Friday, June 11, 2010

Old School Super Weaknesses & Powers

I was re-reading Villains & Vigilantes again today, specifically the power section when I came upon this particular section I had completely forgotten (give me a break - I've only ever read the book once, and have not yet had a chance to play it!):

When all powers and weaknesses [each player rolls one random "weakness" in addition to 3-8 (1D6+2) super powers] are determined, the player must select one of the powers to discard. It is better to drop a power which will leave you with a remaining set which are interesting and go well together, rather than simply getting rid of some ability which doesn't look very powerful.

Each character also has the option of dropping the weakness he received if he feels that it would hinder him too severely. However, to do so he must drop a second power as described above.

I know I was talking about my dislike of randomness in super power games yesterday, specifically with regard to Marvel, but V&V does a great job of making the random power generation coherent with these two rules. Discarding one power (especially when you only have a handful, many of which are open to radical interpretation) really gives you the ability to "tighten up" an otherwise incoherent bunch of abilities. And the "weakness" rule is good as well...if players don't want the weakness they don't have to have it. And the price they pay to drop it (abandon an additional power) simply allows them to tighten the character concept further. It's a win-win all the way around.

I was already considering adding weaknesses to my game...they are just such a trope of the comic book superhero. The kryptonite achilles heel, Daredevil's blindness, Tony Stark's drinking, Spiderman's numerous imperiled family members/love interests (as well as always being broke as a joke) seems like most every hero has something that makes him or her flawed (I'm not sure what Green Arrow's weakness is...that he's a libertarian? that he's an easy target for police trying to crack down on vigilantes due to his lack of "real" superpowers?).

However, I had been considering having the weakness as optional...a means of perhaps gaining an extra superpower. Now...well, I have to admit, I like V&V's take on it. Perhaps a list of minor weaknesses (mandatory) versus major weaknesses (optional)? I'll have to think about it.

I never did like the weaknesses in Marvel Superheroes RPG (I refer to the limitations found in the Ultimate Powers Book). As with many aspects of Marvel, I found this particular system lacked, I just didn't find it very fun.

Yesterday, I spent quite a bit of my day working on the Superhero game. Finished my sidekick rules which are, quite frankly, totally awesome. Also fleshed out most of combat and XP/advancement (some people might be disappointed to hear that - at this time - combat is going to be a variation of my attack-less variant combat system for B/X).

I also put together a list of as many general super powers as I could think of off the top of my head. I got 103, which according to the good Doctor is probably "three too many." He doesn't think there should be more than 100 (which interestingly, appears to be the exact number present in Matthew's random charts over at Wheel of Samsara).

And he may be onto something. V&V only has 70 powers in its rule book (NOT counting "weaknesses") while Mutants & Masterminds only lists 93 (not counting Feats and extras), Heroes Unlimited has 90 random super powers (not counting spells, psionics, bionics, etc.), Aberrant has 65 (plus 9 "mega-attributes"), and Guardians has only 97 total. Advanced Marvel Superheroes does have 120 powers, but the original, basic Marvel Superheroes only has 60 including some of my favorites to be left out of the Advanced edition (Unique Weapon, Unique Vehicle, Intelligent Weapon, and Sidekick).

So even though I was considering compiling a single comprehensive list of powers including EVERYTHING from EVERY supers RPG I've got, I think instead that I'll do what I can to cut down the list to something a bit more manageable.

On the other hand, B/X D&D does have more than 100 spells in it (though admittedly spread over two rule books). I think that if I could get the power descriptions down to pithy, B/X-like blurbs, I might be able to get a few more than 100 into the game. But as I said, it's something I'll have to think about.

Right now, France and Uruguay just started their match. Later Gators!


  1. I think the trick with random power generation is that the powers have to be broad enough that you can make some sense out of the resulting assemblage. Marvel's Ultimate Powers forgot that. V&V is (as usual) quirky in it's implementation: it has some very specific powers which I would never put on a list like that ("Death Touch"), but then it has some powers so broad as to be nothing other than a name ("Body Power" and "Mutant Power").

    Weaknesses in some depend upon what kind of super-hero game you want to play. I favour them, but I again like them broad enough to cover all sorts of things.

    Oh, thanks for the shout out. I found a few mistakes on the tables, but haven't posted the update yet. Still, I think I got most of the powers I would want in a game.

  2. @ Matt: Hey, man, I LIKE the tables. Jeez! You're so tough on yourself!
    : )

    RE: Your other comments.

    I the end it's a balancing act. These "stream of consciousness meanderings" I post are, in a way, my attempt to analyze and understand my own thoughts on the subject. Why do some things work for me, and why don't others?

    When I first got my hands on Marvel's Ultimate Powers book, I was pretty excited...there were some totally cool powers/ideas in it, as well as some kick-ass examples, which are fun. But I burned out on it after making a couple dozen characters...characters that often failed to look coherent.

    Earlier on, one commenter was talking about a character preferring to beat on people with high strength instead of using his actual super powers. Shouldn't the ability to bench 50 tons be a "super power?" But in Marvel, you might roll an Amazing strength (and a Monstrous agility, Incredible endurance, etc., etc.) but the powers "light generation" and "shrinking." That's a mess, IMO.

  3. Not including super-attributes as powers is probably my absolute least favourite thing in that game.

  4. I'd say your attackless variant combat system would be great for a Supers game. Seems like that would make more sense than something like Heroes Unlimited's (and other Palladium games of course) "gain more and more attacks per round."

    "You always do some damage, but always take some, it's just a matter of how much" seems to fit a comic book combat style in my imagination.

    I've been watching Fox's old X-Men cartoon on DVD lately, and that's making me really interested in what you'll come up with. Matthew's random charts are pretty sweet too.

  5. I'm not sure what Green Arrow's weakness is


  6. @ Lord Gyd & Matt: I'm on the same page with y'all regarding BOTH issues.
    ; )

    @ Kevin: Yeah, right.

  7. Are you familiar at all with Hideouts & Hoodlums...?

  8. @ Scott: Nope. Tell me about it.
    : )

  9. Hideouts & Hoodlums is a retroclone game based on the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox rules (in turn based on the 1974 D&D rules) and simulating comic books from 1938-1940. Though your game sounds wider in scope, it is still reinventing a reinvention of the wheel. You can read more about H&H here -

  10. H&H is a very interesting thing, but I don't think a B/X Supers game is necessarily reinventing the reinvention.

  11. @ Scott & Matt: Hey, we'll just have to see what we see. Right now, the project is"experimental." It remains to be seen whether or not the experiment is even viable.
    ; )

  12. Thanks, Matthew. JB, I'm sure a superhero game based on the D&D Basic/Expert sets is very viable. I like to say Mutants & Masterminds is to 3E D&D what Villains & Vigilantes was to 1st ed. AD&D as Hideouts & Hoodlums is to OD&D. We can add B/X Supers is to D&D Basic/Expert to that equation. The thing is, I'd rather see us working together than cover similar terrain separately. So, if you'll have me, I plan to stick around and help out "here" and maybe you can do the same "over there" on one of my groups.