Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Campaign of Super-Powered Crimefighters in the Year 2044

cover illustration for Superhero 2044 (by Mike Cagle)

Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a game is only as good as its weakest subsystem.  In last week's interview, Donald Saxman acknowledged that character creation was one of “the weakest parts of Superhero 2044.”  I have to concur; however, there are some good concepts in Superhero 2044 character creation.  This makes the ultimate failing of the character creation system all the more unfortunate.

One 'good concept' is the attitude Superhero 2044 has toward creating character – the process is called “character design” (as opposed to “character generation”).  Characters are not ciphers; they are not the results of rolling a few dice and perusing an equipment list.  Players must formulate a character's background and collaborate with the referee to define the character in game terms.  (In reference to defining a character in game terms, Saxman uses the word 'quantize'.)  As befits this 'thoughtful' process, there are no random aspects in creating a character.

There are seven 'prime requisites' among which players allocate 140 points:
  • VIGOR – Health, resilience to disease.  Severe incapacitation (up to and including death) results  if Vigor is reduced to zero.
  • STAMINA – Hand-to-hand fighting ability; also, “ability to run fast, hold one's breath, etc.”
  • ENDURANCE – Resilience to pain, poison, deprivation.  Unconsciousness results if Endurance is reduced to zero.
  • MENTALITY – Ability to learn, memorize; also, “ability to recognize unfamiliar devices or situations.”
  • CHARISMA – Reflects “appearance, personality, leadership ability, etc.”
  • EGO – Resilience to mental attacks, offensive capacity for mental attacks.
  • DEXTERITY – Balance, speed, stealthiness, reaction time; also, “ability to perform simultaneous actions.”  Affects chances of success in ranged combat.
This is an interesting choice of 'characteristics'.

I suspect that, for Mentality, “ability to adapt to...” is the intended meaning rather than “to recognize...”

I accept the notion that 'life points' should be distinct from 'consciousness points'; however, they should be derived, in part, from a common source.  For instance, 'life points' could be the average of Vigor and Endurance while 'consciousness points' could be the average of Ego and Endurance.  Otherwise, it would be possible to have extremely divergent, nonsensical values.

It seems strange to me that 'holding one's breath' and 'running fast' are combined with fighting ability, especially when it is more intuitive to associate these activities with other prime requisites.  Also, Vigor, Stamina, and Endurance are synonyms for one another; they shouldn't be used to 'quantize' three different things.  For that matter, the descriptions of 'Vigor' and 'Endurance' seem too similar to warrant status as two separate prime requisites.

Curiously, there is no prime requisite that represents physical strength.  Such a measurement may not be important in some settings, but this is a superhero role-playing game – physical strength is an important (if not fundamental) aspect.

One problem with the prime requisites is that Saxman supplies no benchmarks.  What is the average value?  What is the maximum value for a 'normal' person?  The rules “strongly” advise having a value of at least ten in each prime requisite.  Should this be interpreted as the 'low end' of normal?  When Vigor is reduced to less than eleven, there are incapacitating effects – characters are “unable to operate under ordinary conditions.”  When Endurance is reduced to less than twenty, there are incapacitating effects – characters “may only move or attack once per turn.”  If we divide 140 allocation points by seven prime requisites, the result is twenty.  Are we to assume twenty is average?

The 'Synthetic Scenario Machine' lists four “sizes” of criminals:  Leaders, Bagmen, Soldiers, and Lookouts.  Leaders have a score of thirty in each prime requisite.  Additionally, they have a bonus of thirty to one prime requisite and a bonus of twenty to another.  'Soldiers' have scores of thirty in Vigor, Endurance, Stamina, and Dexterity.  They also get a twenty point bonus to to Vigor, Endurance, or Stamina.  Bagmen have a score of twenty for each prime requisite and Lookouts remain a mystery.

The appendix rules (not written by Saxman) provide prime requisite scores for criminal types inconsistent with those described in the Synthetic Scenario Machine.  “Leaders” and “Bosses” have a twenty in every prime requisite.  The highest scores are twenty-five – Endurance and Stamina values for the “Bruiser.”  A “Gunman” has a Mentality of fifteen while a “Thug” has a Mentality of ten.  “Thugs” and “Bruisers” have a Charisma of five.  What does it all mean?

1 comment:

  1. these days games were skeletons for your own game - now we need a hundred overdesigned books too specific with not much room to move

    ps if any snippets of writing needed mail me at konsumterra at gmail