Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Unfortunate Character Choices - Lazer

From 1982's "Enemies" supplement, it's Lazer!

So let's continue with Origin first: He's a greedy guy who got some military training, went private, then got taken over by the mob so he became a super criminal. Okey-dokey. That's kind of plain but I can work with it. He's not an alien or a mutant or a robot - he's just a guy with a gun. His costume isn't too super either, but if you assume that those gray parts (and his shades) are chrome then he looks a little cool at least.

Stats: 26 Dex, 23 Con, and a Spd of 6? He's supposed to be a normal guy! Normal human max is 20 - what special training or experience or super-serum did he run across? I'm not a hardliner on this most of the time but I expect at least some mention how a contraband weapons dealer achieved a 26 Dex. Oh well.

Powers: A 2-slot multipower covers the "Lazer" with an EB and an RKA. That's pretty lame. The guy's inspiration and schtick is based on this and it only does two things? Well at least we know why he's named "Lazer", which is more than some characters have. He has 30 points of armor tied to an activation roll, always a bad idea. He has some lack of weakness and some flash defense! Yay for villains with some unconventional defenses! That said an activation roll on a lack of weakness is pretty comical. he can also fly, see in the dark, and has a few combat levels. Three levels with "Jetpack"? Really?

Disads: (going out of order here) 20 points of Greedy! That does fit the background. Hatred of the Mob, Hunted by the Mob, and Hunted by the FBI - well those all fit the background too. Secret ID is fine though we know nothing about what he does when he's not being a super-mercenary. We'll call that "flexibility for the GM". Double Stun from Mental attacks - that's dangerous but Mental attacks are pretty dangerous anyway and with no special defenses against them he might as well get some points out of it. Double Stun from Surprise Attacks - OK this one is questionable. Anyone could make a surprise attack against him, even a normal with say, a sniper rifle. You can't really take precautions against something as vague as Surprise Attacks the way you could an element or origin-based attack. Combining that with an activation roll on your defenses is a recipe for a one-shot takedown. He does get 20 points for it, but it's a bad idea in my experience.

I'm not sure what the fascination was in these early days with taking two Vulnerabilities on a character. Quite a bit of the game revolves around combat so making a character that much weaker against certain kinds of attacks is a questionable decision already but if it fits thematically then that's great, like say an iceman type character taking extra damage from fire or something similar. Many of these characters though seem to have Vunerabilities  chosen almost at random simply to cover the point cost. How, or better yet why is Lazer twice as weak against surprise attacks as a normal man? We don't know.

Mechanical fun: Can he take a shot from his own gun?  A 12d6 Eb averages 42 Stun and 12 Body. He has an ED of 7, plus a possible 15 more if he makes his 14 or less roll roll for his suit.  If so he takes 21 Stun and has 8 left, which means a second shot (even a below average shot) puts him down and unconscious. If he blows his defense roll then he takes 35 Stun and 5 Body which stuns him, knocks him out, and causes some injury. The RKA gets even uglier as he has at best 15 points of defense, and to do that he has to make his 14 or less Armor roll, and even if he does it's an Armor Piercing attack which halves defenses - great. An AP Killing Attack, everyone's favorite. If he doesn't make the roll, then he is probably unconscious and likely dead (he has 12 Body, the RKA averages 12 Body, and with zero Resistant Defenses on a missed roll he takes it all). Even if he makes it, he's taking Stun damage comparable to the EB scenario above and some Body damage too. He's definitely more about offense than defense. A punch from Ogre does similar damage as with 60 Str he's doing 12d6 as well, so we can expect similar results. Lazer does have a DCV of 9 which is fairly high among this level of villainy so he might be able to dodge some attacks. If he doesn't though he's in bad shape. If it's a surprise attack, it's all over in one shot - stunned and knocked out.

 All in all this is a pretty mundane badguy. He's a guy with a gun, and it's not even a particularly interesting gun at that, having only 2 settings - Hurt and Kill. Surely he's been left behind as the game has advanced, right?


