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Young working heroes in San Antone [Champions Now]

Talk about backlogged. Both Champions Now and Cosmic Zap are booming through the first couple sessions of their respective first playtests, and then there were all those videos for the Kickstarter. I’ll be putting them up for public viewing after the campaign’s done, probably at the blog.

And three Monsterhearts sessions behind. I know what you’re saying! How’s Dagny, is she OK? No, no she isn’t. Oh – well, Piotr, he’s fine, he would be, isn’t he? Wow – no. Alastor’s the one I really like, so he must be doing all right, at least. (level stare) No indeed he is not.

Anyway, here’s the prep session for Champions Now. Technically it’s not far at all from the St. Louis game with Mark (Agent One) and Jay (ARC), as that’s 3rd edition by the book with two or three aesthetic preferences enforced by me. The point of the Champions Now development is to start there, or a bit further along from preferences to rules as evidenced by the playtest document, and then adjust-adjust-change-adjust to hit the breaking point where it’s really a new design.

Not that anyone actually understands that, for which I do not blame them; as usual, I’m defying all sensibilities and expectations for what RPG crowdfunding is for and how it should be presented. Probably not the best strategy, but that’s what happens when people say “you be you,” they usually end up going “um, that, uh, well, it’s you, yeah, but …”

OK, to the point. You can see the not-very-optional sequence in the video with me, Rod, and Ross.

We started with the two statements, one about supers and powers, and the other about what sort of drrrrrama including the location. I said, “powers are proprietary in the most transnational corporate sense possible,” and I also specified out of sheer inspiration that all characters had to include Instant Change.

I opened up the second statement to them, yielding “young adults trying to work,” which resonated hard with the modern economies of London (Ross) and San Antonio (Rod). Rod really wanted it to be in San Antonio, so there it is.

Then wholly independent, non-consensual character creations, and please note the glaring absence of anything to do with powers explanations or justifications. One result is Michael Solis, the Oblate, an idealistic young Catholic and an occultist legal scholar whose magic is based on access to all the whacked texts in history (maybe beyond?). He’s associated with St. Mary’s College of Law and is enmeshed in all manner of hassles with Immigration and related social justice.

The other is Finn Walsh, a former rising-young-star in scholastics and athletics, flash-forward five years to find him a bitter drop-out slinging biscotti and latte … yet also brewing many chemicals from a bootleg batch of a military super-serum. They’ve turned him into a formidable brute of a tentacular jellyfish, with all sorts of scary senses and stretchy durability. He quite likes that and is figuring out what to do, as off-the-license superpowers are deeply frowned upon.

You’ll see some differences from the outcome of the video and the eventual sheets. That is common and very OK; the typical sequence for Champions involves a spitball session of concepts and powers and suggestions, but then it kind of bubbles privately for a while, and the exact process of point-mongering that can look so daunting turns out to provide a very nice method to arrive at what you are happiest with. So the Oblate ended up with a Variable Power Pool after all, and for some reason, despite Rod’s apparent coolness to the jellyfish notion, and all our assurances that we really didn’t mean “jellyfish,” he embraced it and took it up to 11.

The suggestion to make the Vulnerability, Susceptibility, and Dependence all concern the same substance, the serum, was mine. It is also totally insane and will make that serum into Plot Bait from Hell.

The supporting cast is awesome, including Jennifer, Finn’s friend whom he helped with his funky chemicals when health insurance wouldn’t (granted, she has to spend a couple hours in a tank in his garage every so often, but she’s OK with that); Father Ochoa, soft-spoken but terrifyingly intense priest and immigration rights activist; Finn’s brother who can do no wrong; Michael’s successful girlfriend Amanda, and many others.

Our first session concerned ICE turning to the tender and helpful outsourced capabilities of Xe (formerly Blackwater). You’ll see how that went in the next video. For the second session next week, we’ll be joined by Santiago and his character too.

But for this post, let’s talk about character creation. For something that initially resembles a tax audit, Champions characters have a way of catching fire halfway through and all the funky math options turn out to be just what you need, as in that one and that one, scribble scribble. Look them over. Ask questions. If you never saw this game before, ask the the most basic ones you can.

The playtest document can be found (free, for anyone) at the Champions Now Kickstarter.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Rod_A's picture

This was a lot of fun. I came to the session with some vague ideas of stock superhero types, thinking maybe I'd try playing "a strong guy" or whatever.  But then, Ron's proprietary-powers contribution -- combined with trying to figure out what that meant in this very specific time-and-place -- took me in a direction that I would never have thought of on my own. So, one enthusiastic vote for "This works!"

