28 May, 2015

Powers in a Game of Heroes

Superhero games rarely manage to capture the real feeling of the comics or movies they claim to emulate.

+Ron Edwards wrote an awesome post about this a few weeks ago, it's been sitting in the back of my mind ever since then. My thoughts have related to two projects I've been hoping to complete this year, the first is my "Other Strangeness" mutant animal RPG, and the second is a variant set of rules for FUBAR *(work in progress title...Four Colour FUBAR). I'd link to Ron's post if I could find it, but it basically promoted an idea where the power is less important than it's effect on the story, and the way the power is reflected in the narrative. The ability to throw a fireball is less interesting if it is defined by a damage of "4d6" (or something similar for the game), more interesting if it is defined by things you can do with it, and even more interesting if it gives you an outer range of potential and lets you play within those boundaries. Instead of a fireball effect, maybe you could apply a "Batman's Utility Belt" effect, where there seem to be all sorts of gadgets contained within it, but they only really become important when they achieve narrative significance.

After reading through the Mage 20th Anniversary rules, this crystallised a few ideas in my mind, and really reminded me why I like the game. I just want to strip away the storyteller system, keep the general sphere magic system, maybe offer specific rote effects as super powers that can be designed by the players as constant effects that their characters know, then create a skill/ability that allows characters to deviate from those rote powers within the boundaries established by their spheres. I can keep the coincidental and vulgar effects (where vulgar magic might require the expenditure of energy rather than the accumulation of paradox). It will require a bit of work, but there is so much potential here.

Now I'm just trying to work out the best way to attach a system like this to the "FUBAR" or "System 4" mechanisms.

In each case, I'm thinking that a magic effect might simply add to dice, or roll an extra die...but come with some kind of drawback (either power cost, collateral fallout, or other story complications). The more over-the-top the potential effect, the more detrimental the drawback. Some powers might start with incredible potency, and as a character gradually masters it they don't learn how to make it more powerful, instead they learn to refine it and minimize the collateral damage.

These thoughts have particularly been clarified after reading through the Pathfinder rules, especially when one of the new players decided to play a Wizard. Hundreds of pages of very narrowly categorised spells and specific effects, almost as any pages of magical items requiring specific spells to know before they can be created. Magic is very regimented, and might not be all that useful to the grander ongoing story. It's a very different style of play, I haven't decided which is better for new players to wrap their heads around. but I know that I prefer the more fluid system.

Just where my head's at for the moment.
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