Friday, October 14, 2005

With Great Power

Continuing the thread from yesterday I found a copy of an article written for the Polyhedron Magazine in which Dale Donovan creates a point based character generation system for the Marvel Superheroes role-playing game. I hope this will spark renewed interest in this long forgotten classic. Enjoy.

With Great Power
Campaign Construction, Part 1: Origin
By Dale A. Donovan

Since I began writing this column in issue 163, I've discussed new directions for your MARVEL SUPER HEROES campaigns. Now it's time to address building a super hero campaign from scratch. Starting with this column, I'll cover the elements needed for a successful campaign.

The most important aspect of any role playing campaign is the player character. In the MARVEL SUPER HEROES game, you can play either pregenerated Marvel Heroes or you can create your own using the character generation systems in the rules. Detailed below is a "purchasing" system inspired by the other two major super hero role-playing games on the market, DC Heroes by Mayfair Games and Champions by Hero Games. Using my system, the Character Point (CP) System, players can built their ideal heroes within limits set by the Game Master. This system is flexible, so GMs should be wary of canny players who seek to take advantage of that flexibility.

Character Point System
The MARVEL SUPER HEROES Advanced Set Players' Book, page 5, details the steps players should follow to create their own heroes. It is reproduced with minor modifications below:
* Create an origin
* Determine primary abilities (FASERIP)
* Determine secondary abilities (Health, Karma, etc.)
* Ascertain special abilities (powers, talents, and contacts)
* Fill in the blanks (hero and character names, background, etc.)
The Players' Book suggests you start with an origin for your hero. However, I recommend you decide which type of hero your PC will be (altered human, mutant, etc.), then create the origin. Be sure to note all the special aspects of each type of character except which column of the "Generating Primary Abilities" table the hero's abilities will be rolled on. You will not be using dice to determine your hero's abilities. Do not feel compelled to fully detail your hero at this point. Save that for the "Fill in the Blanks" stage.

Determine primary abilities
Each player will now be given a number of Character Points (CPs). This number is determined by the Game Master and can range from 200 to 600 CPs or more. Let's say your GM gives you 300 CPs to build your hero. You would now "buy" your primary abilities (FASERIP) by spending CPs. Purchase primary ability scores on a point-for-point basis. So if you want your character to possess Amazing (50) Strength, subtract 50 CPs from your point total. Do this for all seven primary abilities. You can purchase ability scores other than the normal rank number in each rank (For example, you could buy Amazing (46) Strength instead of Amazing (50) and save four CPs to use later.) Just remember any skimping like this will be reflected in your final Health and Karma scores. Don't be too extravagant with your spending here, as your CPs will also be used to purchase your Resources level, powers, talents, and contacts. I don't recommend spending more than about half of your CPs at this stage.

Determine secondary abilities
Total up your Health and Karma points. Add those two figures together and they should equal the number of CPs you've spent so far. This is a good way to check your math. Now buy your hero's Resources rank by spending two CPs for every point of Resources (If you want Excellent (20) Resources, it would cost you 40 CPs.). A player does not buy and cannot modify his hero's Popularity score, as it is a function of the hero's origin and the public's perception of the hero.

Determine special abilities
Since each special ability (powers, talents, and contacts) is purchased slightly differently, each is discussed separately.
Powers: Each hero now buys powers and their ranks. All powers, except those with stars, cost 10 CPs each, and starred powers cost 20 CPs. Purchasing powers gives the hero the ability to buy ranks in those powers. Ranks for powers without stars are purchased on a point-for-point basis, as with the primary abilities. (If you wanted to buy the Flight power, it would cost 10 CPs. You can now buy a power rank for that power. Let's say you wanted to fly at Excellent (20) speed, it would cost you 20 more CPs. So buying the Flight power and an Excellent (20) rank cost you a total of 30 CPs.). Starred powers, because they are more powerful or more rare, each cost 20 CPs, as noted above, and their ranks are bought at a rate of two CPs for each rank number. You purchase both powers and ranks so that five powers, each at Good (10) ranks will be more expensive than one power at Amazing (50) rank. The hero with five powers is much more versatile, and he should pay for that.
Limitations: Page 9 of the Players' Book gives a list of possible limitations for powers. Players can buy one limitation per hero to gain more CPs. Use the maximums listed at the top of each list of limitations on page 9. This determines the number of CPs gained from taking a limitation. For example, taking the limitation "Power can only be used three times/day" from the list "Maximum of Excellent" for your Flight power would gain you an additional 20 CPs, as it is an Excellent rank limitation. Points gained through limitations are the normal rank numbers for that rank only. All normal rules regarding limitations apply. Subtract all CPs spent on powers and ranks, and add any CPs from limitations to figure your hero's new point total.