Ron Edwards's picture

I was wondering about that! I spent my childhood and teens annoyed at visitors saying "Frisco" and my young adulthood having to tell people that no one says "Chi-Town." Both of those are Broadway and Hollywood terms. I suspected I was being that-guy in this case, but went with it for no good reason. Corrected from now on! (but wait for the punchline about it during upcoming play)

The two statements are crucial. I find they let content be free to diverge and purposes to converge. I'm going to have to enforce this for playtesters, many of whom are accusomted to bland, adequate, and irrelevantly verbose origin stories for characters, and for whom it's never mattered in play because Story God Up There will take care of that.

For my part, although this point is more suited to our play session, I am bursting at the seams with all the stuff the NPCs are doing, both the ones we've seen in play and the ones we haven't. The confluence of social context, superpowers, and personal concerns is incredibly easy, and absent of any "where the story goes" concern.

Ross's picture

...As jellylike supers usually get drawn poorly, I don't want people to think crawl looks like glob Herman for example .

Ron Edwards's picture

My sense of art for our game is definitely still forming. Having Rod with us helps, but we're all still in concept-sketch stage, I think. At least on my part, Finn doesn't look all melty and globular, but is muscularly bulked-up when "changed," and freaky with the tentacles - but overall, more impressive than gross. I'm going to call for more visual descriptions as we proceed through play, now that the learning-curve for actions is under way. The combination of Stealth, Extra Running, Clinging, and Stretching really calls for some page layout based on stalking and pursuit.

Ross's picture

So I have looked at the most recent playtest document and my write up is already out of date!

Specifically:

You appear to have doubled the effectiveness of Knockback Resistance, from -1" per 3 points in Champions III to -2" per 3 points. Not sure if that was intentional.

Tracking scent appears to have disappeared. I assume this is intentional, separating the mechanical effect from the special effect for the Enhanced Senses, so I could create the same effect with Enhanced Sense Smell +1 for 5 points and Elsewhere (or Locate, I'm not sure what your distinction betwen these two is) for + 10 points. This would appear to be a bit better than Tracking Scent in the original text, as a) there's a +1 to perception roles to track and b) it could be used for smell based perception more generally. Don't know if that is an issue.

Finally I also have an Extra Limb question. I don't know if this is just that we have different interpretations of the original text or if you have a rule change about this. The text in Champions 3rd edition is "Extra Limb costs no END for the Power, but pay the normal END cost when using your strength with the limb." and just a line or so later "Extra Limb costs no END, but using STR with the Extra Limb has the normal END cost.".

My interpretation is that this text is all about preventing somebody rules lawyering and pointing to the no END cost Extra Limbs which they are using to smack villains around and trying to get out of paying END for the STR they are using, rather than that there is an additional END cost to get the OCV bonus.

I will now justify this with science currency. Extra Limbs as a way of getting better OCV is already a little inefficient, compared to 8 points for a skill level in hand to hand fighting, usable for defence or offence, or even just spending the points on extra DEX, where 40 points gets +4 CV and 1 extra SPD and likely always getting to hit first. If it also costs END to get the Extra Limb OCV bonus, as opposed to the others which definitely don't, it probably breaks the economy a little. Crawl still ends up spending lots of END just to hit peole with his 40 STR, just not totally crippling. Let me know what you think.

I also have some questions about Grab and other combat manouvers but I'll save those for later.

Ron Edwards's picture

Hi Ross! To take things out of order, my changed cost for Knockback Resistance was a typo, but on reflection, I realized the whole thing does need changing. It's now totally rewritten: -2" for 5 points. The less 3-point nonsense we have kicking around, except for Skill Levels, the better ...

I wanted to get Tracking Scent and anything similar into a state where you could build it rather than choose it off the shelf. I was thinking of it as +1 (base), Focus, and Locate, for 20 points, but I just decided to add "Analysis" as another 5-point option, which in this case is a better concept than Focus. So its cost would still be 20.

"Elsewhere" is supposed to mean way out of any sensible range, like across the planet or another dimension, anything where "skipping" space and thus an entirely different concept for perception would seem to be required.

