Friday, December 4, 2015

Does System Matter part II: Tri-Stat

Yesterday I started a Thought Experiment in supers games, looking at what changes a character goes through when converted from one system to another. This is meant to test the validity of most supers games claims that you can use the system to build “any” character or run “any” kind of game. The character in question – Dr. Zachary Zevon, the Indestructible Man - started in Villains and Vigilantes. Now let’s see how he looks in Silver Age Sentinels, the supers version of the Tri-Stat system. 

A quick recap: Dr. Z is the Reed Richards analogue in a Fantastic Four style game. His natural abilities include a massive intellect and scientific skill, a powerful presence & sense-of-self, and an ability to analyze his opponents’ fighting style and the scientific basis for their powers. His superhuman ability is an invisible, highly versatile force field. He is renowned as the smartest man on Mars and is a millionaire with access to advanced technology and the Liberty Lair, his team’s base. 

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Dr Z.
Body: 8
Mind: 14
Soul: 11
Attack Combat Value: 11 , attacks per round =1
Defense Combat Value: 9, defenses per round = 1
Health: 95
Energy : 125

Characteristic Attributes:
Combat Techniques (1): Can Judge opponent’s combat skill and health level.
Defense Mastery (2): gains +2 DCV vs. people he has judged w/ Combat Mastery
Features (1): Rugged appearance
Gadgeteer (5): Can build or modify technology at 30 times normal speed.
Gadgets (5): Has 5 major and 10 minor gadgets.
Skill Group – Science (1): +1 on all rolls related to the sciences
Skill Group – Technical (1): +1 on all rolls related to engineering or technology
Wealth (5): access to 50 Million dollars

Power Attributes:
Dynamic Powers (4): Force field effects, area is 10m, range is 100m, Duration is 1 round, can target 1 person or 50 kg where appropriate.
Force Field (7): Blocks 100 points, defense reduced by 20 points each time it’s penetrated. Air Tight, Regenerates 20 points of defense per Defense action spent. Area is 100m, range is 100m.

Famous (-3)
Significant Other (-1) Deirdre/Silver Dragon
Less Capable (-1) Body counts as 5 for Strength purposes
Less Capable (-1) Body counts as 5 for Endurance purposes
Reduction (2): Only gains Defense Mastery against those he has judged with his Combat Technique.
Burns Energy (-3) Zach loses 5 Energy points each time his force field is hit.

The translation is, to my eyes, pretty clean. Here are some changes of note

The SAS mechanic of 2d10 vs. your Stat (or stat + skill) all but requires the character to have good stats to succeed in things, even if the GM is giving copious bonuses to rolls (as the default is “how hard is this for the average super-hero to do?”). That 8 Body is a little higher than I’d like given Dr. Z’s V&V stats, but it does match his 15 Agility, so I pegged it there and gave him two levels of the Less Capable defect to lower his Strength and Endurance. The mechanics easily capture his nearly post-human intellect and his impressive charisma and presence. The averaging of all 3 stats for your base Attack Value makes him remarkably combat savvy, but it fits the character well enough.

His health score appears high, but it’s not far off from his 17 HP and 75 Power in V&V – in both cases he can nearly take the highest level attack in the game without falling over (roughly 100 pts for the default characters in SAS, or a 1d20 Power Blast in V&V). SAS has “Energy Points” as an option that mirrors V&V’s Power, so I included it but only applied it to his Force Field. Everything else his has for power cost in V&V is nickel and dime stuff, so there’s actually a speed of play advantage in SAS. His field can take 25 solid hits before Dr. Z is exhausted, which again matches V&V.

