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Meet the Good Guys

Up against the Good Guys! Weak Force, Ankylo, the Anomalator, and Scratch, as I named them from Zircher’s illustration.

The game continues to be cursed by the interface. Please watch rather than listen, if you can, because I put in tons of visual material to help the understanding and the discussion.

We lost the last part, too; suffice to say that ARC was disoriented badly enough by Scratch’s Mind Control + Invisibility (see attached sheet) to be shootin’ up the street for no reason, and that Agent One was about out on his feet when he hit Weak Force with a glorious Presence Attack which stopped the fight. The session ended with a very interesting question which you can’t hear, but the three of us might address in the comments.

There is a whole lot of enthusiasm with the system, and I’m sad the moving video didn’t work this time. We were into it as maybe this still shows:

Here’s the Champions combat protocol so you can see what we’re doing.

  • A round has 12 segments, somewhat dubiously associated with a second of fictional time.
  • You start on segment 12, then go into 1-12, repeat.
  • At the end of segment 12, everyone gets a free Recovery, allowing some replenishment of Stun and Endurance. Otherwise a Recovery is a stated full action.
  • Your Speed determines which segments you go on, which in this context are called phases. Note that the “unoccupied” segments are still presumed to occur.
  • Within a phase, characters’ order of action is determined by Dexterity.

In our combat, ARC, Scratch, and the Anomalator have Speed 5, and the others all have Speed 4. If you list the phases they can act and put them in order of Dexterity, the sequence looks like this. You go left to right, and in a given segment, from top to bottom. Empty segments are ignored although certain actions or effects extend into them.

Interesting tactical bits for me: the same Dexterity for three of my villains, coupled with their tight association and teamwork, means I can do their order in that moment any way I like, e.g., Scratch could swoop down and pull Ankylo away from Agent One just after Weak Force was able to break Agent One’s grab on him. You could imagine their abilities working in a different order, e.g. Scratch could land on someone and slash them after they were knocked prone by one of Ankylo’s concussive blasts. It made the end of each of their phases into a customizable capitalize-on-it for whatever had happened until that point.

See the attached file for the breakdown of Scratch's concept and build.

Also, the Anomalator held his action for phases 3 and 8, permitting him to “let go” of it at the end of the segment just before his next phase, resulting in an effective “double-shot” for phases 5 and 10. He was targeting Agent One, who doesn’t go on those segments, so each time effectively became a double-shot in rapid succession. That’s why Agent One got all gobsmacked from Entangles, Intelligence Drains, and Flashes, none of which were powerful on their own.

Where I’m aiming here is to overcome a deadly feature of the sequencing in this game, which is notoriously lock-step, permitting overly-extensive action on one’s phase but imposing effective “freeze” on you in-between. There are no opportunity attacks or ways to speed yourself up through determination, or anything of that sort. It’s frustratingly non-dynamic, forcing, for example, a speedily-moving character to be mysteriously halted in between phases unless you do a lot of hasty figuring and hand-waving.

This conceptual hiccup is intrinsic to the system, so what you’re seeing me do here is to use every possible textual mitigating small-scale rules tactic to lessen its impact. The number and range of such rules are very small/narrow, but I built in every one of them – even more than showed up in our action in play.

I also used the little-appreciated rule that you can buy an attack with more than one power, e.g., it costs the same (40 points) to get 2d6 Flash + 2d6 Entangle as it would for 4d6 of either, and they go off simultaneously as a single attack containing two “internal” separate attack rolls. I did this a lot. Scratch’s disorienting post-claw attack was a doubled Mind Control + Invisibility, respectively attacking and activating simultaneously. Ankylo’s tail-cannon was a one-hex area blast, armor-piercing, plus 2d6 Endurance destruction. The latter only hit if the person was hit rather than the hex, but he’s got skill levels with it and uses tactics like Brace and Set.

I anticipated that doing stuff like this would be very effective against two characters who were nominally much stronger than any of the Good Guys, and damage roll for damage roll, together could easily take all four of them out, but whose players were accustomed to “wait for my go, it’s my go, tough it out until my next go” which is, frankly, the way the game’s default sequencing works. I may have been a little gleeful about the results, but anyone who plays superhero role-playing with me will discover that I am, often, rooting for the villains.

