Friday, July 31, 2015

Villains & Vigilantes +What If 1963 Part 7

Magnetic Powers, and Telekinesis: Duststorm

OK, now we have the last one. There are two other characters in the campaign but one of them – Specter, with his combination of non-corporeality, death touch and heightened intelligence – is pretty simple to model and the other – Dark Angel with massive Darkforce manipulation – means tackling the Illusions B rules which I’m really not up for. So lets take a look at the two ‘move things without touching them’ powers.

Magnetic Powers:

Magnetism has always been odd in comics in that effects all metal. If this were true more people in sleek modern kitchens could hang kids artwork on their refrigerators but it’s the comics so there you go. In any event Magnetic Powers is the ‘stronger’ of the two distance manipulation powers given the higher weight multiple, but nicely balanced with the high power cost. It’s one of my favorite powers to play with (as evidenced by Union earlier, who invented his way into it) in the balance of versatility, attack and defense. In its framework we also see how to work other distance manipulation powers – if the character can move or manipulate any limited class of item Magnetic Powers is the way to go.

In my games I’ve used it for earth control, ice animation and water control and in all of these cases the mechanic of 50*S*level worked pretty well. OK the defense type is a little too tailored to electromagnetism, clearly being a force field of some sort, but that’s a trivial issue that you really only need to worry about if you’re a fanatic. And I was a fanatic in my youth but who has time for that any more? One thing that did become common was the defense could be traded out for something like ice armor, where movement could be spent to encase the character in their controlled element to give them ADR. With ice animation this was sort of redundant but that’s why it’s a smooth fix.

One can argue that the curve starts out too slow, but 500 lbs at 1st level is an okish damage and by 4th you’re moving a ton. The bigger problem is the velocity calculation – that goes up too fast. It was way more effective for my classic magnetic powers hero to hurl quarters for 1pt wt + 3d0 velocity damage than try to use larger items for 2d8. Yes the larger items might give an accuracy boost but that wasn’t enough to tilt the balance. I think a cleaner system is giving a flat damage based on capacity that is made up with either weight or velicity and a higher base attack for any magnetically controlled object for again a combination of size and speed and the attackers ability to move it in flight. That makes the power much more predictable and scalable with the other abilities.

If you really don’t like the growing power aspect just set capacity at S*200 lbs. That makes ‘normal’ people with S of 10-20 able to control 1d12 to 2d10 basic HTH worth of matter. Can someone layer this with Ht. Strength and get a really high capacity? Yes, but they could do that before. Not worth being a fanatic about it.


This power is very similar to magnetic powers but it starts smaller and has a lot of fiddly bits. Like Weather Control it’s a power that demands the practitioner have good across-the-board stats. This makes the power slower to grow than magnetic powers but the fact that capacity and velocity are separate stops velocity from being so much more useful than using big weapons. By about 3rd level the character is probably doing 1d6 to 1d8 with a telekinetic blast and another 1d4 for velocity. While that’s not a ton it balances out to a 1d12 damage attack when you take both together.

More important for the power is its versatility. Just as Heightened Speed is about what you can do to the environment, Telekinesis is about what you can do with it. Any piece of environmental debris 0 and when you get high enough level stuff that’s not even debris – becomes something you can use to mess with the opposition. The GM should probably let the TK person use a different attack type or just make saves vs. Int to make ‘attacks’ on opponents gear that are not directly damaging. Jamming guns or unloading them, yanking small vehicles out of reach and otherwise screwing with people is the nature of TK. What it should not be used for is breaking or taking away actual Devices or Items without the usual attack roll method. Sure it’s an entirely narrative contrivance but it’s one that works in genre.

The biggest trick that TK characters have is rationalizing that since their opponent weighs 180 lbs and they can lift 55o lbs they just have to lift their opponent in the air and they can’t do anything. And since they can move anything else they pick up they should be able to treat the tk’d opponent like a marionette. This is seriously unfun for game balance and needs to be strongly avoided. Any attempt to pick up an opponent may work, but they can break free by comparing their carry cap to your TK. I don’t care if they’re airborne. I don’t care if they have no traction or leverage. Carry cap vs. TK capacity. Done. And if they have twice your TC capacity in carry cap it doesn’t even take them time to break the hold. Likewise if they can fly compare their flight speed to your velocity – if you don’t beat that, you can’t hold them. If you do manage to hold them they can still act freely from their airborne position – target, aim, fire – unless you actively struggle against them – you have to have at least three times their carry cap to hold them still or have a saved action to mess with them. It’s really had to do because otherwise every fight is Shocker becomes Mr. PiƱata. I have experienced this. Learn from my failures.

Janet “Duststorm” Van Dyne

This worlds Janet van Dyne was a mutant, likely due to the radiation from her father’s scientific researches. Mutant Janet has the ability to manipulate air and earth, but she keeps this hidden from her paramour Hank Pym, which is just as well because What If 1960’s Hank Pym is a violent white supremacist who still builds his shrinking and insect control devices to fight for segregation as the WASP. (I always that was really clever….)

She has both the earth and air modifications for Magnetic Powers and TK, as well as a little cheat in her psionics that boost her raw power and give her the heightened senses that she justified under her air control in Marvel Super Heroes. Duststorm was an interesting character design there because all her versatility was in one power and all her potency was in the other. Plus she’s got no greater superhuman stats, making her a the sort of character that V&V and MSH handle much better than other supers games.

And this closes out the experiment, at least until I can come up with a brilliant way to make Illusions B easier.

