seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

I continue my gaming musings...

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I just realized that I use your idea of "what can the power/ability do" a lot when working on characters for stories.

As an example, I decided that one character's abilities included the ability to move slight distances thru a fourth spacial dimension. This gives the ability to reach inside things. But then I realized it also would give him the classic "hammerspace"/"katanaspace" effect. Just reach the item into the 4th dimension and leave it there.

Of course that means he still has to deal with the mass, but... :-)
Looking at it from the other side, Hero System makes almost no assumptions about the game world you're running in other than what constitutes a base line "heroic" human (that is, someone a little bit better than average all around). In this regard it is no different from other "generic" systems such as Fate and Tri-Stat. It is up to you to create whatever flavor text is appropriate for the game you're running.

For examples: Iron Man can shoot particle beams. Bronze Saint Cygnus Hyoga has his Diamond Dust. Lina Inverse has her Fireball spell. Hero System uses the same mechanic for all three: the Energy Blast power. You, the GM and players, provide the flavor that makes each of these unique.

Champions as a specific instance of the Hero System does make some assumptions beyond the base line human. Specifically, it makes assumptions common to four-color superhero comics. Again, this is no different from specific instances of other generic systems including to some extent genericizing D&D and forking it into a variety of different game worlds (some attempts more successful than others). The rule about if you didn't pay points for it then you don't have it originates here. This is because heroes in typical four-color comics don't accumulate gear like D&D characters do, or if they do then all that junk winds up in private museums. Maybe something in one of those collections might be useful for a particular adventure. And if it is? Let the players use it. It's only when PCs want things like that to become permanent parts of their characters that they have to pay points for them.

And you know what? You're the GM. You're allowed to let them have those things at whatever cost you want. You can give them extra points to cover the cost if you want their character sheets to mathematically balance. You can give them away as freebies and ignore mathematical balance.

And here's another thing: Hero System doesn't require all PCs in the party to be at the same point totals. I've had fun in Champions games where my characters were significantly under-powered compared to others in the group. In one game loosely based on Saint Seiya we had a player playing one of the mansion staff, a character in a role similar to Nasti Yagyu from Samurai Troopers. He had a blast with it. In fact, there is nothing stopping you from ignoring the point system entirely. If you want to build characters to concept rather than to point totals and your players agree then go for it.

But then, if you're going that route then I'd suggest using some other system. Hero System's strength is the big, rigid, do everything framework. If you and your players want something fluid then Hero is not for you. I would recommend looking at Fate Core and Fate Accelerated instead.
Actually, games like HERO and GURPS still make many assumptions, they're just not as obvious as D&D's "Here's your class straitjacket". The very COSTS of the abilities are literal *embodiments* of the assumptions of the game -- how much it costs to get a 6d6RKA tells you a great deal about the assumptions of the designers, for instance. Sometimes this becomes painfully obvious when you change genres or assumptions -- a classic example in GURPS being that when you went to a high-tech campaign, suddenly points spent in STR were much less effective overall than they had been when you were playing a medieval-based campaign.

My discussion was from the PoV of both GM and player, as player I can't tell the GM that they should ignore the points issue, and in the Champs/Hero and GURPS games I played in *all* of the GMs, and the players for that matter, tended to the "points are god" end of the spectrum.
Hero costs are not assumptions. They're math based on the basic unit of 1D6 of normal damage having a cost of 5 points. Everything in the system is scaled to that ratio. 6D6 of RKA does about the same damage on average as 18D6 of normal damage so they have the same cost. It's certainly an arbitrary valuation but it's not an assumption. Strength is a weird one, though. It's ridiculously powerful in Hero regardless of the game's genre due to how it benefits secondary characteristics.

I've never played GURPS and I don't remember the last time I looked at a GURPS rule book so no comment on that front.

There's not much I can say about the "points are god" players other than hope that they get better like I did. Probably a vain hope, though. A couple of players in my regular group are firmly in the points are god, rigid framework for the win camp and they won't budge. When one of them is running the game? My choices are to tolerate Hero or not play their game. I've done both.
Hero costs EMBODY assumptions. How much you pay to do a given amount of damage -- in short, how easy or hard it is to kill a character with a given type and level of attack -- IS an assumption. If the costs were twice as much as base, then it would be that much harder to severely injure or kill a target character, all other things being equal, which implies a certain level of lethality, or lack thereof, in the universe.