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
Champions
Attachments: 
PDF icon Scratch.pdf

Comments

Ron: Why make ARC roll for the VPP device that scanned police files for the common thread between the victims of the Good Guys? Why is that not just color? Or a gimmie/"Say Yes" moment? Was there some value in the potential failure?

Jay: Why did you choose to say there was "no common thread, they're all criminals" to Agent One?

Ron Edwards's picture

Hey Mark, it's a rule - the default Variable Power Pool is set up so that you can switch around the points to a new combination of powers using a skill roll, in a comabt situation. The skill is built into the power, i.e., you don't have to buy it for itself. Notice that I didn't require a roll for ARC to whip up the crime-analysis visual device, as he wasn't in combat, but when he tried to switch it out to "make" his gun, that was during a combat phase so he needed to roll.

If you want a VPP that can only be switched-up at your leisure, typically between sessions or significant time-lapse in play, then the Control Cost is cheaper. If you want a VPP that can be switched-up at will without a roll in combat, then the Control Cost is more expensive (much more expensive).

I do not subscribe to "say yes or roll the dice." If it's a rule in a given game, then OK, but as a play-principle I think it's kind of sucky and none of my games do it.

That's not the moment I am asking about. I'm talking about after ARC created the crime-analysis device — when Jay rolled the Mind Scan dice to "find" the criminals. We spent a good chunk of time on that.

My question is: Why make him roll for the Mind Scan? Why not just give him the info?

And, yeah, I may be conflating various editions as well as techniques from other games, but as a GM I probably would have just told him the results, given he had ample time (we were not in combat yet), and there was nothing interesting about a failed outcome.

...but just because that was my instinct doesn't mean I would have preferred you do that. I'm just curious as to the thinking behind it.

I suppose not having the info revealed by ARC's device would have changed our approach. But I dunno.

Ron Edwards's picture

There may be something basic in my thinking at work. Specifically, that I never GM such that I say to myself, "what would be the best outcome," whether the result of a damage roll, or the information gained by doing something,or the setup for a relationship. When a given game hands that power to me as an option, I ignore it. When its rules dictate that I must do it, I hold my nose and more or less pretend I'm a human die. When I find myself doing it all of a sudden in some situation, I dope-slap myself and look around for the procedure I should be following.

First-generation Champions is, in my opinion, much better about when such rules are mandated, and why, than most games published in the following twenty years. Moments like "gee can I fly this helicopter as I happen to be a veteran helicopter pilot" simply don't occur when playing it as written. I typically trust when the rules say roll.

As I say, it's a basic thing. I understand that after umpty-ump times of sitting through nothing's-happening, roll-to-chew-gum, you-can't-do-that play, anything that blows through the crap and gets something established is good, and you might as well hand that decision to someone formally, so you know it'll get done. Whereas to me, I like springboarding from whatever happened, not in the sense of "you failed this roll but you find out anyway from the little bird," but more like, "what would ARC do if he couldn't get some sort of information from his device?"

The thing is, I suddenly realize, that there are two components here. One is the roll I asked for, which I confess I don't really see why it's an issue in this case, considering he got a solid result and I gave him completely non-deceptive, non-mistaken information. The other is what Jay decided ARC made of that information.

I'm trying to get into that best-outcomes frame of mind in order to address your question, and so the issue isn't asking for the roll, it's GMing what Jay decided to say. Let's see ... I guess, I could have said, "Gee, Jay, what's ARC's reasoning behind that conclusion, as only a fraction of the fifteen-plus people you looked at had any kind of criminal 'past,' and all minor at that. Is it something to do with the future world he comes from?" But that'd be because I might have played ARC differently and had some investment in Jay playing him my way, or was invested in how the combat was supposed to go and needed to nudge him the right way. I don't have any such investment.

