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Crunching numbers, now

A year has passed and me and my friends decided to pick up our game prep where we left it. The good news: now I’ve got the actual Champions Now manual, in pre-publication form. (In case you don’t follow the Kickstarter, backers have already received a PDF with the rules; it’s not “finished” because there’s still art/comics under development.)

 

As another college year came to an end (in Argentina we go heavily from March to December, then mostly rest on our summer), I was psyched enough by the PDF to message Alejo, Cecilia and Edson and ask if they’d like to play Champions. And do it soonish, before Ale and Ed go back to their cities on summer vacation. Last year, we met again with a bunch more friends for another prep session I didn’t post about. It was a mess: too many people, too much work to do. We left it there and went about our lives. This time I’ve decided to just focus on them three and their characters, which is more than enough; we can invite more friends later on if it really picks up. They said they’d be up for it, we went a bit back and forth on dusting off some concepts, and I prepared three character sheets.

 

I post them now in the hopes of catching any mathematical or conceptual errors. (The most striking possibility, in my eyes, is that I’m misinterpeting that you get ranges of 5 hexes times Power Points, which seems like a lot.) For the character blurbs, I’m copypasting from my previous post, last year, which you can read here: http://adeptplay.com/actual-play/first-superheroes-la-plata

 

THE FIRST SUPERHEROES OF LA PLATA

A Champions Now game

Game Master: Santiago Verón

Statements: Up until now, there have been only villains / Teen soap opera about high school political activists in La Plata

 

DON ROUND-A-DON / Gastón Couronne, 17

Player: Alejo

Ratio: 100

POWERS, PERSON AND PROBLEMS: He participates in a conservative students group, tied to Argentina's current main conservative party (currently in office). His parents make him do so. They're both secretly super villains, and have been for a long time. They don't know he's developed powers, but he knows about them. For the past year and a half, he's been routinely fighting them, thwarting their schemes, without them knowing it's their own son. Their powers are that the mother can turn things into gunpowder, and the father can ignite things. Appropriately, the son can create cyan-colored force field bubbles. He maintains one around his head as a sort of helmet, hiding his identity. That gives him his name. The city and the press regard him as the first superhero; he's more talked about in conservative circles, which commend his efforts against crime but consider him a wuss for never killing anybody. He often does the thing of stopping criminals and leaving them to be arrested by the Police.

 

SITUATIONS

Secret ID Gastón Couronne 15

Psych: Bad people are just that: evil, opinion, a lot 15

Psych: No would-be hero could be better than me, opinion, a lot 15

Bad luck 3d6, 15

Hunted: Termite, her mother, ruinous supervillain 20

Hunted: Male Flare, his father, ruinous supervillain 20

 

CHARACTERISTICS: STR 2d6 - PRE 2d6 - DEF 10 - BOD 11 (Rec 11, Stun 11, Knock 22, End 33) - SPD 04 - DEX 11 - INT 11 - EGO 11

 

SKILLS

Luck 3d6, 15

 

POWERS

Bubble Platforms (Surfaces, Air-Walking) 10

Bubble Shields (Missile Deflection 20, Usable On Others 20, Area Effect: sphere with radius 2 hexes in which targets can be selectively chosen 20) 60

Elemental control: Lilac Bubbles 25

Effect: Opaque, round lilac force fields he can create at will.

Bubble Hold (Entangle 50) 25

Bubble Barrier (Force Wall 50) 25

 

VERA LUX / Maxine Gómez, 17

Player: Edson

Ratio: 100

POWERS, PERSON AND PROBLEMS: Her grandfather was part of Project Manhattan, and after the bombing felt used and disgusted. When the USSR fell, he emigrated to Russia. He and his Russian wife had a daughter and moved to Chile. There, the daughter met the Chilean Señor Gómez, and had Maxine in late 2000. All of these characters, except for the grandfather, died from different forms of cancer. That's how he realized Maxine gave off radiation, resulting from a weird mutation on one of his own genes - he himself is immune. Relocated to Argentina, he made contact with an underground network of expatriate scientists, working against USA and USSR war criminals, and together they trained her and helped her develop her powers. She has been a superpowered urban legend since age 14. She focuses on killing arms dealers; she and her grandfather have no patience for arms making. Her power is a death aura; while active her body slowly becomes energy; most of the time she looks like a half skeleton; she needs a day or so to recover afterwards, so she usually works on weekends. She had been home schooled her whole life, but she entered high school in the third to last year.

