Sunday, February 11, 2018

Not Tinder, but...


(Originally posted on Facebook)

It suddenly occurred to me today that a supers smartphone app would solve so many problems in contacting other supers (this is distinct from "super Tinder" which I have also talked about).

Problem 1: What's it called?

The names I come up with seem very...quotidian. SuperTalk. ParaGraph or MetaGraph. The cutest so far is "App, App, and Away".

I'm thinking of an app that does the following (or says it does; whether it really does it is left as an exercise for the GM):

  • anonymizes or never gets location info
  • offers the choice of really deleting exchanges or, like SnapChat, deletes them after a certain period of time
  • encrypts data that's transmitted or saved, so if someone makes a copy of your phone somehow, they don't have a way to read your info. (I leave actual details to someone with expertise, but I'm thinking of a key that's stored somewhere and everything is encrypted in a new way after each look, though the transmission of the key might be vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack
  • does not translate but handles multiple language code sets
  • provides a list of enrolled supers, so if you've never met Fantastica you can still send him/her/it a message.

Problem 2: How are people verified?

Given that the supers population is limited, this might actually be a use for blockchain algorithms. My tentative answer is that some other user verifies you. So you can *get* the app off iTunes or the Google store or whatever the equivalent is, but you can't *use* the app until you're verified.

There might be a second app for getting in touch with heroes, but I think it would be like looking at a celebrity's Instagram: every fifth entry is "I love you so much! Please answer this!"

Kid Heroes


Just finished the first collected volume of Super Sons and I enjoyed it. It strikes me as an interesting idea for a limited roleplaying campaign, too: players are children of established heroes. Unlike, say, a Teen Titans or Young Avengers-style game, part of it is that the parents will get involved.

I wouldn't use it for play with actual kids; my theory is that kids want to be adults in their games, even if they make kid-like choices. (My son never wanted actual conflict when he was a toddler, and the assumption always seemed to be that there was someone he could go to who would solve the problem.) But every kid is different; be guided by the kid involved.

Anyway, the premise is that, because the parents work together in some way, the kids will be thrown together. One of them should probably be an instigator, somebody who can get them into trouble or investigate adventures.

Because they're not necessarily an established group, the adventures probably substitute a "Getting the band together" sequence for the hook or threat. Again, you don't want to have to try to convince the other players often (that's one reason this would be limited run) but once in a while, it's nice.

The central problems (and I'm not one of those writers who starts with the meaning it symbolizes) could mostly be "children" of issues that the adult heroes have dealt with. If you're making up the adults as well, then you just have little capsule statements of what the original problem was. (The first five issues of Super Sons deals with a side effect of the Amazo virus. "One man Justice League" is the description given of Amazo, the virus gets two panels.)

If you do work off the underlying meaning, then you'll have to think about what you're trying to accomplish with the adventure. The parents can then provide what Algis Budrys used to call the vindication at the end of the story.

Side note: I am moving away from the idea that you have to have a theme in the sense that you want to prove a certain thing, like "X is bad" or "Y is good". Instead, for roleplaying purposes, "theme" seems more like defining the handball court you're going to play in. The situations show good or bad but you don't make a statement, just like you don't dictate how the players are going to solve the problem. You make sure there's at least one solution, you provide lots of different things they can use to generate a solution, and you think about generally three avenues:
  • They beat up the bad guy
  • They defeat the bad guy in some way that doesn't involve beating up
  • They don't win against the bad guy
And when I digress like this, as KARTAS listeners know, it's time to end this.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Stamina Success Pyramids in ICONS


Originally posted December 4, 2013, over on the old Dreamwidth account. Preserved mostly because I liked the characters in the example.

(Can we get any more specific?)

One of the optional rules in ICONS Team-Up is that characters can use success pyramids instead of Stamina. That is, instead of saying that a given character has 15 Stamina, you say that he needs a Massive Success to knock out.

