Friday, June 10, 2011

Honorable Mention for the Unfortunates: SAT Agents

Not a full-on superhero or villain but I felt they deserved to be included:

  In this case I'm not concerned with stats or powers or disads but with costume...just look at it. Assuming the head and pants are blue, the torso might be red and the gloves and boots white. That's pretty colorful. The agents of Special American Tactics may be less concerned with camouflage than 40K Space Marines!

Part of me thinks there's some awesome here (are those boots actually striped?) but mostly it looks like way too much costume for an agent. It is impressive though.

Anyway, that's all for now.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Unfortunate Character Choices - Blowtorch

From Enemies 1982:

It's Blowtorch, an evil supervillain! With a flamethrower! What's his story? He's a pyromaniac! Who buys a flamethrower (maybe from illegal weapons dealer Emil Nelson) and starts committing crimes! That's it! No really - that's it for his backstory.  Nothing too terribly exciting there but it works. Costume-wise we're in for tights, goggles, and a flamethrower. Sounds about right.Not sure what that symbol is, but OK.

Stats: Look everything is a 20 or less! Finally a normal guy that is normal!

Powers: His Flamethrower is built as a multipower like Lazer's gun but it has 3 settings - Oh look: Autofire, an RKA, and an area effect attack - where have we heard that before? Nicely done. He also has some Armor, Martial Arts, Find Weakness, and some skills. There's really not much to complain about here. I always thought of a flamethrower as the perfect example of an "area effect - line" power but that's just me. Later versions of the game would also have more complete rules for setting things on fire but this is fine for now.

Disads: Pyro, likes to watch fires, hunted, hunted, secret ID - those are all fine. 1d6 from Fire Extinguishers is a little strange but at least it's thematic.

Mechanics? He has an 8d6 Eb which will average 28 Stun and 8 Body. He has total ED of 14 which means 14 Stun get through, leaving him with 11, so once again a second shot takes him down. He's close to Stunning himself there too with a slightly better roll. The RKA is worse as he only has 8 points of resistant ED. If he hits himself with that one he's going down in one shot, possibly for good. A punch from Ogre, our other measuring stick, would average 42 Stun and 12 Body. He can stop 15 which lets 27 through and renders him Stunned and Unconscious - not good.

So he's a guy with a flamethrower who has weak defenses. What do we do with him? We look him up in the 1989 4E version of the game and find:

Well at least it doesn't say "Blowtorch" on the chest. It does have more of a fire theme so that's better.


He has been changed up somewhat. His stats are still normal human though - good.

Powers? His Flamethrower still only has 3 options and they are the same but the damage numbers have been rebalanced to fit the 4E costs. His defenses are actually weaker and he can stll take himself out in 2 shots. Besides that he is nearly unchanged from the older version.

Disads are similar except for the Stun damage when his armor is "breached" - it's a kevlar suit. It doesn't appear to be sealed. Do they mean whenever it's penetrated by damage? That could hurt considering how low his defenses are already. It's not 2XStun but when you only have 17pts of defense throwing 2 more d6's in there could tip the balance. Plus, what is he, a reverse Mr. Freeze? It doesn't make a ton of sense but there it is.

He also makes the cut for 5th Edition:

Again it doesn't look much like a comic book but it's ok by itself.

I don't have any more backstory ideas for him - he's a guy with a flamethrower. He's more of a GI Joe character than a traditional superhero. How do we make him appealing though? Add him to the team.

A team made up of Bulldozer, Sledge/Piledriver, Lazer, and Blowtorch could actually be kind of cool. You have a tank, a HTH striker, a ranged striker, and a ranged AOE guy. With the team concept in mind while tweaking them mechanically you could reinforce their strengths considerably and mitigate some weaknesses. Blowtorch could focus more on some AOE attacks (line, cone) to solidify his niche while keeping his Martial Arts moves to be able to assist in melee. Until he gets punched.

