Even More Rules of the Apocalypse

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Welcome back to the final content update for the Apocalypse Campaign Guide Kickstarter. We’re now entering the last week of the Kickstarter project.

In the previous two updates I talked a little bit about crafting, community building, and handling vehicle MPG for those who want fuel to be a sought after resource in their campaigns. This week we’ll go a little into things like genetic mutations and cybernetics, which use the same rules between them, and a new feature for characters called Values.

First up: the genetic mutations and other character altering stuff.

We went through several iterations of rules on handling genetic mutations and cybernetics. Some were very abstract; some were super-crunchy (bring your own salsa). Neither worked for what we wanted. So I started looking to different sources on how such things might be handled, primarily via role-playing games I have in my PDF and physical library. I have a ton. Way too many, in fact. I should probably sell some of this stuff eventually, because when Anna and I buy a home in the next few years (we currently rent), I’m not looking forward to moving all this stuff. Especially stuff like RPGs that I honestly will never have the time to play again. I’m talking AD&D 2e, TORG, the Marvel Universe RPG (the system that used the stone resource allocation), even the original Elfquest RPG from Chaosium.

Eventually I came upon Cyberpunk 2020. I read through the sections I needed, and the proverbial lightbulb went off. At some point after that in design, I also started looking through various Savage Worlds products for the same themes. I’d already decided to translate what I wanted from the Cyberpunk 2020 system into Savage Worlds terms, but then I discovered it had already been done. Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t say with authority that that’s where those designers got the idea from, but the similarities were suddenly no longer lost on me. I’d just never seen it before because I hadn’t cracked open Cyberpunk 2020 in almost 20 years. But I found similar systems for handling cybernetics in Interface Zero 2.0, the Science Fiction Companion, Rippers, and even in the gear catalogue for Deadlands Reloaded.

So taking in all the above, looking for common threads that were already prevalent in Savage Worlds, and adding in my own that I felt were needed, here’s the basic system I came up with.

If you’re familiar with various forms of cybernetic rules in Savage Worlds, you’ll see a common theme. Characters usually have a threshold, called Strain or something else, that governs the number of slots they have available for cybernetics. Going above that threshold causes Fatigue that cannot be recovered (except by removing the extra parts) and that can eventually lead to death. So, we already have that system spread between several different products by different publishers. Meaning: it’s likely a sub-system Savage Worlds fans are already very familiar with.

It also mimics the sub-systems of older games like Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun (Essence loss), and others.

Now, how you come about the Strain value varies. It might be a derived statistic from Vigor or Spirit, or something else.

I also wanted to use some sort of Psychosis rules, ala Cyberpunk 2020; and I also wanted to avoid a single “stat dump” mechanic to determine the thresholds.

So, here’s the basics of what I wrote.

Every character, PC or NPC, has a Strain (though I might change that term before it goes to layout) threshold equal to their Toughness. Edges that increase Toughness increase that threshold, and there are also specific Edges that can increase your Strain without increasing the damage mitigation of your Toughness. Meaning that you have a choice in creating your character, and wanting them to have a decent Strain doesn’t force you to also stat-dump into Vigor or take damage mitigating Toughness increasing Edges. You can be average in the damage mitigation and Vigor department, and still have a decent Strain.

Each genetic mutation or cybernetic, or what have you, uses a specific number of slots. Each slot costs 1-Strain. Go above that threshold, and you will take damage that can only be recovered by removing the extra slots, and take too much over the threshold and you’ll die. Of course some things like cybernetics are easy to remove, whereas genetic mutations are not.

This also mimics what we see in a lot of fiction where we have the super-cybered or seriously-mutated, hulking brute of a monster.

