Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Supers Thought Experiment - Does System Matter?

This is a re-posting of a 2008 experiment I ran on my Facebook page

One aspect of the supers RPG market that I've been commenting on for a while is that there is a dearth of "focused" games, unlike the fantasy market. Fantasy gamers know that D&D is going to offer a very different experience than Runequest, which is in turn different from Warhammer, and that one shouldn't use D&D to capture the feel and tone of Warhammer, and vice versa. No comments on which is a mechanically superior system, as they are aiming for very different things. 

In contrast, until recently the Supers market has been dominated by systems that claim to do all sorts of Supers equally well - they can handle Heroes for Hire and the Avengers, Dark Knight style Batman and the Justice League, Tom Strong and the Authority all with equal ease. In my experience, this is hogwash, and while I have played enough supers systems that I could say that I know for sure, I want to do a little experiment: taking a single character from a finished campaign and seeing how he looks in every major system I can. How do the mechanics of the system shape the character, what he can do and how he might be played. I am hopeful that some of the other supers gurus reading this - whswhs wrote GURPS Supers, Chadu wrote Truth and Justice, mnemex was a playtester for Marvel Diceless, Cambias wrote for Hero, and whoever else has a preferred system - might take their hand at translating the character to their preferred system, but if not I'll go it alone. 

The character is Dr. Zachary Zevon, the Indestructible Man, the Smartest Man on Mars, from Dan Harvey's defunct Liberty League PBEM. Dr. Z is the leader and Reed Richards analogue of a team of adventurers and explorers who gained their powers over kinetic energy via a failed attempt to recreate the Philadelphia Experiment (the offshoot technology of which was what made Martian colonization after WWII possible - the game took place in New Philadelphia on Mars). His particular power is projecting invisible force fields, which he uses to give the world the false impression that he is personally invulnerable and superhumanly strong. His force fields are highly versatile, and he also has an array of personal inventions that he carries with him on missions.

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Level 4

1) Heightened Intelligence A: +17

Irradiated by IF energies when an attempt to replicate the teleportational effects of the Philadelphia Experiment, Dr. Zevon, the smartest man on mars, gained his power of indestructible force fields.
2) Heightened Charisma A: +11
3) Weakness Detection. 1 action, 170' range, learns target weakness scientific basis for powers and combat style (gaining +4 to hit and -4 to be hit by that target).
4) Force Fields (Modified): Zevon can generate invisible fields of nigh-indestructible force. These attack as Force Field, with a Power Requirement of 1 per blast, 0 to catch, 1/2 impact damage repelled or all impact damage that penetrates. Zevon's fields can lift things and exert force -- an attack or free-standing field has capacity of CxLvlx5, while a field braces on the ground can support ten times as much. His current field strength is 400lb, with a blast damage of 1d6. This has a range of 130'. Each Force Field takes 1 action per turn to maintain, and as a defense it reduces the base chance for most physical attack types to a 0.
Weight: 180 Basic Hits: 4 Agility Mod: 0
Strength: 12 Endurance: 13
Agility: 15 Intelligence: 35
Charisma:20 React. Mod.: 3
Hit Mod. 1.2 1.4 1.8 1.3 = 4.14 Hit Points: 17
Dmg. Mod.: 5 Healing Rate: 1.2
Accuracy: 2 Power: 75
Carrying Capacity: 273 Base HTH Damage: 1d6
Movement Rates: 40 " Running (Base)
Det. Hidden: 24% Det. Danger: 28%
Inventing Points: 9 Cash: $ -
Inventing: 105 %
Origin and Background: (Martian/American) Science x2, Engineering
Legal Status: Recognized by New Philly/Mars government & police.
(Sec. Clearance = 0 )
Other Information: Zachary is known as the smartest man on Mars. He's knowledgeable in most fields of science, and an expert in the high energy physics connected with the Philadelphia Experiment and Project Rainbow. This means he's skilled at modifying, designing and building anti-gravity, space drives, high-energy power sources, dimensional sensors, and other aspects of advanced tech. He's also an expert at analyzing powers, their uses and their weaknesses.