Identity: Janet Van Dyne Side: Good
Name: Duststorm Gender: Female
Experience: 5,500 Level: 3 Age: 24
Powers: Training: 1) A; 2) E; 3) I currently I
Magnetic Powers (Modified) - Earth Control: manipulate 4,950 lbs of earth at 33" range for 33 turns PR 5
  1" of movement to coat herself in earth for 1 ADR up to 100 ADR. Each pt of ADR adds 1% of current
   earth capacity to carrying capacity and basic HTH. Fully armored HTH is 2d8. Earth blasts PR 5 2d8
Psionics: S is considered +20 for Earth Control; I is considered +20 for detection due to air control senses
   she hs a functioning 'radar sense' out to 20" due to air contol senses. 
Telekinesis (Modified) - Air Control: can move air with 390 lbs of force (or control 5070 cubic feet of air). 
   Treat the force as telekinetic capacity as long as there is air around. Velocity is 45", range is 42"
   PR 1 per use per turn. Anything she's moving has a free TK based defense due to the wind force. 
   Duststorm uses this to fly herself at appx 10 mph
Weight: 120 Basic Hits: 3 Agility Mod: 2  
Strength: 13 Endurance: 12
Agility: 15 Intelligence: 14
Charisma: 16 React. Mod.: 2
Hit Mod. 2.957 Hit Points: 9
Dmg. Mod.: 1 Healing Rate: 0.9
Accuracy: 2 Power: 54
Carrying Capacity:               173 Base HTH Damage: 1d4
Movement Rates: 40 " Running (Base) 45" flight speed
Det. Hidden: 24 % Det. Danger: 28 %
Inventing Points: 4.2 Cash:   $            -  
Inventing: 42 %  
Origin and Background: (American) Inheritor and Business skills
Legal Status: Member of the Avengers
(Sec. Clearance = 18 )  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Villains & Vigilantes +What If 1963 Part 6

Heightened Speed, Regeneration: Delta V

OK, I lied, but that’s just because I want to round out July on this cleanly before moving on to something else.

Heightened Speed

This is another power that V&V gets mostly right, assuming you’re a fan of Silver Age marvel. The distinction between ground speed and flight speed is very Marvel Comics, but the maximum speed increase of 225 mph is a little low for modeling Quicksilver. Now, while I was all keen with multiple Heightened Strengths being needed to kick into the Thor range you’d need Heightened Speed x4 to match Quicksilvers speed of sound movement, and that would give an initiative bonus of +100 or so, which is too much.

There are a few ways around this. We can extrapolate the rules mods we discussed for Speed Bonus to here, letting the PC add their movement bonus (but not their initiative bonus) again for each 8 power spent per turn. This lets someone who can run at 235 mph normally sprint at Mach 1 for 16 power per turn. That actually sound pretty good for matching Marvel speedsters.

Another solution is borrow the idea of hyper-speed from Flight: that in a non-combat situation the character can move ten times as fast. This would be an assumed part of Ht. Speed, since without it you’re closer to Speed Bonus. But this idea is also sound for building a game with faster speedsters. This means someone with a 235 mph speed can clock in at Mach 3 which, as we saw with Flight, is enough to outrace even really fast bullets. And without the high power increase of the other option the character is more reliably faster. This takes you closer to DC, but honestly nothing in V&V is going to get you up to lightspeed levels of ht. speed.

The initiative boost on a Ht. Speed generally works, unless it’s layered multiple times (which is why I’m leery of advocating doubling up on this power), backed with Ht. Agility or, as we discussed for Ht Agility earlier, in a game where all but one or two PCs have some sort of initiative boost. Going 10 to 30 phases earlier is a huge boost, but is balanced nicely against high agility PCs to model the comics.

What people have to remember about Ht. Speed to really make it work is that it adds to your base movement rate, and that means it increases the amount of general purpose stuff you can do. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS. Seriously, anything that is not a direct attack on someone or something is movement. If you’re a really fast speedster with 900” of movement, and a base initiative of 45. On your first action burn 250” of movement to clear the battlefield of any civilians, and then set up an evasion. On your second action attack someone close to you and then spend 300” of movement into an obstacle course by rearranging what’s in it, building walls, isolating opponents, painting the ground with grease from the nearby auto lube shop, whatever. It’s all good. You still have 2 actions and 35” of movement left.

Try to think about it like this: 30” of movement is what a normal person can do in 15 seconds. Therefore 300” of movement is what a normal person can do in 150 seconds, or 2.5 minutes. Sure, at +300” movement you have a move of 330” and only run 75 miles an hour (a mere 5 times faster than the world record) and don’t even reliably get an extra action per round, but you can do eleven times as much as a normal person each round of combat. And if you have +900” of movement a 15 second round for everyone else is 7 minutes and 45 second to you. That’s what makes Ht. Speed powerful; the initiative bonus is just a sideshow.

Of course if the initiative bonus is a problem in that your PC is acting 2-3 times before any other player moves and they’re getting sick of it another option is rather than making you go first your Ht. Speed can make you go faster. Every 100” of Ht. Speed you reduce your initiative interval by 1? That is to say rather than act every 15 phases you act ever 12? Or 8? The fastest PCs with +1000” movement would act every 5 phases.

Sure it SOUNDS crazy, but look at it like this: a 15 Agility hero has +990” of ht. speed. Assume he rolls a 6 for initiative every turn. In the existing system he acts first on 54, then 39, then 24, then 9, and likely got to act twice before anyone else could move. In the alternate system his initiative interval is 6 and he acts first on 21, then 15, then 9 then 3. It’s still 4 actions but they’re interspersed with the other PCs so the character isn’t hogging the first part of each round. For some groups this makes a lot of sense.

Personally I’m not a fan of layering other powers into Ht. Speed without them being real powers. If you want to hit more often and do more damage you can invent it as a version of Natural Weaponry, or just have rolled the natural weaponry power in. All the wind tunnel and vortex creation and running through walls the Flash does are just Vibratory Powers reskinned very loosely for speed. You should be able to do plenty enough with the movement bonus if played right.