Every single cost worked out in those games embodies assumptions -- judgements made by the designers as to how valuable/useful/comparable a given capability is in context of the uses they envision for that capability.

Note that this is true of pretty much *every* game in existence, all that changes is WHAT the assumptions are and just how they show up. My issue with games of the Hero mold is that they are entirely effects-based. As a system it's certainly a highly-workable and functional design, and it's survived where many other games have fallen by the wayside.

Yes, in my experience the people who hold HARD onto game rules as gospel have a very hard time releasing that concept. Partly that's the fault of the word "game". Unless you were exposed to RPGs fairly early, often you've played many many games and the rules *were* the game, in essence. In an RPG, the rules are "more like guidelines, actually", as Barbossa would say, and the GAME is "let's pretend".
What you describe as assumptions made by the system are in fact decisions about campaign power levels and guidelines made by GMs running Hero System games. A 6D6 RKA would obliterate many heroic level characters but would only annoy cosmic super-beings. The system says that a 6D6 RKA costs 90 points but the effectiveness of those 90 points depends on the campaign world and the characters in it, not assumptions made by the system itself.
GURPS advantages and disadvantages do tend to be priced in numbers divisible by five; quibbling over point efficiency is of course a perennial passtime, as in any point based system.

For playing human-ish scale characters I'd say GURPS is better than Hero/Champions, even if only because it resolves at that level more finely. For playing superheros, Champions is the winner by far; there's no contest.
Champions makes more sense for superheroes in particular because such characters are, often, collections of powers that don't seem to have a solid foundation, and they develop new stunts with their powers at a rate that fits Champs' usual advancement. It's well designed for that purpose.

For higher power games overall, AMBER seems to work best for me, with appropriate tweaks.
I think that was the piece I was missing from this discussion. Champions characters that are just collections of powers is a player thing. This is true for any game system but I do acknowledge that Hero is exceptionally good at it which makes it attractive to players who want their games to be tactical experiences and think that any play session without at least one big fight is a failure.

AMBER Diceless is about as far from that as you can get and still have something that can be called a system.
Yeah. Tactics are in general the least interesting thing for my players and me, and lately they're less and less interested in big fights except as climaxes to campaigns.

Though I add dice to AMBER because I don't think I'm infallible.
I'm curious. Would you happen to have your AMBER house rules written up somewhere I could see them?
That seems like an issue with how the tool is used rather how it's designed; most reasonably complex RPG systems will let players build characters in peculiar ways. Champions isn't my favorite system but I won't complain about how well it echoes models superhero comics; that's literally its purpose.

Now that you have me thinking about it I've gone and looked at my ancient Champions rule book. If the GM is paying attention a player could use an Elemental Control power framework (page 112 of the giant hardback circa the early '90s), which lets you "buy several related Powers at a reduced cost. The character gets a cost break because the Powers in an Elemental Control are linked by common special effects." Go figure; they really did have a game mechanic to reward coherent character concepts.
I'd say that character points are a metric for in-world power, just as AD&D uses levels. Neither are intrinsically better. (One could quibble that AD&D levels are more granular, but then you're just comparing your yardsticks.) GURPS, though it has the word 'generic' in the name, doesn't remove all flavor text from its descriptions as aggressively as Champions; for example, the Fireball and Ice Dagger spells do observably different things despite being, mechanically, ways for wizards to do a few d6 damage from a distance.

And the slippery floor spell should obviously be an Entangle with Area Effect. *grin*
In 5th edition Hero it's Change Environment -4 to Dexterity rolls (-2 to Breakfall skill rolls) and some modifiers. It's an example straight out of the rule book.
Upon examination, my ancient book is the Fourth Edition. There, Change Environment cannot have any direct effect on combat. Indirect effects apparently depend on the cleverness of the players.

But maybe the slippery floor isn't an Entangle; maybe it's a Drain attack against Speed and/or Dexterity!

Or maybe it's bought as Teleport, Usable Against Others, but with the limitation Only To Move Character To Floor.