I imagine the two of you are still feeling your way into the characters, especially since they have so few of the modern-life touchpoints that make most superheroes easy to play. Maybe Jay was rock-solid on exactly "how ARC would read that." Or, sometimes spitballing a little bit is a good way to play at that stage, not planning where it's going and not really analyzing exactly how backed-up the behavior is, conceptually, but willing to run with whatever happens as a character-establishing moment. Maybe something in-between. My point is that such things are none of my business and most especially, they are subject to no management on my part regarding either of these things: whether or not to use a rule, when the rule is, "when you Mind Scan, you roll these dice;" or whether or not to negotiate with a player about his or her character's stated opinion, when that player runs with the available information in an unexpected and perhaps baffling way.

One thing that really stood out for me from the session, directly related to these moments of play, is that Marcus simply evolved into play bit by bit, contributor by contributor, moment by moment. First, that you had a "documenter" along, leavened by the humor the concept had generated at the end of our prior mini-session. One of you asked about that, so yeah, along he came. Then, that he was a film student rather than a professional or anyone associated with the police; that was me, plus the "buck-toothed" kind of frizzy guy I was thinking of. Then, that Jay was really insistent about carting him along to whatever location he teleported to, even though from my end, I wasn't really thinking about that once he was there at all. Finally, that when ARC started in with his "they're all criminals" talk, which (i) was at least consistent with his reading of the 'scope thing, but (ii) I sure as hell didn't anticipate or set up for, I found myself role-playing him pretty earnestly based on him not being a police or otherwise establishment representative, and as I talked, not knowing what I was going to say next, his full appearance, the fact that he was black, and eventually, his name all sorta settled in on me in a muse-like fashion.

But none of that had anything to do with messaging to you guys about how to play, how to interpret results from a character motivation point of view, or "best outcomes." The guy was there to be played, is all I know, so I did. I've merely learned to trust when such sensations and creative input "come to me," who knows where they may go or why. I'm typically good with where the rules go and what a player may do that's outside my own notions.

Thanks for clarifying that, Ron.

Ron Edwards's picture

We began the next session with a little conversation about this point, and I'm posting that clip with permission from Mark and Jay: Champs criminals question.

"I also used the little-appreciated rule that you can buy an attack with more than one power, e.g., it costs the same (40 points) to get 2d6 Flash + 2d6 Entangle as it would for 4d6 of either, and they go off simultaneously as a single attack containing two “internal” separate attack rolls."

Ron, can you tell me where this rule is in the text?

Ron Edwards's picture

Yeah, it's page 24 in Champions III. I even scanned it, knowing the topic might come up.

The presentation gets a little distracted by going on about the option as a multipower slot, but the precise description of the rule clearly shows it's an option for any attack, not just slotted that way. The terminology doesn't help a bit: "multiple powers" vs. "multipower."

Ron Edwards's picture

Champions 3rd, session 3. In which our heroes put some thought into the situation and our players do the same into the system.

The big question: is or isn't Presence a monstrous dodge? Good design or bad? How does it work? (plus, spot the rules-bork your humble GM managed to introduce)

My guess is your allowing Jay to buy Skill Levels in his past-viewing device, as later int he episode you tell me that 3rd explicitly — or in wording, at least — does not allow Skills to be purchased in VPPs.

Ron Edwards's picture

A little bit, for that idea. I'd been misled by our previous use of Mind Scan, which does permit bonuses to the roll to be bought as part of the power. Telepathy doesn't have that but at the moment, I must have been thinking that Ego powers were all alike.

However, the real biggie for this session was unfortunately consequential: I mis-heard Jay describe his Variable Power Pool as "45 points," when he meant 30 points with a 15-point Control Cost. And even when he tried to clarify that a bit later, I was all wrapped up and didn't get it. So that means you should have received 30 points, i.e. 6d6, for the extra Presence. Not 9d6.

Which would certainly have changed the outcome to hitting Roach for a lower multiple of his Presence, probably 2x rather than 3x. That would certainly have mattered, e.g., your Presence hit on the Good Guys in the previous session only managed a 1x effect, so this would have been a real gain, but it wouldn't have been the utter takedown that the 9d6 roll made.