There’s a trick that clever players pulled on me once, saying that rather than having 1 attack type they can’t heal from there are a handful that they regenerate from half as fast. Since Regeneration lets you heal 5,760 times faster than normal this is not a balanced trade! Only healing 2,880 times faster than normal is not really a hardship.

It does, however, make regeneration work more like the comics as off the top of my head I can’t think of any heroes who have one specific thing they can’t heal against. But if you want to take away that limitation, just do it. The average hero’s healing rate is not enough for actions of healing in the fight to make a huge difference. Its actions of healing IN BETWEEN fights where regeneration rules the day.

Mind you, many Regeneration Heroes also have Ht. Endurance, or invent themselves an increased endurance score off of it, but it still takes a lot of endurance for regaining a HP or two in a fight to make a big difference. If you really want to bring regeneration under control have HP come back per minute or at the end of every 4th round with no action. That stops people from losing an action to gain back a very small number of HP, but it also reduces the healing rate to… 1,440 times normal. That’s still a lot, but it means regenerators take 10 minutes to be fresh as a daisy, not 2.

As with invulnerability ask the player how they see their regeneration – do they want to be the one who gets hammered on to prove how tough the bad guy is? Do they want to just never fall down? Is it because they want to stretch things out into longer fights of endurance? These are all valid ways to play the power, but if it’s option 3 they’ll get peeved if you open every fight with knocking out 90% of their HP score to showcase the baddies. No one wants to be Worf.

Curt “Delta V” Conners

A perfectly straightforward character, he’s a scientist and a speedster. He was never played as being a super-inventor so as a result I didn’t give him Ht. Int but a very high natural Intelligence score. He would definitely dominate play if the plot hinged on a medical or biological catastrophe. His origin is pretty straightforward Conners – injected self with regenerative serum to regain his arm – which in this case gave him speed rather than lizard-y ness. The player was aiming for a straight up heightened speed character and he got one.

Villains and Vigilantes 2nd Edition
Identity: Side: Good
Name: Gender: Male
Experience: 9,500 Level: 4 Age: 35
Powers: Training: 1) I; 2) A; 3)A, currently E
Heightened Speed: +900" to ground movement rate, +30 to initiative
Regeneration: heals per turn except vs. chemical damage
Heightened Endurance B: +10
Natural Weaponry: 12 to hit, +1d4 damage from high speed blows
Weight: 170 Basic Hits: 4 Agility Mod: 0  
Strength: 12 Endurance: 23
Agility: 15 Intelligence: 18
Charisma: 12 React. Mod.: 1
Hit Mod. 6.49 Hit Points: 26
Dmg. Mod.: 2 Healing Rate: 2.4
Accuracy: 2 Power: 68
Carrying Capacity:               318 Base HTH Damage: 1d6
Movement Rates: 950 " Running (Base) 216 MPH
Det. Hidden: 14 % Det. Danger: 18 %
Inventing Points: 7.2 Cash:   $            -  
Inventing: 54 %  
Origin and Background: (American) Science & Medicine
Legal Status: Member of the Avengers
(Sec. Clearance = 18 )  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Villains & Vigilantes + What If 1963 part 5

Animal/Plant Powers, Natural Weaponry, Speed Bonus: Malachi

This is the last of the characters run by people who were my close friends, so this is the last one I feel comfortable adapting. Malachi is a classic character type, but also evidence of a way in which V&V’s system can work against itself.

Animal/Plant Powers

Animal Plant Powers is one of those places where the system can work really well, or break horribly. Like Armor B or Transformation A, Animal Powers carries with it additional abilities and potentially additional weaknesses. If this is one of the characters few powers, great; if it’s not the GM and Player need to work together to hash out what the power is and how it works. That there are tables for each animal or plant type helps with clarifying what the power can do, but it becomes too easy to read it as what it must do, and that can lead to really obscenely powerful characters – Animal Powers layered on top of 5 other abilities can be too much. While the GM and Players should always take the advice that straddles pages 4-5 to heart, they should definitely have it in mind as they manage the pitfalls on Animal/Plant Powers.

One reason for this is V&V’s multiplicative nature when it comes to attributes: a high HP mod in one stat is good, but having two heightened stats is much better. Animal/Plant powers can lead to 3 or even 4 heightened stats (as can placing all rolls on the Skills table) and that can lead to a massive amount of Hit Points. If Animal Powers balances this with some reduced stats or other weaknesses, fine, but there’s no guarantee of that.

I don’t advocate any changes to the rules other than the possibility of just chucking the rules out and coming up with 1-6 animal powers that are about equivalent to a Heightened Ability A, just as one would do with Bionics. That will yield the same effect, but likely with better results for your game.

Natural Weaponry

Much of what I said earlier in Heightened Expertise applies here too – in theory Natural Weaponry should provide as much of a bonus as, well, a weapon. However if you want to play a martial artist or claws-carrying badass you don’t want to have to add High Agility to Heightened Expertise to Natural Weaponry in order to get there. It’s easier just to bump up the bonus to get the accuracy where you want it to be (from 10-16 to match other powers) before you hit the defense table. Don’t overcomplicate your life.

The second issue with Natural Weaponry is the flat damage bonus. This is WAY more useful than a comparable weapon – the +6 to damage is the statistical equivalent to +1d10, which no weapon in the game matches. To better simulate having your hands be weapons, make those dice rolls, probably from 1d3 to 1d8, the basic weapons scale. That balances out the much higher accuracy numbers.

