm going to try to go through the suggestions and comments and respond semi-intelligently. This is a long post, though, so... fairly warned be ye, says I.

Instead of replacing the Fudge dice with d6, how about adding more Fudge dice but you still keep the best set of 4.
That's exactly what I do with fencing styles in my swashbuckling hack -- knowing a style means you're more likely to make the best of the situation. It's great for increasing the odds of a character doing the best a human can do. I want something more than that here, though. I want superpowers to let you do things normal humans just can't do.

However, I have considered this as an alternate Will mechanic for supers. Instead of replacing Fudge dice, you add more and roll-and-keep. An unintended but appropriate side-effect is that it's less efficient to spend Will on attacks versus lower-tier defenses than it is against higher-tier defenses.

Perhaps stated more appropriately, what's a reasonable way to translate these characters into a form where we can continue to "play at the speed of FATE" and still have any hope of doing these characters justice?
That's a good question, and something that weighs heavily on my mind as I muddle through this. Moving closer to a pure point-buy FATE feels alarmingly like re-inventing Hero. At all costs, this supers thing must avoid being (or feeling) that crunchy. It's not what I want, and it certainly isn't what the system does best. When I start thinking about having to list a super-skill's trappings in addition to everything else that's already on the character sheet, it seems a little overwhelming, but I'm convinced it wouldn't actually be overwhelming in practice.

One thing the powers-as-trappings model does that's a radical departure from other FATE hacks I've done/seen is that it makes characters much more individualized where skills are concerned. Sure, every FATE character has his own set of aspects, but you can always count on, say, Fists being Fists no matter where you go. With this, though, one character's Fists will likely differ from another's Martial Arts, and each character's liable to "play" a little differently. That's definitely something that feels more like Hero or M&M than FATE. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I'm also too curious to see how this would work to turn back now.

The more broad the skill/power the more it costs per "die" in WT (a dice pool system).
It'd essentially work the same way here, incidentally. You get your free trappings, but the more trappings you tack onto a super-skill the more it costs. A few cheaper, narrowly focused super-skills, or fewer, broader super-skills at a greater cost?

And yeah, the effectiveness of that broad factor is definitely weighted towards the knowledgeable / experienced player.
This goes back to that character-differentiation thing I was talking about. Your choices in character creation become more important than in SotC -- at least, it seems that way to me. But I don't want a lack of foresight to cripple a PC (unlike in that other game -- you know the one I'm talking about!), so the plan is to allow a player to invoke the character's Concept aspect for effect to add a trapping to a power for... a scene? An exchange? I don't know. Probably the former.

Hmmm. Interesting direction. I would like to say, I prefer the three scale thing. Simple, clean, and easy to remember.
I understand and anticipated this reaction. My answer is "Then only use the first three tiers." Seriously, it won't break the system. If the issue is that you just prefer to absoluteness of the earlier proposal, then that's a whole other thing. Personally, I steered away from that because of Robert's contention that the first thing he'd do in chargen would be to find a reason to buy up his defensive skills whether it made sense or not, because if he didn't he'd be auto-screwed. If it works for you, though, go for it.

I don't like a constant d6 die sub for scale difference. I think it runs into the same problem as a bloated scale. "I rolled a +15. What did you roll?"
Well, that isn't as likely to come up as you think. If you got a +15 for your effort, it's because you're facing off against someone who's probably a few tiers below you, in which case that guy should be screwed. He just isn't auto-screwed simply because he forgot to get Super-Resolve. He can spend invoke and tag, or even just roll well, and still have a slight chance of walking away from this one. Not a very good chance, but a chance nonetheless.

Just in case it wasn't clear from my last post: Since you're taking the difference of tiers into account, if two combatants are dealing with each other using skills in the same tier, it's a straight 4dF + skill. No d6s are involved. If Superman punches non-powered Lex Luthor in the face, he's rolling a few d6s, but if he punches power-armor-suited, Superhuman-skill-having Lex, it's business as usual.

And I will tell you now that, in my experience, 3dF + 1d6 does not usually wildly better results than 4dF. Probability be damned. I can't tell you how often someone's rolled --- and 1, but I can tell you I've only seen +++ and 6, like, twice. The plural of "anecdote" isn't "data," of course, but I've seen enough of the die-replacement thing in action to be comfortable with a one-tier difference in skills.

I think it's a fair assumption that supers often face off against other supers. Unless you're fighting mooks, the odds of you replacing more than a Fudge die or two are probably pretty slim -- and thanks to the standard gang-up rules, a few Good-quality minions can still pose a threat to a super a tier or two above them, and large group of them (10+) would still threaten just about anybody, especially if they're well armed (e.g., wielding weapons that bump their attacks up a tier, which is very easy to implement here). That's not normally how we handle groups of minions in FATE, but whatever.

