Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Setting of Superhero 2044

Yet again, art by Mike Cagle

In Superhero 2044, Donald Saxman crafted a setting not so much to emulate the comic book source material, but to establish an environment that would plausibly allow the existence of costumed crimefighters with superhuman abilities.  More so than the actual rules, it is Saxman's setting that defines the game.  Readers are treated to eight pages of setting description even before character generation is addressed – that's more than one-fourth of the game's page count (excluding the Gamescience appendix).

The location is the island nation of Inguria and the year – of course – is 2044.  Information is presented in the form of an excerpt from the 2044 edition of The World Almanac.  Ingurian history begins in 1824, when “Shanter Island was the English...”  Presumably, the South Pacific island was uninhabited but there is no information as to how the most prominent feature, Mount Inguri, was named.  Anyway, the island was used as a coaling station, eventually was acquired by the United States, and occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War.  After the war, Congress granted Shanter Island independence.

Page 2 of the rules tells us, “During the periods from 1982 to 1989, the construction of a modern spaceport from scratch turned the island into an urbanized center of commerce.”  The spaceport closed after “the six-day war in 2003” and reopened in the '20s.  By that time, Shanter Island had joined “the World Peach Council” (sic).  “In 2029 Shanter Island renamed itself Inguria and joined the New Whole Commonwealth of Nations,” which meant adopting the 'NWC Pseudodollar' (Pd) as its official currency.

The war allowed for mutations that are a staple of the genre, but it also brought about the Science Police, “charged with preventing world war.”  As part of its purview, the Science Police suppresses all forms of atomic power.  As Saxman told us last month, he changed the Science Police to an “organization called CURBIT” to avoid the ire of the entity now known as DC Comics.  (Personally, I would have gone with 'Science Patrol' or 'Science Rangers,' because nothing says awesome quite like “Science.”)  Speaking of science...
By 2044 many inventions or engineering ideas which are now only dreams are perfected and several completely new concepts and materials are available...The major change is the accumulator, which is essentially a very efficient battery...[Also,] computers have become nearly sentient...and are much more reliable.  Access to computers is universal and cheap...
Saxman wrote Superhero 2044 in the '70s – before Al Gore had invented the Internet – so his speculation about computers is interesting.  Saxman correctly forecasts the advent of 'computerized journalism.'  Home access to the “computer net” costs 250 Pd per month; given inflation, this might not be too far off the mark for 2044.  A “Fully mobile unit,” however, is backpack sized and can only be rented, not owned.

Inguria has a population of 243,000 (including an enclave of extraterrestrial 'Formians') and occupies 523 km².  Its major industries include “Tourism, space exploration, undersea metals, [and] fishing.” Various organizations “of special interest to the superhero” are represented on Inguria:
  • Association of Technical Arts:  The ATA has “free computer and testing services for anyone they consider deserves them.”  Otherwise, “The ATA will hire out its facilities to anyone able to pay their exhorbitant [sic] rates.”
  • The Hunter Club:  This exclusive organization offers “wide services to its elite members.  These include an allowance, computer use, hospitalization, liability, referral and a research center...near limitless benefits.”  At any given time, there are only fourteen members and officers and sixteen associates.  Becoming a member is a bit tricky; a character must be nominated by a member, then must survive various tasks.
  • Köln Institute:  The Institute is “a training school dedicated to the development of the perfect human.”  Alumni are entitled to such services as “free dorm space, half-cost insurance, no-interest training [and access to]...Research equipment.”  Alumni are expected to abide by a code of ethics and donate a tithe.
  • Uniquex (pronounced “uni-kyu”):  “this organization conducts training, categorizing, and recognition of Uniques and Unique powers.  It will buy Unique germ plasma of proven merit.”
  • Inguria Protection and Service Program:  As a result of the demise of the Freedom League (see below), “the government found it necessary to encourage crime fighters to emigrate to Inguria.”  The program provides a monthly stipend of 200 Pd and free hospitalization to heroes who (1) register, (2) patrol at least twenty-five hours per month, (3) cooperate with the authorities, and (5) maintain sufficient scores in the Location and Prevention handicap categories.
The Freedom League was the foremost superhero team in Inguria.  It “was destroyed in 2042 by Doctor Ruby, a reclusive geologist of fantastic ability and criminal tendency.”  The only survivor was Mr. Banta, “alias the Shifter.”  Actually, only his brain survived; the rest of his body was “carbonized.”  Banta's brain is now housed “in a powerful cyborg shell.”  Now, Banta is the proprietor of 'The Superhero Shop.'  (Mr. Banta and the shop are depicted above.)  In addition to “a wide range of crimefighting equipment,” Banta sells the devices, trophies, knick-knacks, etc. accumulated by the Freedom League during its existence “although he is unaware of the true values or uses of the items.”  Grab bags might be available, “costing 1000 Pd times a certain die roll.”   The contents of such bags include “about one-half junk and a few traps.”  Saxman offers The Superhero Shop as a means to introduce clues, plot devices, and “anything the referee wants...”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Combat in Superhero 2044