Quick recap of terms: A Massive Success means that you get 5 or more points of Effort (that is, your roll and numbers add up to 5 or more better than the target difficulty, whatever it is: a roll+Ability of -1+8=7 is a Massive Success if the difficulty is 2, but not if the difficulty is 10). The thing that makes this a pyramid is that the successes are cumulative: two moderate successes make a major success, and two major successes make a massive success (which means that four moderate successes total up to a massive success).

In some ways, this is the same as Stamina, except that you're not whittling down Stamina points, you're whittling down even more abstract Success Pyramid points or levels. But that very abstraction opens you up to some different possibilities.

Those successes can be in anything. Suppose your heroes are fighting the evil Regenatron ("The Von Neumann New Man"), with Regeneration 10 and Damage Resistance 8, but only Intellect 3.

Aaaaand the powerhouse character (Strength 10!) player didn't show up the last mnute. What you have instead are Looneytunes the shapeshifter and Bob Howard The Duck, the computer-using occultist who has been cursed into the form of an anthropomorphic metrosexual duck.

With a success pyramid, they could take on Regenatron.

Rather than punching (Looneytunes is Strength 3; Bob Howard The Duck, henceforth BHTD, is Strength 1 because, hey, he's a duck), they confuse him into giving up.

Looneytunes begins by working with BHTD to create a dinner date, and Looneytunes assumes the form of an attractive female rabbit. (Well, it works for Bugs Bunny.) Their first scam is to make it think that he's the odd one for not being an anthropomorphic animal....and they get a major success, because it's not bright. They tell it it's supposed to be a sloth. (The GM adds "Gullible" to his list of challenges for Regenatron, and makes a note that a firmware upgrade will remove that later.)

Then they fake it out by claiming it has to go to the office, which it does, trying very hard to stunt its regeneration into transformation, trying to look like a sloth, and it's moving slowly. It's taken in by the office (moderate success), which is why the explosive in the filing cabinet surprises it. (Looneytunes' cosmic power whipped it up.)

Then Looneytunes comes in as Regenatron's "boss" and begins berating it, but Regenatron figures out who he really is (the poor shapeshifter has a tell), and gets mad (the GM is using the rule where a failure wipes out an equivalent success). Regenatron is angry, so it doesn't see the portable hole that BHTD has conjured up and steps in....and the hole leads to the other hole in the ceiling, so poor Regenatron keeps falling faster and faster, while Looneytunes gives it anvils to hold and gets popcorn while eating, right up until BHTD takes the hole out of the floor...

And so on. It rather reminds me of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game in that abstraction (though the idea predates that game).

If you were going to use success pyramids for stamina, I'd consider only using them for villains, or major villains. a sense, the minion rule in ICONS is kind of a success anthill: minions are removed from the fight by a single success. You could grade opposition by success pyramids...

OppositionTo DefeatPossible Difficulty
MinionA single moderate successTo hit value
HenchmanMajor successTo hit value
VillainMassive success5, but depends on hero tactics
MegavillainMassive success8, but depends on hero tactics
Cosmic crossover style villainMassive success10, but depends on hero tactics

What it takes away is any concrete idea of what the heck they're doing, and the level of the power matters less.

What it adds is that villains who would normally be invulnerable are now accessible by all sorts of means.

Strength and the ICONS benchmarks


I went looking for this information because I was sure I had put it here, transported from my old LiveJournal account.

I had not. I looked up the numbers in 2013, and can no longer remember what, specifically, they represented. So this is ballpark only.

If you're playing ICONS, you're not really concerned with hard numbers, but I played Champions for years and years... So I went and dug up things that the Strength benchmark lists as an example. And these numbers make it easier to eyeball conversions from other systems.

In the spirit of casualness, I always rounded up (I mean, I have a heavy sack as 20 kg, and a couple of heavy sacks as 50 kg). Still, I figured folks might like the numbers. (ICONS does not necessarily map to the real world; it's not meant to. This is so you can make judgements on the fly.)