How about this? You can't attack a higher scale without tagging a Weakness, but you can place Maneuvers! Has to fit the narrative, of course. Those thugs won't put a scratch on ol' Supes without a really good Aspect or Weakness to tag. But can they make him "Disracted", have him "Entangled", or even "Irritate" him? You betcha'. In fact that is their purpose. Not to threaten heroes. To slow them down, to complicate things, and of course to fall down before them in great numbers.
This is a very interesting idea -- the can't-attack-without-tagging-a-weakness bit. I'm just not sure it works for everyone. It's great for Superman, but not every superhero has a weakness that works like that, or a weakness at all. The Hulk seems to take a point or two of stress from heavy artillery now and then, but I'd hardly say that his weakness is artillery. What about the Flash? He manages to get tripped up by a mundane explosion in his path every so often, but not reliably enough that I'd call it a weakness.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I like those corner cases, and I want to retain them. That's another area where the former proposition wasn't working for me.

As for the maneuvers -- you betcha, indeed. None of that runs contrary to any version of FATE I've seen, and it's a great way to play hordes of minions.

Rolling the dice should always be important. So Superman isn't rolling to see if he hits a mook. Of course he does. He is rolling to be able to narrate how he does it heroically.
Agreed. Fortunately, we have overflow, so a really fantastic hit against one mook means taking out a group of them, and that's where the rolling stays relevant. Naturally, the player is free to narrate that however he wants, and if he does so in a way that goes against his nature, the GM should compel an aspect to keep him in line.

I'm equally comfortable with a hero dropping a wall on a group of mooks, or taking one of them out so handily that the others just turn tail and run, as long as the player's choice is consistent with the hero's concept and aspects.

Have you looked at a game called Risus?
Indeed, I know Risus pretty well; it and PDQ had an obvious influence on my aspects-as-skills idea from a couple months ago. I'm not into inserting multiple die types into this, though, beyond the d6 (although in other games, I'm all for it).

It may also help to check out some of the discussion of the Dresden RPG about Freewill vs Nature (sorry, can't find a link). Purchasing supernatural powers reduces refresh -- the extreme case would be starting a session with 0 FATE points.
While I'm largely in the dark about DFRPG -- not by choice, I assure you! -- I do know about the powers-reduce-Refresh thing. I'm going for a practical application of that here by either allowing you to sell back Refresh in exchange for more skill points, or simply making Refresh another thing that costs points. Whatever the point budget would be, it'd necessitate sacrificing Refresh for powers.

Basically, use the original 3 scales and say that skills used for defense to not have a tier.
I do have a concern about Superman (it's always Superman, isn't it?) being able to dodge a little too well, although he should certainly be able to take a hit. FATE doesn't really differentiate between these things, though -- if I let Superman defend against bullets with Man of Steel, it's functionally identical to the Flash defending against the same with his Super-Speed.

One thing that occurred to me today while I was out was splitting up combat trappings rather narrowly, like differentiating between Resist Damage and Dodge. Superman does the former, and the Flash the latter. Again, functional difference? Nonexistent. Flavor difference? Huge. But does it make the game more fun? That, I don't know.

1) Aspects can overcome scale:
- Hit superman with a stick and nothing happens because they are different scales. Put some kryptonite on a stick and the kryptonite aspect overcomes the scale difference.

Indeed, that's exactly what I had in mind. I'm torn on whether I'd charge a Fate Point for it, though. It's kryptonite -- it's going to work every time. I mean, I wouldn't want to charge Sinestro a Fate Point every time he uses something yellow against Green Lantern. My mind's divided between mechanical consistency and common sense.

- In Star Wars, what good are snub fighters going to be against a Death Star? Got the Plans + Found a weakness + manoeuvre down the trench + use the Force and you overcome the scale difference.
Well, we're getting far afield here from the genre, but... I'd call the two-meter exhaust port right below the main port a major weakness, so firing a proton torpedo down there is going to reduce the Death Star's defense by four tiers. I'd still require a roll to hit it, though, which is where "Got the Plans," "Found a Weakness," "Maneuver down the trench," and "Use the Force" come into play. Tag those for a +8 to hit. The torpedoes, I imagine would have some sort of damage modifier, as much as I usually dislike that kind of thing in FATE, but... hey, I'm not responsible for sorting that out using these rules! You tricked me by mentioning Star Wars!