I also have another derived statistic besides Strain, and that is Empathy. The Empathy stat is determined by your Spirit. In addition to costing Strain, each slot used also reduces your Empathy. Once your Empathy reaches zero, you hit the point where further augmentation will affect your ability to interact with other living things. When your Empathy goes below zero, each further point of loss reduces your Charisma by -1, which means it affects your Persuasion and Streetwise rolls. Additionally, each point it drops below zero gives you a +1 bonus to Intimidate and Test of Wills rolls. You’ll also have to roll on a Psychosis chart to see what issues you’re going to take on.

Basically, the more you’re mutated, cybered, and so forth, the less and less human you’ll become on an emotional level, and the more chances for some serious mental and emotional issues to develop. Which, we felt, duplicated what we see in various novels, TV shows, and films.

Now, on to Values.

In an apocalypse setting, the most famous characters have things that are vitally important to them. It might be a child, a spouse, a photograph, a religious belief . . . the possibilities are endless. The Apocalypse Campaign Guide has an optional rule for characters called Values, and they represent those things about a character.

Players start with between 3 to 7 Value Points at character creation. What the player does is create one or more Values, which can be the notation of a simple item or even a phrase about something important to them, and assigns a numerical value to it from their point pool. The higher the numerical value, the more important it is to the character. During play, when one of the Values would directly inspire the character in some way, the player can use any number of the assigned points for that Value to gain a +1 to the roll per point spent. Points can also be spent to immediately recover from a Shaken condition instead of it costing a benny. Once a point is spent, it is checked off and is no longer available— so Values are not an unlimited resource.

Value points reset at the end of an adventure, not a gaming session. So use them wisely, and mainly during dramatic moments.

GMs can also use Values against the players. When the GM feels a Value would hinder a character’s action, he can opt to use the Value to cause the player a -2 or -4 to the roll. For each -2 the GM penalizes the roll, the player receives a benny. Alternatively, the player can deny the Value being used. To do this they have two options. As a free action (similar to getting rid of a Shaken result), they can make a Spirit roll with a modifier equal to the -2 or -4 the GM was trying to cause. On a success, they take only half the penalty to the Trait roll they were otherwise about to make (so -1 or -2) and still get a single benny. On a raise, they resist the penalty entirely. They can also simply spend a benny to deny the penalty entirely. The player only need spend one benny, regardless of the proposed penalty.

And that’s it for this update. It’s now entering the final week for funding, so feel free to check it out over at Kickstarter.

More Rules of the Apocalypse

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Last week, I talked a little about the Basic Crafting system in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide for Savage Worlds. As I stated, though, there are also some advanced rules . . . well, rules options, really . . . for those who also want to use their resource hoarding in the process.

The Apocalypse Campaign Guide has rules for scavenging that utilize a combination of the dice and cards from the Action Deck. There are also rules for cargo spaces, be it the saddlebags on a motorcycle, the trunk or back seat of a car, or the backpack on your shoulders. The cargo space rules are optional rules for determining how much you can carry and store (should you have some sort of purchased storage capacity back at the town). A car trunk, for example, represents one cargo space. If you remove one of the seats from the vehicle, which also means one less passenger, you can get an additional cargo space. Meanwhile, an empty tractor-trailer can hold a whopping 100 cargo spaces.

What is a cargo space? It’s an abstract representation of storage capacity. Whenever you get salvage or other goods, they’ll have a cargo space range based on how much you get. That’s how much cargo space you’ll need to carry or store them.

Now for those who want a little extra chance in their crafting, there’s an optional (or Advanced) rule that lets you use that cargo space in the process. For every one full cargo space you have, draw a card from the Action Deck. The maximum number of cards you can draw is four, so even if you managed to eventually fill an entire tractor-trailer, you’re not drawing 100 cards. Pick one card (obviously, the best) and consult the chart to see what, if any, benefits or problems you might suffer. Such as getting a bonus or penalty to the crafting roll due to material quality (which you managed to have on hand in storage), not having what you need but it being available enough that you can trade for it, or even the resource not being available at all and it needing to be found at some point through scavenging.