SAS is much more detailed when it comes to powers and skills than V&V is, but the attributes map over well. His inventing is neatly encapsulated in the Gadgeteering and Gadgets attribute, and the Wealth attribute handles his money. I added the one level of Features because Dr. Z was envisioned as looking like Rock Hudson, so making him a little handsome made sense. His Weakness Detection is partially captured by his Mind playing into his Attack Value, but since SAS has the Judge Opponent attribute it made sense to pick it up, and then tie the defensive advantage to it. I prefer SAS’s skill groups to its full bore skill system (even if they are less mechanically efficient) so one level in both Science and Technology captures his V&V Backgrounds of Science & Engineering. There isn’t any real way to map his ability to analyze his opponent’s powers to trump them other than trusting the GM to let such things work, since that’s part of the scientist hero paradigm, but I think his stats well reflect that potential.

His power attributes are also easy enough to translate. I’ve always considered Dynamic Powers to be one of SAS’s best features. Three levels of it let Dr. Z have up to six attributes running at level 1 or up to two running at level 3, as long as he can tie them to his Force Fields. That maps well enough to his tricks in V&V – he can mirror Telekinesis at the 100 Kg range, super strength at the 8 KT range, pick up heightened hearing or environment manipulation or knockback based Special Attacks – and best of all it’s not an awkward, math-intensive arrangement.

His actual Force Field is harder to map because SAS relies on damage resistance rather than V&V’s damage avoidance. Looking through the SAS sample characters I saw that the highest damage attacks were around 100 points, so the force field had to block that much. The SAS mechanic has the force field get weaker each time it’s breached, which, if not the same as V&V, is a pretty clever thing. I just gave Zach the option to regenerate it, though it can still get breached multiple times and battered away. The optional Energy Points rule means that Zach can still get whittled down mentally and exhausted by repeated hits to the field, so that aspect carries over as well.

Dr. Z’s non-power defects are just role-playing aspects in V&V, and they’re a minor part of SAS characters so it’s easy to delineate them. Fame is a freebie in V&V and a defect in SAS. Zach is in love with his teammate Deirdre, which is awkward since she’s only 21 and the daughter of some of his best friends (I told you he was the Reed Richards analogue!), but it’s not so secret or damaging that it reaches the level of being a Skeleton in the Closet. I’ve already discussed his Reduction, Less Capable and Burns Energy defects.

All of this works out to costing 175 points, which according to the rulebook is the boundary point between an average and high powered game. That feels about right for the League’s adventures. I particularly like the clarity in SAS and V&V both where you can strip away Dr. Z’s Powers and see that he is still a formidable adventurer, which was exactly the way I picture him – in SAS he stats out to 102 points that way, or just inside the range of a Lower Powered game. As an note for other point systems, Dr Z’s Force Field powers take up 40% of his available points. 

Having seen how the character can map over with a minimal loss of fidelity, how would it work in play? 

Having run SAS at this power level before, I think it would work pretty well. Dr. Z would be more potent in SAS, but not overwhelmingly so. He would be much more able to ignore or eliminate lesser opposition, since there would be no chance of them penetrating his field the way there is in V&V, but he could still be overwhelmed by masses of opponents. The problem would be an opponent who is meant to be a threat but who can’t reach that 100 point damage threshold – Dr. Z could almost certainly ignore any attempt to do direct damage, turning what was on a paper a credible villain into a minor nuisance or someone whose main threat would be collateral damage on others, which could get dark quickly. Those who can penetrate the 100 point threshold will be major threats, but Dr. Z can likely take 1-3 such hits before being taken out – assuming the GM isn’t using SAS’s busted critical hit system. (But that’s a rant for another time.) He can also deliver more damage in SAS than in V&V, though that can be hard to capture given the differences in how the systems handle damage. 

Depending on the GM, his Dynamic Powers would require more rulebook references than this Force Fields in V&V, but not so much as to be a serious drag on play. On the plus side, the existence of actual mechanics for his force fields versatility puts more control in my hands as a player in case there’s some trust issue with the GM. I generally don’t play with GMs with whom I have trust issues, but everyone might not be as lucky. 

Tomorrow I’ll go easy on myself and map him into the old Marvel Super Heroes rules, and then tackle the nightmare that is DC Heroes.