I have a friend who hates using the d20. He pretty much hates any version of the d20 system. His primary gripe – although there are many other well-founded ones – is rooted in the randomness of rolling a single d20 to determine outcomes. Basically, no matter how good he is, bad rolling can ruin that at any time.
My own gripes with the d20 system(s) trend toward a different direction but ultimately, the randomness of these activities really grates on me as well, sometimes doing a disservice to another convenient part of many d20 related games – Niche Protection.
So a new blog post is up from Catalyst about 5e Shadowrun. As I look back at my initial – admittedly knee-jerk – post when the whole thing was announced I still find that I feel the same way. As much as I love Catalyst and I love what they’ve done with Shadowrun and Battletech this new edition rubs me the wrong way already, and I know next to nothing about it(!).
I’ve been musing on that since my initial post on the subject – but first let’s engage in some pointless speculation about the scant knowledge we have from the Catalyst post (because it will make me feel better).
Recently, I finished reading Mastiff: The Legend of Beka Cooper #3, by Tamora Pierce. She writes for the YA genre and I have been a fan of her books since I was ten years old and discovered the world of Tortall in the stories of Alanna. I could go on and on about how Alanna was the first fantasy crush I ever had, or how many times I made stats for the characters from the book in various games — but I won’t…
Actually, wait, that’s exactly what I want to talk about… the experience of imposing stats on book characters. I’ve been thinking about this for a while — and I’m certainly not the first to bring it up — but I realized the other day that: 1) it works on my mind more than I’d like to admit, and 2) I have only partial answers to how I feel about it.
What finally inspired this post though? Farmer Cape inspired this post. Master Cape is a mage in the Mastiff story who has an interesting and somewhat unique ability for mages in his setting (and the next line contains some spoiler’ish type stuff so if you are reading or planning to read this book or you think you might ever read this book then I’d advise you to just quit here and I’m writing this overlong disclaimer for a very small spoiler just so you don’t see it by accident…)
This is a story about a truck, a jump (actually many) and a time before webcam-madness…
When I was sixteen (can I even tell you how much I miss being sixteen sometimes?) I had this friend who owned a big, lifted, pickup. I was a track and field kid, a runner and jumper, and I used to do this trick where I’d take a couple quick steps and jump up and over into the bed of the truck — I was really dumb — but I was athletic and good at it and I never missed after the first time, when I was ranging in the jump (and hitting your shins on his bed liner hurt…)
And then, one night, I did miss. And it hurt. A lot. I missed bad, clipped my one shin, dragged and scraped the other, and then hit my head in the bed of the truck when I upended… and then I just spent a little while laying down, bleeding a little and moaning a little. You know, I mentioned I was kinda stupid.
This is not a review. It is a personal observation. I might do a more detailed look at some point, but for now, short and to the point.
First, a small disclaimer. I like MM3E/DCA. I don’t love it. I think it did some things much better than 2e and in some places it got worse. I am one of those people, just to say it upfront who was disappointed with the character write-ups in the Heroes Handbook. I re-wrote several of them as my own versions and put them up on the forums at the Atomic Think Tank Roll Call — so again… now you know.
Between grad school, general life interfering, and working on Madicon, I just haven’t been able to post as much as I’d like to in the last few months. I’m going to try and post more often again, but I’m not making any promises – I’d hate to lie.
One thing I have been doing during this down period is spending a lot of time over at the Mutants and Masterminds forums. I’ve been posting builds to the Roll Call – mostly DC characters (because I’m just not happy with the official versions) – but also Astro City and original characters. It is an interesting task to adapt and model characters from comic books into game statistics. I’ve written before on the idea that ‘games as math’ is often why games don’t work for me. The adaptation of characters is an interesting place to look at this concept, as well as adaptation in a more general sense.
The Good Stuff!
I mentioned the last time that I had a love/hate relationship with Complications. That last post discussed some of the “hate” side and now I want to discuss the good.
As I mentioned previously, one of my worries with complications is that it can create rulings issues for GMs and they’re groups. Because complications are not mechanical — even though they are a game mechanic — they can be problematic to make rulings on.
If a game master makes a ruling that a player is not fond of — such as a lasting injury — it is hard to reconcile that with just “getting a hero point.” Of course, these sorts of suggestions are also exciting because they can be put in the players hands. If a player gets hit repeatedly with critical hits then it’s a perfect time for a player to step up and “hey, GM, I want a concussion, can I have a concussion?”
I’ve used that line with a GM before so, that’s why I picked it. And hey, this time around, I do get a Hero Point that gives me more options later. Of course, this still requires GM oversight, but it really gives players a chance to insert themselves into the storyline creating problems for their characters. This I can definitely get behind.
Another really exciting thing I’ve noticed with Complications is the ability to really mix it up and define interesting aspects of a character in a way that mixes story and mechanics. For some characters, like many of the Astro City characters, their complications are almost more interesting to write than their powers. I had particular fun with stat’ing up Winged Victory and was really happy with her complications, because I can imagine seeing them in game play.
Overall, still love/hate. As most readers know, I’m not a big fan of FATE style games, and Complications in M&M fill a similar role to certain parts of the Aspect rules, and I have a similar frustration.
But that’s my take on Complications — what do you think?