 

SITUATIONS

DNPC Grandpa 50 (Hunted: the Russians, large organization, extensive resources, manipulative 20; Hunted: the Americans, large organization, extensive resources, manipulative 20; Psych: “Arms making is the Devil’s work”, sometimes, irrational 10)

Unusual looks 10 (eerie girl when not transformed, creepy when using her powers)

Psych: Disturbed by unjustified violence, a lot, irrational 20

Hunted: Machina Bellum, superpowered chief arms dealer, murderous 20

 

CHARACTERISTICS: STR 2d6 - PRE 2d6 - DEF 10 - BOD 10 (Rec 10, Stun 10, Knock 20, End 30) - SPD 02 - DEX 10 - INT 11 - EGO 11

 

POWERS

Nuclear Sustenance (Life Support, general protection vs any environment except WATER, no required biological functions) 35

Radiation Blast (Blast 75)

Atomic Health (Regeneration 80)

 

FEMINANCY / Nancy Cuevas

Player: Cecilia

Ratio: 115

POWERS, PERSON AND PROBLEMS: Her mother is a devout Catholic who became pregnant in her teen years. The father was a high school activist who soon took himself out of the picture. Unbeknownst to her, he had persuasion powers. Today, Nancy carries out her activism out of sight from her mother. She and her best friend introduced feminist activism to their school. She's a rather shy girl, and was introduced to feminism via public events, parties and activities between the past and the current school years. Her political awakening coincided with the development of her inherited powers: voice amplification, sonic attacks, and persuasion powers. Feminancy is a public figure, participating in rallies, and is regarded by the public as a deranged extremist. She hasn't had a superpowered battle yet. The only one who knows her true identity is her best friend. She's realized her powers must come from her father, but doesn't know who he is and wants to find out. He's actually had a very successful political career and is the current Mayor of La Plata. He might have actually left a suggestion inside the mother's mind that blocks her from knowing about him and fully remember him.

 

SITUATIONS

Secret ID: Nancy Cuevas 15

Public ID: Feminancy 10

Hunted: Julián Rago, secretly superpowered La Plata mayor who she doesn’t know is her father, manipulative 15

DNPC: Roxy Suárez, best friend 15 (Psych: Se va a caer -taking down the patriarchy-, a lot, opinion)

DNPC: María Cuevas, mother 45 (Psych: Catholicism, a lot, irrational 20; Psych: No me representan -antifeminism-, a lot, meltdown 25)

 

CHARACTERISTICS: STR 2d6 - PRE 8d6 - DEF 10 - BOD 10 (Rec 10, Stun 10, Knock 20, End 30) - SPD 03 - DEX 11 - INT 11 - EGO 11

 

POWERS

Voice Amplification (Awareness + Analize 30, Usable By Others 30, Area Effect: sphere with radius 3 hexes in which targets can be selectively chosen 30, Costs Endurance -30) 60

Elemental Control: I’ve Found My Voice 30

Effect: When she speaks her words come out not in word balloons, but in sound effects (onomatopoeias).

Sonic Attack (Blast 60) 30

Persuasion (Mind Control 60) 30

Department: 
Actual Play
Tags: 
prepsheets

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

Hi! Sorry about the delay in replying, as the discussions here seem to have heated up (in the good way).

I'm going through the mechanics now, but briefly, here are a couple of responses to other points in your post.

  1. You don’t have the manual. That manuscript is not finished and is full of unedited problems. The only real manual is in layout right now.
  2. You’re right about the range. I really wondered whether retaining that rule from the original Champions was a good idea. I eventually did, with the notion in mind that downtown-wide super combat blasts buildings and stuff all over the place, because it’s fun to draw. Pay attention to the range modifiers, though – once you hit the penalty of -3 or -4 (9 to 14 hexes, which is 18 to 28 meters), the chance to hit anything is really bad. So think of the blasts and stuff being essentially wild shots outside of this range, and think as well as how important Luck and Unluck will be concerning what missed attacks are going to do to the landscape. Superhero fights are always complicated by some structure taking a hit that no one intended.
Santiago Verón's picture

About the delay, don't worry, I figured as much! I'm following the Cities as Player Characters and How To Record (And Edit) Actual Play posts with great interest.

Sorry about the confusion re: the PDF. You're welcome to edit my post so it's not confusing to other people.

Re: the range, now it makes more sense!

Ron Edwards's picture

This may not be a very good thing to post and I don't feel especially good about it. It is my position about what you've provided, and long experience with Champions tells it's better to be tactless.

The statements are great, and the hero concepts are pretty good, with possible minor exceptions that I’ll discuss below. You have plenty of raw material with the requisite bevy of NPCs and groups.

