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Old 10-31-2023, 05:17 AM   #1
whswhs
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
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Default supers: nine options

I've been playing around lately with a concept for a possible future campaign, Demobbed, which would be about people with superhuman powers coming home from World War II. And part of this, as always, has been thinking about what rules system would suit this premise.

I have in mind a couple of departures from archetypal supers: On one hand, no characters whose powers make them comparable to national governments, or even strategic assets (so not like my GURPS Supers campaign Sovereignty, or Kieron Gillen's very dark graphic novel series Uber); characters would be streetlevel. On the other hand, no flashy costumes, no formal superheroic names (though supers might have nicknames), no secret identities—though there might be secrets. I'd be aiming for something less romantic than four color comics or even than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but less cynical than Watchmen or Uber.

Also, while the various characters could start out working together, they might initially not know each other, having all just been discharged from service. Think of Marvel's treatment of Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage in the video series.

So at this point I've come up with multiple engines that might be used for this: Absolute Power, Champions, FUDGE, GURPS Supers, Mage: The Ascension, Mutants and Masterminds, Savage Worlds, Smallville, and Villains and Vigilantes (edition 2.1, not the recent new version).

* I'd be interested in what anyone thinks about the strengths and weaknesses of the various systems, overall, for the supers genre, and for the specific premise I'm looking at.

* If anyone thinks some other system, either specifically for supers or generic, ought to be in the list, please feel free to say so and point out what's good about it.

And yes, I wrote both GURPS Supers (the latest version) and the published FUDGE rules for supers. But I don't take it as a foregone conclusion that either of them is the best fit to this premise.
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Old 10-31-2023, 07:20 AM   #2
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Default Re: supers: nine options

I only have experience with Champions 3rd ed and V&V 2nd ed, but between those two I think I'd use Champions. Seems like it'd scale down from the ol' four-colors more easily. (YMMV, especially if you have the sourcebook for the 6th-ed Hero engine, because I don't know how flexible that is - I think it attempts to reconcile the old tabletop systems with Champions Online, which might affect this particular issue.)
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Old 10-31-2023, 07:52 AM   #3
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Default Re: supers: nine options

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I only have experience with Champions 3rd ed and V&V 2nd ed, but between those two I think I'd use Champions. Seems like it'd scale down from the ol' four-colors more easily. (YMMV, especially if you have the sourcebook for the 6th-ed Hero engine, because I don't know how flexible that is - I think it attempts to reconcile the old tabletop systems with Champions Online, which might affect this particular issue.)
You think? There doesn't seem to be much provision for scaling in V&V, but in the past, when I've tried to use it to emulate published supers, it's often seemed to me that the powers it presents are largely streetlevel already; it's more a question of scaling up if you want to do the higher-end powers.

What I have on my shelves for Champions is the fourth edition.
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Old 10-31-2023, 08:33 AM   #4
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Default Re: supers: nine options

It's an interesting concept. By chance, I've been contemplating a Weird War II game with PCs that are low-level superhumans. But I hadn't yet considered what happens to them after the war.

Bill's an expert in GURPS, so there's nothing I could say there that he doesn't already know, and better.

MtA doesn't seem like a good fit to me. It's classic WoD wainscot powergamer material. But the goal here isn't characters with reality-bending magic that dominate the sheep-like mundanes. You could have weak mages, or even non-mages -- but then why bother with that system? The supers may well want their abilities to remain secret, but that's just an ordinary, practical secret, not the world-defining "true nature of reality", conspiracy-laden WoD series.

FUDGE I know only from its original free version, where it was basically a game system development kit rather than a game system. Lot of perfectly good suggestions (you should pick some attributes relevant to what happens in your game...) but not much of a time saver. The 4dF mechanic is iconic, but I didn't find it particularly special in practice; the game would have felt the same without the gimmicky dice. (A dF is just a d3-1, after all.) Plus, I've never been a fan of the systems that replace a continuum of numbers with names. They've trying to avoid the math and add color, but while I can easily remember that 5 is bigger than 3, it's much harder to try to remember whether Epic outranks Stupendous, even if I'm fairly sure those are both better than mere Heroic. Just make the attribute values go from 1 to 5, already. Boring, but I don't have to check the ranking chart in play, or count the number of steps between them so I know what Heroic + 2 is.