Again, Mike Cagle art

When playing out combat in Superhero 2044, turns of ten seconds are used.  Every turn, each character has a round in which to perform actions:  move and attack, move twice, attack twice, but NOT attack and move.  If it is necessary to determine the order in which characters act, the Dexterity score may be used.  However, activity is simultaneous – damage is not applied until the end of the turn, after all rounds are completed.

There are four 'types' of attack:  direct physical, projectile, mental, and transformation.  'Direct physical' attacks are what others games call hand-to-hand/melee attacks.  'Projectile' attacks include conventional ranged attacks, but the term also applies to “energy bolts and rays, force beams, [and] gases...”  Intuitively, 'mental' attacks affect the target's mind; examples include “mind control, certain kinds of invisibility, mind reading, etc.”  'Transformation' attacks are attempts to alter the physical nature of the target.

'Direct physical' attacks are resolved by first subtracting the target's Stamina score from the Attacker's Stamina.  For purposes of determining this number, a character's Stamina may be modified as a result of circumstances.  For instance, a blind attacker's Stamina is reduced by 20 and a target wearing (any) body armor receives a bonus of 20.  The rules on page 15 claim that “the resulting number must be matched or bettered...for the effect to occur.”  This isn't quite true; it would mean that attacks would be automatically successful if the attacker's Stamina is equal to or less than the target's Stamina.  Also, the more Stamina an attacker has compared to the target reduces the likelihood of the attack's success.

The rules should say that the difference of the target's modified Stamina from the attacker's modified Stamina needs to be checked against the Universal Combat Matrix.  If the attacker's Stamina is equal to the target's Stamina, the attacker must roll an 11 or greater on 3d6.  Otherwise, each five points of Stamina difference modifies the score needed by one.  If the attacker's Stamina is more than thirty points less than the target's, a roll of 18 is necessary.  If the attacker's Stamina is forty or more points greater than the target's, success is automatic.  The supplementary rules present the number needed to hit as a percentage.

'Mental' attacks are resolved just like 'direct physical' attacks except Ego values are compared instead of Stamina.  A person might think that 'projectile' attacks are handled in a similar manner, like comparing Dexterity instead of Stamina; however, such a person would be very wrong.  'Projectile' attacks are handled akin to 'transformation' attacks.  'Transformation' attacks are resolved by rolling a d6 and applying situational modifiers.  A second d6 is rolled and if the result equals or exceeds the modified result, the attack is successful.  Yes, you roll a die to determine the result you need when you roll a second die.  I guess the Universal Combat Matrix isn't so universal after all; perhaps the name should be changed to 'Limited Combat Matrix' or 'Matrix for Some Combat.'  On page 31, the supplementary rules allow saving throws against 'transformation' attacks.