So using the optional rules, you not only roll for the crafting attempt as outlined last week, but you also have to deal with a benefit or setback based on what you might or might not have stored in your cargo spaces.

Originally, we’d developed a system for cargo spaces that forced the players to keep a list of everything they traded, stole, or scavenged. That list then played into crafting, providing bonuses or penalties for quality, number of needed resources, and et cetera. After a lot of play testing, we came to a conclusion: that sub-system would work good in some role-playing games, but not in Savage Worlds. At least not in our opinion. And while that’s something I might eventually release as another optional rule in one of the smaller PDF support products, for the core toolkit book I wanted a system that kept it a little more abstract and, as I said about Savage Worlds in the previous entry, got out of the way during play instead of boggling down the game.

Okay, moving on.

Naturally the Apocalypse Campaign Guide contains write-ups for all sorts of vehicles. The vehicles also have two additional stats: the already mentioned cargo space capacity, and the vehicle’s MPG.

As with several rules in the toolkit, you don’t have to deal with MPG at your table. But the vehicle stats offer the option, and each stat block states not only the miles per gallon that the vehicle can get, but also how many miles it can typically get on a full tank, and even the average number of miles the vehicle can travel in a single day (assuming rest breaks). Add in full cargo spaces (more weight) or even tow a trailer, and that MPG can drop. There’s not much more to it than that, and the option is there for those post-apocalyptic fans out there that really want to deal with fuel consumption as a needed resource. This can be particularly useful in something like a Mad Max setting where vehicles and fuel are central to the story, or in any apocalypse where the GM wants to keep vehicles on a leash. Can’t get the fuel, can’t move the car. It also allows for an interesting choice balance in play. Yeah, the characters might want to take that tractor-trailer, but the gas mileage is going to suck (not to mention it needs diesel fuel), compared to that sedan or SUV.

You also aren’t stuck with the stock vehicles. Want to add armor to the sedan, or a heavy gun into the bed of the pick-up truck? No problem. That’s where the Modification rules come into play, which allow you to do just that sort of thing. The rules discuss bonuses and penalties to the roll, time, and any potential malfunctions that could occur later. Going back to the whole MPG thing, the modification chart also lists what, if any, drop in MPG the vehicle will suffer due to the extra weight. Not to mention any penalties to the Driving rolls due to all that extra weight.

So yes, you too can be Mad Max. Just don’t wreck the damned thing.

Communities are the final thing I’ll touch upon this week. Building a community is an easy, straight forward affair. Based on the size of the community you want; you’ll be granted a number of points with which to construct it. It might be a very small encampment, or an entire underground bunker like in the Wool novels. Using the points, you’ll purchase things like defense perimeter, location (even underground), manufacturing capabilities, medical facilities, types of housing available to your citizens, and so forth. There are also special Community Edges you can purchase for additional benefits, such as working electricity and water filtration systems.

Based on the size of your community, you’ll have to undertake abstract Upkeep Missions every so often. These are done using the community’s assigned dice, and receive an overall bonus or penalty to the roll based upon the types and qualities of different features your community has. Failure on the missions might result in a feature being reduced in quality, while a success or raise might result in some type of quality increase or expansion into a new resource type. Upkeep missions are the main way your community will dwindle or grow over time.

The size of the community will also bring with it some other benefits and drawbacks, such as what is expected of the player-characters as part of the upkeep, bonuses to certain types of rolls, or even penalties to rolls for lacking or low quality resources. So, you’re free to pick and choose any sized community you want to build, but remember nothing is truly free in the post-apocalypse.

You’ll see those rules tweaked throughout the toolkit book for different things as well, such as building your own starship freighter to a full-blown capital ship.

Next week in the final content update, I’ll talk briefly about genetic mutations, cybernetics, and that sort of stuff; as well as introduce you to a new character option: Values, and how they affect the game.

The Apocalypse Campaign Guide is currently in its final 14 days over at Kickstarter. Feel free to check it out.