Speed Bonus

Poor, sad Speed Bonus. Nobody loves you. Because you suck. On a fundamental level this is the worst power in the game, especially since any heightened physical attribute will duplicate a chunk of its effects. There are a few ways to make this power more useful.

First, increase the bonus to +2d10x10. Let’s make this slightly more useful, shall we?

Second, like Body Power players should realize that the ability to add this to any movement rate means adding it to movement rates they don’t have yet. This is where you get increased swimming speed (should be your S in inches as a base), super climbing speed, air walking, tunneling, walking through walls without necessarily a defense type, and so on. Or it gives a bonus power to your existing movement – you never have to make agility checks when navigating an urban environment ala Daredevil running the rooftops and power cables, you never make noise when moving ala Wesley Dodds in Sandman Mystery Theater – something, anything to make the power more of a power.

Actual comparisons of speed the way we compare strengths are harder, in part because there are inherent endurance issues in real world speed and in part because game mechanics use 3 stats to measure speed. To best measure things I'm using not just sprints but also medium races (1-2 miles), marathons and steeplechases (which is probably the best measure of super-hero combat area speeds).
current human maximums are
Marathon: 13 mph, 57"
Steeplechase: 14 mph, 62"
2 mile: 15 mph, 66"
1 mile: 16 mph, 71"
400m: 20 mph, 88"
100m: 23 mph, 101"
I'm trying to back into Steeplechase record speeds for movement rates since that works best for super-hero combat movement. A ‘normal’ human being has a 30” move, while someone with 20’s S, E and A will approach the Steeplechase number.
I think a better method is that if someone has the Sports Knowledge Area you can give them +10” of combat movement (which, with the now increased Speed Bonus, can’t equal the power). This means scores of 16-18 will get you to the world record in Steeplechase. That works for me.

To expand on the rules, characters can also spend 8 points of power per turn for each extra time they add their Strength to their ground movement rate. Getting to the 101” of the 100m dash from the steeplechase number will take a normal runner 2 or 3 multiples so 16-24 Power spent for that single turn. That captures the fatigue of the shorter races nicely.

Now you add in Speed Bonus and a faster than a normal man but not Heightened Speed level hero can get to two to four times normal human speeds, and without burning a ton of power to do it. That’s a meaningful power. It’s still not great, but no longer as sucky.

Sam “Malachi” Wilson

The What If universe Sam Wilson is a mutant who fills the niche of either Captain America or Beast in the ‘better than any normal human but questionably not superhuman’ category, except he really is superhuman in his limited regeneration and Body Armor powers. That’s in Marvel – I’m skipping those in V&V for being irrelevant, as the combination of heightened stats from his Animal Powers (Human, hey, we’re animals!) gives him an insane number of hit points and really high healing rate. He doesn’t need body armor when he has 142 Hit Points!

Identity: Sam Wilson Side: Good
Name: Malachi Gender: Male
Experience: 5,500 Level: 3 Age: 27
Powers: Training: 1)E; 2)I, working on A
Animal Powers - Human: Ht. Strength +19, Ht. Endurance +11, Ht. Agility +12, Ht. Intelligence +8
 Ht. Senses (double normal detects)
Natural Weaponry Skill: +8 to hit, +1d4 damage unarmed (base unarmed accuracy is 17)
Speed Bonus: +70" ground movement rate, movement in unrban environment requires to Agility checks. 
Prejudice: Malachi is Black in 1963, Prejudice is pretty much a prerequiste. 
Weight: 220 Basic Hits: 5 Agility Mod: 0
Strength: 30 Endurance: 24
Agility: 27 Intelligence: 21
Charisma: 14 React. Mod.: 1
Hit Mod. 28.22 Hit Points: 142
Dmg. Mod.: 5 Healing Rate: 3.5
Accuracy: 5 Power: 102
Carrying Capacity:           1,254 Base HTH Damage: 1d10
Movement Rates: 151 " Running (Base) 34 mph run
Det. Hidden: 32 % Det. Danger: 40 %
Inventing Points: 6.3 Cash:   $            -  
Inventing: 63 %
Origin and Background: American, Legal & Law Enforcement
Legal Status: Member of the Avengers
(Sec. Clearance = 20 )

Friday, July 24, 2015

Villains & Vigilantes +What If 1963 part 4

Heightened Agility, Lightning Control, inventiveness and little powers: Union

Now we get to my PC from this game, and we see how much modification is needed to shift characters from one system to another. I warn you that a lot of Union was built to take advantage of the Marvel Super Heroes rules point buy and how that accommodated a lot of ‘weak’ powers.

Heightened Agility

Agility is one place where the system is, er, potentially bustificated. Not in a ‘if we make this tweak it can model a different power level’ but in a ‘Holy sweet Cthulhu is this potentially overpowered!’ sort of way. The simple truth is that the combination of high Hit Point modifier, accuracy bonus and damage bonus makes a high Agility more useful than any other stat. There are a few ways to ‘fix’ this but any of them will radically change the underlying system and support existing support materials. I’ll run through them, but at the end of the day high Agility is, I think, something the GM is just going to have to monitor on their own. If everyone in the campaign has a high Agility, it’s no problem if the GM is ready for it. If one or two people have it as a core power, again no real issue. If everyone except one or two people have it, it’s a big issue. That’s when you end up with really bored players.

The first, easiest solution is to eliminate the Damage Bonus for Agility. This makes high Intelligence more useful comparatively as there’s no other route to Damage Bonus. Remember that every +1 of Damage Bonus is statistically the same as a die code (+1=1d2, +2=1d3, +3=1d4 and so on) so a high Agility character with a +5 Damage Modifier is the mechanically the same as adding 1d8 to every attack. That’s a ton of bonus, and stripping it out does a lot to bring Ht. Agility in line.

