Sunday, January 30, 2022

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness in the 2022 Character Creation Challenge

On the penultimate day of the challenge I tackle my biggest opponent yet: Palladium! 

I was a Fan of the TMNT way back – 3rd printing of the 1st issue, signed copies of some of the others from a Connecticut comic convention – and love that the TMNT roleplaying game embraces the aesthetic of the original comic, which was much more grounded than the TV show was. The game was designed with Palladium as its spine, but contains a lot of nifty features to capture the TMNT setting. One of those is that if you make up your PCs as part of a team with the other players you lose some flexibility (you don't all get to design your own animal) but you get a lot of benefits in terms of attributes and skills. To capture this, I corralled my teenage daughter into making a character with me. I also decided the characters would be set in the 1985 of when the game was published rather than try to update the technical skills, just as I did with James Bond 007. 

TMNT&OS has the standard 8 Palladium attributes: IQ, Mental Endurance, Mental Affinity, Physical Strength, Physical Prowess, Physical Endurance, Physical Beauty, and Speed. My dice rolls are mediocre at best, with the two Endurances at 13 and the rest at 11 or less, including a 7 Physical Strength and a 6 Physical Beauty. 

However, if any member of the team rolls a 1+, they get to roll and add another d6 to that attribute, and the share that with everyone on the team. The Kiddo rolls a 17 Physical Endurance and a 16 Physical Beauty, and the dice decree that we both get a +2 PE and +1 PB. Helps me out some. 

Being a second generation game design, once again character creation is meant to conform the characters to the world, so the dice come out to determine things. We end up being [62] mutated wild animals. What kind of wild animals? [87] Armadillos! I had had the image in my mind of replicating the classic 1980's B&W comics hero Eagle with an actual mutated psionic eagle but, um, no. Armadillos it is. We got this way because [87] of deliberate experimentation by a [44] private industry, and the people who did the experimentation [84] gave us extensive professional training along our natural aptitudes (5 Hig School skills, 15 Collegiate skills, 20 Secondary Skills) while treating us like slaves. Eventually we escaped with [10 for me, 14 for her] $240,000 worth of cash and equipment (that's over half a million in 2022 dollars). We're on the run from both our creators and law enforcement. 

OK then. We shelve all of that while we build our animals. TMNT&OS's best system is their animal mutation system which has dozens of animal types, all with a starting amount of Bio-E based on their size and starting physicality. You spend Bio-E to get bigger or gain it by becoming smaller. You also spend it to get bipedal nature, hands, speech, and human appearance, along with any special powers that your species of animal has. It's a slick, intuitive system that's fun to build characters in. We have 60 Bio-E for our size 5 armadillos. 

The kiddo and I opt for being just a little bit bigger, size 6, just large enough to not have any attribute penalties [5 pts]. We know we want full speech [10 pts] and full hands [10 pts] but want to look like armadillos because that's more fun – no human features [0 pts]. Bipedal nature is trickier, but we want the full suite of armadillo powers with Claws [5 pts], Digging [5 pts] and heavy natural armor [20 pts]. Since we only have 5 points left, we're only partially bipedal, sort of like bears. We could have had weaker armor, but we like the idea that the private industry was breeding us _for_ our super armor and were surprised when this sibling pair came out intelligent with hands. I look up what TV shows were popular in 1970 – since we're teenagers in 1985 - and I settle on Julie and Linc as our names: the researchers were watching the Mod Squad when we were born. We had another brother, Pete, but something happened to him. 

Looking over the skill set, the Kiddo and I brainstorm over what our PCs will be doing. She wants to take the Scrupulous alignment, which is a sort of neutral/chaotic good, and that's fine. We realize that we can't interact with normal humans, but since we sound totally normal, we can do all our communication over the phone. We have a quarter of a million 1985 dollars, we don't live in a sewer. The idea that after we were born the Company (after getting the DNA needed for our armor) trained us to be industrial saboteurs (able to dig our way into rival facilities, almost impossible t hurt or kill) brings us to the idea of being the Leverage crew, getting hired to help people who have been hosed by the system, only we're Armadillos. We've hired a blind woman to be our receptionist and 'face' to the world, and all the rest of our work is done over the phone. Nine-Band is a professional investigation and problem-solving firm. 

Skills, however, are where we run into an issue: the process is so frustrating that the kiddo gives up after 20 minutes and we're not even halfway done at that point. It takes another hour for me to get MY pc to a level I'll consider finished. 

The book is an ill organized nightmare, with things in the wrong place, or in the order of the main categories and then the skills, but there text is crammed together and blown out to the margins. A bunch of the physical skills all add points to your physical attributes, and many of them have sub skills that supplant regular skills or each other – acrobatics and gymnastics both give you the same skills at different percentages, but it's worth taking both because each gives bonuses to your physical stats, and both of them give you the Prowl skill at a certain level so there's no point in taking that. 

In the end, Linc's training in competitive swimming, general athletics, climbing, body building, running, acrobatics, gymnastics and boxing even up giving him +12 to Physical Strength, +5 to Physical Prowess, +5 more to Physical Endurance, and staggering +11 to Speed. He also gets another 35 points of Structural Damage Capacity on top of his 75 points from his armor, for 110 SDC. It's easy to imagine the brutal physical regimen that the 7 PS runt of the litter went through at the hands of their owners, so it's no surprise that Linc was the driving force of their escape. 

If you take a skill as a collegiate skill, it's at a 10% increase, plus we each get +15% on high school and collegiate skills, so it matters where you put things from our Scrooge McDuck Money Bin of skill choices. You want your Secondary skills to go to things that can either only be secondaries or don't have percentages attached to them. Any skill multiple members of the team make get a +1 level bonus for each character with it, so the TMNT stat with Ninjitsu at 4th level, but Donatello's (objectively the best Turtle) tech skills don't get a bonus because no one else has them. This all makes sense, but this skill system is so complicated it puts the Twilight 2000 and Spaceship Zero ones to shame. 

In the end, Linc is the team technician, engineer, and computer guru, fighting with a short sword if needed. Julie is the team's lawyer and doctor, and fights with a collapsible staff. Both of us were trained in Expert Hand to Hand used by army special forces, and boxing for good measure. 

The character concepts for this are enjoyable and sound, but the skill selection system and its spillover effects are nuts. Simulated complexity for the sake of simulated complexity. The endgame of creating this PC was just not fun. 

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