I'm unfamiliar with Absolute Power or Smallville, and V&V and M&M only by reputation.

So, on to the only two that I have used in a least a few games.

--
Champions will scale down well. I've been in games using Hero (4e, I believe, so a long time ago) that included a straight-up supers game, a "powerful fantasy" setting where the characters were already major figures of that fantasy world, but then having to deal with Planescape-esque problems, and a "starting D&D" type fantasy game, which we later migrated to GURPS at about 100-150 points. The system worked about as well at any of those power levels.

There are things I didn't really care for about Hero System -- as it existed at that time, anyway. The integer division in the stat/skill mechanics (this /3, /4, 5) created a lot of breakpoints that meant there were really only about three meaningful values for each stat. The selection of abilities was heavily combat-focused, with relatively few things you could build on for social or "exploration" or narrative scenes, as well as a couple of abilities which were fairly broken unless you assumed that the only scenes that really mattered in the game were superhero slugfests (which is, of course, where the system came from). 6e may well have improved that area.

I did like the way Hero ability builds could scale down to make relatively modest spells at relatively modest costs. I generally struggle with making GURPS abilities that wind up cheap enough that you can have a variety of them, instead of a half-dozen or dozen "primary theme" abilities along the lines of a supers blaster instead of a lower-powered but flexible mage (in the neighborhood of GURPS Magic, say). Hero could make the minor cantrips and get something useful for a point or two, as well as the big attacks.

--

Savage Worlds doesn't really scale up well. I like the system, but it's happiest at the pulp hero kind of level. You're going to run out of polyhedra to upgrade to as you scale the numbers up. Of course, you can just turn those into pluses, as that's all moving up a die size really is. But the mechanics in general don't scale up tremendously well. I'm also uncomfortable with the exploding dice mechanic at scale. It's that system's version of the critical hit, but at supers level the effects will tend to scale into more of a random insta-kill mechanic, even when that's not the character's intent. It'll be harder to GM as the conflicts become more swingy and unpredictable.

But, the concept here is street-level supers, not far from SW's home territory, and I think the system will stretch that far. Justice League, probably not. The lesser Watchmen, yes. (Everyone says "Watchmen" as the touchstone for low powered supers, but let's face it -- Dr. Manhattan... But ignoring him and Ozymandias, then yes.) I think SW would work well at the scale of this setting.

You'll likely need to establish some acceptable stat ranges to avoid one-trick-pony builds breaking the system when they pile all their points into one thing. The system is pretty reliant on the benny economy driving the important rolls, so some player skill with those mechanics is required for them to earn their bennies and make good choices in spending them. It's not quite as easy for the "I'm just here for the story, tell me what to roll" playstyle as a plain skill-based system. But then, most games these days seem to have some sort of hero point mechanic, by whatever name.
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Old 10-31-2023, 08:42 AM   #5
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Default Re: supers: nine options

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Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
Savage Worlds doesn't really scale up well. I like the system, but it's happiest at the pulp hero kind of level. You're going to run out of polyhedra to upgrade to as you scale the numbers up. Of course, you can just turn those into pluses, as that's all moving up a die size really is. But the mechanics in general don't scale up tremendously well. I'm also uncomfortable with the exploding dice mechanic at scale. It's that system's version of the critical hit, but at supers level the effects will tend to scale into more of a random insta-kill mechanic, even when that's not the character's intent. It'll be harder to GM as the conflicts become more swingy and unpredictable.

But, the concept here is street-level supers, not far from SW's home territory, and I think the system will stretch that far. Justice League, probably not. The lesser Watchmen, yes. (Everyone says "Watchmen" as the touchstone for low powered supers, but let's face it -- Dr. Manhattan... But ignoring him and Ozymandias, then yes.) I think SW would work well at the scale of this setting.