Another possibility is reducing the Hit Point Modifier for Agility, often by swapping it with the Strength modifier. This makes Strength more powerful and Agility less, tilting HP more towards overall toughness than the combination of stats. This works to solve what, back in the day, Daniel Harvey referred to as the Mary Lou Retton Chained To The Wall Problem: why would a high agility give you HP when you can’t move. The answer, of course, is that all Hit points are abstractions, that high agility carries with it some connotation of physical fitness and stop worrying about it.

You can tone down the Accuracy Modifier, setting it equal to the Damage Modifier for Intelligence, or even lower. I do not advocate unless you’re also making the changes I recommend for Heightened Expertise because the Agility modifier is baked in to so many weapon expert and martial artist characters. Besides, with the change as to when the defense table is checked after the bonuses are added the Accuracy Modifier loses some of its punch.

Finally you can change the Initiative Interval - which is currently 15 phases between actions - making it less useful at higher levels of speed. It could be 15 for the first action, then 18, then 20, meaning you need ever higher agility scores to get those 3rd or 4th actions. I’m a fan of changing initiative Intervals for some things like weight gains from Growth or Chemical Power but not for this. It’s too much fussiness for too little reward.

Lightning Control

This one is a pretty classic power that V&V nails. It might be a bit fiddly, with rolls against Intelligence and Agility for controlling things and Endurance for shorting them out, but that just makes the power require a broadly skilled character to really make use of. Now, as a GM I am more than willing to swap out certain things – take away the range on the attacks to add on Flame Powers style flight, eliminate the control to raise the short out percentages – to get the power closer to the player’s ideal state, but those are all minor changes.

In the comics a lot of characters with Lightning Control have some weak Magnetic Powers (or vice versa) so I will also let players swap between those two powers, or justify invention rolls to expand into their counterpart ability a little bit.

Heightened Intelligence A

Getting a boost to Intelligence makes the character slightly more combat capable via Damage Bonus and a little more aware of their surroundings, but the biggest boost comes in Inventing Points and Inventing Percentage. Inventing is where the difference between a 15 and a 25 is worth noting because you now get 2+ inventing points per level and a high enough percent chance to make invention attempts worthwhile. Heightened Intelligence A is what makes Peter Parker, with his mini-camera and spider tracers and spidey-light and spider-mobile and the various other one shot gizmos he whips up.

I have a few usual questions with inventing in play:
First, how much do the knowledge areas play into this? Are they blockers, where you have a reduced chance to invent outside your areas of knowledge or are they adders were you have the normal rules everywhere else and a bonus within your knowledge areas? I prefer the latter – for non-Heightened Intelligence characters the chances are pretty poor to begin with, so a little boost doesn’t hurt. I allow an extra .5 Intelligence multiple to the inventing percent for each Knowledge Area that fits the invention, so if one fits its Ix3.5, if 2 fit it’s Ix4 and so on. That gives an advantage without it being overwhelming.

Second is whether someone can start play with inventions: I say yes. If the player comes you before the first session with one or two things they want to have built that help define their character, go for it. Assuming they have the inventing points to back it up, of course.

Third is what really qualified as 1/4th to 1/3rd as powerful as a regular power? For powers that have multiple aspects, like Lightning Control, I’d allow only one of those per invention. Damages should drop several die codes (from d12 to d8, 2d8 to 1d10) at a minimum. Things that ratchet up by level for Powers should we fixed at first level. These things are helpful add-ons but shouldn’t compete with someone who has this as a primary ability. Stat boosts, if allowed at all, should cap at +3, similar to the bonus to Agility that Wings provides. This is enough to give a legitimate boost in HP and bonuses but not enough to compete with actual Powers.

Finally, I let people Invent new ways to use their powers, stealing the power stunt rules from Marvel Super Heroes, because they’re fun and they work.

Adrian “Union” Toomes

In the What If? Universe Adrian Toomes. Rather than flying off the handle and attacking Gregory Bestman with his flight suit and moving on to a life of crime instead hired young lawyer Matthew Murdock, who re-secured some of his patents and income from the crooked Bestman. This gave Toomes time to perfect his inventions and go on to become a small electronics repair shop owner by day and the leader of the Avengers in this spare time.

He was a heck of a fun character to play. One thing about building him is that the GM turned Marvel Super Heroes into a point system, where we had a fixed number of points to be spent into 5 point intervals. So In addition to the Agility boost that defined the character I pumped up Union Strength, Endurance and Fighting to Excellent levels, gave him a little bit of flight, a little bit of magnetic powers, and generally spread the points around on the theory that being able to fly at slow speed is lands better than not being able to fly at all.

Translating this back into V&V was a problem because V&V focuses the characters on a smaller number of powers. That’s why I played so much with the inventing rules, and shoehorned the flight into the Electrical Powers. In the end it’s a good approximation. 

