Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Heroes of the United Worlds 3

3: Design the Game Mechanics: Villains & Vigilantes

This post covers how I’d take the classic Villains & Vigilantes system and modify it for this setting.

The setting’s three needs are
a) the engine handle characters who have a single ‘super power’ well, meaning that it’s designed to handle heroes who have basically human stats other than their ‘power’.
b) the engine handle characters who have incredibly strong powers well, since the powers tend to be ‘conceptual’ rather than mechanical, i.e. someone who is invulnerable can’t be physically hurt, and someone with flame powers can generate the approximate heat of a star.
c) the engine handles characters of wildly varying power level being on the same team – Invisible Kid bust be able to work with Superboy.

Villains & Vigilantes - now back in press by its creators Jeff Dee and Jack Herman through Monkey House Games - does A and C very well. In fact, in 25 years of gaming V&V does A and C better than any other system I've seen. V&V has the added bonus that initial characters are based on the players, which is (not accidentally) part of this setting. So I just have to modify V&V to handle the middle part – incredibly strong powers – and we’re good to go.

V&V works on a few core principles:
1. Initial characters are based on the players.
2. Powers are (usually) randomly determined and then modified to work them into a coherent whole.
3. Powers are often governed by your attributes (for ex flight speed is a factor of Strength & Endurance).
4. Strength is bound by real world physics (carrying capacity is based on multiples of your weight).
5. Combat rolls are against tables that weigh attack and defense types, modified by attributes & powers.
6. A failed hit due to a defense means the attack ‘hit’ but did no damage.
7. Non-combat dice rolls against the attribute on d20, d% or (rarely) three times the attribute on d%.
8. Outside of combat dice rolls are binary in their outcome and either succeed or fail;
9. Non-combat skills are broad ‘backgrounds’ which GMs weigh when determining difficulty;
10 Character levels cover primarily combat and/physical training and (infrequently) power levels.

Got all that? It’s a very 1st generation RPG, with the combat table, attacks that miss due to defenses do no damage, and levels as combat skill baring more than a little resemblance to AD&D’s armor vs. weapons table, armor classes and level driven changes to hit. I love the flexibility of powers, the inspiration from the tables and the general retro feel of the system.

The idea that defenses negate damage rather than reduce it means all combat isn’t HP attrition, where someone with low HP and a strong defense can last in a fight but be taken down by a lucky shot or if taken unawares. Hit Points are fairly static and don’t automatically increase with levels. A few other combat mechanics help people with athletic but not superhuman stats hold their own in fights, so you can get by without heightened stats. It’s a game that emphasizes the ‘human’ part of super human, which is what we need for heroes with a single power.

V&V as designed produces heroes who are of the Marvel team-level. It does great X-Men, but isn’t a natural for Justice League. This isn’t a huge problem for four reasons.

First is that most of the rules for carrying capacities are arbitrary. I can modify those.

Second is that we can ascribe new ‘high end’ uses of powers as being outside the normal combat framework. Unleashing a ‘high power’ blast might take your entire round, while a ‘full power’ blast might not be possible in normal combat since it requires too much concentration and build up. This is consistent with the LSH canon, since the high end power uses are often only in space combat against enemy warships.

Third, the V&V rules already have a reliable set of ‘absolutes’ in the form of the defense table. If I state that the only modifier applied after the table is Experience modification then a decent number of defenses become near absolutes – only more experienced opponents have a chance of getting in a ‘lucky shot’ through a defense like Non-Corporeality or Adaptation.  Since most characters have a single ‘power’ these defensive absolutes shouldn’t over-power them.

Finally, I can simply state de-facto that any Power, Device, Item or Magic/Psionic derived ability has maximal or near maximal effect. No need for die rolls. If you really want a die roll replace the 3d10 with 1d4+26 for heightened stats. Skills are still rolled, but the player should have a lot of flexibility for secondary effects to make the Skill really potent without it becoming Super-Human (Miss Chrysalis, for example, is an avid weightlifter and endurance runner. Her single Heightened Strength A gives her a +9 Strength and +9 Endurance).

That said, I think the only modifications I’ll need (other than the default maximal power and 'all modifiers save experience before table) are as follows:

1: All Initial PCs have the same power set (Mutant Power of Low Entropy Body Giving +9 Strength and +18 Endurance, Heightened Strength B +27, Invulnerability 27 pts, Flight, Life Support Body Power, Special Requirement that powers only work in 31st century entropy levels) with one additional player defined physical power.