Anyway, conventional damage causes a target to lose Endurance and/or Vigor, usually both.  According to page 16, “Endurance loss represents pain and shock” while “vigor loss represents the actual injury.”  As Endurance is depleted, certain debilitating conditions take effect.  With an Endurance of 10 - 14, a character is stunned, may not attack, and may only move once per round.  A character with negative Endurance “requires immediate medical aid to prevent brain damage.”  There are also debilitating effects when Vigor is reduced.  A character with only 1 - 4 Vigor is “barely conscious...[and] unable to move.”

What happens when Vigor is reduced below one?  Well, it's complicated.  There are “four areas of the body” which, in other games, would be called 'hit locations.'  They are:  head, body, arms, and legs  According to page 16, “each of the four areas of the body contains 50% of the total body vigor points.”  'Projectile' attack damage is applied either to a randomly determined area or an area for which an attacker specifically aimed.  If Vigor for the head area is reduced below one point, the character dies.  If Vigor for any other area is reduced below one point, that area is incapacitated.  The supplementary rules on page 33 allow a saving throw to avoid death or incapacitation.  The problem is that the 'area damage' paradigm only applies to 'projectile' attacks; 'direct physical' attacks do not affect a specific area.  Should 'direct physical' Vigor damage be tracked separately from 'projectile' Vigor damage?  If so, the effect of having less than one point of 'direct physical' Vigor is not explained.

The damage from 'direct physical' attacks depends upon “Weapon Class.”  There are five classes: (1) untrained unarmed; (2) clubs, nightsticks, etc.; (3) trained unarmed; (4) “knives, stilettos, etc.”; and (5) “swords, spears, etc.”  The damage from 'projectile' attacks varies by weapon (or ammunition type).  All damage is listed as a fixed amount of Vigor and/or Endurance, except for Weapon Class 3 damage.  However, the supplementary rules list variable damage for weapons (e.g., trident = 2d12, longsword = 5d6).  The supplementary rules also introduce four 'types' of 'armor class' (unarmored, bullet-proof vest, bullet-proof suit, and battle armor) as well as the concept of weapon mastery.  A character can have up to seven levels of mastery with a melee weapon, but no more than four levels of mastery with a firearm.

Endurance is recovered at a rate of one point per turn of rest (i.e., six points per minute).  Vigor wounds of no more than five points can be treated with first aid, recovering one point every six hours.  Greater wounds require hospitalization and Vigor is recovered at a rate of two points per six hours (as opposed to one point per three hours).  “Intensive field care” causes an immediate recovery of two points of Vigor.  (I suppose “Intensive field care” is only effective if applied before other recovery options.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Litigation in Superhero 2044

More art by Mike Cagle
In general, Superhero 2044 accom-modates standard tropes of the genre, but there are also some concessions made to 'realism.'  In a world where the antics of costumed menaces cause copious amounts of property damage, there will certainly be lawyers attempting to capitalize on the situation.  Such legal activity is rarely addressed in the comic books; litigation is ill-suited for graphic narrative.  However, in the setting of Superhero 2044, characters must not only fight villains, they must also suffer the slings and arrows of civil law.

Litigation is covered in four slight paragraphs on page 24 of Superhero 2044 and I am devoting an entire post to it – longer than the actual litigation rules themselves.  So sue me.

The default setting for Superhero 2044 is the island of Inguria, where the activities of superheroes are tolerated.  (Page 3 says, “Cash rewards are available to those who help the government by fighting crime or by aiding in time of disaster.”)  Although they are officially condoned, superheroes are still subject to lawsuits.

As explained in a prior post, characters possess a handicapping score called Damage.  By being cautious so as to avoid causing property damage and harming innocents, characters gain a higher 'Damage' score.  When a character attempts to thwart a crime while on patrol, a 'damage result' is determined based upon the type of crime, the severity of crime, and the character's Damage score.  Higher results mean less damage; a high enough result means no damage was caused.  If any damage was caused, a lawsuit results.