Identity: Adrian Toomes Side: Good
Name: Union Gender: Male
Experience: 9,500 Level: 4 Age: 63
Powers: Training: 1)A; 2)S; 3)E currently I
Heightened Agility B Device: +26
Lightning Control Device: 22 charges. 1 action to start defense at 1 charge/hour. Attack has 1" range
  from connected metal for 2d8 damage at 1 charge/use. Flight at 50 mph normally or 400 mph over 
  electrical field lines at 1 charge/hour. Control electronics or short out devices 1 charge/use (see book).
Heightened Intelligence A +5
Inventions: 1) Ht. Agility device also gives +3 STR and END  2) Magnetic Device with 400 lb lift at 15",
    Defense only v Basic HTH. 1chg/hr 4 charges 3) Weighted steel cable for use with magnetics SR 10
   4) Eletromagnetic energy scanner 5" range.  5) carry harness for passenger in flight/emergency armor
   6) chain mail suit acts as 31 ADR armor. 7) compressed iron ore to generate cloud with magnetics 
Weight: 165 Basic Hits: 4 Agility Mod: 0  
Strength: 13 Endurance: 13
Agility: 36 Intelligence: 22
Charisma: 13 React. Mod.: 1
Hit Mod. 8.702 Hit Points: 35
Dmg. Mod.: 7 Healing Rate: 1.2
Accuracy: 6 Power: 84
Carrying Capacity:               247 Base HTH Damage: 1d6
Movement Rates: 62 " Running (Base)
Flight at 220" per turn
Det. Hidden: 16 % Det. Danger: 20 %
Inventing Points: 8.8 -7 Cash:   $            -  
Inventing: 66 %  
Origin and Background: (American) Research/Technologyx2
Scientist (Electricity) 
Legal Status: Leader of the Avengers
(Sec. Clearance = 15 )  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Villains & Vigilantes + What If 1963 pt 3

Transformation A, Ht. Endurance, Ht. Senses, and not special weapons: Ravdna

Today we look at another classic power that just needs a little bit of tweaking and discuss if how items and devices look changes what their power is.

Transformation A: Power Activation

This is one of the true classics, right up there with the Flight/Strength/Invulnerability trinity. Ever since Billy Batson whispered the old wizard’s name comic book heroes have had alternate forms from their humdrum lives. By stating that this ability turns on all of the characters other powers, plus an extra powers and weakness, V&V pretty well nails it. It only stumbles in two places – body and mind. OK, that’s a bit broad, but bear with me

The Transformed form, in addition to gaining powers, is almost always idealized – stronger, taller, more fit, and prettier – though not necessarily to superhuman levels. The easiest way to handle this is to give the players a small pool of points to distribute as either stat changes (up to 3 pts per stat, similar to Wings or Animal/Plant Powers bonuses) or as weight changes as 20 lb up or down per point. I’d set this at a 2d6 worth of points. This makes Transformation A one of those sought after abilities like Armor A, Size Change or Body Power that let you alter your weight to game the Carrying Capacity rules. I’m comfortable with that. (It also lets you drop your weight if you’re on of us who is on the wrong end of the 240 lb. Agility penality….)

The Transformed form might literally be someone else. There are subtle differences between Mike Moran and Marvelman or Billy Batson and Captain Marvel (at least at first) but huge ones between Don Blake and Thor. When you’re interested in playing that sort of character it’s just important to define that you have the option to roll/pick one or two new Backgrounds for that alternate personality.

Heightened Endurance

Heightened Endurance straddles a mythological middle ground between strength and invulnerability being a little bit of both. Get a high enough Endurance and you become much stronger than you look. Get a high enough Endurance and you can shrug vastly more damage, even if the blows aren’t bounding off. Get a high enough Endurance and you’ll heal quickly from damn near anything.

By and large it’s a passive attribute, however, which makes it hard if it’s your characters best power. Some possible wiggle room includes making it more visible  – bullets and blades, while they hurt, seldom penetrate your skin, a plot arc involving plentiful uses of ‘save vs E on d20 poisons’ – to show off the power. Those don’t involve any changes to your characters powers, just threats faced and color descriptions. 

Marvel Super heroes had a nice touch where once your Endurance stat got beyond a certain point you could just survive in space: not a defense type or anything, but you could just do it. High Endurance might also be a subset of an extended lifespan. Use it as an excuse to add a new background or two, add some contacts or generally act mysterious and discuss centuries past. Both make good bonus powers for the high Endurance character.

Heightened Senses

If I had to build a character with just one power Ht. Senses might well be the one I pick. It’s so gleefully open ended in its design that it can be used for almost anything. Make it a Combat Sense and it’s a bonus to attack, or defense, or both. It can facilitate information gathering. I suppose it can’t double for a movement power…I would argue that clairsentience is a sense but astral projection is a bridge too far (just as reading minds is a sense and included but projecting thoughts overshoots) but if it’s your character’s only power then go for it.

In addition to potentially doubling for telepathy, astral projection, heightened expertise, defense or attack it could also fill in for heightened agility (enhanced kinesthetic senses) heightened intelligence (inventive sense in addition to other perception increases, precognition to see the right answer) and Heightened Charisma (super-empathy). The sky is pretty much the limit.

On the other hand, if the character already has a bunch of powers it can be as simple as ‘nightvision’. By being so open ended in its design it is a great tool for tailoring the character

Ravdna the Valkyrie

In the what if 1963 Universe the role of the Asgardian bound to a Mortal is played by Ravdna, chief of the Valkyries who due to Loki’s vengeance is now bound to the mortal Patsy Walker. The two share their time on Earth, shifting from one form to the other as needed. Patsy is trying to restart her career as a fashion model after her disastrous marriage and Ravdna is a member of the Avengers until Odin returns from wherever he is and sets things right. While Ravdna does not (yet) have her winged steed she is still the official bearer of Odin’s Spear, Gugnir.

While she has Asgardian attributes – she is superhumanly strong, incredibly tough, ageless with centuries of battle experience – her main power is her heightened senses. She’s a great example of the Ht. Senses being defined conceptually (Valkyrie senses) and then expanded to fit that concept since as more things turn up that fit the concept the player and GM can slot it into the powers penumbra. It starts with being able to see death approaching, but then expands to seeing and hearing ghosts, reading minds, knowing the histories of objects or people with a touch, has a combat sense that gives her a minor bonus to hit and can, as a minor ability that’s more Valkyrie than sense, can make oaths binding.