Some of it is just, what? Weight of a building—what kind of building? Since superhero stories generally take place in New York or a New York analogue, I used the weight bandied about for one of the World Trade Center buildings. Since the next entry is 2x107 bigger, I think that works.

Again: I have no idea if these numbers are even in the one significant figure accuracy, but hey...

RankExampleMass (kg)Comments
1Heavy sack20Yes, kilograms. I'm Canadian.
3Couple of heavy sacks50 
4Adult man100 
6Car2000These days, cars are much lighter than they used to be. But I used the old weight.
7Tank60000I think I looked up the weight of an M1 Abrams for this.
8Plane or train5E5 (500 tons)A fully-loaded freight train weighs much more than a passenger jet. I think I went with a train here. A Cessna would be vastly lighter and qualify as a plane, but you know that's not what they're talking about.
9Building5E8 (500 kilotons)Empire State Building? Football stadium? Big, anyway.
10Mountain1E16 (Lots. A hundred million kilotons.)

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Minion Escape


Generally applicable to Superhero games, but I'm using ICONS as an example. I'm also going to assume that the heroes involved don't have reputations as killers: your minion has a different approach facing the Elongated Man than facing the Punisher.

So the heroes stumble into the bad guy's minions, and there's a fight. Maybe the heroes knock them all out, but maybe there's a point in the middle of the six minions to two heroes battle when two minions have already fallen, but the rest are still up.

It'll depend on circumstances, but why don't the minions flee?

I mean, sure, if each minion has the Quality "Fanatically Loyal to SKULL" then they fight to unconsciousness, but most minions aren't fanatically loyal...that's part of the reason they're minions. The villain went down to Thugs'R'Us and ordered a half-dozen, or something.

Do you have to fight until you defeat all the minions, every time?

Well, when I put it that way, no, of course not.

Again, circumstances: sometimes the minions have to go through the heroes to get out, so they're fighting instead of fleeing. But normally, why don't they try to run away after the battle turns against them?

Heck, why don't they try to flee as soon as the heroes show up? Maybe the villain has planned for it: "I want you four to steal the Illudium Q-36 Space Modulator, but if the Great Gang shows up, just cheese it. Make sure the Security Code Generator doesn't get caught—flush it down a toilet if you have to." Maybe not.

If you want a mechanical way to do it (and I don't recommend that, because it's just minion-on-minion action), roll Willpower against the number of heroes, with each additional minion being added like combining effort. If the minion succeeds, well, fear of the boss has won over good sense and the minion stays to fight. Minion qualities can add or subtract 2 to the roll.

Or roll your D6: A 1 is fleeing. As minions get taken down, that fleeing number gets higher. When 1 minion is taken down, the minion flees on a 1 or a 2. When 2 get taken down, the remaining minions flee on a 1, 2, or 3. When more get taken down, minions flee on a 1 through 4. At some point, the remaining minion just wants to leave or hide or surrender.

Your fled minion might be a source of future events. Maybe the minion gave the information to the boss, but maybe not. Maybe the minion hid until the boss was caught. Maybe the minion joined an opposing gang. Maybe the minion started a course, "Escaping from heroes," that's taught at the Annex (under a different name). Maybe the minion was scared straight. Or maybe the minion starts an anti-supers campaign against both heroes and villains because normal people shouldn't have to put up with such fear.

Tom King's Batman...some early thoughts


Early for me, of course. I've been reading the comic for all of four issues; I hadn't read much of Morrison's run, nor any of Snyder's run, for financial reasons. But there was all this buzz about the Superman/Batman issues, and I'm in a slightly better state (enough that I can plunk down $10 Canadian a month for comics), so I got myself a subscription. Now I've read issues 36-39, and three of those are titled as the same story arc ("Superfriends").

So these are early impressions about what might be an atypical quartet of issues...and maybe some connections to superhero roleplaying.