 

Apocalypse Campaign Guide: Basic Crafting

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The next couple of blog entries are going to correlate with the Apocalypse Campaign Guide (Savage Worlds) currently running over at Kickstarter. I was asked in the comments if I could talk a little about how we handle crafting in the toolkit book. Given that Kickstarter Updates are a pain to work with when importing lengthy text and trying to format it, I decided to do them here and link them in the Updates over there. Unless a post is short and sweet, I never use a site’s built-in editor to compose, and always prefer to use WORD. Writers are, after all, creatures of extreme habit.

There was a lot of internal debate that went into how we could handle Basic Crafting in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide. After all, we’re huge fans (and long-time gamers) of the Savage Worlds system, ourselves, and one of the most appealing factors is that the rules really do a fine job of getting the heck out of the way at the table. We didn’t want to design something that was cumbersome, and defeated one of the core appeals of Savage Worlds. So it had to work, had to get out of the way in play, and had to be balanced.

At first we thought about some type of crafting point build system. After all, Savage Worlds kind of does something along those lines with the Arcane Backgrounds (Weird Science) Edge, which has been reskinned in a variety of settings. And yes, we have something similar in our toolkit book, but that isn’t the same as crafting in the vein that we wanted it. Those particular characters are a unique sort, and exactly how they accomplish their inventions, and in what forms, depends greatly on the genre of apocalyptic setting you’re running. A Steampunk Apocalypse’s inventors will be different than one in a space-faring setting, or a fantasy apocalypse, or even a modern day End of the World. So we define them separately.

We needed something for folks who wanted to craft some everyday items or weapons, regardless of genre.

At first we thought about a new skill: Crafting, which would be broken down into subskills much like the Knowledge skill. After getting into that a bit, we realized the skill was unnecessary. Instead, have it rely on Knowledge (type) for crafting, but create a couple of Edges to enhance that and allow the character to receive a bonus for focusing on the crafting aspects of it.

We also dropped the point-build crafting concept, as that just boggled down play.

So we have it rely on the Knowledge (type) skills, and have Edges to enhance it. What we didn’t do was (again) get too cumbersome with needing specific Knowledge skills for each and every facet. For example, Knowledge (Gunsmith) allows you to spend time to craft a gun and bullets. You don’t have to have Knowledge (Chemistry) or a bunch of others to ply your craft. It’s assumed you know how to craft a gun and bullets. Remember, our goal was to keep the games Savage Worlds. There’s a sidebar to GMs talking about breaking different crafting needs down to specifically required Knowledge skills, but that’s something for you to decide at your table. As Pinnacle always says: It’s your game. For the book, though, we didn’t want to boggle things down. We wanted to keep with the FFF! template and that Savage Worlds emulates the tropes of fiction, instead of simulating reality.

To craft, you roll your appropriate Knowledge skill. Because even the best inventors are still victims to the whims of luck in the process— even when factories and full facilities were available, which you don’t have in a post-apocalyptic environment— the GM also draws a card from the Action Deck. This is similar to drawing a card for a Chase scene, and a Clubs can bring with it all sorts of complications (explained via charts, based on the card value of the Clubs). It might even indicate a lack of resources and a needed adventure to find and salvage stuff. Other suits can simply give you a negative penalty, no penalty, or a bonus.

Based on getting a success, and how many raises you also receive, you’ll be able to craft $X amount of goods. Meaning if you rolled enough to be able to craft $200 worth of goods, you can then go to the Gear charts in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide or Savage Worlds Deluxe (or something like Pinnacle’s Fantasy Companion or Science Fiction Companion, if you also own them), and choose up to $200 worth of stuff to craft. It might be a Glock 9mm (cost: $200), or a Derringer (cost: $150) and some extra bullets.

Specific settings would naturally have their own cost charts (such as World of the Dead did in 2013), but for the toolkit rules we have to be a bit more general in scope.