Gugnir is actually a Heightened Senses Item. Carrying it triples all of her normal and Valkyrie senses, making them much more potent. She can read and link up to 3 minds to hers, scan back 30 years in people’s lives, sense death coming 36 hours away and so on. The item itself is, in her hands, just a spear as far as accuracy and damage bonuses go, but as a magic item it’s made of all but indestructible material and, if destroyed, will reform itself.

To a lot of GMs I’ve talked to the fact that the item takes the shape of a Spear makes it a Special Weapon, but I think that undersells Special Weapon and undersells other items and devices. The shape of an item or device makes a perfect visual or conceptual hook for the character. It should only be a special weapon if it has some extreme combat bonuses or combines several other powers.

To me, Captain America’s shield is an Invulnerability Device that happens to be shield shapes:  which gives it some utility and removes some other things it might do. Thor’s Hammer is a special weapon – it does way more damage than a normal hammer, lets him control weather, fly, open dimensional portals, transmute objects, and for a while travel through time. That’s more than just a Weather Powers item shaped like a hammer.

Identity: Patsy Walker Side: Good
Name: Ravdna the Valkyrie Gender: Female
Experience: 9,500 Level: 4 Age: 24/2000+
Powers: Training: 1)S; 2)A, 3)E, Currently C
Transformation A: Gains 200 lb of weight in Ravdna's broader, denser body. When Transformed has:
1) Heightened Endurance B: +22     2) Heightened Strength B: +8
3) Heightened Expertise: +6 with all medieval weapons
4) Heightened Senses - Valkyrie Senses: Can Sense impending death at 24"/12 hours range, see ghosts,
   tead surface thoughts as Telepathy at 24" range 1 mind at a time, read impressions of object/persons
   last 10 years with a touch, has a combat sense for +1 to hit and can make oaths binding (d20vC, PR8)
5) Heightened Senses Item - Gugnir: Odin's Spear does normal Spear damage but is SR 25. While she 
   Ravdna's senses triple in range and duration, she can expand the ability to see ghosts to those around
   her, the combat sense becomes +3 and the bnding oaths are at d% vs Cx3 to resist.
Weight: 330 Basic Hits: 7 Agility Mod: -2
Strength: 21 Endurance: 34
Agility: 15 17 Patsy Intelligence: 12
Charisma: 17 React. Mod.: 2
Hit Mod. 13.31 Hit Points: 94
Dmg. Mod.: 1 Healing Rate: 7.0
Accuracy: 2 Power: 82
Carrying Capacity:           2,089 Base HTH Damage: 1d12
Movement Rates: 70 " Running (Base)
Det. Hidden: 10 % Det. Danger: 14 %
Inventing Points: 4.8 Cash:   $            -  
Inventing: 36 %
Origin and Background: (American) Entertainment & Sports
(Extradimensional) Medicine & Military as Ravdna
Legal Status: Member of the Avengers
(Sec. Clearance = 18 )

Monday, July 20, 2015

Villains & Vigilantes + What if 1963 Pt 2

Heightened Expertise, Armor B, Gravity Control: Aegis

Moving on to another character lets us take a deeper dive into two other powers that highlight problems which are really opportunities, and a third power that’s working just fine (Business Speak!)

Heightened Expertise:

On the surface this is pretty basic – you get a bonus to hit with one, a group of, or all attacks – but that highlights one problem with the combat system: defense oriented powers. In the current rules Hawkeye has a better chance of hitting Red Ghost than Mr. Fantastic does because of his Heightened Expertise and the bonus from his weapon. This makes zero sense in genre emulation. If Red Ghost is non-corporeal both men should have a minimal chance to catch him off guard and land a blow.

The immediate solution to this is to record the characters Accuracy for each attack –a combination of the attack type’s base to hit plus the characters Accuracy bonus from agility and any bonuses from powers and weapon. This is an easily calculable, pretty constant number. That is then applied to the defense type table. Then you add in variable factors such as Level v. Level and Evasions. Other than having done the Accuracy math in advance this is no more complex than normal play, but by prioritizing Defenses over Accuracy Bonuses we get better genre emulation.

It does, on the surface, nerf Heightened Expertise (and Natural Weaponry, but we’ll address that one later) but players and the GM should remember that many opponents have no defense types, especially in the thug/mook area. Still, the argument is a valid one. One big issue is the low basic HTH number. It’s not a problem because it reflects reality but because it takes layering high agility, heightened expertise and weapon bonuses to match the to-hit numbers of most powers. (Which, when those bonuses are applied after defenses, breaks genre emulation.)

The solution then is to increase the bonus heightened expertise. In simple terms it becomes +8 if applied to a single weapon, +6 if applied to a group of weapons, or +4 for all attacks, or if it applies to a power rather than a weapon. A second application of the power, if there is one, also provides a single +4.

Now someone like Hawkeye has an accuracy of 5 base, +8 for the single weapon, +3 for the weapon bonus: 16, or as good as a Power Blast attack. Add in his likely +3 Agility modifier to Accuracy and his base accuracy is 19. Of course if he tries to shoot Red Ghost his chance drops to 0 (give or take level v. level) because the Soviet saboteur is Non-Corporeal. If he tries to shoot Mr. Fantastic the Stretching Powers defense severely curtails his chance to land a telling shot, but doesn’t eliminate it. When fighting mooks or skrulls or krees Hawkeye can go nuts with multi-attacks but for foes with defenses he’s best off finding a trick arrow or two. Sounds about right.

A second use of Heightened Expertise to boost it up is allowing the bonus to apply to some non-combat rolls. This is highly dependent on the character but the ability could be extended to any roll falling in the powers scope and the characters idiom. Captain America, who has +4 with all attacks, probably also gets that bonus (or a +20% on percentile checks) for developing strategy, detecting ambushes, agility checks, inspiring soldiers, and other super-soldiery things. If you do allow this you might want to drop the overall bonus down a little bit, just to balance things out.