Each lawsuit requires that the character spend a block of time (six hours) “in court” the following week.  This rapidity of legal resolution is somewhat less believable than people throwing energy bolts and flying under their own power.  For the sake of playability (as opposed to realism) I appreciate the need to address lawsuits in such a speedy manner.  Still, although the character is deprived of a block of time that could have been put to better use, the player chooses which time block to be in court.  For instance, 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. is acceptable in the Ingurian justice system, a convenience unmatched in the annals of law.

In litigation, there is the plaintiff – the party filing the lawsuit – and the defendant – the party being sued.  Characters are defendants.  Each party rolls a die.  Unfortunately, the rules are not explained very well.  This is one of those occasions where the example serves only to further confuse the issue.  The rules state that the plaintiff's result is subtracted from the defendant's.  This is reversed in the example provided.  It seems that the rules describe the correct method, rather than the example.

If the total result is positive, the character/defendant must pay a number of 'pseudodollars' equal to the result multiplied by one one hundred (minor lawsuits) or one thousand (major lawsuits).  If the result is zero or negative, the character prevails and nothing is owed.  Of course, before the dice are rolled, the player can file a counter-suit for 1,000 pseudodollars.  In such a case the character is awarded money on a negative total result.

The actual fact pattern of the incident at issue (i.e, the cause of action) is not important.  (Since the 'incident' was a patrol encounter, it was not role-played.)  What does come into play is the 'Stop' result generated for the incident; it determines which dice to roll.  If the crime was stopped and the perpetrators captured, the plaintiff rolls 1d20 and the defendant rolls 1d8.  If the crime was not stopped and the perpetrators escaped, the plaintiff rolls 1d8 and the defendant rolls 1d20.  With any other combination of 'Stop' circumstances, both parties roll 1d20.  So, winning or losing the lawsuit (and the degree to which it is won or lost) is affected by how successful the character was in thwarting the crime.

In 'real life,' of course, the defendant's Charisma would be a factor in winning or losing the case; perhaps a bonus to the roll equal to Charisma / 10 (round down).  The quality of a character's legal representation should also be taken into account.  Perhaps the defendant pays for which die to roll, more sides being more expensive.  The cost of the die might also be based on the 'Stop' rating of the incident.

Superhero 2044 also offers the option of liability or malpractice insurance.  With either of these, lawsuits are handled out of court.  The character doesn't even spend a block of time; however, there is no possibility of counter-suit awards.  The insurance costs are fixed – liability costs 500 pseudodollars per year and malpractice costs 1,000.  'Realistically,' insurance should become more expensive in proportion to the number of lawsuits settled. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Sorry State of Civilization

Like many bloggers, I offer a variety of links that may be of interest to my readers.  I hate encountering dead links on other sites, and I don't want them on this site.  Occasionally, I check the links that I provide to make certain they're still active.  When I find a link that is no longer good, I get rid of it to save my readers from disappointment.

Anyway, in my latest sweep, I discovered that two links are no longer valid.  First, the Judges Guild site ( is now offline; this is unfortunate, but understandable.  The second invalid link is nothing short of unconscionable.  The target of my “What is a thoul?” link was Wikipedia's “Thoul” article.  Notice my use of the past tense – the information elitists at Wikipedia have decided that “Thoul” no longer deserves an article; searches for thoul are redirected to a page called “List of Dungeons & Dragons monsters (1977–1999).”  What is wrong with these people?  Seriously, “Eggomania ” and lipstick on a pig” get articles, but “Thoul” gets nixed?

When our civilization eventually falls, it won't be due to WMDs or economic collapse or some similar catastrophe.  No, the end of civilization will occur because self-appointed 'administrators' will have dismissed critical information in favor of Punky Brewster episode synopses.  Remember this the next time Jimmy Wales starts asking for handouts.

