Saturday, May 26, 2012

Unfortunate Character Choices Returns! - The Ruler of Crime

I thought I was out of worthy candidates for this special honor - but I'm not! Picking up some older Champions material that I had never read has revealed another Unfortunate, and I'm calling him a Top 3 candidate. I give you the Ruler of Crime:

I really laughed out loud when I saw this near the back of Enemies: The International File. Wow, that is just terrible. I don't think Superfriends stooped that low. With that costume and that name the only crime this guy is qualified to commit is stealing Hostess Fruit Pies. I'm glad they left him mouthless as it makes quite a bit more menacing - until you see the numbers down his side.

Wait, I found another possible home for him:

"Hold it right there Crime Ruler! It looks like your plan has come up short!"
(I can play this game all day)

I was thinking that surely he was some kind of gimmick growth/shrinking guy with a humorous background. Oh no, we can't do that - he has a completely serious backstory as a genius child prodigy who sidekicks for a villain named the Sniper and then takes over for his Aryan scientist father as a criminal mastermind in Brazil. What are his powers? Let's take a look.

Now this book came out in 1988 so we see the soon-to-be-very-familiar 4th edition style statblock. His first two powers are "Shrinking Gas grenades" and those next two are from his "Tape Measure belt" which generates a protective forcefield and will shock anyone who touches him. He also has flash defense, UV vision, and life support from his costume. So he's spent over 100 points already on gadgets that have nothing to do with his actual powers!

Then we get to Elemental Control - Detection Abilities. Sure.

  • Detect and analyze distances - seriously? Mechanically how often is this going to be useful? The game doesn't restrict measurements during the game anyway? Has anyone had this arise as a challenge in any super RPG session? "Oh, if only we knew how far away that guy is." Realistically I know that we had laser rangefinders in 1988 so is this really a superpower? 
  • Detect and analyze trajectory? Again, when does this come up? How does it help?
  • Detect and analyze size and weight? OK if Indy has this at the beginning of Raiders then it's a less action-packed opening sequence but is that really a 20-point super power? 
Aren't all of these really more of a talent like "Bump of Direction" - note: BoD is 3 points in the BBB. I know everything wasn't quite integrated yet but going by the visual design it was clearly being worked on. To continue:

  • Telescopic Vision - fine, but it can still be replaced by binoculars or a scope
  • Danger Sense - At last, a useful power. It's explained in the text as some kind of minor telepathy springing from his super-brain. I'm not sure I'd allow it in an EC when it's conceptually different from his "uncanny ability to know the exact distance between any two objects" but we're on pretty shaky ground already with this guy.

Combat: He's supposed to be a behind-the-scenes mastermind but he has a force field and a damage aura so I think he's fair game. What if some rival copied his famous tape-measure belt and touched HIM? We would have a 6d6 energy attack vs. 16 points of ED. That's going to average out to 21 Stun and 6 Body. With 35 Stun and an 18 Con he could actually take that for awhile with no ill effects

Say he gets hit by the generic 12d6 Energy Blast - that's 42 Stun and 12 Body. That's going to let 26 Stun through, stunning him (Con 18 remember) and the second hit is going to floor him even if he gets a Recovery in there. So he's not particularly tough, and with a OCV/DCV of 6 his Speed of 5 is best used to run away. At least he doesn't have any x2 Body or Stun disadvantages.

He does have a pile of disads though: Arrogant, Overconfident, Ruthless, sees others as disposable, addicted to drugs, dependent on drugs - wow, that is an excuse for any kind of bad behavior the DM wants to engage in. He's also hunted by four different agencies, which seems like a fairly significant problem.