Gravity Control

Always one of the iffy powers due to how it’s written. On the plain page it’s clear that it’s meant to slam people into the Earth (or similar body), hurl them away from it or leave them bobbing about in zero-G (plus reduced weight to make super-jumping viable is an easy step).That’s good enough – and captures several of the gravity controllers in comics – but it is limiting. So let’s look at how else to do it.

Flame Powers is the default design emulation – it’s easy to see how Gravity Control could provide a defense, a ranged attack of moderate oomph and flight. Letting the player set a multiple to use for the Power Requirement and apply that to their Strength in MPH for flight speed, Str x25 in force for a damaging attack or to use as the weight multiple if the attack increases or negates gravity. I’d recommend that the attack only does one of the three, but if it does more than one then bump up the Power Requirement for the ability by 1 for each extra. (This is how the Wizard is built, with his thrown disks taking the place of ‘ray blasts’.)

Alternately Gravity Control can mimic Heightened Strength. Emulating this is multiplying carrying capacity by the gravity multiple applied, likely with a PR of the multiple per hour. A relatively normal hero with a 400 lb. Carry Cap can burn 10 power an hour to become a creditable strongman (albeit without the HP boost).

Or you could abandon the up/down orientation of the power and let the character shift gravity to other objects – falling sidewise becomes Flight rather than just super-jumping. Precision gravity warps emulate TK. If you’re going to open it up to this I’d set a weight limit on any precision work equal to Power Spent x Strength, with a similar Speed limit in MPH, per turn. For TK or per hour per flight. Then make Intelligence saves to do the complex math to make this, er, fly, but it would still be part of the existing Gravity Control and not a variant.

Armor B:

Another power that V&V gets right. The only thing I might want to add is having an invulnerability equal to 1/10th or 1/20th the ADR as one of the more common internal devices would better emulate some armor wearing characters who just igore bullets. I’d only add this if they don’t have any other defense types. Iron Man in the comics doesn’t just have Armor B, but backs it up with magnetic powers and Life Support defenses. No need to layer up too many defenses or the character can’t be threatened.

One thing I like about Armor B is that the bonus devices make it possible to build a weapons platform character like Iron Man – the core abilities are likely their own devices but the only use occasionally ice generation, fire suppression, electricity absorption, rocket skates and lord knows what else are bonus devices or later inventions. It’s great genre.

Bethany “Aegis” Cabe

In the What If universe Cabe was Starks security consultant from early on and did act as his bodyguard, as well as first pilot of his armored suit. Stark has always surrounded himself with beautiful women and Cabe maintains her secret ID by blending in with that crowd and the Aegis armor having a long red blonde tail that distracts people from her.

Cabe’s personal skills make her a talented bodyguard, unarmed combatant and crack hot even without the armor. In the armor she’s very touch to hurt, fast and strong, with the various invention letting her become even stronger, even faster or using other weapons as needs demand. It requires a lot of balancing her power levels against her needs, but she can safely run 8 hours of 4 ton lift, flight and defense with a smattering of ranged attacks without worrying, and can go toe to toe with the Rick Jones Captain America for a few minutes if needs be.

Identity: Bethany Cabe Side: Good
Name: Aegis Gender: Female
Experience: 9,500 Level: 4 Age: 30
Powers: Training: 1)E; 2)A; 3)A; Working on A
Heightened Strength B Device: +26 (more precisely, the STR of anyone in the device is 40)
Gravity Powers Device (Modifed): Flight at 80 mph 1 charge/hr; Gravity Pulse Bolts 1d12, 8" 1 chg/shot;
   Weight of wearer treated as x2 for Carry Cap & Basic HTH 1 chg/hr.; Carry Cap x10 with increase 
   Basic HTH 1 Charge/Action. Flight to 800 MPH 1 chare/turn. Defense 1 charge/hr. Has 24 charges
Armor B Device:  105 ADR armor, has the following additional inventions built in. Has 15 charges.
   1) Electrical Immunity: Adaptation defense against Lightning; 1 action to Absorb damage to charges 2:1
   2) Internal Gyroscope: +4 on any Agility checks (not initiative); instant turns/stops in flight. 
   3) Stunning Attack: Lightning Control attack for 1d8 regular or 2d8 devitalization damage. 10" range
   4) Sonic Generation: Loudspeaker system or Sonic attack for 1d8 damage or Defense w/ saved action.
Heightened Expertise: Security Expert. +4 to it with Unarmed HTH & Firearms, +20% on Detect rolls 
   in areas related to security/bodyguard skills. +6 on Strength checks for wrestling/judo.
   Base unarmed accuracy is 10, base small pistol accuracy is 11. 
Weight: 125 Basic Hits: 3 Agility Mod: 0
Strength: 40 14 normal Endurance: 15
Agility: 14 Intelligence: 13
Charisma: 15 React. Mod.: 2
Hit Mod. 7.722 Hit Points: 24
Dmg. Mod.: 1 Healing Rate: 1.2
Accuracy: 1 Power: 82
Carrying Capacity:           4,094 Base HTH Damage: 2d8
Alt Carry Cap:        8,188 Alt HTH Damage: 2d10
Alt 2 Carry Cap:      81,875 Alt 2 HTH Damage: 3d12
Movement Rates: 69 " Running (Base)
Det. Hidden: 10 % Det. Danger: 14 %
Inventing Points: 5.2 Cash:   $            -  
Inventing: 39 %
Origin and Background: (American) Law Enforcement & Government
Legal Status: Member of the Avengers