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Physics Man Was Not Meant to Know

Here's session 1 for the series I'm calling Legacy, featuring Advance and PowerStar. As has been suggested before, you can now see the entire organization and prep process by following the tag, leading into play that you can see here.

The whole session plays nicely off their respective defining features, in that Advance is a sixty-year-old man who involuntarily retired from superheroing, and is now unexpectedly restored into that role, plus everyone knows it's him; and PowerStar is a thirty-year-old restauranteur who's suddenly become the  wealthy inheritor of the long-gone original and widely-believed best superhero, and no one knows it's just him.

This session especially, satisfied a need that I didn't even realize I had, to celebrate the 80s comics and general culture without sentimentalizing it. It's not retro, being set in the here-and-now, but the heroes are heavily historically oriented and my ... interesting choice about what to do with that turned out historically more powerful than gimmicky. Deliberate 80s stuff won't be a characterizing feature of the whole series, but it surprised me how fun it was as a single event.

I'd like you to examine how we arrived at all the visible content - and there's a lot - by allowing independent work off the two statements, then meeting to help with the three-cornered process and any mechanics clarifications. We specifically did not discuss ideas and possibilities, or vet one anothers proposals, before putting down at least half-a-character.

I'll talk more about the GM prep process in the comments. It'd be good for you to see how I played the NPCs first.

I screwed up one thing out of the gate, which is that play was supposed to begin with Mike (PowerStar) interacting with one of his close family, either his brother, or his sister-in-law, who happens to be his ex and now runs the restaurant. That leaves us (the group, or anyone viewing, probably) more emotionally connected with Advance, but then again, the final interactions between the heroes bring out so much that I can't imagine the session being any other way.

I think you'll enjoy it. We really did.

Department: 
Actual Play
Tags: 
Legacy

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

Presence has seen a lot of use and feedback across several games so far. My choice has been to let it be used generously, overly so, in order to discover when it needs useful and concrete limitations.

For those of you who don't know, Strength and Presence are the two characteristics which operate like powers: 1d6 of effect per 5 points, so a well-endowed character lets you roll a considerable handful of dice. Presence is notable because there is no "to hit" roll for an attack, you just pick up those dice and roll'em, and even more so, it's free in terms of timing and energy. That is so radically different from everything else in the game, and the rules within Presence-use are so well-constructed (hence it's not a one-off rule thrown in thoughtlessly), that I have concluded it's intentionally unique.

The textual modifiers for Presence - basically adding or subtracting dice - are, as I say, quite good. One of them concerns repeated use against a given target, and although it's a little ambiguous about "during an encounter" vs. "forever," the basic idea is clear. Once you get a certain level of effect against someone, including a 'failed' no effect, subsequent attempts are weaker in dice. It's a good rule, and should be remembered along with the penalty for use in combat.

In this session, I forgot both of those and should have applied the single-die latter penalty to Advance's Presence Attacks against Gemfire, and the repeated-use penalty as well to his second one.

... then I got to thinking a little bit more, and I looked back over all that extravagant Presence usage in the St. Louis and San Antonio games ... then in talking a bit with Rod, he mentioned that the repeated use really ought to have teeth. As he put it, "your arch-nemesis is done with your bullshit," and it's not like you can startle, impress, or convince him any more.

I liked that concept, but how to quantify it without annoying "how many since" record-keeping per NPC? Then I thought of something which seems extreme, but it's simple, specific, and the more I think about it, very desirable.

So it's going into the rules: your DNPCs and all NPCs in your Hunteds are immune to your Presence. Period.

I like that a lot. From the San Antonio game, the very first roll was called for by me, interpreting Rod's hero's interaction with his fiancee as a (non-hostile) Presence Attack, and in this context, it would have made more sense to direct it not to her, but toward the circle of friends he and she were socializing with. I could have done that with the very same role-playing in action, and it would have preserved the "sanctity" of the couple as indicated by the DNPC status.

In the session presented here, it would have meant Gemfire and Dr. Bang were immune to Advance's Presence. This is a good example because unlike the usual Hunted, in which (for instance) Anna Evilconda wants to skin you and kill you, the Hunted in this case is The Continuum, who is plucking temporal snapshots of supervillains from the 80s into the present. So even if Gemfire is not personally motivated to attack Advance, which she wasn't, this particular manifestation of her isn't her in motivational terms, but rather the Continuum's power in action, directed toward the Continuum's goals, and thus Gemfire is Presence-armored against Advance.