Thanks for reading — and looking forward to next week — I’m finally going to weigh in on D&D Essentials… and you might be surprised by my opinion.
I’ve been spending a great deal of time over at the Mutants and Masterminds forums lately. Since grad school has been really intense this semester I’ve been gaming little and since forum posting is easy and entertaining (sometimes it’s practically a full contact sport) that has been how I’ve been staying in touch with the gaming community (or at least, a corner of it).
As I initially had some dislike for DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds 3e, I really have been taking the time to get to know the system well and to work on a lot of character builds, designing with the effects and re-writing some of the book versions of major DC characters. I’m also running a DC game for some friends and it’s getting into full swing soon.
But I have one major issue with the system that continues to plague me – more than anything else about Mutants and Masterminds – and this was a problem in 2E, but for 3E I find it to have become even more pervasive as a part of the system.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with these little mechanical creations. Because they aren’t really mechanics at all – but then again, they are. I intend to explore the bad stuff first and then I’ll talk about the good. Basically, the point of them is to try and recreate some of the “genre” elements of superhero gaming, and as a way to have a different reward structure for “flaws” that is not front-loaded. Complications have become an incredibly important part of the game because they are pretty much the only way to get Hero Points, the all-important resource of a Mutants and Masterminds campaign. (In DCA/3e the Luck trait no longer gives hero points.)
Where this becomes weird though is that the game talks specifically about the writer’s disdain for front-loaded design. But then they still included front-loaded design in some cases (such as devices) that could just as easily be handled as complications (at least the regular Removable level) – but that’s not really the problem. The problem is that the argument that there is only so much screen time in an adventure to cover things like, say, a character’s problems, is going to be just as much of an issue with Hero Points as it is with front-loaded “disadvantages.” If a player chooses ‘poorly’ with their complications – by which I primarily mean chooses roleplaying complications that don’t have a chance to come up often, they simply won’t earn Hero Points.
I was looking over Superman’s complication list and honestly, in the course of a routine night’s gaming, I don’t see Superman earning a single Hero Point – unless it involves kryptonite or taking his powers away. And the main downside to the “pay-as-you-go” approach is that it’s also much, much more difficult to “balance” complications. Looking at Superman’s complication list – if he does have one of them trigger, he’s probably in huge trouble – except for his supposed vulnerability to magic, a complication in name only, since his toughness not being impervious is pretty much no disadvantage at all under the new rules. I mean, the guy has an 18 Toughness – any power that his impervious would have stopped anyway is highly unlikely to have any noticeable effect on him anyway. So how are these equal? Even though the reward is equal for each of them? The simple answer – they’re not.
A larger issue as well is that Complications create a possibility for all kinds of ill-will at the table. A GM has to be very careful in adjudicating complications or they’re going to have players annoyed at them all the time. Lasting injuries – well, who really decides when your hero has a concussion or not? Really, you gave my guy a broken arm? Really? Or, as is so often mentioned in the rules of Superhero games – villains escape. Apply hero point balm and get on with the story. Of course, I don’t know about you but most players I know don’t consider that a fair reward for, “you got trashed – but hey, here’s a hero point.” It feels like plot-hammering. Again, a careful, thoughtful GM will have already thought out the villain’s escape to make it plausible and allow the hero’s to feel good about themselves – but the book simply suggests – “The villain leaves, here’s your HP.”
All that said (and I could say more), there are also some really good high-sides to Complications as well. I’ll talk about the good stuff that comes with Complication mechanics next post.
But how do you stat them?
While I was making my Samaritan build that I posted over at the Mutants and Masterminds Roll Call board, I realized what would come in really handy…
When you look at most gaming books, they have points of reference for things like, Assault Rifles and extreme heat and how fast a jet is…
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a table with the types of measurements a superhero really needs?
Like, “What effect value would it take to contain the force of a tsunami?”
“What level of effect do I need to stop an earthquake of say, intensity 6?” “What about 9?”
“Without spending the day on google, I wonder how much STR it would take to hold up three floors of an apartment building while it collapses?”
I know the tone was a little wry, but I’m actually serious. Does anyone know of any good resources for Superhero systems that does some of this?
I remember questions in the Rules forum about, “How do I catch a falling plane?” and I know that board has had a discussion of “How do you rule the ‘stopping the train’ scenario?” It would be awesome to have a place where these kinds of benchmarks were hashed out. I mean, really, would stopping a tsunami even be possible with Create 20?
Just thinking out loud.
Knee-jerk reactions still make us jerks.
I think that could be advice to live by, and the internet is not a communication forum known for people admitting when they were wrong. Well, I spouted off at the mouth — and I am here to say — I was wrong.
A little while ago, I posted what could only, really, be described as a rant about the DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds 3E system. I was pretty convinced that I hated it. I had fallen prey to a certain amount of “edition-mania” and sat there doggedly comparing 2E to 3E. Of course, I know 2E really well, so with 3E/DCA being so new, I had obvious gaps in my knowledge. I was attempting to convert old characters, not understanding exactly how the new system broke things down, and I said some pretty mean things.
Once again, I was wrong.
I spent a pretty big chunk of time over the past weekend really getting to know 3E — reading the book cover to cover, trying out the rules, re-making old characters with a better understanding of what I was seeing and I have to admit, this is a pretty good update of Mutants and Masterminds.