Of course, you’re unlikely to be just randomly crafting during the story. Instead you’re going to want to craft a particular item or set of items, so what your crafting item goal is will determine your needed number of success and raises.

Crafting takes time, as well. Take the total cost of the goods you want to craft. Every $10 worth (round down) equals one base day. You then add 1d6 to that. So, crafting a Glock pistol takes 20+1d6 days from start to finish.

That keeps things balanced in that player-characters can craft mundane items instead of hoping to salvage everything, but it’s going to take time— time that you are stuck at your workspace and not out adventuring and being heroic.

Obviously, that means you’re not going to be crafting vehicles and starships via this method, and some items are just simply too expensive and complex to craft in a post-apocalyptic world (unless you managed to Ace enough to roll phenomenally high). But that fits the genres. Sure, you can technically gather enough parts to build a car from scratch, but you’re unlikely to have the time or real tools to do so in such a setting.

However, for those who want to add armor and weapons to your favorite vehicle, be it a car or a starship, or increase the damage potential of a weapon a little bit (and risk a malfunction at some point), we do have Modification rules as well.

So that’s how we handled Basic Crafting, and we liked the way it felt in play. It allowed for things to be made, as long as the time is available and the rolls can be made, and didn’t unbalance the need to scavenging for stuff in a post-apocalyptic setting, since the player-characters should also be out-and-about in the world, taking part in the action and furthering the story.

Check back on Monday, August 8th for the next Apocalypse Campaign Guide installment. And feel free to share this blog post, and get even more folks interested in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide Kickstarter. We’re not far from funding it, and making it see the light of day.

Next installment I’ll talk about some more options, among them the Advanced Crafting Rules. Those rules are designed for the Savages out there who like more crunch in their Savage Worlds sessions. The advanced rules directly tie into the rules options for Resource Management, such as how many resources you’ve accumulated over time (mostly via trade and scavenging), how much you have carried at any particular time, how much you have in your storage shed or car trunk (which uses the Cargo Space rules), and so forth.

So, there’s also an Advanced ruleset that groups can choose to use if they like that sort of crunch, as your Resource Management and Cargo Space will directly play into what you have on-hand to put into Crafting.

 

Creating the Daring Comics RPG, Part 3 of 3

This week, in the final part of Creating the Daring Comics RPG, I’m going to talk about why we didn’t go with a size scaling system in Daring Comics, and why we did the Appendix in the back of the rulebook.

 

To Scale or Not to Scale?

 

Scale was one of the most hair-pulling aspects of Daring Comics to consider. In a non-supers roleplaying game, it would definitely become a factor. After all, you don’t expect your pistol-totting archeologist to be able to take down a tank.

But that goes into simulation, and Daring Comics is supposed to be about comic book emulation. That’s been my defining goal in the game’s design, and the primary reason I chose the Fate system for it.

Comic books work very differently than what is usually found in typical RPG scale mechanics. Here, a character’s creativity can allow them to break what we’d consider the normal laws of physics. And why not? They can shoot beams from their eyes and fly without any real means of propulsion, after all.

At first, though, I was kind of hooked on the concept of a size scale system. Knowing how my mind works, this was no doubt thanks to my many years running Star Wars d6. I loved the scale system over there, and how it played out for something like a Rebel Trooper versus an AT-AT; or even a YT-1300 versus a Star Destroyer.

Thanks to d6 being OGL, one of my earliest designs played around with seeing if I could get the concept of how that system handled scale to work in Fate. Now in d6, at least the edition that I usually play, the dice have a cap on them between skills. For example, certain smaller scales striking a larger scale will count a 1-6 on the d6 normally, but when calculating damage might be capped at a “2.” That means that rolling a 3-6 on a d6 only counts as “2” when adding up the dice. The inverse plays about the same. The larger scale would have a die cap on the to-hit roll (meaning the smaller target is more difficult to hit), but count the dice normally when rolling damage.