- Don't fire your bazooka at the super hero. Instead fire at the wall behind him. Bazooka + collapsing wall overcomes the scale difference.
The collapsing wall, IMO, is arguably a matter of special effects. It's an aspect to maneuver/tag, sure, but in FATE, if you want to say you shot a guy between the eyes or shot the rope holding up the chandelier to make it fall on him, either way he's defeated. The flavor's up to you. So if the bazooka already boosts your attack by a tier, that's all you need to know in terms of mechanics.

I'm enamored of the basic concept, but I'm not of a mind to change how aspects work (invoke or tag for +1 tier), or to make their functions situational ("If you're evenly matched, they work like this, but if not, they work like that"). I encourage you to take it farther and report back, though, because it's interesting.

Brad Murray (Diaspora) had a suggestion on how to handle giant bugs in his blog that might work.
Awesome -- I'll check that out. My copy of Diaspora just arrived in the mail yesterday, and I dig it. Look for scopes to figure into this hack in the near future.

The really hard part is super vs normal. When superman punches a normal why doesn't the guy's head explode?
Okay, disregarding my quickie answer for the time being, my long-winded answer is essentially the same as my last response: If you want Taken Out to mean his head asplode, or if you want it to mean he's knocked out, that's up to you. The important thing is the end result: He's Taken Out.

If, however, you want to do this Authority-style, it's be an interesting challenge to let the attacker voluntarily pull his punch in an effort to avoid outright killing a dude. I'm not interested in that degree of reality, though, and neither is FATE. I much prefer genre emulation (all the time, always, for all genres), and in this particular one, Superman doesn't roll like that.


free hatani said...

I very much enjoyed the post. There is not much I like more than discussing the philosophy behind certain game mechanic choices. And you state your case very eloquently.

Just a thing or two I wanted to clarify. I wouldn't say that tagging a Weakness should be the ONLY way to mitigate scale difference, just the easiest. I would say ANY narratively appropriate Aspect could work. So "Under Artillery Bombardment" works just fine as a tag against the Hulk. Likewise "Exploding Trap" works against the Flash. No need to enumerate all possible weaknesses. They should flow from clever Maneuvers. It should follow the "rule of cool". And for a high tier super, it may be the easiest way for them to earn sweet FATE points.

I disagree though about how often scale difference will come up. Even fighting only other supers, if there is a 5 point scale, you are going to be coming up against the difference a lot! Especially play an Avengers or JLA type game. I want the scales to feel different, and higher scales to have an edge in a fight, but I don't want the higher scale powers to always feel like a better choice.

Just to clarify my Superman, Batman example: I feel that they should both have exactly the same Story power to take out the thugs. No bonus for Superman just for being a higher scale. He already has so little to fear from them, they can't really touch him. That is his benefit. Batman and Superman should have the Same odds to take out just as many mooks. I want Batman to be a street-level crime fight for a reason. That is his world. Superman isn't any better at cleaning up mooks than Bats is. If anything, Batman might be better at it, maybe with a Mook Fighting stunt.

And if a high level super is fighting a lower level super, I don't want the lower level to go down any faster, I just want the higher level one to be harder to take down. Call it a pacing issue.

Now if you keep the Will mechanic, then Superman could spend a point get a couple d6s, and really go all out against lower levels. An active bonus, not a passive one. His scale becomes more important then, because he chose for it to feel important. This is is key. Higher scales characters, I feel, should not automatically get more narrative take down power (which is what rolling the dice represents), than someone who chooses to play at a lower scale hero.

But keep at what you are doing. I really am on board with most of what you have. I think the differences we have are so minor, that they will come down to table preference anyway. :-) Now enough about scale, get cracking on prices for all them skill trappings!

Mike Olson said...

Even fighting only other supers, if there is a 5 point scale, you are going to be coming up against the difference a lot!

Let me shed some light on how I see these tiers playing out, even though I don't have names for them right now. (For now, I'll give them letters instead of numbers to try to cut down any confusion between tier levels and skill qualities.)

Tier A: Street-level supers with mundane equipment -- guys like Gangbuster in Final Crisis, or the Harbinger of Justice from Dark Champions.

Tier B: Low-level supers, or "super-skilled" heroes, or heroes with exceptional/super-scientific equipment. Many iterations of Captain America would fall into this category.

Tier C: "Normal" supers of every stripe. The difference between these heroes and the Tier B heroes is largely one of preference. Batman could fall into either category, as could early Superman or Spiderman. Basically, it depends who's writing that issue.

Tier D: High-power heroes -- the Superman that can reverse time by flying around the world (that's not how that works!), or the Bat-God, or Dark Phoenix on a Tuesday afternoon.

Tier E: Galactus. Cosmically powerful beings.

My expectation is that the "average" super-powered character would have one or two Tier C powers, two or one Tier B powers, and few Fate Points. A super-skilled, non-powered character with all his skills in Tiers A or B would have proportionally more Fate Points.