Here's Lazer from the 1989 Champions 4E Supplement "Classic Enemies"

 Quick boys and girls - how do we know that's Lazer? Because it says so on his chest! Ouch! I thought that was lame back then and it hasn't gotten any better today! His jetpack is now cleverly designed to be wider than his body and his laser is now a pistol that is tethered to his belt. Maybe he has a powerpack there ala Traveller or Star Frontiers. Regardless, that is a terrible costume. He looks like he's sponsored by the Lazer Corporation, not that that is his name. Please, symbols or letters but not whole words for our chest decorations - it's a problem that you can help solve, super-players.

 Surely 7 years after his first appearance someone has realized how weak he is mechanically and made some changes to his stats and powers, right? RIGHT?


Mechanically he the same, with a few points shifted here or there. I think that 2d6 Stun from Surprise Attacks is a typo, as Vulnerability works the same way in 4E that it did in 2E. So his gun is still boring and his defenses are still subject to a roll. Oh look he's traded 1 level with jetpack (again - ???) for some Streetwise skill. Awesome. Could we not have added at least a Flash attack to his multipower? The slots are 4 points! How about an area effect attack, or maybe Autofire or maybe even a NND Stun beam setting? In fact how about a Cone effect NND attack for a wide-angle Stun setting? Heck, once you're allowing AP RKA's then the gloves are off anyway so let's get creative here! It's pretty disappointing that there are no significant changes to this character.

Guess what? He even makes it into "Conquerors, Killers, and Crooks", the first enemies book for 5th Edition hero! I'm not going to print the stats here as it is far more recent, but he does end up changed quite a bit mechanically with options for both a rifle and a pistol. Here's a picture:

 I don't really like the soft-pencilled art style for a comic book game - oddly enough I prefer comic-style art for a comic book superhero game - but he looks significantly more badass here, someone that might actually be a little intimidating to encounter.

So  what do we do with Lazer? Well, I have a little backstory:

The 82 Lazer is the original one from the 60's and has that original backstory. He has a son who founds a small company in the 70's, gets rich, and becomes the 90's Lazer pictured above doing good deeds while sporting the company logo. As the "laser boom" fades, the company gets into trouble in the 90's and by the 2000's the grandson of the original laser is making some questionable deals and working with shady elements to stay afloat. He uses the latest version of the equipment, pictured above, which is not identified with the company, for mercenary jobs and maybe even to commit crimes. This gives the different versions a nice little arc to add to the background of a campaign and would let a GM use older heroes as a source of information if the PC's started researching laser-armed supers.

Beyond that, Lazer needs to be on a team.  Probably my proposed team of Bulldozer and Piledriver/Sledge. The Big L would provide a nice ranged punch (single-target) and some aircover.

He could be a nice rival for a tech-based hero, but considering in the original background he didn't invent the tech, he just stole it, that might not be worth pursuing. Although if you go with my backstory above he might have a scientist-guy working at his company to make improvements to the suit, leading to your tech player's assumption that the criminal knows all about techie stuff, but instead getting a "huh" or a "yeah" when asked about it during encounters.

Mechanically he could use more options, mainly dropping the activation roll on the armor and giving the gun some more tricks like a stun or area effect option as mentioned above.

So that's Lazer, the sub-par super who was just begging for a makeover. Tomorrow: a similarly themed badguy who will also be joining our team.


Adam Dickstein said...

Ah Lazer! Complete with a 'Z' where the 'S' should be to show that he's particularly cool.


We never really used him since the roll of mercenary villain with a nifty high-tech was better served by Mechassassin and to come extent Utility. Of course, I know for a fact our Mechassassin was waaay cooler than the one in the books. He had much more of a Japanese anime/manga mecha vibe to him.

Blacksteel said...

What, you don't spell Lazer with a Z?

I always liked Utility as he was a kind of Batman ripoff that still worked. never did as much with Mechassassin. My other favorites were Ankylosaur (themed power armor! grenade launcher tail!) and Ripper.

To me Lazer was never more than a guy who should be on a team, a jumped up agent-type hero. I think he was boosted somewhat for 5E but I haven't run enough of it to know for sure.