However, otherwise, what I’m looking at here is really weird, almost to the point of saying outright, “Listen, forget it, this isn’t your game.” I’ll stay with it on the strength I just mentioned and hope that anything I say gets through or seems helpful.

First, I’ll run with something you wrote a while back: that your familiarity with superheroes comes mostly from live-action media. I’m going with the X-Men movies, Heroes, and the recent Titans show as the possible main influences, because that’s what these characters look like to me. “People with powers.” Except that we’re not talking about people with powers, nor about the logic of a TV show.

I’m not sure about how even to talk about it. Let’s say we were playing D&D. Someone says “I want the cleric” and chooses a Light spell or something equally worthless, then says, “I don’t buy any armor and I guess I’ll get this stick thing [a weak weapon].” What do you say to that person? “You need to build that differently.” “What?” they say, “This is by the rules, obviously.”

Part of me just wants to throw up my hands and say, “OK, it’s your funeral.” You as GM are mandated to make villains at 210-225 points with higher ratios as well. If you play such villains even halfway motivated and active, then these heroes are hopeless; they can’t move or hit or defend any better than an ordinary person.

First, the builds. Doing nearly anything in the game requires Endurance; running out means you’re doing Knockout damage to yourself just by moving around, let alone blasting someone again. On top of that, if you’re going to have high Speed, you need the Endurance to back up all the actions you’ll be taking with it.

Don Round-a-Don has Speed 4, powers that will each cost him 10 or 12 Endurance to use per Phase ... and Endurance 33. He’ll knock himself out almost immediately against anyone remotely competent. He has defensive powers, but they require him to sacrifice the next move to employ against an incoming attack, and there’s no way he’ll have the juice to re-impose them if they get taken down or if he gets stunned.

Vera Lux has a 15 dice Blast with a feeble chance to hit anything more than three meters away + 8d6 Regeneration + completely empty defenses. I am a little suspicous that Edson thinks her Regeneration is more or less an automatic comeback or end-run around anything that happens to her. You know that Regeneration doesn’t include Knockout or Endurance recovery, right? Taking that kind of severe Body damage isn’t very likely in play in the first place, and who cares if you regenerate when you’re guaranteed to be unconscious?

Feminancy’s Blast and Mind Control are 12 Endurance to use, each, each time, hit or miss ... and she has (i) insanely low chances to hit with them and (ii) Endurance 30. Here, I’m also suspicious that Cecilia thinks “telling everyone what to do” is an end-run around violent situations. But even though this kind of Presence and Mind Control can cause a lot of trouble, they aren’t reliably effective against people who don’t want to do what you tell them.

Second, here are a couple of math and rules issues, which are not too big a deal on their own, but they showcase conceptual issues.

Vera Lux’s Hunted Situations, “the Russians” and “the Americans” aren’t specific enough. Give each of them an actual agency or departmental name; make them up if you want.

Feminancy has 60 points in Dependent NPCs, and she can only have 50. You could specify her mother to have only one of those Psychological Situations she has listed, which is especially nice if it’s “no me representan” for symmetry with Roxy. Or keep her as she is and just have Roxy be an ordinary NPC. The point is to end up with 40 or 45 points in DNPCs and then use 15 or 20 points for Psychological Situations for Nancy herself – because as written, she’s a complete zero, a parody, and every bit as deranged as the public thinks she is. She absolutely needs a 15 point Psychological Situation for some kind of identity of her own, specifically an admirable one that Cecilia respects and wants to play.

Mechanically, Don Round-a-Don would be easier to re-conceive by taking the Costs Endurance Limitation for the Missile Deflection. That permits it to be placed as a slot in the Elemental Control, and by my calculations, would end up at 20 points. Thus 40 points is now freed up, which is huge, and could lead to a much better construction overall. (His ratio at that point, without other Limitations involved, would be 110.0.)

That’s pretty important for this character. Perhaps Alejo has a strong enough internal sense of making him a hero to express that via raw play, but if the TV influences I mentioned above are operating, or anything like them, then he doesn’t. Those shows seem unable to portray a super “hero” as anything but an under-informed, opinionated, emo halfwit ... which is, bluntly, what Don Round-a-Don looks like. Since he does have enough political content to be interesting, I’m hoping that a re-build could bring that out into more worthy form; see Vera Lux’s Situations as a pretty good example.

Third, is how they, as heroes, would ever get into situations or know anything imaginably useful, because at present, they don’t. None of them have Detective Work or other proactive, situationally positioning abilities or powers. The single exception is Don Round-a-Don’s Luck and Unluck, which will land him into the middle of things, but it cannot serve in any way to help the group as a whole to be functional toward problems or goals.

