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Champions Now: Strength, Blocks, Martial Blocks

A question on Strength and Blocks (or Martial Blocks)

What is the minimum a character’s Strength have to be to perform a Block or Martial Block? Specifically, how low can a character drop his or her Strength and still block an attack? This is a tactical issue in terms of Endurance use. For example, a Block using minimal Strength (and thus END) versus an attack using lots of Strength (and END).

Examples:

A character who is “more powerful than a locomotive” throws a punch.

A character whose strength is “normal human” throws a punch (or a Martial Kick).

An Iron Fist type whose strength is notionally normal, but has “summoned his Chi” or whatever to launch a big attack.

In terms of special effects:

A character who uses a “soft” Martial Art shouldn’t need to use much Strength to redirect a blow. But how little, especially against someone “more powerful that a locomotive”, who doesn’t necessarily have pressure points that can be used against them? Or at least not the same ones as “normal humans”.

A character with superhuman Strength and “invulnerability” blocks an attack from someone with “normal human” Strength.

A character with superhuman Strength blocks an attack from someone else with superhuman Strength.

For the sake of this question, assume Combat Value is irrelevant. The characters involved have "enough".

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

My overriding principle is that nothing, in-fiction, obviates the most basic resolution rules. Nerdrage or no nerdrage, the attack is blocked.

Fortunately, however, the other overriding principle is that the special effects always matter. Here I’m not concerned so much with the magnitude of the strength difference as with the fact that you don’t have Strength that high without it being “super” in concept. And “super” is important for these things, if only at an emotional-aesthetic level.

Exactly how special effects work is strictly a table-top issue, and I absolutely will not include in-fiction logic or numerical effects for them in the rules; there is no “canon” for special effects. They are, however, required to play the game at all, so the rule is, “your standards for your special effects rulings are a core feature of play.”

Here are some useful points and ideas to choose from (most of of them apply for the reverse as well, when your not-too-glowy attack is blocked by the super-strong person):

  • “Block” is a rules term, not an in-fiction term. Just as Martial Throw means anything that ends with the opponent prone, Block means anything that obviates an opponent’s blow, at the cost of one’s next action. Narrate it to make it work for these specific characters, including no direct contact. (A subset point here is that all martial arts are both soft and hard at the most advanced levels.)
  • Use thought balloon free monologues just like the comics writers do, as Hail Mary saves for things that are dubious when drawn. For a very unlikely roll that nevertheless succeeds, “Whew! That would have squished my head! I don’t think I’ll pull that off again!” For a success on a more reliable roll, the bad-ass boast: “Speed and skill are superior to any wad of muscle, you clod.”
  • Fake damage is extremely useful: in the fiction, the character feels pain and is quite vocal about it, but there’s no mechanical effect. (You may be surprised at how many players are 100% satisfied with this and this only.)
  • Go ahead and introduce some damage or damage-like thing as a side effect. Some possibilities: ½ Stun damage, against which defenses do apply; call for an Unluck roll (most martial arts heroes seem to have it); perhaps requiring an Endurance expenditure or even Push; applying Knockback as if the strike had been successful, but only Knockback.

I can feel some readers getting the resentful, “but that’s fiat” look on their faces. So here’s one more key point: that if someone really wants their hero’s strength to be super, they need to start thinking less about the magnitude of Strength and more about building concepts through criss-crossing multiple components of the character. For the effect that your question implied, if someone really wants their character’s strength to be so heinous that blocking isn’t so great against it, then they need powers to lock that effect down.

  • An example: Energy Blast modified by Damage Shield and 0 Endurance, limited to this side-effect against blocks and related situations. There’s your “too strong to block me without consequences” right there.

This is only one of many, many “strength powers” that I have on tap in my notes. It’s why there’s no such thing as “the Brick.” Ten super-strong characters should each have his or her own interesting profile of Characteristics, Powers, and Limitations to enjoy how Strength is done in addition to how much Strength. They should be as different in build as any ten other characters, based on their precise concepts and special effects, and how the powers are constructed to express those.

Let me know if this makes sense. It strikes to the heart of the first-generation rules philosophy, and there are a couple of parts that lead to other points.

In my "old group" (1985-1988 where I played a ridiculous amount of Champions and the other 'Hero System' games) we never just said "a brick" or "an egoist" or whatever.  It was always a brick type, a martial artist type; we carried that over to Fantasy Hero: a warrior type, or whatever.  We always added some kind of twist.  

Ron Edwards's picture

We never used those character-class terms either, and I think the game as I'm talking about it isn't improved by them. I winced when I saw them in the Champions III supplement, but wrote it off as a subfeature of the random character generation article they were in. You can find casual use of the terms here and there among these rules, but that one reference was the closest to a classification. Otherwise the usage seemed very informal.

They show up as more and more formal terms in supplements, and although I haven't combed the books, I know they're not in 4th edition either. I don't know whether the texts ever really formally switched over to them as a pretty-much expected class system, but the much later supplements, The Ultimate Brick, The Ultimate Energy Projector, and so on, speak to their codifying through use before the 2000s.