3. Later PCs have 1d4+2, not 1d6+2, power rolls; Devices and Items should be rare and secondary, all PCs must have a primary ‘super-power’. All rolled Powers, Items and Devices are set at maximum or near maximum rather than rolling; Heightened attributes via skills should give appx 15 points worth of benefit, with 2/3rds going to one attribute and 1/3rd going to another to keep the hero essentially ‘human’ in scope.

4. Similar to Inventing % being Intelligence x3, characters have Feat  % (Strength x3), a Resistance % (Endurance x3), Acrobatics % (Agility x3) and Influence % (Charisma x3) as a ‘mid-range’ saving throw. GMs use these for truly complex tests against Backgrounds, while moderate tests are done at d20. Outside their Backgrounds moderate tests are done at the x3 numbers and complex tests are done on d% vs. the attribute.

5. Like Inventing Points, characters have Level-increased Points for Charisma (Contact Points, used to create one use or long term contacts in play), Endurance (Resistance Points, used in place of the % save vs. Power Score to avoid death in the current rules) and Evasion Points (Spent to eliminate one single source of damage, a ‘get the hell out of the way’ roll). All of these points require an appropriate save and are single use.

6. In lieu of all other actions in combat characters can make a Feat % to add another Strength Multiple to their carrying capacity. Our Superboy Analogue PC with a 50 Strength would go from lifting appx 60 times their weight to appx 300 times, or 7 tons to 34. Basic goes from 2d10 to 5d10. This costs 5 Power Points. This takes all actions and goes on Initiative 1 at the end of the round.

7. Outside of combat characters can make a D% save vs. Strength to add two more Strength multiples to their carrying capacity. Our Superboy analogue is now lifting 7,500 times his weight, or 800 tons. Basic HTH, which would only be allowed against huge, relatively slow moving bodies, would be 9d10. This costs 10 power points. This is isn’t truly Superboy class, but I think it is good enough.

8. Rules 6 and 7 apply to powers as well, with Endurance subbing for Strength for physical powers and Charisma for mental ones. Damages are Increased based on the original powers damage:
D8 normal normally becomes d8 when ‘pushed’ and d12 with ‘extreme effort’
D10 normal normally becomes d12 when ‘pushed’ and 2d10 with ‘extreme effort’
D12 normal normally becomes 2d8 when ‘pushed’ and 5d10 with ‘extreme effort’
2d8 normal normally becomes 3d10 when ‘pushed’ and 6d10 with ‘extreme effort’
D20 normal normally becomes 4d10 when ‘pushed’ and 8d10 with ‘extreme effort’

So we have a Lightning Powers hero who normally does 2d8 damage at PR 4. If he waits until the very end of the round he can spend 9 PR to make a 3d10 attack. Outside of combat he can cut loose with a massive 6d10 lightning bolt for PR 14. At that level he can reliably obliterate 6 cubic feet of granite and displace another 60 cubic feet of it with a single shot, and probably make three shots before he has to rest. That sounds about right to what we see in some of the Legion stories and doesn’t have a huge impact on combat.

9. Rather than changing weight for body transformation powers, each level of the Growth table
a) increases your carrying capacity by the weight factor
b) divides any incoming damage by the height factor, so if you’re at x1.5 height a 9 damage energy blast would do 6 damage; If you’re at 6 times height is does 1.5 rounded down to 1, and
C) your height modifier is added to your Initiative Interval  so at 1x height you act every 15 phases, at 1.5 it’s every 16, and at 7 times height it’s every 22 phases.
Other weight increasing powers can benchmark against the growth chart. The character becomes strong, hard to hurt and slow without recalculating everything.

10. Charisma is no longer a measure of how Good or Evil you are, it’s just how charismatic you are and the ‘same side’ bonuses apply to all.

11. Replace the existing experience point award formula with the following (awarded to each participating PC, not divided):
Resolve easy threat/emergency: 100
Resolve challenging threat/emergency: 250
Resolve threat/emergency equal to PCs power: 500
Resolve threat/emergency that appears greater than PCs’ power: 750
Resolve threat/emergency that appears well beyond the PCs’ power: 1000
Start Personal subplot: 50
Advance Personal Subplot: 100
Resolve Personal Subplot: 250
It is my intent that a player playing the same character each session will reach 4th level after session 9.

There, that ought to do it. It’s probably more modification than what I need, but I like the idea of extending Inventing Percentage/Points to the other stats for impressive feats for this campaign.

Now that we’re done with the rules mods, a couple of other game things: all centurions get a flight belt that lets them fly at 40 mph on a planet or 400 mph in space and a special uniform that allows them to survive in space for 1 day (but provides no defense types). These are both inventions of Demon Boy and give the team extra versatility and me and GM relief from worrying about travel speeds or outer space.