So that means you, the GM, must set up each and every situation of play for them to be in, including whatever they find out, whatever options they may have for action, and whatever threats may be apparent. In my terminology, you’re forced to play maximally hot at all times. They have no more need or purpose to do so than an actor playing one of those heroes in the show is, because the script is there to take care of that. Therefore you’re put into the position of the show’s writer and director, handing them situations that the hero is supposed to be establishing.

The trouble with that is clear: either you play the game as written, in which case the villains will totally run rings around the heroes and always get what they want in addition to being able to knock them silly without hardly trying, or you cave in for the sake of “entertaining them,” by providing all those things I described above, making their characters into heroes without a bit of effort or investment on their parts to do so. I don’t want to anticipate that you’d fall into the latter, but I am myself vulnerable to it, and I’m a very ruthless GM about these things. A less ruthless person such as yourself, including a strong desire to please your friends and represent for the hobby, is very likely to do so.

Santiago Verón's picture

Thanks for your sincerity. I've replied in a new comment; it was a lot of text, including new builds, so I feared it would be hard to read as a comment reply. 

Santiago Verón's picture

Hello again! I've done rebuilds taking into account Ron's comments. I realized I had misinterpreted many rules, and hadn't studied enough some others. Oh, and it's mostly me: it's not Edson or Ceci misconceptualizing Regeneration or Mind Control, it's just me interpreting their input from when we did the three corners. With a bit of a back and forth, mostly concerning Situations, nowadays. We have arranged to start playing in February, not only because it took me so long to do the rebuilds, but because Alejo was adamant that he didn't like to roleplay with big hiatuses between sessions. 

 

Ron, I think you're right on the spot when it comes to the TVness of it. Though I'd wager our collective influences are more the Warner shows (Flash, Arrow), Buffy, the 90s cartoons of Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man, Marvel movies, and anime. We'll see if this can be our game or not - but I too feel the strength of these characters and statements, so here we are. A second build. The process was very much like cramming a suitcase full of luggage; have it burst, then begin anew. I hope I'm not breaking any rules but I did decide to err in favor of myself whenever I was in doubt. 

 

Champions La Plata v2

 

Don Round-a-Don

SITUATIONS

Secret ID Gastón Couronne =15

Psych: Bad people are just that: evil; opinion, a lot =15

Psych: No would-be hero could be better than me; opinion, a lot =15

Psych: Must mantain conservative façade; irrational, a lot =20

Hunted: Termite, his mother; ruinous supervillain 20

Hunted: The Crackler, his father; ruinous supervillain 20

Total Situations points: 105

 

CHARACTERISTICS:

STR 2d6

PRE 2d6

DEF 20 =10

BOD 13 =30

(Rec 13, Stun 13, Knock 26, End 39)

SPD 03 =20

DEX 15 =40

INT 12 =10

EGO 11

 

SKILLS

Detective Work, 5

 

Subtotal Characteristics + Skills =115

 

POWERS

Bubble Platforms (Surfaces, Air-Walking 10) =10

Elemental control: Lilac Bubbles =20

Bubble Hold (Entangle 4d6, 40) =20

Bubble Barrier (Force Wall, 8 Res Def for 8 sides of 8 hexes; 40) =20

Bubble Shields (Missile Deflection 20, Usable On Others 20, Usable at Range 10, =50) 30; Costs Endurance -10 =20

 

Subtotal Powers =90

Subtotal Limitations =10

 

Points total =205

Limitations total =10

Ratio (215/205)x100 =104

 

 

True Light

SITUATIONS

DNPC Grandpa 50 (Hunted: Russian Ministry of Enlightenment, large organization, extensive resources, manipulative 20; Hunted: American National Nuclear Security Administration, large organization, extensive resources, manipulative 20; Psych: “Arms making is the Devil’s work”, sometimes, irrational 10)

Unusual looks 10 (eerie girl when not transformed, creepy when using her powers)

Psych: Disturbed by unjustified violence, a lot, irrational 20

Hunted: Machina Bellum, superpowered chief arms dealer, murderous 20

 

 Total Situations Points:100

 

CHARACTERISTICS:

STR 2d6

PRE 2d6

DEF 11 +2 Resistant =11

BOD 11 =10

Rec 11, Stun 22, Knock 22, End 33

+3 Body 30, only when Death Aura is active -10 =20

Rec 14, Stun 28, Knock 28, End 42

SPD 02 =10

+2 Speed 20, only when Death Aura is active -6 =14

DEX 15 =40

INT 11

EGO 11

 

SKILLS

Stealth =5

Security Systems =5

 