So we have a puntastic name and a ridiculous concept topped off with a weakly themed set of powers - what's not to like? Well, there's also a disconnect with the background. He is described as not being an action-seeking guy preferring to let his soldiers do the work but his powers are all dependent on direct action! The only thing useful out of combat is maybe his Forgery skill and his 28 Int! Even his tertiary abilities seem to be direct action-focused: Disguise, Security Systems, and a 30 point Gun Pool! Shouldn't he have minions or agents of some kind in their little ruler-themed uniforms? Maybe some kind of distance-distortion gun - mechanically an entangle that takes no damage from attacks? Maybe a flash attack themed as a cloud of numbers clouding one's vision? Some kind of telescoping ruler that is a monofilament blade? "I have discovered Measurement Zero! - Now taste it's edge!" I mean if you're going to crack open the can of goofy, then let's go all the way! Where is his nemesis hero Mister Metric? Come on!

Missile Deflection vs. all attacks, self only, OAF Ruler-fan, 10 points
(This really isn't that hard once you embrace the madness)
So there he is in all of his glory, the Ruler of Crime, likely the least-scary 597 point villain in all of Champions lore. I'll be keeping my eyes open for more like him as I read through some classic Champions material, but I don't know if I can top this one.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Special Bulletin

HA! I am the Destroyer of Fridays
You know, it's a good problem to have but it's kind of a pain when a bunch of interesting stuff comes in at once. Working from home on a Friday before a holiday usually means there's a little less going on but in my case all kinds of fires have been springing up taking up a lot more attention than expected.

First off, yes, I have my packet. No I haven't read the whole thing. I will read it this weekend. The playtest agreement is a little weird in that you're free to discuss it and all but everyone in the group is supposed to sign up for it to be able to play. Have to see how that goes.

Second I have a game to run tonight and while I have all of my notes ready to go I was planning on doing some final tuning and realized that the monsters I was planning to use in the first encounter don't quite match up across editions (I am converting an old adventure), meaning a last-minute scramble to figure that out instead of reading through Next.

Third, sometimes you run across a wonderful deal that's too good to ignore and it impacts your plans. The used bookstore is running their usual sale this weekend and it started yesterday. Last night I happened to spot this: a net 1/3 of the new cover price. I had been holding off on this edition but at that price, well, I have painted armies gathering dust and I do like to play it ... Sold! Problem is it's almost 600 pages long. That's going to take a bit of time.

Oh, I was thinking about entering the world of Diablo 3 this weekend. Heh. Still might, have to think about it.

Also in the computer department there had been some discussion with the Apprentices about pushing some characters to new levels - that may be slipping away now with this sudden deluge.

I also have a new pile of classic Champions stuff that I was going to read (they're pretty thin compared to modern gaming tomes) and then write up some posts.

I'm steadily closing the few gaps in my 4th Edition collection. Couple of new books to read there too.

We're still playing around with ICONS and M&M too, so more stuff to write there, and I was trying to get through some more classic Iron Man comics for fun and blogging as well.

Plus I was thinking I could finish painting up my 40K Crimson Fists army.

Sure. That's aaaaaall going to happen. Even with a 3-day weekend I'm now in the position of [Interesting Stuff > Time Available]

I do have some extremely rare solo time for part of the weekend. No kids usually equals getting more done but that solo time is a currency I like to spend very carefully. I'm not sure how it will end up but reading Next is a fairly high priority. I suppose next week's posts will help convey how it turns out.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Impiltur: Faded Brilliance

A century ago Impiltur was a shining star in the north. Trade flowed  from the mountains and forests down to the cities of the coast,  exporting timber, metals, armor, weapons, and paladins. These gleaming, evil-slaying exemplars made a great impression on the peoples of Faerun and even today many still imagine Impiltur as a nation of bold knights and virtuous leaders ... a magical land where a wise king and his circle of 12 paladins defend the weak and right wrongs ... a place where things are better. At one time, this was largely true, but no longer.

Roughly seventy years ago the Spellplague wrecked the world. Tales from that time are many but in Impiltur the impact was personal and severe. When the magic failed horrors long imprisoned were let loose, the king was slain along with many knights, nobles, and commoners. Gods fell. The sea retreated from the shore as the world shook and changed.  Shocked, leaderless, and under attack, the surviving noble families of Impiltur pulled back to their safest castle homes, abandoning much of the land to fate. Evil now stalked the land openly, no longer banished to dark places, cowering in fear.