Talents: All skills listed under the Weapon, Fighting, and Mystical or Mental Skills tables, and all starred talents cost 10 CPs each. All other skills cost 5 CPs each (buying Chemist costs 5 CPs, while the Medicine or the Guns skill would cost 10 CPs each). Subtract all CPs spent here to get your hero's new CP total.
Contacts: Unless the GM specifies otherwise, each contact costs 5 CPs. Don't detail each contact now, as contacts often work best when chosen during an adventure with the GM's O.K.

Fill in the blanks: There, you're done. If you have any CPs left over, it's up to the GM what you can do with them. I suggest simply adding them to your hero's Karma points. Beginning heroes often don't have much Karma to spend on their first adventures. Don't forget to modify your hero as per the origin you picked for him earlier, and round out your hero with his heroic and character names, background, job, costume, how he gained his powers, why he risks his life as a hero, etc.

Character advancement
All normal game rules on character advancement apply. Character Points are used only during a hero's creation and do not apply to the character's future advancement. For example, you cannot pay 10 CPs for a power and not buy a rank for it during the hero's creation.

GM-imposed Limits
Test this system by creating several characters. You'll realize then, if you haven't already, that the system is flexible and can be abused unless the GM lays down some guidelines. The GM could impose spending limits on primary abilities (no FASERIP scores above Amazing (50), for example), powers (such as no more than four total), power ranks (no power ranks above Incredible (45)), power limitations (one limitation only, no limitation ranks above Incredible), and even the number of talents and contacts.

Breaking down Marvel characters by using this system can give GMs a good idea on what limits to place on character generation for their campaigns. Using the characters listed in the Advanced Set Judge's Book, for example, Invisible Woman, Marvel Girl, and Wasp each add up to about 300 CPs. Spider-Man, Thing, and Vindicator (Heather Hudson) each add up to between 450 and 500 CPs. Magneto adds up to almost 700 CPs. Discuss with your players the kind of campaign you want to have and then experiment with different point totals before deciding how many CPs to give your players. For Avengers style campaigns, I'd suggest 300-350 CPs per hero. For low-powered, gritty, "realistic," or pulp campaigns, I'd give out about 200 CPs. If you want to play a high-powered or cosmic campaign, I recommend handing out at least 500 CPs.

This system also allows GMs to built customized villains. By tailoring the number of CPs each villain is built with, a GM can gain a good handle on how well the villain should perform against the heroes. (For example, three 500-CP miscreants, 1500 CPs total, should do pretty well against five 300 CP heroes, despite being outnumbered.)

Next time, I'll continue to discuss PC heroes, including examples of building heroes with this system. Try this system, then write me and give me your impressions.

Normal Human Hero Generation
Punisher, Shang-Chi, Silver Sable, and the original Union Jack are all examples of normal-human heroes.

-Normal humans add one rank to any three primary abilities (or three ranks to any one, or two ranks to one and one rank to another ability), provided their abilities do not exceed maximum human limits.

-Normal humans automatically gain three additional talents (these do not count toward the maximum rolled on the Secondary Abilities table below).

-Normal humans gain one additional contact. Again, this does not count against the number of initial contacts rolled on Secondary Abilities table.

-Normal humans have no innate powers; any powers rolled must be incorporated into their equipment and have a maximum rank of Incredible for whatever power effect they have.

As we've altered the Origins, we also have to adjust the numbers for the Generating Primary Abilities table on page 6 and the Generating Secondary Abilities table on page 7 of the Player's Book to allow for the greater levels of ability that compensate for the lack of powers. Remember to roll for powers (equipment), talents, and contacts separately on the Secondary Abilities table. The Secondary Abilities table below is for Normal-human heroes only.