And yeah, there are spoilers here. I'm not trying to avoid them.

First of all, though fights happen in every issue, they're incidental to the story. Actually fighting with Double-X takes up, what, four panels? There's a fair amount of beating-people-up in issues 36 and 39, but there's no suspense about how it's going to turn out. If Batman gets in a fight, the bad guys lose. Heck, he even competes against Superman in issue 37, (although in that case, there's some doubt as to who will win).

I feel kind of odd about that. I yearned for it to happen in a superhero comic, and now I feel kind of conflicted that it has happened. (Actually, Astro City at least got there first. But this is Batman, and it's not what I expect from Batman, or expect only, say, 10% of the time.)

The current issue (with Wonder Woman, continuing the Super-Friends storyline) certainly also sees a lot of fighting and it's necessary to the setting but the story being told involves them winning the fight. (Well, "winning" is probably the wrong word.)

(Actually, the mechanics of it confuse me. The fighting dimension is the gateway to our world, but it can only be opened from our world. So why not leave it to the bad guys? It's possible to open from that side but we don't know how? It might be possible, and if they take over the dimension, they'll have a long, long time to figure it out? Not quite sure.)

So far, though, it's an interesting enough ride to keep on. The single issue story ("The Origin of Bruce Wayne") was creepy enough and certainly plays on all the, well, creepy parts of the Batman mythology, as well as reflecting on Bruce Wayne's part of the story. To me it seems clear that Batman and Bruce are equal parts of the character here, even though we haven't officially seen much Bruce stuff.

Interesting reads, anyway. I'll stick with it until the Annual, anyway. We'll see if the marriage actually happens.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Graphic Novel: a game review

SYSTEM: Graphic Novel

TL;DR version: Graphic Novel is not a game that I would enjoy. There are some nice world-building elements that you can steal for your games. However, the mechanics are so loosey-goosey that they make me wonder why you'd buy this as a game rather than as some GM advice. That being said, I suspect that those who find it works find that it works well.

This is less a review and more of a personal reaction.

Graphic Novel calls itself "A Free Form Supers Roleplaying Game" and it certainly is free-form. That grants a lot of freedom to the players, which is generally a good thing. However, I think I can summarize the mechanics in five points. I'll try, without infringing on the text (except for the term "Destiny Points").
  • Describe your character.
  • Give your character the number of Destiny Points decided on for the campaign.
  • When it's important, roll a d20. High numbers good, low numbers bad. How good or bad depends on your view of the character's competence in that area, but 20 is always success, 1 is always failure.
  • If the result is bad, you can spend a Destiny Point to re-roll as many times as you have Destiny Points.
  • You get one Destiny Point back per hour, or when you do something that "fulfills your Destiny."
Could this work? Of course. And if it works for you, great. As Abraham Lincoln reputedly said, "For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will like."

It is too free-form for me.

As a GM who has gotten into arguments with players in several different systems, the third point is an issue. Expertise for rolls is decided from the vantage point of the character, so Awkwardman might succeed on that roll to defuse the nuclear bomb only on a 19 or 20, while Reed Richards might succeed on a roll of 5-20.

The fifth point is also problematic: do you get Destiny Points back at one per hour of game time ("You sleep for 8 hours, so you have 8 Destiny Points back") or one per hour of play time ("I know we elided over a month in game, but you spent your last Destiny Point ten minutes ago"). I presume it's the former, but the game doesn't say.

It also doesn't tell you to define your destiny: writing it down has to be inferred from the rest of the text. (My question to the author didn't get answered directly; maybe I misunderstood the response, but my question about the answer hasn't been answered.)

The game does provide a lot of fluff, though: it has names of various people, organizations, and cities that you can plunder for your own game.

Production values are low, but I suspect that's intentional. It looks like it is meant to evoke an older, simpler age of gaming, with self-published and mimeographed gaming aids.