I think we're reading Extra Limb correctly. For example, when you (i) hit Scorpion (and hit the church), or (ii) grabbed Scorpion and threw him using 40 points of Strength, it cost you 8 Endurance each time. Not 8 for the Strength + 8 for the Limbs. The idea is as you describe, to say, no, you don't spend Endurance just to have the Limbs "on," but you do spend Endurance when you use them to do stuff like that, just as you do with your not-extra limbs.

The slight cost disadvantage relative to simply buying the extra OCV is that you can do extra stuff with extra limbs in many, many situations. I would certainly give you a bonus for extra stability when that mattered to something you were doing that included them, for instant, but don't overlook all those ways that another manipulative limb can get stuff done.

Ross's picture

Yes, we are on the same page, although I think there may be a few points in the first session where I mess that up - as much to do with not being clear about how grab works probably. 

Didn't mean to gloss over the benefits of having lots of wriggly tentacles, although extra limbs does seem to sit in a bit of a fuzzy area as regards the mechanical impact vs. special effects of powers that you have been talking about. As you note it doesn't reduce down to +1 ocv for 10 points the way you could reduce energy blast to 1d6 damage at range for 5 points. 

Ron, how are the Endurance rules in Champions Now working out in play?  Does anyone buy down END cost on any powers at all?  How does spending full END cost on everything work out in combat?

Ron Edwards's picture

I’m really feeling the backlog on posting the play sessions! They illustrate the current answers perfectly.

First, only one power among the three heroes is 0 Endurance, which is a difficult-to-control Telepathy set to Area Effect, receiving only. So the character basically picks up thoughts from people all around, sometimes when he’s not trying to, and it’s hard to turn off. This works well because he’s got other, very visible, very well-known powers owned by none other than Monsanto, and a Public Identity, so having these “bootleg” powers is a serious matter.

Second, all of the other powers in play are full Endurance, which as you can imagine affects combat profoundly. I wanted to talk about this in detail for the upcoming post, but here’s a little bit of a preview – Endurance loss forced both heroes and opponents to strategize during a fight, taking Recoveries and maneuvering positions carefully, rather than just throwing attacks to batter at defenses.

Furthermore, the opponents had failed to nail the heroes with early attacks (bad rolls for both of them, if you can believe it), and therefore didn’t have the edge they might have – and one of the heroes was entirely unknown to them, but with powers which were known to them, and which worried them greatly. Faced with the options of (1) going toe to toe some more with the heroes, for no good reason for them, which had already badly damaged a prominent building and was sure to expose them to scrutiny they did not want; (2) seizing the person they wanted to abduct and fleeing, in a city they didn’t know well and at immense energy cost that would require frequent Recovery, probably pursued by the heroes, one of whom they knew had tracked them there and could probably continue to do so; or (2) ripping what they could from the victim’s mind and simply fleeing at a better energy budget (i.e. not keeping a third party Desolid) and maintaining their secrecy.

In other words, the heroes had managed to last long enough to make the opponents accept a sub-optimal outcome, in plain language, they legitimately rescued Father Ochoa from being abducted and interrogated (by Xe, formerly Blackwater, so that should tell you something).

Crucially, this was not because I as GM decided to “give them a break,” or had my villains flee with a “clean GM getaway” devoid of mechanics, or any other such bullshit. It was forced upon me by the outcome of rolls, the expenditure of points, and the options available to the characters I was playing, based on their perceived risks and aims of the moment. In other words: role-playing with a system which matters.

In raw damage terms, one of the heroes had taken the worst of it so far, and in a pure arena match the opponents still had a chance to take them – but only a chance, and the other hero had very good defenses against one of the opponents. And the opponents were running on empty too, tag-teaming attacks and Recoveries between them, which was not optimal – they couldn’t get ahead, tactically. So it was the energy management and the aims/assessments which drove the conclusion of the fight, not just who ate more damage.

And that made it fantastic, incredibly fun to play.

Ross's picture

As a player I suspect there is going to be a bit of a learning curve around END use and management. Sooner or later (okay likely sooner with Crawl - he's quite impetuous) I will find myself on phase 5,  out of END and facing a grinning villain. I imagine this might be an instructive experience and I think will focus the mind on what you / your characters actually wants to achieve in a given situation rather than mindlessly punching away at things.

I definitely felt that with an understanding of the villains thought process that Ron describes above that this fight felt like it ended on more of a victory than it might have seemed if they had just disappeared. Though the communication between players was important for this. Might be worth thinking about for future play.

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