Much of what had been was no longer.

The Circle survived but was diminished as many of its greatest knights fell in the chaos of the Spellplague and its aftermath. With no king to rule attempts were made to from a Grand Council of Lords but the countryside grew so dangerous that few were willing to risk the roads. The ancient territories of the houses lie largely abandoned outside of their core holdings and the people in them feel little attachment to "ruling" families they have never seen.

Over time the reverence for the Triad, the traditional threesome of deities worshipped in the realm, has declined. Other powers have become more prominent, and the sons of each family no longer assume that paladinhood is the most correct path. Even those who do attain it find it more difficult to stay on the path of law and good, sometimes making choices that would have been deemed unforgivable a century earlier. Such are the times in which we now live - not as shining as before.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Overreaction Wednesday: Almost There!

So the playtest material comes out tomorrow. In the meantime...

Interview with Mike Mearls here. I don't know if it's deliberate but one part of the conversation struck me:

You need to make sure that the class that is a steady contributor, like a fighter, isn’t constantly overshadowed by the wizard. Ideally, in a party of the four core classes each one has the same amount of spotlight time and the same chance to play a big role in the adventure. 

What word on concept could we use to state this more succinctly? Perhaps ... BALANCE! There seems to be a conscious effort to avoid using that word in this chat and in much of the material released so far about Next. Considering that it was one of the buzzwords for 4th Edition that's probably not an accident. Was it really that bad? Probably.

I also wish they could just go with a simpler breakdown of parts as he mentions in another response that Class largely covers combat capability. Well, then, what if Theme covered your Social aspect and Background covered your exploratory capabilities? It's nice and clean and any one component could be mixed with any other, with Race as a nice wild card cross-function option, mechanically speaking, some being more about combat, some being more social, and some being more exploratory. That's probably too clean and 4E-ish - they seem to associate older editions with some rules messiness in their discussions so it probably won't happen that way, but it's a thought.

More from Mearls here about Hit Points. For the most part it's a vary familiar explanation/justification of hit points as not being a measure of purely physical toughness and that's fine. The more interesting part is where he discusses the concept of "Hit Dice" for player characters which are ... healing surges in most respects. Magic healing doesn't tap into them, but short rests do, and eventually you need a longer rest to replenish them, just like ... healing surges. I'm glad the concept is being retained (for now - I have some concern that the hard core opposition will push to have this dropped) but calling them Hit Dice is a little weird as in the past the term Hit Dice was associated with monsters, not PC's.

As for this week's Rule of Three I'm just going to post up one question and answer:

 Is the idea in D&D Next that all fights or encounters could be run with or without a grid, or do you expect that some encounters or scenarios will require a grid?

This is a topic we want to address when we look at adventure design, rather than system design. In general, we want the vast majority of our rules to be perfectly functional whether you're using the grid or otherwise. However, we know that sometimes the adventure is just going to demand an encounter that is so tactically involved that a battlemat is the only practical way to go. However, we want the design of that encounter to be a conscious choice on the part of the adventure designer, not an unintended result of building the encounter. Moreover, I think including encounters that make use of a battlemat nearly mandatory is something we want to be judicious with, saving it for adventures that are really geared toward the tactical style of play.

So ... yes? Wow that is some serious non-answering of the question. I like Rodney Thompson just fine (he's the answerer of the questions and was a leader of the Star Wars Saga Edition) but that is not very clear. So they want the rules to work without a grid except sometimes possibly the climax of a big adventure where you will need to use a grid. Can't they just pick a default for the core of the game and say "no grids" and then add in a tactical combat module for those of us who want one? I don't think they've made up their minds on this yet and they're going to take a bunch of heat from both sides as a result. My advice: just commit to one or the other, ignore the reflexive internet "I'm out" comments, and make sure that whatever you decide it doesn't suck!