So for me (and I speak only for me), it's not useful as an art object, and it's not useful as a game system. It is useful to me as a source of fluff. Is it six bucks worth of useful? Not for me, but others differ.

So, final verdict: not for me. I hope that this brief discussion tells you whether or not you'll enjoy it.

Jails in Ontario


So as a result of a recent brush with the legal system and a side comment while playtesting this current adventure, I thought, "So the Bruce Nuclear Response Team has the authority to arrest people. I wonder where they go?"

That led me into the hole that is the Ontario Correctional System. The short answer to my original question is, "They get put into jail in Owen Sound." (I think. There's some ambiguity there: the Wikipedia page lists the Owen Sound Jail as active, but the Ontario Corrections page doesn't.) And for gaming that should be sufficient.

It turns out, though, that there are several layers to this particular onion. In Ontario, there are a number of types of things we lump together as jails:
  • There are jails. This is short term holding. Technically, we still spell it "gaol" for the names of some of the older facilities.
  • There are detention centres. These are the same thing, but while jails were originally set up by counties, detention centres are more modern. Both are administered by the province, now.
  • A correctional centre holds anybody whose sentence is under two years (that is, if your sentence is two years less a day, you go to a detention centre). If your sentence is two years or more, they move you to the federal system.
  • There are correctional complexes. These are centres that hold both detention centres and correctional centres.
  • Federally there are correction facilities.
  • "Treatment centres provide specialized and intensive treatment for motivated offenders with clearly identified problems relating to substance abuse, sexual misconduct, impulse control and anger management."

Anybody who knows better can correct me.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Investigation in games


This is actually specific to ICONS but it could be adapted for any game with a degrees-of-success mechanic.

Investigation is sort of odd in games. For some games (the various GUMSHOE games, for instance), it's their jam. For other games, it's a roll to give people the info so they can get on to the next encounter.

So you can roleplay the investigation, with the players talking to various characters and hours of playtime can go by, and that's great, if everyone's on board with that.

On the other hand, you can reduce it to a roll or a series of rolls and have a handout or handouts for the players, and it's done quickly. "You spend two hours researching shipping companies, and this is what you get."

Sometimes you want one, sometimes you want the other. And if you're writing an adventure to be played by anyone other than the group you know, then you have to take both mindsets into account.

I don't know if anyone else produces adventures with areas where there are investigation or similar tests. What I've noticed that I have started doing is this:

Topic (whatever the test is about
Difficulty3 or 5 or whatever
Pyramid test?No or Optional or Required
TimeHow long is this test going to take? Sometimes the time is implicit in the task.
Everybody KnowsThis is the background information. Bombs are bad, the Noble family has three kids. You barely have to ask this stuff.
Marginal SuccessDo they get information on a marginal success?
Moderate SuccessAnything for Marginal Success, plus whatever is here.
Major SuccessAnything for the previous two successes, plus whatever is here.
Massive SuccessAnything for the previous successes, plus whatever is here.
ConsequencesThis might be obvious. (Boom or no boom, when disarming a bomb.) But that goes back to something else. If there aren't any consequences, why are you making them roll? If you've got the information listed here, it means two things:
  • There's a consequence to not getting some of it
  • You're okay with them having all of it.
Sometimes players roll well, and if you don't want the info to change things, don't make it available. Have it show up only after the computer contacts the alien probe or something.'s an important point...where possible, I list the source they find stuff from, so I can improvise a roleplay investigation if the players are into that. So some stuff is just in the records ("Ten minutes of Googling tells you the basic rules of cabotage in Canada"), some could be tied to a person. ("Mrs. Johnson was the one who saw the ghost.")

Also, I've been looking at Encounter Theory and trying to use that to guide some of the adventures I'm writing now. Anybody else heard of it (Plot Points podcast)?

Monday, January 22, 2018

No Drop-In this week


My work has moved a training session to Wednesday so I have to be in the city that day, for I don’t know how long.