 

alanb's picture

OK, I'm stupid. For some reason I was assuming that Block/Martial Block worked the same way as Punch, and that the character would pay END derived from their STR.

That's not the case in the text, any more than it is for Dodge/Martial Dodge.

Presumably, there is no END cost for these maneuvers.

This means that what I thought was a bit of cheese is irrelevant.

---

As an apology for wasting your time, here is a campaign specification that I probably won't ever use:

In Utopia, dissidents are considered to be villains.
Rebellious punkish superheroes; set in in 1970s/80s Brisbane.

(A flashback to my youth. full of "you had to be there", politics and music. Obviously it's "Conservative Utopia", with lots of hypocrisy and corruption.)

Ron Edwards's picture

It wasn't wasting my time at all. I think the Endurance mis-read may have led you to conceive it as more important or immediately-necessary than it is, but the principles I outlined are really important. So you prompted me to lay down an explanation that will probably make it into the rules, no small thing.

Ron Edwards's picture

I really encourage you to play the Utopia thing with like-minded people! I don't know if you saw my old blog post Scouse, but I hope it shows that you're not alone ... and maybe even younger people would be amenable to what it means/meant, if shown the way.

alanb's picture

The Scouse post reminded me of an idea I had when you were posting about Cold Soldier: using similar concepts in a Champions game.

This would be ideal for a character like the Man-Thing, for example.

Maybe add in a conventional hero with a conflicting agenda. The two would probably fight.

Eventually, of course, words along the lines of "Whatever knows fear freezes at the touch of the Cold Soldier" get said.

At first glance, the game looks like a one shot. It wouldn't have to be.

A possible campaign specification:

Superheroes meet the Supernatural.

Fight the Monster/Be the Monster; near a swamp.

I've been seeing some pushback in the webs about Endurance cost.  Been thinking about it some and wasn't sure where to post this.  ("Goodwin School of Cost Effectiveness", ha.)

If making a power 0 Endurance cost is +2... example: 4 units of some power at 5 points per unit, costs 20 points with an END cost of 4.  To buy those 4 units at 0 END cost would cost (20 * 3) 60 points. 

For half END cost, you could buy 2 units at regular END (10 points, 2 END) and 2 units at 0 END for (10 * 3) 30 points), making the net result 4 units with an END cost of 2, for a total of 40 points, making that a net +1. 

For one-quarter END cost, you could buy 1 unit at regular END (5 points) and 3 units at 0 END for (15 * 3) 45 points, making the net result 4 units with an END cost of 1, for a total of 50 points, making that a net +1 1/2.  

For one-eighth END cost:  8 units at full END have a base cost of 40 points.  Let's say 1 unit at 5 points, plus 7 units (35 base points) at 0 END (35 * 3) 105 points, so 8 units at 110 points, for a net +1 3/4.  

That works out... maybe a little more neatly than you intended?

Ron Edwards's picture

I’ll go you one better!

Given some recent playtesting, I put that Advantage at +1 instead. This makes your breakdown very interesting, as follows. Taking a 40 point power …

Unmodified, the Endurance cost is 8 and the point cost is 40.

At 20 unmodified and 20 with 0 Endurance, the Endurance is 4 and the point cost is 60.

At 10 unmodified and 30 with 0 Endurance, the Endurance is 2 and the point cost is 70.

At 5 unmodified and 35 with 0 Endurance, the Endurance cost is 1 and the point cost is 75.

At all 40 with 0 Endurance cost, the Endurance is 0 and the point cost is 80.

This maps rather well to the original rules, for which the above progression is 50, 60, 70, 80.

So mine is very similar except with a higher initial buy-in … which as it happens, is exactly what I want. The +2 was way too blunt-instrument. I think it’s still expensive enough to matter but also accessible if you super-really want it.

I also like how it’s invulnerable to rounding since it’s always based on a doubled cost for the 0 Endurance part. And you can also get all the intermediates in the above list, e.g. Endurance cost 5 would be 55 points.

Now, you and I know this really isn’t about Advantage-based increases in cost. This is about 38 years of paying zero, zip, no Endurance for things, for reduced overall point cost, using Limited Uses (Charges) and those Foci that somehow never get spotted or grabbed. And that shit was always broken, and that’s why it’s gone.

I’m also going to call out the 4th edition shift to 1 Endurance per 10 points as a face-saving way to start ignoring Endurance altogether. They might as well have removed Endurance from the game and have done, which is what people did at the table after that point anyway.

So why not accept that and eliminate Endurance outright? Or hell, embrace doing that, as everyone seems to have wanted anyway? Why do I want the characters gasping and sweating and

Because it’s good, and not doing it is bad. I’ve written a lot about this, and about how the comics characters got stupid due to fatigue mysteriously vanishing from fights right about the same time role-playing did.

https://adeptpress.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/a-hero-gets-tired/

https://adeptpress.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/missed-ran-out-dang-unnhh/

https://adeptpress.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/dynamic-mechanics/

And I’m perfectly happy to discuss that in detail as we go along.

Ah!  I'm glad the cost is less.  :)  

And agreed, every word.  

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