So I played around with that for Daring Comics, using the same base idea. Like maybe a cap for a lower scale to damage a larger scale would be a +2 on the dice, so rolling a +3 or +4 would still only count as +2. Basically, it mimicked what d6 did, just on the Fate dice.

Honestly, it played well enough, but it didn’t really add anything to the game for super-heroes. Not only that, but when you got into the whole idea of the upper echelon characters, like say a Hulk, Superman, or even the more mid-level Luke Cage type of super-strength, I then had to consider how the scale system would apply to that. Should I make it a special effect under super-strength? Should levels of super-strength automatically increase the character’s damage scale? Those are great questions, and while I did design early editions around them, in the end it wasn’t playing like Fate. Those type of crunch mechanics are better left to other RPG systems.

Then the Fate System Toolkit came out, and with it another version of the scale system, which though a lot looser, still played into the effect I was going for. We tested that, and naturally it worked great, but then it all came back to super-strength, weapon ratings, and the scale system.

So, in the end, I dropped the scaling idea. It just didn’t seem to have a real place in what I wanted the super-hero system to be.

Instead, what I did in the end was borrowed something else from the Fate System Toolkit. The idea of weapon and armor aspects. In Daring Comics, you’ll see these reworked as special effects for your weapons (including attack powers) and armor (including the Invulnerability power).  They were: Potent, Dangerous, and Lethal for weapons; and Durable, Tough, Reinforced for armor/damage mitigation. Applying these to a character or object (such as vehicles or reinforced doors) achieved the scale idea that I wanted, and also kept a balance since you’re spending one or more Hero Points on them.

Viola! We had a pseudo-scale system that didn’t add in any extra crunch, since the essence was already in the Fate Toolkit book. Plus, it achieved the effect I had been going over.

 

The Daring Comics Appendix

 

When designing Daring Comics and running through all the internal and external play testing, we often ran into situations where different versions of a power all played very well at the table, but yet how the mechanics of each version played brought different feels to a game. Likewise, we ran tests using Weapon and Armor Ratings, and tests with the more narrative way of handling such things. And they each played well. Again, it was just a matter of flavor.

The Fate system draws its strength on being a toolkit system. It’s meant to be hacked to get the exact feel you want. Noticing the above mentioned things in play testing, I decided that instead of creating a rulebook with only this version of doing things, I’d focus on that toolkit strength and show how to hack the game. What I would do is show some of the alternate versions of powers, and even how to handle powers without a Weapon and Armor Rating mechanic being used.

And thus, the Appendix chapter was born. Although Daring Comics has its version of the central or official rules in the main body of the book, the Appendix is there to show you not only how powers and other parts of the game can be hacked, but provides examples of some different versions of the game that we play tested.

My hope has always been that while fans enjoy the official version of the core game, they never hesitate to hack the heck out of it, create new versions of existing powers, and share them with the Fate community, whether as simple fan posts or as commercial products under the free Daring Comics Compatibility license and logo (found here: http://www.daringentertain.com/content/daring-comics-compatibility-logo-license).

So there you have it folks: some of the thoughts, considerations, and work, that went into getting the Daring Comics Role-Playing Game to retail. It was a long and sometimes difficult road, but in the end I think the game has accomplished what I wanted it to from the outset. As with any RPG, there are always a few things I’d like to have done differently in hindsight, and some great adjustments that fans have created, but that’s true of any RPG system.

Who knows? If the game proves popular enough, maybe in a few years I’ll be able to do a Second Edition. Only time will tell.

Next week, I’m going to jump back over to talk about fiction writing, and show how I, as an author, prepare to write my novellas and novels. For you RPG fans, there will be more RPG stuff to come in the future. Don’t forget, you can stay current on the weekly entries by using the RSS feed subscription option. And as always, feel free to post any comments and thoughts.

Creating the Daring Comics RPG, Part 2 of 3

Why the Skill Column?