So there we go - a set of lamer villains that could be bonded together into something greater. Better, at least. Blowtorch is the last for the moment but I will be looking for others.

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.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Unfortunate Character Choices - Piledriver

Tonight's Guest:

Let's be different tonight and start with the origin. Alright he's a normal guy that was a victim of Viper experimentation - simple and direct and that's fine. That costume is pretty dull though. I think he needs a ballcap to make it work. Or he needs to be more armored-looking with some obvious protection covering his arms and legs and torso all together. More mechanical, less "tights".

Looking at his stats, well, apparently having a jackhammer attached to your body raises your Dex and Con to maximum normal human because he's ended up with a 20 in each.His Str is up to a 25 which I will chalk up to working out a lot...assuming you can lift weights with only one hand. His Presence is up to a 20 as well which is pretty high for an otherwise "normal" guy but we can let that go.

Powers: Well the main thing here is the pile-drivin' hand which gives him a 13d6 punch. That's pretty good. It also gives him some tunnelling (appropriate) and climbing...somehow? I suppose he can chisel footholds out of the side of a building with his hand?

He also has a fairly tough costume that adds to his PD/ED some of the time and that gives him "Full Knife Resistance" which I believe is just Damage Resistance and that means it protects him against killing attacks as well. Security Systems skill, Running, and a combat level round out the list.

So can he take his own punch? Oh no - no no no. If he was to be mind-controlled and forced to ... hammer ...  himself (just move along wiseacres) he's going to hit for an average of 46 points of Stun and 13 Body. His normal defenses reduce this to 33 Stun and then he has a slightly better than 50-50 chance of reducing that to 23 Stun. So even if he makes his activation roll, he's still Stunned (23 Stun vs. a 20 Con) and reduced to 12 points of Stun. That means the second time he hits himself he is out cold, regardless of the defense roll, as it will likely exceed his Con and take his Stun down to 0. He's very much an eggshell armed with a ... jackhammer.

Disads include "No Left Hand" (very true), Hunted by Viper (I would change this to "Hunting Viper" myself but that came along a little later in he game), Hunted by Police (makes sense - he is a criminal), Unusual Looks (yeah), and Public Identity (alright). There's nothing outrageous here. He's only a 160 point character so these limitations cover everything and fit the concept.

How would I improve him? The game developed in many ways after this book was published. Raise him to 200 points and I might give him armor piercing or penetrating on his hammer-hand to make him more of a threat. An extra Stun multiplier might work too. If you want to get fancy then maybe a no-range Drain vs. Armor to represent him chiseling away at a target's defenses. Extra knockback could be fun too. His OCV/DCV and Spd are very low too so I would try to improve those as well. His defenses are pretty low but maybe that's part of his charm - he can't take much of a punch but you can't afford to let him get close either or he will hurt you. I suspect he would work best as part of a team where someone (like Bulldozer?) could serve as the brick or tank while Piledriver rushes in, hammer chattering, to deliver a knockout punch as a scrapper or striker.

So there he is. Not terrible, just kind of dull both in background and in powers. He just screams to be part of a team and that's where I would go with him. Put him together with Bulldozer as the tank, Piledriver as the HTH DPS guy (for you MMORPG'ers out there), maybe add in Sledge as...well whatever he's actually good at... and the next two characters (coming Wednesday and Thursday) for a ranged element and you have a nice mix if abilities with a "hardware" kind of theme that isn't a total ripoff of Marvel's Wrecking Crew. Maybe the team starts out with Sledge as its heavy hitter then replaces him with Piledriver, who is both mechanically and thematically a better implementation of the concept, leaving Sledge to go it alone. Could be a lot of fun in a campaign that deals with the low end of the super-criminal.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unfortunate Character Choices - Poinsettia

Starting the week off right with a girl in a tight outfit:

Hmmm. Alright, I might have promised too much up there. The boob window is a nice touch though.

