Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Does System Matter part IV: Marvel Super Heroes

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 now exists in Silver Age Sentinels, HERO and, as of Today,Collapse )
Marvel Super Heroes.

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.

Dr. Z
Fighting: Good (10)
Agility: Good (10)
Strength: Typical (6)
Endurance: Good (10)
Reason: Amazing (50)
Intuition: Excellent (20)
Psyche: Remarkable (30)

Health: 36
Karma: 100
Resources: Incredible (40)
Popularity: 50

Force Fields: Zach can project force fields of Amazing (50) intensity over 1 area, reduced by -1 CS for each extra area it encompasses. These fields are invisible and provide equal protection against physical and energy attacks. Any attack that exceeds the field’s intensity does no damage to those inside, instead causing the field to collapse and forcing Dr. Z to make a Psyche test against the attack’s intensity or fall unconscious. Any attack that exactly equals the field’s intensity forces as a similar Psyche test to avoid Zach being stunned for 1 round and the field losing 1 rank of Intensity during that time. The field drops if Zach is incapacitated.

Zach has mastered the power stunt of using his force field to exert force on objects, mirroring telekinesis. He can create freestanding fields which lift with Good intensity. If he braces the field against the ground or other solid object they are equivalent to Incredible intensity Telekinesis for lifting and general pressure, but their range is limited to two areas and he can’t strike with them. Zach cannot perform fine manipulation with these fields, nor can he lift objects and use them as weapons. He can. However, just hit people with a freestanding field for Good damage, or push them along with Incredible strength.

Zach has experimented with using ‘explosive’ force fields – ones that expand with great rapidity, hurling things with Remarkable force. He has used this as an uncontrolled form of super-leaping by ‘exploding’ a force field under himself, hurling a heavy weight a considerable distance and temporarily dispersing a creature with a sand-based body. He has also theorized that this could be used to rapidly create a partial vacuum around a target, but has not done so yet. Finally, he has single instances of using his force fields to give him Amazing intensity parabolic hearing and Excellent intensity sound generation by “megaphoning” his voice.

Zach is an expert in Physics, Computers and Electronics, and a world class inventor (Engineering talent). He also knows Martial Arts D (spend 2 rounds watching opponent to ignore their Body Armor for Slam and Stun effects).

Dr. Z is the leader of the Liberty League and is on excellent terms with the New Philadelphia government. He also has connections with Audrey and Rowan Norris of Norris Industries (a terraforming form) and the Liberty Station orbital science community. His college roommate grew up to be the costumed adventurer Gaslight (Zach designed his energy and gas weapons) and the two are on excellent terms.

OK, another system down. So how well did he translate?
This one was another smooth fit. No surprise, given that the character was based on two characters from the Marvel universe. Stat wise it was a coin toss as to whether both Zach’s Strength and Endurance should be Good or Typical, so I split the difference, pegging the Strength to the relative carrying capacities. The resources and popularity were simply pegged at the same level as Reed Richards as well. The relative rules for inventions are similar to those in V&V – that is to say “If you have intelligence and time, you can try it” – though MSH uses more complicated rules for resources and feat intensity rather than the one use resource of Invention Points. Still, it lets us cover all of his gadgets, vehicles and the teams based with his Amazing reason, some talents and Incredible resources.

The high trust/low granularity of the system makes translations easy – I just write down what the character should be able to do and the mechanics wrap around it easily enough. I have another big advantage in how V&V’s force field rules are so clearly based on Invisible Woman’s powers, which are also the basis for the MSH force fields. The fields are tougher here than they would be in V&V because there is no feedback for anything other than near-penetrations – Marvel just doesn’t have that sort of a resource mechanic, and it would be crazy to have him roll to resist stun every time the field gets hit by an Excellent or better attack. If I really wanted he could lose 1 point of Health per attack repulsed, but that’s not really idea. MSH is the originator of the concept of Power Stunts, so any concerns about the system not letting me be creative (other than the very high 100 point Karma cost per power stunt attempt) are laid to rest. This is the first of the game systems where as a player I have control over the dice outcomes (I could have bought Divine Relationship in SAS, but didn’t bother), and Zach’s high mental and spiritual stats give him an unexpected edge there.

Another advantage is that V&V and Marvel occupy much the same power level (other than V&V’s lower carrying capacities for super-strong heroes). Tomorrow I expect that DC heroes will have problems with Zach being too weak in comparison to the system, and someone like Green Lantern or Wonder Woman would make MSH curl up and play dead. 

With another high fidelity map over, how will this play? I suspect very well. The powers work nicely, the system encourages creativity and there’s little to no concern with real world weapon damage benchmarks to make me worry about the force field strength. Zach still can’t do a lot of damage, but MSH isn’t constructed around combat the way that HERO was (with its rigorous application of attacks against defense) so it’s not as much of an issue. The character was always meant as a versatile high defense, low offence scientist, and that’s what we’ve got. Cambias made a comment off line yesterday that some systems exert their own gravitational pull, trying to mold character design into certain specific shapes. I suspect that MHS does that as much as HERO does, but that Zach already fits into some of MSH’s standard molds so it feels right. 

Inventing was a potential problem in HERO and there’s a neat comparison here. MSH provides very clear guidelines for inventions, so Dr. Z will be able to automatically do certain things but have a poor chance for wild and wacky breakthroughs. V&V lacks any sort of system on this, while SAS and HERO both fall back on point cost for things. In Marvel building a dimensional portal is damn hard and written up as such, while in SAS Dimension Hop is a cheap power but the GM could apply a -10 penalty to Zach’s roll to build a dimension hop device. Or a -1. Or a +5. Whatever he wants. Dimensional Travel is a more expensive power in HERO, but the issue is still the same, and with a 50 point Gadget Pool Zach could easily afford to build one, and the difficulty of the roll is capped at -5 (1/10 the points in the Gadget Pool), with bonuses for extra time – the GM can’t even move to hose him with a high die penalty! Those 50 points are mine and I’ll spend them how I see fit! In any event, it’s interesting to see where the trust issues lie in the games and that MSH, for all its high trust, removes Inventing power from both the GM and the Player and puts it in the system.