Once upon a time the newsgroup would often have people coming up with different ways to model the same basic effect in Champions. It's kind of a side quest for the players, since the same basic in-world effects can be described different ways in the rules.
That kind of discussion was frequent on the old Champions mailing list, too. Imagine that. :)
FWIW, back when Bruce Harlick was line editor, his guideline for dealing with multiple constructs for the same effect is that the most expensive construct is the most correct. Steve Long turned that inside out when he took on that role.

TBH, though, I've seen some neat things done with FATE that I think make for better (FSVO "better") superhero games. My favorite is this from Ryan Danks:

along with some character write up ideas using his take on FATE:
For some reason I still remember the toaster. 1d6 Transform (bread to toast), Obvious Accessible Focus (breakable), Extended Duration. Be sure to eat before the effect duration wears off and the toast turns back into bread. *grin*
Were you the person that, in one of many threads on usenet, argued against Champions because you can't make a walkie talkie?
And several of us pointed out that it's just a device with the power "telepathy", with various limitations?

The follow-up argument at the time seemed kind of ... off to me (which was that it shouldn't have to be "telepathy", because telepathy means a specific, mind-based, form of communication). Off because of exactly what you've since realized: Hero is effects based, not cause based. Describing a walkie talkie as a technological implementation telepathy is actually pretty reasonable. Both produce the _effect_ of communication at a distance. "Telepathy" isn't a cause, it's just a word that fills in for the desired effect.

But seeing this follow-up argument makes a LOT more sense. It's exactly that the primitives of capabilities in Hero are so effect based, and not really very cause based, makes a lot of sense. And even with something like an elemental power (multiple powers based on a single cause), you still have to enumerate _all_ of the possible effects or you don't have them (that, or for minor things, you're at the mercy of the GM and whether or not he thinks it's just a minor special-effect that doesn't need mechanical implementation).

Same with the other multi-power frameworks, though a cosmic variable power pool could do exactly what you're talking about, but it's ... considered an abusive thing to have, because it's basically just a bag of character-points you can use any way you want, on the fly. But, you could easily use a CVPP to have a "ray of frost" that either does damage, or transforms/transmutes the surface of water into a bridge, or allows you to "fly along the surface of the water" (since it's icy -> sliding = flying-along-a-surface). And you wouldn't have to enumerate all of the powers, the way you would with an elemental power or multi-slot power (multi-power? I don't recall the exact name, I haven't played Hero in over a decade; and I didn't play it a lot in the first place).

Story-forward games, like FATE, seem like they could do a lot better with being cause based instead of effects based. Aspects go a long way toward that, up front. One of my favorite ways to handle magic in FATE was that it's just a justification for handling your skills in non-mundane ways. How do I cast a magic missile? It's exactly the same as any other ranged attack (shoot skill, or whatever), I just have an excuse that allows me to do it even when I don't have a gun/etc. And the effects are "magical in nature" instead of "mundane in nature." Ray of Frost? "Attack" action, using Shoot skill, if I'm doing damage, or "Overcome an Obstacle" action, using some sort of Craft skill, when I'm trying to make an ice-bridge. What spells do I know? Just like D&D wizards, you acquire them via story events, and note them in your "inventory". But it all hinges on the fact that i have an Aspect which says I'm some sort of magic user.

The cause is embodied in that Aspect ("Graduated top of my class at Hogwarts"). The actions are the 4 standard FATE actions (attack, defend, create-an-(obstacle/advantage), overcome-an-(obstacle/advantage)). How good you are at it is your standard list of skills, just being used for magical effect instead of mundane effect. The spell is the story-world description you talk about in your article. The result ... depends on justifying that your aspect allows you to cast the spell, and then justifying that the spell can be used for a given action, you then describe exactly what you're really doing with that action (freezing a target solid? freezing the ice? giving a target hypothermia? lowering the temperature of a log to the point that combustion stops?), and then you use the skill roll to see how well you did at performing that action.

Or you could have 1 or more skills that are about how good you are with magic, or sub-fields of magic. Like "Sorcery". Or "Fire-Magic". Or "Evokation" or whatever. Skill-lists are changeable in FATE, to fit your story world. So just fill in any details you have there. But 1 skill per spell would probably be a bit cumbersome.