Anyway, let's talk super-villainess "Poinsettia" from the 1982 Champions Supplement "Enemies". Powers-wise she clearly has some kind of force or energy control as her multipower lets her shoot it, armor herself in it, and fly with it. Somehow the type of energy is never mentioned, which seems like a pretty serious oversight. She has Danger Sense and is good at sneaking around and breaking into things, that's fine. Her highest normal stat is... Con? With Str and Pre of 15 she's not going to be making many attacks with those, but her End and Stun are pretty good and Spd 6 is fairly high.

Can she take a shot from her own powers? A 10d6 EB will average 35 Stun and 10 Body, which is reduced to 25 Stun by her ED, leaving her with 26. One good roll on the damage and her own EB will take her out in 2 shots! Good thing she has that 30 point force field, except that it's in a multipower with the EB and they can't both be at full strength at the same time. A 5d6 Eb would average half of the numbers above and be easily absorbed by a 15 point Force Field, so she can make it work! At full strength that's a pretty good FF, able to stop a punch from Ogre (12d6) on average with little to no damage to her, though it does mean she's making no real offensive moves. She's fairly versatile over a multi-round combat if she can choose the right moments to lower her defenses and take a shot. It still seems very risky to me though.

Now the fun stuff...let's look at disads: unluck, sure, could happen to anyone... double stun from blunt objects - Whoa, wait a sec. Would an armored fist count as a "blunt object"? If not, how about a telephone pole? Riiip, Ogre swings, KAPOW! She takes 80 Stun (if you let him use his full strength) on average, enough to stun her in one shot and leaving her reeling with 2 Stun remaining! One slightly above average roll and she's down in one shot! From blunt objects! Wow that is a serious vulnerability! What else could she have ... OMG IT"S DOUBLE STUN FROM KILLING ATTACKS TOO! THANK GOODNESS WOLVERINE CLONES ARE SO RARE - WAIT! Lordy lordy this is a compromised mechanical build! Double damage from blunt AND sharp attacks! Does she have weak bones or hemophilia or something?

Let's move on. "Loyalty to Germany" - is that really a 20 point disad? That special 30's and 40' kind of Germany, maybe, but just "Germany"? Seems kinda high. What else goes for 20 points...hmmm here's one..."believes Hitler is still alive" - that seems like a significantly greater disadvantage than "Loyalty to Germany". One comes across as patriotic, the other comes across as delusional, and even in a comic book game there's a difference there.

OK, "vicious" that's fine... hunted by UNTIL, some other Agents, and a Hero group all at 11 or less... that's a pretty serious band of pursuers for one lone bad girl. Secret Identity makes sense given her background. Then a 35 point Villain Bonus... really? She's the daughter of a nazi scientist who was trying to breed the Aryan ideal after fleeing to South America and we ran out of ideas for disads with 35 points left? Maybe her aged mother is a dependent NPC? Maybe she has an irrational hatred of Americans or British or Russians or even  Italians or something? Maybe she's susceptible to moonlight or something? Or maybe, just maybe, we could have something to connect her to her NAME!

Yes that's right, the engineered flower of super-powered Aryan womanhood is named after a plant native to Mexico! Why? Your guess is as good as mine because there's nothing in her powers or disads or background to indicate why! They were once thought to be poisonous but she has no poison powers. She grew up in Argentina, not Mexico, which are on opposite ends of a continent. She has no plant or pollen related powers of any kind. Heck, maybe she discovered her vulnerability to blunt objects when a flowerpot fell on her head, that's my best guess.

How would I fix her? Raise her comeliness and presence to around 30 each, dropping Dex or Con a bit to afford it. Leave the background unchanged, give her blonde hair, blue eyes, a cape, and put the traditional national socialist symbol on her chest and call her "Swastika". No it isn't subtle. It's not supposed to be. I'd leave the boob window too.

Anyway, that's Pointsetia - Her origin is very comic-traditional, her powers are fairly common in comics, her weaknesses are comically bad, and her schtick is inexplicable.

Motivational Monday

And the theme for June is...