 

In the previous entry, I talked about how using the Fate system for Daring Comics came about, and how the powers system eventually got to the version that’s been retail released. In this the part of the Daring Comics RPG design entries, I’m going to talk about why I went with a skill column instead of a skill pyramid, and discuss a few other parts of the system.

A majority of Fate games use a pyramid template for skill distribution. That means you have a single apex skill at character creation, and each lower ranking for skills must have more skills per rank that the one above it. That works great for a vast majority of genres, and emulates what we see in most books and films. I didn’t feel that it emulated what we saw in a lot of comic books, however.

I mentioned last week how a lot of things inspired Daring Comics. Since Fate Core and the Fate Toolkit weren’t released yet when I was designing how I wanted skills to work, I was once again drawn to the Dresden Files RPG. In that particular game, skills operated in a column format instead of the pyramid. In a column, you can have the skill template have more skills at a lower rank, or an equal number at the lower ranks. That, I felt, did a better job of emulating the way I imagined some character builds going. We even went as far as to allow the group to choose by consensus the experience level of campaign they wanted to play, which would grant either 25, 30, 35, 40, or 45 skill points for each player to spend on their character’s skill column. It allowed a character to have more than one apex skill, but still kept things balanced enough along the ladder so that each character in a group could shine between their skill placements and stunts.

Now when Fate Core came out, it used the pyramid for character creation and the column afterward as a character advanced. We decided not to switch to that, and to stick with our design of a column at character creations. You could likely build your hero using either skill placement system, we just felt that for the genre we were playing in, it was unnecessary to use the pyramid at character creation.

 

The Hero Point Design

 

Another slight change we made on the surface was the usage of Hero Points for purchasing stunts and powers. This one has caused some confusion at forums out there, and although I cover it in Daring Comics Spotlight #2: Powers Unleashed, which takes a deeper look at the powers system, let me briefly cover it here.

In a normal Fate game, players get a certain number of free stunts at character creation, and then spend their Beginning Refresh to purchase more, with Refresh never being able to drop below “1.” In pretty much any genre, that system works out fine. We found that it could even work in Daring Comics for the very low-level, or even street level, characters. The problems arose when we got into the real super-powered folks.

To keep with the Refresh concept, at first we gave a certain number of “slots” for stunts or powers for free, and then had a vastly increased Beginning Refresh to buy more. I say “slots” because some powers, like a powerful stunt or mega-stunt, were more than 1-point in value. So, if your character had 4 free “slots” and wanted a power that cost “2,” then that would be 2-slots. Likewise, if you used your freebies up and needed more, then you’d go to Beginning Refresh, with the numerical cost of the power being the number of Beginning Refresh.

Sounds simple, but it didn’t work.

Why?

Because to really emulate true Justice League or the more powerful Avengers level characters, we were either looking at a ton of free “slots” or a lot of Beginning Refresh. This lead to the potential for players to have a Beginning Refresh of, say, 30, that they were expected to spend based on the series level. Naturally, though, that was abused in bad ways. Some players would spend 10 or 15 of that Refresh to make their character, and walk into Issue #1 with a Refresh of 15 or 20.

No way that was going to stay. And if that was being done in play test, could you imagine when it hit retail and got into the hands of a lot more groups out there?

After a lot of toying around (including offering a lot of free slots), we decided to do a hybrid of what you saw in games like MEGS, M&M, and elsewhere, while still keeping the base Fate method under the hood. So after a lot of design and redesign based on a metric ton of character builds, we decided to use Hero Points and no freebies.

Players have no free stunts or powers or slots. Instead, based on the agreed upon series level, and further enhanced by the agreed upon experience level of the characters, players get a pool of points that we call Hero Points. With these points, they purchase stunts and powers. If they run out of points and need something else to round out the character, then they use Beginning Refresh as normal. Unused Hero Points are banked and can be used during play to purchase stunts and powers, but never concert to Refresh.