I can see that effect going one of two ways. 1. Roach could have called off (or rather, been compelled to call off) the Good Guys from their current actions, but then tried a number of untrusting, dangerous ways to try to get his badge; or 2. He could have wanted to call it off and come get his badge, but the Good Guys would have slipped their leash and wanted to carry out this "mission" anyway, so you'd have had to fight them at least a little. I like the second option as you might imagine.

johnpowell6's picture

I'd love to see how Scratch's team mates are designed.

Ron Edwards's picture

They might be attached at one of these posts, but no matter, here they are. You can see that the overall concept, that there is just one real guy, and these are all projected constructs, isn't reflected or modeled in the points at all. Instead, each is written as if the "host" or target for the projection is the Secret Identity, hence the amnesia. Conceivably, in the future, Roach could project them onto four different people and the Secret ID would change, and the character would otherwise be the same. But all that is handled as "concept," kind of the over-arching special effect, rather than as Roach's power. I could do it that way if I wanted to though, with a crazy VPP probably, not flexible in application, in which a combo was a very fixed character design.

johnpowell6's picture

Thanks again!

johnpowell6's picture

Wow - Sratch's EC has an Active:Real cost ratio of ~267%!!

Ron Edwards's picture

H'm, not seeing the same thing. I jump at the chance to Talk Ratio.

I think what got you to that value was figuring in the Elemental Control discount into the Active Cost.

Let's see, for Scratch, the unmodified Elemental Control itself is 28 points, and it's on a +1 Limitation that will apply to each slot too.

The Mind Control is 56 Active Points, but out of the gate, that's 28 points due to the discount. And that's what you use for the Active Cost in figuring the ratio, i.e., after discount. Its Limitations bring the 28 to 10 points.

The Invisibility is exactly the same excepts its local Limitations bring it to 9.

So, that's 28 + 28 + 28 for the Elemental Control's Active Cost = 84. The Real Cost after Limitations is 47. Dividing (and multipying by 100), that's 178.7.

All that said, I typically use ratio for the overall character, not for specific pieces (not as if it's hard to tell where the Limitations are comng from; it's really transparent). Scratch's Active Cost is 241, and his Real Cost is 204, so the total ratio is 118.1.

In retrospect, it would not have been off-concept to make all the Good Guys "only in hero ID" for just about everything, maybe a few points to reflect the unmodified host person, in which case they would have been substantially nastier in "foundational" points like Constitution and so on, and their ratios (I haven't calculated this, so estimating) way up into the 130s. I liked them better this way; part of my point was to have them be weaker than the heroes but very good at tactics.

As it happens, too, I am putting up my Ratio video into the Updates next!

 

johnpowell6's picture

By my lights the active cost is 56 for the Mind Control and 56 for the Invisibility for a total o 112 active points What you paid was 14x3 or 42 real points this the 267%  ratio. 

Not that I care - the bad guys can be built anyway you like! But I would certainly have not allowed one of my players back in the day to pile that much on. 

Cheers!

Ron Edwards's picture

Maybe we should dial this back a little from competing explanations. I understand exactly what you’re describing, hunting down Active Cost wherever it may hide, and yes, each of Scratch’s powers in there are 56 Active Points.

But the metric that I’m recommending for practical use is only concerned with Limitations. So Power Frameworks, for my ratio purposes, get a pass. That’s why I’m calculating each power in Scratch’s Elemental Control at 28 points before Limitations – it’s after the Elemental Control’s subtracted discount, not before.

I completely agree with the underlying principle of what you're talking about, though. Elemental Control is a mathematical sore thumb in the whole Framework/Modifier system, based on flat subtraction whereas everything else is done with multiplication/division. Rather than try to correct for that, I found in practice it was best merely to accept it, treating each Framework as its own way to re-structure the point system with its own quirks, and concerning myself only with Limitations.

My original recording of the video at the Kickstarter included some discussion of that, but it turned into a detour where I was trying to explain a thing and an edge-case of a thing at the same time, and I edited it out. That’s where I put that little note about “I’ll talk about Power Frameworks in the comments,” which I haven’t done yet, and it's also why the resulting video is concerned only with Active Cost.

johnpowell6's picture

Gotcha.

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