With that as an assumed baseline, conflicts between supers would generally involve a difference of one or two tiers, which is hardly overwhelming, IMO.

The key to keeping it that way is how everything's priced (especially the stunts that give you access to higher-tier powers). Taking a higher-tier power should practically necessitate selling back/buying less Refresh.

Just to clarify my Superman, Batman example: I feel that they should both have exactly the same Story power to take out the thugs.

IMO, they do, but via Fate Points. Batman will, generally speaking, have many more than Superman. It's more than just being able to get a +2 bonus here and there -- Batman can edit details more frequently than Superman, add trappings on the fly, and even refuse compels (how many times has Batman seemingly abandoned allies in peril only to return later with exactly what's needed to save their lives?). Fate Points are a great way to account for Batman's real superpower: the ability to be prepared for anything.

For example, if Batman and Superman are up against, I dunno, Aluminum Weakness Man, Batman is going to be more capable of paying a Fate Point to have aluminum Batarangs in his utility belt and still have Fate Points to spare, whereas Superman is mostly likely going to be stuck going toe-to-toe with him. More to the point, Batman's player is more capable of paying a Fate Point to declare that Aluminum Weakness Man is vulnerable to aluminum -- as if his name didn't already give it away! -- and if the GM agrees, he is. Superman could do this too, but since none of his powers could legitimately bring aluminum into play on his side, it isn't likely to do him a lot of good.

That's a terrible example, but I'm tired. Hopefully you can see what I'm getting at, though.

Anonymous said...

I support your right to shoot us all down, However... I don't think the Death Star example is that "far afield." It illustrates the problem of scale in a generic sense. You can substitute Galctus for Death Star if you like but the problem of scale remains. Disparity of size scale is just as much an issue as disparity in power scale. You can work out the kinks between Batman vs. Superman or Doctor Octopus vs. Aunt May but I a player wants to be a Giant Bug, do you say "No" because you don't have a Giant Bug tier?

free hatani said...

@ Mike Olson

Either you are using mind affecting powers on me, or I am starting to see more clearly what you mean.


Mike Olson said...

You can work out the kinks between Batman vs. Superman or Doctor Octopus vs. Aunt May but I a player wants to be a Giant Bug, do you say "No" because you don't have a Giant Bug tier?

No, I say "Come on, Biff -- does every game have to have giant bugs in it?!"

Seriously though, I guess it depends on where you want to peg your giant bug's skills. I mean, what is the "Giant Bug tier" to the player? If you have points to spend, you can buy a couple skills in the top tier, but it'd probably mean being left with no Refresh.

If the issue is that that top tier doesn't go far enough, then I acknowledge the shortcoming. I'm not worried about leaving Azathoth out in the cold, to be honest.

BTW, the only reason I shied away from the Death Star is example is because I'd want to break it down into both accuracy and damage, and that's a level of special-case detail I really didn't want to get into. Without that factor, I'm perfectly comfortable with calling the two-meter exhaust port a major weakness and reducing the Death Star's defense by four tiers.

But for the record, I can almost always be distracted by the invocation of Star Wars.

Robert Stehwien said...

My concern with the replacement of dF with d6 for tier displacement isn't "+++6" there is a small chance of that. My concern is the average "0003" and "0034". At 1 tier off you will get on average 50% of the time what normally only occurs 4.95% of the time (rolling a +3 on 4dF). All things being equal you will likely just win/loose (depending on which side of the divide you are on).

At 2 tiers off... you basically just win (or loose if you are on the low side), don't bother rolling other than to see if you were just one shotted.

The ranges also change from -4<=>+4 to either -2<=>9 or 0<=>14 for those rolls.

Again it puts things in the realm of - "buy every possible defense up to the campaign limits or run the risk of an instant take down"

It looks like you would expect a Tier "C" (supers) game to require everyone to buy up to that tier for anything they might want. This makes it likely players will forget to buy up some defense and be unpleasantly surprised when they are just pwned.

Yes as the GM you can just not send them up against people like that ... but what if one player made a mentalist and the others are more physical? Then you have the "this villain will kill anyone but player X because their mental attack is a high tier" or "all my villains have to have a very high tier mental resistance or player X will just mop the floor with them"

One of the reasons my preference is to keep everyone in the same 0-5 (ish) range just like normal Fate is to keep things in an expected range that the dice probabilities support. I'll just redefine what that range means for my campaign.

If I'm running a "cosmic-level" supers game everyone is in that league, not a few people who are normal humans, a couple that are avengers level, and then the silver surfer. Having a few more fate points without needing to accept compels doesn't seem cool enough to me to offset being taken out when someone sneezes.