Subtotal Characteristics + Skills =115

Subtotal Limitations (Characteristics) =16

 

POWERS

Nuclear Sustenance (Life Support, general protection vs any environment except WATER 30, no required biological functions 5) =35

Death Aura (Force Field 2 =5, No Endurance Cost 5) =10

Atomic Ray (Drain 6d6 30, Lethal 15, Usable at Range 15, Conditional: only when Death Aura is active -20) =40

 

Subtotal Powers =85

Subtotal Limitations (Powers) =20

 

Points total =200

Total Limitations =36

Ratio: (236/200) x100= 118

 

 

Feminancy

SITUATIONS

Secret ID: Nancy Cuevas 15

Public ID: Feminancy 10

Hunted: Julián Rago, secretly superpowered La Plata mayor who she doesn’t know is her father, manipulative 15

DNPC: Roxy Suárez, best friend 15 (Psych: Se va a caer -taking down the patriarchy-, a lot, opinion)

DNPC: María Cuevas, mother 25 ( Psych: No me representan -antifeminism-, a lot, meltdown 25)

Psych: I've found my voice in Feminism, a lot, opinion 15

Psych: Shy, sometimes, irrational 10

 

Situations point total: 105

 

CHARACTERISTICS

STR 2d6

PRE 4d6 =20

+3d6 Presence 15, only when using Voice Amplification -5 =10

DEF 10

BOD 16 =60

(Rec 16, Stun 16, Knock 32, End 48)

SPD 03 =20

DEX 11

INT 11

EGO 13 =20

 

Characteristics Subtotal: 130

Limitations subtotal, Characteristics: 5

 

POWERS

Elemental Control: I’ve Found My Voice =20

Voice Amplification (Awareness 20, Usable by others 20 =40) 20 (Constrained: Only her voice + Costs Endurance -10) =10

Persuasion (Mind Control 4d6 =40) 20 (Conditional: target must be able to hear Feminancy's voice -10) =10

Voice Wave (Blast 4d6 20, Ego Based 10, Area explosion 10, in which targets can be selectively chosen 5, Destructive 10 =55) 35

 

Powers subtotal: 75

Limitations subtotal, Powers: 20

 

Points total: 205

Limitations total: 25

Ratio: (230/205) x100 = 112

Ron Edwards's picture

There we go! I've printed them out for closer scrutiny (old-school Enterprise computer voice: *working*) but you've definitely brought them into the playable zone for the game.

Here's one design consideration, however: that the picky little-points structure has a core reason under its OCD madness. I most recently saw it with Jared's "Cobweb" character and was very pleased it hit for such an experienced player and designer. The idea is that the points, upon first character design, typically do not add up just right. This forces you, in making a character, really to prioritize and possibly to redesign this-or-that feature ... and consistently, this prompts a creative state which is far more personal and committed then the initial "gee let's just pop some points together, and the system design will work it out."

That's the flaw of all the other Champions-like designs I know. In those games, yes, you can build this or can build that, and the powers design is faithful to give you "what you want" insofar as you're choosing something on the list... but the original Champions design consistently says, at the nine-tenths step, "No, you can't do that ... so what do you really want?" And wham, at that point you are not merely selecting this or that Lego piece, you are deciding what the character is and can do (at the start), in a very different frame of mind.

I think you should get the players into that point with you, rather than show up saying, "OK, I did that bullshit 'system' part, now you can play your guys." I'll go over the numbers and let you know what I mean more specifically soon.

Ron Edwards's picture

Well, they are what they are, and we’ll see how it goes. I have only one suggestion which I consider critical: take Feminancy and Don Round-a-Don back to their players, and say, “We are 5 points over. You have to shave or adjust or reconceive whatever you have to in order to get to 200.”

This is a big deal in Champions. It’s why I stayed with these fiddly little points in the first place, because this exact moment is when the player, if they haven’t already, is forced actually to care about what they play. Given the multiplication/division and the rounding, it’s often not possible merely to knock off points here and there, but necessary to reconsider the basic build, or to decide which of two powers is going to have to be reduced. Furthermore, several of the arbitrary requirements for structures, like the minimal constraint for an Elemental Control, interfere with these decisions and force them to be more drastic, requiring more basic reconstruction. Again, this is deeply desirable.

The very worst thing possible is for the GM to take over the build and “fix everything.” If the player can’t or won’t do it, then it’s a clear sign – no exceptions – that they don’t really want to play at all. But if they do, then the character is unequivocally theirs from this point forward, and they will play authentically.

Santiago Verón's picture

I like that idea! Thanks a lot. I'll let you know how it goes, either way.

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