One of Zach's more profitable inventions is Energy Fabric - a material with an indeterminate IF charge, making it highly resistant to damage, able to adapt to the IF powers of its wearer and a effective form of insulation. Uniforms made of Energy Fabric give a x2 "roll threshold" for firearms, heat & cold. Obviously, Zach's own uniform (red slacks & shirt, silver gloves, boots & belt, League emblem [silver liberty bell with red dot in its center and two silver ‘moons’ in ‘orbit’ outside of the bell] on breast) is made of this material.
Another significant invention is his design for Artificial Intelligence Emulators: these are not true AI, but incredibly complicated fractal programming techniques that do a good job of simulating it. These serve as processors in the Liberty Lair’s computer systems and as the operating software for Roberto, the Lair’s robotic butler. Otherwise Roberto is a modified Gibson Industries robot. Zach makes quite a bit licensing the AIE to Gibson Industries, but Roberto’s programming is generations more advanced than the commercial versions.
Using the processing power of the linked AIE systems, Dr. Z was able to make limited nanite surgery possible. This is his Nanite Reconstruction Surgical Equipment (NuRSE for short). Those inside one of NuRSE’s chambers regain their healing rate in HP after 5 minutes of confinement, and another in one hour – after that initial burst of closing wounds, setting bones and so on, it acts as general medical supervision, increasing daily healing by x1.75 (1/20th Zach’s INT, as per the V&V rules, p. 27). The system also gives additional chances to resist poison or disease at the 5 minute and 1 hour marks. This bulky prototype is still under wraps in the Lair
The League’s Communicator Systems use cutting edge IF technology, sending messages through parallel dimensions to other communicators. They are not affected by distance or obstacles and can’t be traced or intercepted. They do still suffer from lightspeed limits, but are a step towards Zach’s goal of Ansible technology.
Finally, Zach developed Personal Environment Generators for the League when operating outside the domes or in space. Using a limited gravity attraction force field to hold in atmosphere (and the warmth of that atmosphere) They will provided an unprotected body about 5 minutes worth of uncomfortable life in hard vacuum. For a someone with resistance to environments, a protective spacesuit or just in the standard Martian climate, it provides several hours of warm, clean atmosphere through oxygenation and air scrubbing, but no combat defenses.
These represent his five spent inventing points. Everything else is just tinkering existing gear.
As mentioned, Roberto is a modified Gibson Industries robot. Gibson industries is an Earth firm, once owned by Americans but heavily invested in by an unnamed Japanese company located in Chiba. Roberto’s 1-4 were purchased before this near-takeover, and Zach has double checked them for security purposes before uploading his more advanced software. Roberto’s higher AIE’s make him much more lifelike than others of the type, and at Jack’s instance Zach gave the robot a more human appearance to go along with his more human attitudes – he followed Jack’s direction on the robot’s appearance, who now bears a striking resemblance to the Earth actor Cheech Marin. Jack would change this, but the public perceives Roberto as a human employee of the League and would react poorly to Zach modifying him now. (Roberto is treated as an “Android” in V&V rules, with a body power of interfacing with the League’s comm system, an 80% human appearance and an Endurance of 25. He has no special combat abilities, but is treated as 2nd level through experience. This is far superior to the average GI robot, but only through the introduction of Zach’s AIEs. It is possible that people with more skill at facial molding could get a higher % human when combined with the AIEs.)
Zach also carries a StrattonTech Scanner, a common enough device in labs, with a design made popular by the Star Trek TV show. It is about the size of a hardcover book, and looks much like The Book from the Hithchikers Guide TV shows, but with a larger screen. The Earth versions act as PDAs, cellular phones, wireless computer-links and a small holographic display potential. Martian Versions add air quality testers and sensors to pick up the strength of the local gravity field for people going outside the domes. Scientific versions add in scanners for electromagnetic radiation scanners for work in physics labs. Zach’s is a top of the line Martian Scientific version upgraded with his faster AIEs and linked via his extra-dimensional communicator tech to the League’s computers (which lets it act as an emergency remote control for their vehicles). This is often his first line of attack with any scientific problem, but the machine is limited even with his advancements.
Zach’s toolkit is an impressive device -- actually it’s three toolkits, each small enough to fit into a pocket, and combining in a variety of ways to give him any conventional tool he may need. These are not uncommon on Mars, and heck for enough money Sharper Image will sell them. Zach’s is the best available, provided for free by the company -- a sort of celebrity endorsement. Just having him be seen to use it is a big boost

As you can see, Dr. Z has 4 Powers, 3 of which are the less potent "skills" in V&V - out of a possible 7 + weakness. V&V offers a sizable range of power levels inside a single team, and a lot of variation in how those powers interact and what the player can do with them. His "inventions" are all an expenditure of the games "Inventing Points", which are one use resources that increase each level. His fame and fortune are just player decision with GM agreement, as the game doesn’t have mechanics for those. He is, in many ways, a pretty standard V&V player character when it comes to power level.

V&V can, in play, be either highly fluid or very rigid when it comes to how a hero’s powers work. Dan was a fluid GM, letting me use the force fields to mirror super-breath by pushing people away, heightened hearing by setting up large resonating membranes, explosive strength by sliding force fields into cracks and expanding them and a super-loud voice with an invisible megaphone. Few of these are listed in the power description, but the write up for Force Field gives the player a lot of leeway in the creation and manipulation of force field shapes. The mechanics of the V&V Defense system mean that Dr. Z was reliable invulnerable to physical assault, though it would tire him out if his field was repeatedly hit. Most of the threat came not from the amount of damage in the attack but the small chance that any one attack would score a "hit" and therefore do damage past his defenses.