You'll likely need to establish some acceptable stat ranges to avoid one-trick-pony builds breaking the system when they pile all their points into one thing. The system is pretty reliant on the benny economy driving the important rolls, so some player skill with those mechanics is required for them to earn their bennies and make good choices in spending them. It's not quite as easy for the "I'm just here for the story, tell me what to roll" playstyle as a plain skill-based system. But then, most games these days seem to have some sort of hero point mechanic, by whatever name.
I've got just the core book for SW. I looked at its chapter on powers, and one thing I couldn't find there was super strength, which seems to be THE iconic power (at least for male characters!), and was even more so back in the comics of the WWII era (not that I'm necessarily going to take them as models). Is there a way to do it that I'm overlooking?
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Old 10-31-2023, 10:20 AM   #6
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Default Re: supers: nine options

I don't know all the options, so I'll only comment on the ones I know

Champions: The Hero system can scale down reasonably, but this campaign feels like it wants to be somewhat grim and gritty, which isn't particularly a strength of Champions. If I were running it, I'd probably highly restrict resistant defenses. It's very much not rules-light, though that may not be an issue for you.

Fudge: my very limited experience with Fudge is that it's more a framework for a game system than an actual system, so it seems like a lot of work unless you're using a plugin someone has already written, and the quality of the game will vary heavily depending on what rules you come up with.

GURPS Supers I would expect to be fine with this sort of campaign, most of the problems I have with it come when I'm trying to make it cinematic. Like Champions, it's not rules light.

MtA has the problem that it's assuming Paradox as a big issue, and that doesn't sound like an element this game concept would want. I'm not sure how it plays if you just ignore Paradox.

Mutants and Masterminds has a scaling issue if you want to do street level, though if you update the Ranks and Measures table (currently set to double every rank) to something like a decibel system (x10 per 10 ranks, or roughly x2 per 3 ranks) it would probably be fine.

In other game systems, I'm currently in a Supers game involving the Masks RPG, but I don't think it's suited to what you're trying to do.
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Old 10-31-2023, 10:43 AM   #7
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Default Re: supers: nine options

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In other game systems, I'm currently in a Supers game involving the Masks RPG, but I don't think it's suited to what you're trying to do.
Is Masks the Powered by the Apocalypse game about teenage superheroes? I've bought that and read it, but I've concluded that it isn't at all what I would call a roleplaying game; it has a really short list of narrative moves for each character, as if it were reducing relationships and dialogue to game mechanics, and that's very much the other direction from what I want.
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Old 10-31-2023, 01:43 PM   #8
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Default Re: supers: nine options

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I've got just the core book for SW... one thing I couldn't find there was super strength. Is there a way to do it that I'm overlooking?
I should note that my experience with SW is with "Deluxe". There's a newer edition called "Adventure Edition", SWADE as opposed to SWD. I'm not familiar with the differences between the two.

But on to super strength in SWD.

There's a "Super Powers Companion" (SPC) book that goes into the extensions. It has a new edge, Super Attribute(), that lets you raise attributes above the normal d12. Such are denoted with a positive modifier, e.g. d12+1, d12+5, up to d12+12, and that's exactly how you'd roll them. The "Street Level"* super examples have a Strength of about d12+2. There's a table with increased values for the derived stats, so, for example, the max weight for d12 Strength is 240, Super Strength d12+1 is 400, d12+3 is 1 ton, d12+6 is 10 tons, d12+9 is 100 tons, d12+12 is 1000 tons (so you can see the logarithmic scaling factor). There's another table for heavy weapons that adds extra damage if your brick is melee'ing with a lamp post or city bus or the like. Weapon weight doubles per step and the damage goes up by +1.

As with GURPS, characters that want to Hulk out are probably buying other synergistic Edges as well, like Brawny, which multiples those table numbers for weights, Armor to boost Toughness even beyond what the increased Strength does, or Melee Attack to let them do extra damage (over and above their Strength) or make it armor-piercing for punching out tanks.

Super Strength by itself doesn't give you every advantage you might imagine a strong person could do; it just increases the character's attribute. But there are a couple of rules for creative application of an ability, "Power Stunts" and "Power Tricks".

Power Stunts cost a benny to use, and are basically a rule for imitating any other super ability as long as you've got a rationale that makes sense to the GM / group. The book example is a Super Strength character clapping their hands to get a Cone Attack (straight out of the Hulk playbook), even though the character didn't buy a Cone Attack. (The benny cost will keep Probability Control Man under control...)