Given these execrable circumstances, I am compelled to create a 'What Is A Thoul?' page.  After all, if you want something done right, then do it yourself.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Handicapping in Superhero 2044

More Mike Cagle art

As I stated previously, Superhero 2044 is a scheduling game.  Each player plans out his or her character's activity a week at a time.  According to page 12:
Each week each character must submit a planning sheet to the referee.  This sheet should tell the status of a hero at the beginning of the week.  The referee uses this information to calculate how many and what kind of crimes are encountered during the week.
The 'weekly planning sheet' has a calendar of sorts where the player indicates what the character does in each six-hour block of time.  Then, the the total blocks of time devoted to various options are calculated.  Options include:  patrol, rest, school, practice, and research.  Room is provided for 'other' activities – I expect that 'employment' would be fairly common – but there are only five pre-listed options.  The time blocks must equal 28 (i.e., seven days times four blocks per day).  Confusingly, on the sheet they are called 'hours' rather than 'blocks.'  This results in the peculiar line, “TOTAL = 28 HOURS.”

Each character must devote at least ten blocks toward rest.  However, there can be – at most – four blocks between rest periods and no more than three rest blocks in a row.  According to page 14, “Rest blocks represent not only sleep, but minor recreation, eating, and shopping for basic needs.”

Most prominent on the planning sheet are not the character's prime requisites, but instead his or her handicap scores.  These scores help determine what happens when the character goes out on patrol.  There are eight handicap categories, each having a value from one to ten.  The rules state that the total Handicap value ranges from 10 to 8, but it seems to me that it would range from 8 to 80.  Anyway, the handicap categories are:
Prevention – “ability to prevent criminals from operating.”
Location – “ability to locate criminals.”
Stopping – “ability to stop crimes in progress.”
Capture – “ability to capture criminals.”
Conviction – “ability to convict captured criminals.”
Leads – “ability to get leads.”
Damage – “tendency to cause damage while stopping crimes.”
Injury – “tendency to be injured or captured.”
(Actually, according to the example provided in the rules, 'Damage' should be, “tendency to avoid causing damage while stopping crimes,” and 'Injury' should be,“tendency to avoid being injured or captured.”)

The referee determines the value for each category by means of a handicapping scenario.  In essence, the character encounters a crime in progress.  The referee evaluates how the player has the character handle the situation and rates the categories appropriately.  A character's handicap scores can be evaluated as frequently as three times per week but cannot be evaluated less frequently than a monthly basis.  Apparently, “each new evaluation supercedes the previous one.”  However, I assume that previous scores are supposed to influence the results of any given evaluation.  'Prevention' at least is supposed to be indicative of a character's reputation.

So, what exactly do these handicapping scores accomplish?  Well, characters are expected to go out on patrol and fight crime and the handicap scores help to determine what happens during patrol.  (For any given week, I suppose) a character's 'Location Effectiveness Number' is determined by subtracting 'Prevention' from 'Location' and checking the result on a table.  In a time-block, a character can patrol one 'area' from a selection of areas  (e.g., industrial, suburbs, government, et al.).  Each area has a 'Crime Density Number' which when multiplied by the 'Location Effectiveness Number' and further multiplied by the number of six-hour blocks spent patrolling that area generates the number of crimes that are encountered.  With me so far?

In the world of Superhero 2044, there are 32 types of crime – from assassination to soliciting and illegal pollution to poaching.  Different crimes are more or less likely in different areas.  For instance, skyjacking does not occur in the suburbs and jailbreaks do not occur in the resort area.  Percentile dice are rolled and the 'Crime Frequency Table' is consulted to determine one of the crimes encountered.  For each crime, the 'Crime Data Sheet' provides modifiers for the handicap categories corresponding to Stop, Capture, Convict, Lead, Damage, and Injury.  For any given instance of crime, 2d6 are rolled for each category to determine severity.  Crime data is added to severity and the sum is multiplied by the appropriate handicap score of the character.  Each of these products is checked against the 'Patrol Results Table' to determine what happens.

