Monday, December 7, 2015

Does System Matter part III: Hero

On Tuesday 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, and uesterday he was translated into Silver Age Sentinels. Today, with the aid of the redoubtable Cambias, we look at him in HERO 

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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Notes from Cambias: Okay, Brian: Here's Doctor Z in Hero System. Since I don't have a copy of V&V, I had to kind of guess about some of his attribute levels, but I tried to keep him relatively normal-human in characteristics. The force field powers were a bit of a problem, because the strength level you cited (400 lbs) is much less potent than the "invulnerable" description for the defenses. I tried to strike a middle ground with a Multipower. [BR: I have also alternately included an Element Control] He has a Gadget Pool for handy devices, and the two bits of signature wear (the uniform and super-PDA) aren't in it. He comes out as a "Very High Powered" character. Scaling back his force powers or reducing the value of the group's Base might squeeze him down to "merely" High Powered.

Doctor Z (HERO version)

STR 13 (3 pts)
DEX 17 (21 pts)
CON 13 (6 pts)
BODY 11 (2 pts)
INT 23 (16 pts*)
EGO 14 (8 pts)
PRE 20 (10 pts)
COM 12 (1 pts)
PD 5 (2 pts)
ED 5 (2 pts)
SPD 4 (13 pts)
REC 6 (0 pts)
END 26 (0 pts)
STUN 23 (0 pts)
(attribute cost: 95 pts)

Skills:
Combat Levels: +2 with Force Fields [tight group] 6 pts
Computer Programming 14- (3 pts)
Deduction 14- (3 pts)
Electronics 14- (3 pts)
Inventor 14- (3 pts)
Mechanics 14- (3 pts)
Power – Force Fields: 14- (3 pts)
Science: Physics 14- (2 pts)
Science: Robotics 14- (2 pts)
Science: Biology 14- (2 pts)
Science: Chemistry 14- (2 pts)
Science: Geology 14- (2 pts)
Science: Astronomy 14- (2 pts)
Skill Levels: +2 INT skills (10 pts)
Skill Enhancer – Scientist (3 pts)
Systems Operation: 14- (3 pts)
Transport Familiarity: SF Vehicles (2 pts)
Weaponsmith – energy & chemical 14- (3 pts)
(skill cost: 57 pts)

Perks and Talents:
Base (a one-fifth share of a 500-point base) (20)
Lightning Calculator (3 points)
Money (Wealthy) (6 pts)
Reputation: Heroic Scientist/Adventurer, Worldwide 14- (3 pts)
Speed Reading (4 points)
(perks & talents cost: 36 pts)

Powers:
Endurance Reserve: 170 Endurance, 20 Recovery, Personal Recovery -1/2, fuels Force Field powers. (30 pts)
Element Control – Force Fields: 41 point EC (41) [total cost is 168]
* Force Field: 22 PD, 22 ED, extends to what he’s carrying (10 pts adder), invisible to sight group (+1/2) 82 AP(41 pts)
* Force Wall: 9 PD, 9 ED, +5” length, invisible to sight group (+1/2) 82 AP (41 pts)
* Telekinesis: 38 STR, invisible to sight group (+1/2) 82 AP (41 pts)
OR
Multipower: 108 point pool (108 pts) [total cost is 168]
* Force Field: 30 PD, 30 ED, extends to what he’s carrying (10 pt adder); Invisible to sight group (+1/2) 105 AP (21 pts)
* Force Wall: 12 PD, 12 ED, +5” Length, invisible to sight group (+1/2) 105 AP (21 pts)
* Telekinesis: 40 STR, invisible to sight group (+1/2), 90 AP (18 pts)

Variable Power Pool: Force Fields (can only have force field related powers, -1/2); 15 point force field pool, 5 point control cost (20 pts)
Detect: Power Functionality (5 pt class), Discriminatory, Ranged, Powers must be visibly in use (-1) (7 pts)

Scanner: combines High Range Radio Perception, Infrared Perception, Ultrasonic Perception, and Ultraviolet Perception; all with the Analyze modifier (Obvious Accessible Focus: Scanner) (22 pts)
Uniform: Armor 2 PD 2 ED, plus Safe Environment (extreme cold) (Obvious Inaccessible Focus: Uniform) (5 pts)
Variable Power Pool: Gadgets (can only be changed at the lab, OIF Gadgets); 50-point gadget pool, 10 point control cost (60 points)

(powers cost: 312 points)