The constellation of small effects radiating outward from this idea is wonderful, there are tons. One of them is distinguishing DNPCs vs. all others, in that the player has chosen this one to be "close" in what is actually a very intimate or important rules-space relative to the hero. Another is the way that a hero-buddy can now be very helpful against one's nemesis, facilitating much heroic rescue and dialogue - your nemesis may not listen to reason or emotion from you but might from him or her, for example.

Santiago Verón's picture

Whoa! Sounds exciting! But, does that mean I wouldn't have been able to use my presence on Fred at the first session?

Ron Edwards's picture

Correct. You are helpless before the might of Monsanto, of which he was (however lowly) an anointed representative. No more fending off Hunteds with Presence. Anyone can just be annoyed or "after" you for whatever reason, but a Hunted is not impressed and will not quit.

Ross's picture

This seems really interesting, and I particularly like the way it encourages teamwork. How widely are you thinking the line gets drawn though? For example Crawl's hunted was Amybiota, so sadly scaring lowly grad students working therethe ruled out, but does that also mean no presence attacks by Finn on Man-o-War or Cortex? They are clearly connected to Amybiota but are they part of it for this purpose? 

Also to get really rules geeky - if my DNPC has a hunted can I presence attack them?

Finally I assume this effect isn't transitive, so one's DNPCs and Hunteds can still presence attack you?

Ron Edwards's picture

Lots to think about, and the real task is to come up with answers that are easily and completely generally applicable rather than this-or-that spot-rule. I may not have quite the right phrasing ready to hand. But at the moment, it seeems to me that Finn's Presence would apply to Man o'War, who had escaped from AmyBiota and did not operate toward its goals toward Finn, but it would not work against Cortex, who definitely qualified as conducting AmyBiota's efforts toward Finn.

That adds the confusing but useful wrinkle of working strictly with special effects, i.e., whether Finn’s Presence would work toward Liam, if his mind could be located and isolated “in there,” among the welter of traumatized minds that composes Cortex’s powers.

The answer for a DNPC's Hunted or, as it happens, a Hunted’s DNPC, seems clear: the hero can use Presence toward them. That reinforces the concept that learning and knowing about such characters matters a lot.

As for whether Hunteds and DNPCs can use Presence “back” at the hero, that’s a tougher question than it looks, and I think the right answer is “yes,” but I’m still thinking about it.

Ross's picture

On that last point it sort of feels like a process / decision point whereby a pc goes from being subject to presence attacks from a DNPC or Hunted to not might be produce interesting character moments. As you say this gets more complex as you think about it. 

It might be worth looking at the Influence mechanics in Masks for something similar. And of course clearly more play is required....

Ross's picture

I'm loving the bright and breezy tone you guys have going on here, although I could see it shifting into Lynchian / 70's SF reality questioning weirdness pretty easily too. Did you get a wholesale lot of Kirby Krackle in Ron?

I'm seeing and interesting tension regarding functioning as a team Vs individuals, that was in the Deviants too. I'm specifically thinking here about locations and attention, although what the heroes do as a team is also worth talking about. So as a team it makes sense to stick together especially when fights look likely - don't split the party! - and system wise fights with a few heroes and their powers and actions interacting are probably more fun too. But the logic of Champions Now, three cornered characters and multiple problems / threats pressing in from different directions mean that heroes wandering off in different directions is inevitable. Therefore communications and travel, bluntly being able to call for help and get there to help, become quite important, as we saw with Powerstar bouncing down the coast to aid Advance. I don't know if this needs anything beyond a bit of thought at the outset, "how do you all keep in touch", "what means do you have of moving around quickly" and if the initial answers are shrugs maybe think of something better!? Anything to avoid the regular digressions regarding mobile phone security we got into!

Ross's picture

Footnote: also look at the "moment worth discussing" - Ron's caption - in The Defiants Episode 7 about 57.30 minutes in.

Ron Edwards's picture

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and decided there were several variables in play, making it hard to summarize or discuss.

One of the variables concerns table-top role-playing situations: the sense that the GM is in control of “what the problem is” and “how we get there.” A great deal of self-deceiving sandbox play concerns freedom to roam about and poke about in the secure knowledge that you will identify the adversary and you will be wherever is needed to confront or stop it. Variants such as “it finds you first” are merely that, variants.

It’s easy to say, oh, but we don’t do that, we play real sandbox, there’s no big bad, just organic emergent conflicts of interest ... and once we put aside the self-deception, then yes, people do this. But many of those all too often encounter the more subtle problem, of relying on fixed standards of genre and staples of what will be found, how we find it, and what to do about it. You can see a lot of that in games which provide fixed fictional roles to step into.