Power Generation
The number before the slash is the number of powers the hero currently possesses, and the number after the slash is the maximum number possible for the hero. Remember most vigilante heroes are nonpowered personally, and hence, all power slots represent specialized equipment. Just about any power in the MARVEL UNIVERSE has been artificially duplicated by some scientist or other. Even the rare mental powers have been recently created by Spider-Man (Emotion-control gun used against carnage and crew) and the Black Knight (psi-screen armor that protects vs. mental and psionic attacks). Determine powers as you normally would in your campaign. Power ranks are rolled on the Random Ranks table above.

Talent Generation
The character's number of initial talents are rolled on the new Secondary Abilities table. The number before the slash is the initial number the hero possesses, while the second number is the maximum potential number of talents; this maximum can be exceeded only by bonus talents from the character's Origin. Determine talents as vou would normally. Talent ranks are rolled on Column 1 of the Generating Primary Abilities table in the Player's Book. If the player rolls less than the corresponding Primary ability, the hero gains the talent with the ability's standard rank number i.e., Good (10), not Good (8).

Contact Generation
Each hero gets a number of initial contacts as rolled on the new Secondary Abilities table. Normal-human heroes get an additional contact due to their origin.
A hero does not have to establish all his contacts at the start of the campaign-the others can appear as need be or as the result of role-playing. For each established contact, the hero must provide a name. Characters with secret IDs can assign contacts to his heroic ID, his secret ID, or both. The secret ID has less risk to the hero, because if your contacts don't know you are a superhero, you cannot be called upon by them to perform heroic acts.

Example character
Now that we've got the mechanics in place, let's try them out and create a new heroine for the MARVEL UNIVERSE.
Origin & Abilities
I've already determined that the character's origin is a Normal-human hero. Therefore, using the new table, I generate the following ability scores:

Roll Ability Initial Rank & Number
97 Fighting Incredible (36)
22 Agility Typical (5)/Excellent (16)
64 Strength Good (8)
53 Endurance Good (8)/Excellent (16)
76 Reason Excellent (16)
88 Intuition Remarkable (26)
32 Psyche Typical (6)

Our new character's Health is 76 (total of Fighting, Agility, Strength, and Endurance), and her Karma is 48 (total of Reason, Intuition, and Psyche).

Normal-human ranks table (Column 6)
Rank Initial Rank Normal Human Human Max. (If result exceeds max., reroll.)
Feeble 1 01-05 -
Poor 3 06-15 -
Typical 5 16-50 -
Good 8 51-75 -
Excellent 16 76-85 Max. human Strengtb
Remarkable 26 86-95 Max. Endurance
Incredible 36 96-00 Max. Agility
Amazing 46 - Max. Fighting, Reason,Intuition
Monstrous 63 - -

Normal-human Secondary abilities table
D1OO Powers Talents Contacts
01-10 0,1 3/6 2/4
11-35 0/2 4/6 2/5
36-65 1/2 3/5 3/4
66-85 1/3 4/5 3/5
86-95 2/3 2/4 4/4
96-00 3/3 3/8 4/5

Powers, Talents, & Contacts
I roll three times on the Secondary Abilities table. A 30 for powers grants her no powers, but leaves the potential for two (of technological origin) later. A 38 for her talents gives her three talents as well as the three from her Origin for a total of six. She has two more talents pending, to be gained through game play Finally, a 59 on the contacts column allows her three contacts in addition to the one from her Origin gives her four contacts right now.

She has no powers now, so I don't need to worry about them yet.
Before choosing her talents, I need to think about her background. I think I'll give this heroine an espionage background, so I'll give her the following talents: Detective/ Espionage, Law enforcement, Martial arts A and C, Guns, and First aid.
In keeping with her background, three of her contacts will be with the FBI, her college criminology professor, and SHIELD. This leaves one contact left to be determined through role-playing.

I've decided this is a female hero with no secret identity. Given the good physical and mental abilities, the character's a fighter and a scholar-I choose to make her a young college graduate and neophyte SHIELD agent.

The rest of her origin, including her motivation and codename, are up to each Judge and whatever she wishes to do with the character. We've quickly generated a character on par the Black Widow.