Disadvantages:
DNPC: Norris Family: Normal w/ useful skills, group of 2, 8- (-10 pts)
DNPC: Scientists on Liberty Station: Normal w/ useful skills, group of 8, 8- (-20 pts)
Distinctive Feature: Uniform (easily concealable, always noticed) (-10 pts)
Hunted: Various evil geniuses, as powerful, 8-, Public ID (-15 pts)
Normal Characteristic Maxima (-20 pts)
Psychological Limitation: Code vs. Killing (-20 pts)
Psychological Limitation: Loves Silver Dragon (-15)
Psychological Limitation: Patriotic Martian-American (-10 pts)
Psychological Limitation: Scientific Curiosity (-5 pts)
Psychological Limitation: Altruistic do-gooder (-10 pts)
Social Limitation: Public Identity (-20 pts)
Susceptibility: takes 1d6 stun whenever Force Wall breached (-5 pts)

(disadvantages: -150)
(Experience: 15)
Total cost: (93+60+35+312=500; 350+135+15=500)

Now we start to see some of the problems in translation. Here are some changes of note
Dr. Z’s stats are close to what they should be. His INT is a little weak, but the advantage of being able to buy Normal Characteristic Maxima as a disadvantage made the decision to cap it at 23, as I needed the points. In HERO 3E I would have gamed the system more and given him a level of Age, which would bump up his INT max to a 25 and given me 5 more disad points, but 5E makes it clear that Age also carries a general infirmity, which I didn’t want for the character. Ideally I’d have his INT at a 33 – already the system is modifying how the character appears, if not how he plays.

While the stats reflect how Zach looked in V&V and SAS, they are very, very poor stats for a super hero in HERO. His comparatively low DEX works out to a Combat Value of 6, and will hurt him in fights. His 4 speed isn’t a boon either. Both fit the mold of “heroic scientist with a force field power” but in HERO it makes him as fast and agile as a Brick (in the supers gaming sense).

His skills list is much more detailed than it is in either of the other two systems. Two Skill Levels with all INT Skills gets him functionally to where he should be INT wise, with a 90 to 98% chance in his INT based skills. I’m always uncomfortable with these sorts of systems because I can never be sure what the GM will interpret as being needed. I added several skills that Cambias hadn’t included (Transport Familiarity with SF vehicles, Systems Operations, Weaponsmith) because the character should logically be able to do them even if they aren’t key. There are no social skills on the list however, so based on how often the dice come into social interaction Dr. Z could be seriously reduced from his 20 Charisma/11 Soul, even with a 20 Presence. I debated back and forth about adding languages – Zach should be able to speak Mandarin and Cantonese, given that China is the other major power on Mars, and it would just be assumed when it came up in either of the previous two systems, but I was already having serious point issues. Likewise on Area Knowledge – Mars, or Business Management skills.

The Perks and Talents system translated cleanly enough. Cambias added Speed Reader and Lightning Calculator, which are spot on but another point drain that would be handwaved in the previous systems. Money and Reputation ( I do like the 5E Reputation rules – quick and clean) translated over easily, and I wasn’t going to do any calculating on the teams base and vehicles – the 20 point expenditure is good enough to capture it for now.

On to powers. Oh dear God the PAIN!
Cambias had suggested Find Weakness, but that didn’t quite fit how Dr. Z’s weakness detection worked in V&V, so I cobbled together a special Detect w/ Discriminate to indicate his near superhuman ability to figure out what someone’s powers are. He’d need his scanner to really analyze it, but this, plus his high Deduction skill, puts him in position to decipher and trump his opponent’s powers. This is very much something that would have to be run past the GM

His Gadget pool looks incredibly powerful once you put some numbers around it, and his scanner costs a lot more than I thought it would. I would really like to add his Personal Environment Generator as a permanent part of his gear, but for now it can stay as something he routinely makes with his Gadget pool. I have never played HERO with this sort of a pool, so I don’t know how hard this is to manage in play, or if it really is as powerful as it looks.

Of course, not having used a VPP before didn’t stop be from buying two of them! The second is a quickie 15 point pool for Force Field powers that he can with a Power roll and an action. It’s not much, but it does a good enough job capturing the versatility of his force field. Another difficulty I have with HERO is how the same power can be statted out in so many different ways – hence doing his Force Field as both a Multipower and an Element Control. Neither quite captures how I see Force Fields working. In the EC isn’t not strong enough, in the Multipower Dr. Z’s powers are hindered by splitting his concentration, not by having a limited amount of time per round.

TK covers his ability to lift and move things, but it lacks the specificity of the previous systems in dividing things between moving things unsupported and lifting them with a braced force field. Here, the TK is TK, and I can’t come up with a non-clunky way of making it different.

The damage mechanic is also a problem for the Force Field. In the Element Control version most supers attacks in the game will penetrate his Force Wall; they have less of a chance in with the Multipower version, assuming he pumps the power up to its maximum level. In either case, plentiful conventional firearms can breach it with a good roll. I know this is true in V&V as well, but there the guns do less damage, and the caliber doesn’t matter. Here, scaling up of weapons matters and they can do a lot. There is a standard Force Wall limitation for Feedback, but it’s insanely prohibitive against Dr. Z’s Stun score. Hence, the addition of his Susceptibility for a less deadly alternative.