For example, let's say that a hero with a Capture score of 5 comes across some smugglers in flagrante delicto.  An 8 is rolled for severity and the capture modifier for smuggling (per the 'Crime Data Sheet') is -4.  Thus, (8 - 4) x 5 = 20.  According to the 'Patrol Results Table,' a product of 20 means the criminals escape.

Each type of crime has a certain number of reward dice associated with it.  The dice are rolled and the total multiplied by 50 to determine the number of 'Psuedodollars' received.  Presumably, the perpetrator(s) must be captured and convicted before a reward is earned.  In the example the book provides, the character receives only half of the reward dice because – even though the miscreants were caught and convicted – the character did not stop them from committing the crime.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Characters in Superhero 2044

More art by Mike Cagle

Last week, we discussed the first step in Superhero 2044 “character design.”  Specifically, 140 points are allocated among seven 'prime requisites' which, in other games, would be termed 'characteristics.'

The next step is to select a “group” for the character – either Unique, Toolmaster, or Ubermensch.  (I would have called them Phenomenals, Equipment-Users, and Specialists, respectively – but whatever.)  Uniques “are true supermen possessing powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men...The archetypal [Unique] is Superman.”  Toolmasters are “men and women who are self proclaimed technological excellent example of a heroic toolmaster is Iron Man.”  Ubers “specialize in one or more fields and are trained to the utmost in those fields...A classic Ubermensch is Lord Greystroke [sic], Tarzan of the Apes.”

Prime requisites are modified based upon “group.”  Ubers receive a bonus to all prime requisites other than Ego, Charisma, and Mentality.  (They actually get a penalty to Mentality.)  Toolmasters get a bonus to Mentality, but a penalty to Vigor, Stamina, and Endurance.  Uniques get a bonus to Charisma.

Next, up to fifty bonus points can be used to define the character's abilities.  Saxman's 'Rules Enhancements' (published last month on Thoul's Paradise) demonstrate how to apply points to represent a variety of concepts.  Of course, this material was not available twenty-five years ago to purchasers of the game.  Oddly, there is no listing of powers that provides details about how said powers relate to game mechanics.  Simply stated, Superhero 2044 is a superhero role-playing game without superpower descriptions.  I know it's old school and that – because it's old school – many of the rules are open to interpretation.  However, this is like D&D without spell descriptions.

At least Saxman provides three sample characters “not to be used, but rather to illustrate the principles of character design.”  They are good examples as far as they go, but they are not sufficient to provide a thorough understanding.

The Charmer is a Unique.  After the Unique bonus, she has a Charisma of fifty.  As a superpower, she can use her Charisma “as a mental attack and can force humans only to follow her vocal commands.”  OK, that's simple enough.

Apollyon (the destroyer) is an Ubermensch.  He is “a master of disguise and of computers.  (His 50 point bonuses are gained in these areas).”  This would seem to be what the Rules Enhancements call a “Superb Skillset.”  So far, so good.

The Avenging Knight is a Toolmaster.  “He built a special set of powered armor which magnifies his puny stamina twenty times (albeit with a considerable loss of dexterity) and has an intrinsic Vigor of 100...”  Prime Requisites for his armored form are not listed.  Are we to assume that he has a Stamina of 200 when wearing his armor?  The Avenging Knight can also fly and “has developed a weapon that disrupts matter and can be set to stun or completely disintegrate.”  We are left in ignorance as to how the fifty bonus points were distributed to gain these abilities.

The appendix provides two more characters.  (Presumably, these can be used.)  Sunburst (The Radiant Man) is a Unique.  He possesses infra-red vision and “can project laser like beams.”  He can also generate an effect like a flash grenade.  Multiplex (The Multiple Man) is another Unique.  Multiplex is actually a pair of twin brothers who can merge into one being.  Alternately, “each twin can split into two bodies.”  The single being is the most powerful; each split results in weaker versions.  Additionally, “each body can project an image of itself.”  The descriptions for Sunburst and Multiplex do not provide the 'cost' of their respective abilities.