So anyway there it is - what could possibly be the last overreaction post ever! Well, let's see how this goes before we start making any promises.

Even Ned is bracing for the new edition

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Atomic City: The Animated Series - Museum Mayhem Part 1

Well the way the schedules worked out this weekend we didn't have time for D&D but we did have time for Apprentice Blaster and Apprentice Who to return to the modern era of Atomic City and take on the menace of Doctor Karnak!*

We were pressed for time and I was just rediscovering the greatness of the Folio so despite being interested in point buy hero creation the boys rolled them up the old fashioned way. They did use my modified power category chart from this post and it did seem to fit their style of play better. I'm giving them the option of creating new characters anytime we start an adventure because a) it'[s fun and they seem to enjoy coming up with new concepts b) it helps populate the universe and c) it builds up a pool of characters they can bring into any adventure -which as it turned out will prove useful.

We ended up with "The Musketeer", an alien swordmaster  (Strike, Fast Attack, Invulnerability, oh and Prowess 8 + a specialty in bladed weapons!) from an Asgardian** type society who has come to earth to prove his worth as a hero (played by Apprentice Blaster) and "Nightmare" a semi-battlesuited man from the future with light invulnerability, blast, and time control powers (duplication, time travel) played by Apprentice Who.

The ACPD puts out a call for superhero help as the supervillain Doctor Karnak has taken control of the Atomic City Museum of World History with a gang of thugs and has already repulsed several SWAT team assaults.

I am running Museum Mayhem from Vigilance Press as it seemed pretty well suited for a single-session ICONS game. There is a lot of exposition here delivered by the police captain on site. I skipped almost all of it - heroes rarely stand around for complete intel on a situation beyond "the cops can't handle it they need your help". I would share the information from the impressions of the police mystics if I had a magic-sensitive here but I didn't and they heroes didn't care.

Springing into action the heroic duo decide that the roof is the best place to enter. They climb a nearby tall building and leap/glide down to the roof, entering the museum without much difficulty.

I don't make them roll for this stuff once they come up with a plan. In D&D this is an Athletics check to climb, a Thievery check to pick the lock, etc. but this is a Supers game - we don't roll for boring mundane stuff anyone could do.

Climbing down into the gift shop, the Musketeer sees hostages in the room next door and charges in, ignoring Nightmare's attempt at coming up with a plan, or suggestion that they sneak or use disguises of some kind. The room is an exhibit on Roman charioteering. The museum guards are tied up here, guarded by some thugs and a masked Egyptian-looking mystic of some kind. He calls out some words, his amulet glows, and as the thugs fall to M's sword the charioteers come to life! Nightmare considers calling some duplicate help but the Musketeer (having been raised right) slashes the glowing amulet free of the mystic and then smashes it when it lands on the ground. As Nightmare blasts the cultist into unconsciousness, the charioteers stiffen and fall over as their magic drains away.

I was still in D&D mode here and almost had the chariot guys stay animated to get in a good fight. I came to my senses though and realized that the amulet grab-and-smash is exactly the kind of action I should be rewarding even if it's not explicitly described in the text. It's a smart play, especially from my combat-minded Apprentice, and should pay off. I also gave them each a point of determination for rescuing the guards - not a by-the-book award but I consider them all to have the unstated quality "hero" and like to reward them for doing heroic things. Plus, we are really bad at tagging and even remembering to spend Determination until the stuff hits the fan so I work it in when I am thinking about it.

After freeing the guards the heroes told them to wait until the coast was clear before getting out. A nearby room had some hubbub in it and turned out to have 4 thugs guarding some wealthy museum patrons taken hostage. After a short fight the thugs were down and the hostages were free, in spite of a desperate gun-to-the-head move by one of the criminals, which was dealt with swiftly by Nightmare.