Anyway, either of those two aspects of the problem can be unpacked into a vintage steamer trunk’s worth of archaic and surprising items, but for now, I’m merely identifying the variable that habitual procedures of role-playing are a hindrance in discussing this precise phenomenon in Champions, and for Champions Now. They presuppose that if the players do not arrive at some group identity for their characters, that the GM is there to take care of the situations of play anyway.

The other variable concerns comics, specifically titles that feature more than one ongoing hero – at minimum, a duo, but more obviously for our purposes, a team. They have to have an identifiable group purpose (either to do or to be), whether justified in the fiction or not. In other words, the fictional justification can be paper-thin or even not ever mentioned, yet still quite evident in how the characters operate and interrelate in an immediate situation, enough for the reader to enjoy.

The third variable blends the above two together in the special context of the two short videos I made recently, Emergent plot techniques and The Role of the Roll. From them, let’s take (i) bangs-type play, with conflict-rich circumstances and no guaranteed outcomes, and (ii) contingent outcomes of many kinds, throughout play. When the aesthetics and inspiration demand that we know “this is what we do,” with the emphasis on the “we,” how is that manifested in action by the players of the heroes?

Solution 1 is to dial it all the way back to what I dismissed in the first moments of the emergent-techniques video: scripting. Of course! We’ll discuss our group’s purpose into the ground and agree, negotiate, discuss, agree, suggest, clarify, and agree some more, until no one could possibly fail to understand why this group is together or what they do. Nor is there any smidgeon of possible surprise, insight, or development left in play.

Solution 2? I know it’s possible. The truth is that it’s far easier to say something pretty brief and basic, and run with it in play to discover its value at any level, in or out of the fiction. But so far I’ve been surprised at players failing to do it. Not because they lack the desire, but for reasons related to all of the points above, i.e., slightly different angles on slightly different variables, per person. I’m realizing that the text is going to need real explanations and real hand-holding for the players to be assertive, committed, and energized by what they say their heroes are together for.

P.S. If and when you organize and GM a Champions Now playtest about a super-group called The Deviants, let me in on it.

Rod_A's picture

At this point, I'm starting to think that to get "functional team" happening, you need the characters to have shared assets and/or liabilities -- or maybe not "need", but it would be a strong push.

It may be even more difficult for duos. The only models for dedicated duo books that I can think of are: hero/sidekick (Batman & Robin, etc. etc. etc.), buddy cops (Power Man & Iron Fist), or strong thematic powers and personal relationship (Hawk & Dove, Cloak & Dagger).

Santiago Verón's picture

I've finished this one, and I'm halfway through the first of the following two parter. What an interesting character you guys have made of Dr Darius Darkstar. The part where Ron plays him was a delight to watch.

What's the deal with the cat? Is the meme preexisting?

I also have a question about the speed chart. Is it reduced to nine segments because Speed is more powerful now, because it's easier to manage than twelve, or both?

Ron Edwards's picture

I like Darius too! He showed up again in the session we just played and revealed more about the powers-energy interchange between him and PowerStar.

The meme history goes like this.

  1. During our first concept/intro session, Frank talked about the phrase "Get advanced bro" as a meme that had taken off to the re-appeared Advance's consternation. We didn't mention any specific images.
  2. During the first play session, Frank role-played Vince as telling Gavin, his management partner and friend, about this meme, "did you see this? there was this big cat!" This wasn't suggested by me, it was just Frank making up what the meme showed up, and having fun with the idea that a character Vince's age would not be very prepared for such things.
  3. As I was editing the session for the posted video, I decided it would be funny actually to make the meme, so I ran a search for amusing images of big cats and found that one (I left the link on the image so you can find it if you want). I put the "get advanced bro" phrase on it myself to show the entirely fictional meme, more or less as a treat for Frank in appreciation of the dialogue he'd thrown in during play.

Twelve segments was always too many. No character ever stayed at the default Speed of 2, bought it only to 3, or bought it up past 7, and on the chart, segments 1, 7, and 11 were always blank.

So you really only have four Speeds, 4-7, and you really only have nine usable segments. The new Speed chart in action is really just the old one with the unnecessary blank spots taken out, i.e., ,characters have about the same number of actions in a full turn as they used to.

In play, it's facilitating a better use of sequential actions as a given character's limited moments of "one two" are more easily perceived by the players. I'm noticing a better, more intuitive use of held actions and reactive things like aborting to block - in the latter case, it feels as if you have "less time to wait" when you cancel an upcoming action, i.e., you don't feel as if you took your character out of play for as long a time.

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