His personal Force Field is highly effective at stopping Body, but not Stun. I’d love it if the GM let me have any damage that got through the stun be “mental feedback” that would be invisible to the attacker, letting him maintain the aura of invulnerability, but I’m not sure if that sort of character handwave would need to be statted out as a new power with a higher point cost. Still, in the Element Control version he can ignore the first 29 Stun from any attack. Of course, this still means that he’d take an average of 6 points per 10d6 attack, dropping him in 4 shots – unless he also as his Force Wall in the way. I’m not sure if I’d be better served without the Force Field and just even more points in Force Wall.

As with Skills, the Disadvantage list is much more detailed than previously. His love for Silver Dragon and Fame are there, as is the “He’s just a normal human” disad that was covered with Less Capable in SAS. After that I had to nail down yet more parts of his psyche on paper to justify point totals, and then add some of the supporting cast as DNPCs. Finally, we add the Hunted by Various Evil Geniuses. Not that it came up in play, but it’s a very Reed Richards/Dr. Quest sort of thing that works for Zach in both his powered and non-powered existence. I don’t need to name or define them, there’s just a bunch of other people gunning for the Smartest Man on Mars title who keep taking aim at Zach. He doesn’t have anyone who rises to the level of Dr. Doom, but this certainly covers The Wizard, the Red Ghost and their ilk. 

Having seen him map over with some hits to his Fidelity, how would it work in play? 

I don’t have a ton of experience with HERO, but I’d have to say “Poorly”. The character costs in at 500 points, which is somewhere between High Powered and Very High Powered, but he doesn’t break out in any of the conventional fashions for those power levels. His Stun score is lousy. His Speed Score is the same as a Brick or a Mook in a game where Speed is a big determining factor in combat effectiveness. His damage Potential is too low to hurt anyone he can hit, and his OCV is too low to hit anyone he can hurt. I might be under-emphasizing the strength of the Gadget pool here in making 50 Active Point weapons against a target’s weak spots, but that’s hard to say. In either event, the Gadget Pool and the Force Field Pool would both take more math than I’d like to have to do in play. 

Damage Delivery in HERO is very different than the other two games: it has a higher potential lethality and relies more on whittling an opponent down. The Force Field power is meant to slow the whittling, but not to stop it all together. That makes the iconic “Indestructible Force Field that Dr. Z had in the other two games hard to manage. Ideally Dr. Z would have a PD and ED equal to the number of dice in the average attack, so it would be a rare shot that would breach the wall. But that gets costly in a High Power game – 12/12 at least, for 70 base points, plus the invisibility = 105 points, which breaks the suggested cap of AP for a power. Interestingly the Force Field powers take up about 40% (actually 43%) of his points here as well. 

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EDIT: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Force Field
Having given it some more thought, I think the best structure for the Force Field is as follows
Endurance Reserve: 170 Endurance, 24 Recovery, Personal Recovery -1/2, fuels Force Field powers. (33 pts) Element Control – Force Fields: 31 point EC (31) [total cost is 162]
* Force Field: 16 PD, 16 ED, extends to carried (10 pts adder), invisible to sight group (+1/2) 63 AP (32 pts)
* Force Wall: 11 PD, 11 ED, +5” length, invisible to sight group (+1/2) 98 AP
* Telekinesis: 28 STR, invisible to sight group (+1/2) 63 AP (32 pts)
Variable Power Pool: Force Fields (can only have force field related powers, -1/2); 15 point force field pool, 5 point control cost (20 pts)
Which frees up 3 points. I'd love to have those 3 points go into extra STUN (Only when Force Field is on -1/2). That would be the best way to capture him taking damage that isn't visible damage. I'm not sure how much a system gaming that is, but if it's allowed I'd buy more of it, possibly downgrading the scanner some to do so - make it a 15 point machine that he has to fiddle with to upgrade, making the STUB purchase 10 points wirht for +15 Force Field Stun.

At this level his Force Field will block all possible body from a 2.5d6 killing attack and his Force Wall will completley stop a 45 caliber machine gun. That handles the conventional "indestructibility" aspect of the character. Any attacks that do penetrate the Force Wall will still face 23/18 pts of defense/resistant defense. That should be good enough, even if it doesn't capture the character's original design. 

The Skill list is longer, but it’s also reductive – in the other systems it’s assumed that Dr. Z can do anything that makes reasonable sense for the character. In HERO if it’s not written down he hasn’t got it. I’d really want to see even more on there – conversation, security systems, other sciences, and so on, but that would price things up even more. The biggest problem remains the way Damage is handled, however, 

I’m interested if anyone has any suggestions on improving the fidelity, because the system still leaves me noticing all the things he Can’t do rather than envisioning the ones he can. I also find it interesting that a character who is of "average" power level in the previous two games is on the High to Very High range in HERO. Why is that?