I knew this would be an easy fight even with double the number of recommended guards. Coordination 3, Prowess 3, Stamina 5 or 6 means that in many cases a single hit takes them down even without using the minion rules. It's supposed to be that way but I was still fighting some D&D mindset and feeling like somebody should be taking at least a little damage while walking over these guys.They got another Determination point for freeing these hostages. 

Then they went into the next room, the huge exhibit on Set, and got their clocks cleaned. Doctor Karnak was here in the middle of a ritual, and he summoned Wraith Mummies to delay the heroes while he completed his magic. It worked really well: as the heroes charged into the thugs guards, the mummies blasted them with beams of dark magic, doing little to the impressively resilient Musketeer but dropping Nightmare into 10 pages of unconsciousness. Stunned at this turn of events, the alien swordsman backed off and decided to seek some super-help as the helpless Nightmare became a the newest hostage.

I just love this picture - Definitely belongs in "The Animated Series" -  it could be right out of Scooby Doo! More of Dan Houser's fine work

Will Nightmare survive? What if it's one of those rituals? Can Musketeer find sufficient help to rescue his new partner? Where is the Handicapped Hero? All will be revealed next week!

This is the danger of ICONS and really any Superhero game - combat against normals tends to seem very easy then BAM! Something takes out half the team in one shot! I probably overdid the mummies as I used a half-dozen of the "Elite" level types and while M was up for that fight poor Nightmare was not and went down quickly. I reminded him that in the future if you're going to take Duplication as a main power it's probably a good idea to use it before you charge in. I still felt a little bad though. The good thing is that it makes this adventure a lot more exciting and it gives Apprentice Red a chance to join in and help rescue another hero. It also lets Who bring in one of his old characters too. So really, it's all going just fine.

*Some names of villains have been changed to better fit my game. I'm very picky about my villain names. And my city names. And quite a few other things when I'm building a setting through actual play. 

**They decided he might be from "Buttgard" pretty early on. This is one of those situations as a parent where it's hard to decide whether to stifle the laughter (more because of how clever they think they are and how pleased with themselves they are at their cleverness than the remark itself), tell them to knock it off (so the entire game doesn't dissolve into teen/preteen silliness), or just try to ignore it and let them think they've gotten away with something. I managed that last choice until about the fifth time it came up amongst a sea of partially-suppressed giggles and snickers and we all had a good laugh and moved on. Because years ago I probably made the same comment to my friends and thought I was just as clever...

Monday, May 21, 2012

The ICONS Character Folio

I picked the Folio up on RPGNow back when I first got into the game and then kind of forgot I had it. It's not like rolling up an ICONS character takes a long time, but the program does make writing up an existing character easier and the output is slick. I'm hoping it gets updated when Team Up is released. Here's Aluminum Man, who I posted about last year.

I am very pleased with the output of this little gem. Yes, you can change the font for the character name. Little touches like that make a big difference to me as I am a font addict in a big way. There are different options for the type of sheet as well, but I kind of like the official one. The character portrait comes from Champions Online which is now a) Free to Play, and b) rather cartoony which fits the ICONS style very well. When you create a character for the game it automatically saves a picture just like the one above so you could design and save numerous characters for tabletop games without worrying about limited character slots in the actual online game. If you're not up for that don't forget about HeroMachine which is a handy alternative.

I wish we had something like this for more games. I know about Hero Lab which is the big dog in this field but it's probably more than most games need. I've been considering it for M&M but I haven't yet decided if it's worth it for a part-time campaign. There's a substantial price difference, but beyond that I like the idea of designing the software for one specific game, ensuring minimal clunkiness for the user.

I'll be playing around with this some more and seeing what the Apprentices can do with it too.

Motivational Monday

This week is "Past"

Hey, it was the Silver Age, in all its glory. When I was a kid and saw it on TV it was awesome and every kid I've shown it to since has enjoyed it thoroughly. Mission accomplished gentlemen.