There are also Power Tricks, which are a way to use a super ability that affects a target at a penalty (again with some appropriate narrative fluff) to apply any of a list of additional side effects to a target, like penalizing their defenses, giving allies a bonus to attack, slowing them down, or lowering their initiative. To try to put that in the Super Strength context off the top of my head, perhaps the Hulk's player wants their melee attack to grapple an enemy to hold them for the rest of the team to pummel, rather than just be a straight-up punch for damage. Or if the game were more four-color and sillier, maybe it's a pound to the top of the enemy's head to pile-drive their feet into the ground to slow their move as they climb back out of the hole.

* The book defines five levels of power for supers from "Pulp Hero" up to "Cosmic"; the level defines how many points you get for buying super abilities, basically 15 * level. Super Strength costs 2 per level, and RAW forbids spending more than a third of your points on any single ability. (There's an ability, Best of The Best, so you can pay for the privilege of spending half your PP on one ability.)

--
Just as a heads-up:
These super ability purchase points in the SPC are called "Power Points", which are confusingly not the same thing as the core book's "Power Points". Core Power Points are spent per use of spells and such, Core "Powers". The SPC Power Points are, as far as I can tell, just a character creation currency with a duplicate name; SPC super abilities don't require a "mana" resource to use. Characters use them at will. In that, they're unlike Core Powers.

And yes, this would get especially confusing for the Super Sorcerer character whose magic gives them Power Points to temporarily buy SPC abilities that represent the effect of the "spells", especially if that character were also to have Core's Arcane Background Magic, using a different set of Power Points to energize those Powers. The SPC Super Sorcerer is a flexibility master, kind of like a GURPS Modular Ability pool - levels of this ability cost 2 PP to give you one PP that you can reconfigure.

I'd recommend just using different names for the two resources, but then of course the table lingo won't match the books.
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Old 10-31-2023, 02:37 PM   #9
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Default Re: supers: nine options

A fairly important thing to consider is the degree to which you want luck to be able to overcome differences in raw power. Suppose we have a normal person going up against someone with the strength of eight men (going with eight because that works easier in several systems)

In Champions, that's Str 10 vs Str 25. If you're rolling dice and counting body, the weaker character can win, but the odds are about 0.2% to win and 1.1% to tie. Unlike the systems below, this is not scale-invariant; strength 15 vs 30 is not the same as 10 vs 25.

In Fudge, it all depends on what rank you call what strength. If we call a rank x2, that's 3 ranks and the weaker character wins about 7%, ties about 7%.

In GURPS, that's Str 10 vs Str 32 (unwinnable), or 10 vs 20 (0.45% to win, 1% to tie) if using KYoS.

In M&M, that's Strength +0 vs +3 (34% to win, 4% to tie); with the rescaled ranks and measures I mention it's +0 vs +9 (14% to win, 3% to tie).

I'm insufficiently familiar with how SW die rolling works to evaluate it.
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Old 10-31-2023, 07:26 PM   #10
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Default Re: supers: nine options

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Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
There's a "Super Powers Companion" (SPC) book that goes into the extensions. It has a new edge, Super Attribute(), that lets you raise attributes above the normal d12. Such are denoted with a positive modifier, e.g. d12+1, d12+5, up to d12+12, and that's exactly how you'd roll them. The "Street Level"* super examples have a Strength of about d12+2. There's a table with increased values for the derived stats, so, for example, the max weight for d12 Strength is 240, Super Strength d12+1 is 400, d12+3 is 1 ton, d12+6 is 10 tons, d12+9 is 100 tons, d12+12 is 1000 tons (so you can see the logarithmic scaling factor). There's another table for heavy weapons that adds extra damage if your brick is melee'ing with a lamp post or city bus or the like. Weapon weight doubles per step and the damage goes up by +1.
So I can't get super strength from using Savage Worlds Deluxe, but have to be a separate volume, and one whose compatibility with the core volume I'm not sure of. I think that's sufficient to rule that option out. I haven't been all that favorably impressed with SWD so far; I don't think I want to invest more in it just to investigate it as a possible option.

Thanks!
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