Under the hood, this kept the base Fate mechanics the same, but it now allowed the creation of the really powerful characters without unbalancing Refresh. From a Fate mechanics standpoint, Hero Points could easily have been something like 30 free slots, but this way just looked and felt cleaner to us.

It was important for Daring Comics to allow for a lot of group customization at the table, since comic books are such a varied lot. That’s the primary reason that the first thing the players do together is choose the Series Level (which determines base Hero Points), Experience Level (which determines beginning skill points and any additional Hero Points), and Series Tone (which determines Beginning Refresh and how quickly consequences recover). Those three initial choices set the foundations for a series. A Watchmen style series, for example, would choose from those three differently than a silver age Justice League series.

Maybe if Daring Comics proves popular enough and I can do a Second Edition a few years down the line, I’ll move it over to “Free Slots” instead of Hero Points, along with whatever other changes we get from feedback. Only time will tell.

 

Benchmarks

 

In many Fate games, clear benchmarks aren’t used. Fate relies more on a narrative style instead of such things. And that is a great system. I like it, and it’s how I’ve played Fate for years. But if there’s one thing I saw on the internet when it dealt with super-heroes, it was a lot of wanting for benchmarks in a super-hero game. A good, vocal segment of the gamer base wanted benchmarks that stated: Character-A is stronger than Character-B, for example. Or a reinforced concrete wall is this difficult to punch through. I especially saw that in regards to Marvel Heroic.

The trick for Daring Comics was to provide benchmarks for the important things, while at the same time not going into unnecessary or new crunch.

The first thing I did was to give benchmark descriptions for skills. This wasn’t for any type of mechanical value, mind you, I’m just a sucker for these type of flavor descriptions for skill ratings. To be honest, it’s likely from my time in FASERIP and MEGS.

Mediocre: Untrained

Average: Minimal training

Fair: Formal training

Good: Advanced training

Great: An expert in the field

Superb: One of the foremost experts in a large nation

Fantastic: One of the foremost experts in the world

Epic: You are recognized as the world’s authority on the skill

Legendary: Your skill level is beyond what is normally expected on earth

Monstrous: You are one of the best within several star systems

Colossal: You are one of the best within the galaxy

Unearthly: Your prowess is known across the universe

Inconceivable: Your skill is recognized on a multiversal scale

Another thing we did with Daring Comics was use Weapon and Armor Ratings. Weapon Ratings provide automatic damage on a successful hit, and Armor Rating automatically reduces damage. This, we felt, was important to the feel we wanted for being able to really nail down the heavy-hitters and all the metahuman effects without relying solely on high skill levels and good rolls over the opposition for a ton of Shifts. Even on a tie, a character goes at least their Weapon Rating in effect (be it from a blast, melee attack, or thanks to super-strength), and any armor rating of the opponent would negate that. While this could lead to a zero-sum effect on a tie where, for example, a Weapon Rating 4 would be negated by an Armor Rating 4, it also meant that Shifts were will still important.

In their own way, the ratings also gave a benchmark. A Weapon Rating 6, for example, is the equivalent of a space cruiser weapon. Meanwhile, Armor Rating 4 is about the same as a tank.

 

Strength vs Super-Strength

 

One thing that came up early on in design was how to handle normal strength with the Physique skill versus super-strength. After all, it was important that a person couldn’t roll +4 on the dice, be able to invoke a lot of aspects, and suddenly be able to toss a semi-truck. This one was especially important to me due to my decades in the MEGS system, where if a ton of doubles were rolled on the dice, a “Commissioner Gordon” could achieve a near “Superman” feat of strength on an action.

After a lot of playing around with scales (more on that in Part-3, including why I ultimately dropped a size scale system from design), I decided that the easiest, less cumbersome way was to simply provide two separate opposition charts. The first is for people without any sort of superhuman strength (though Monstrous through Inconceivable are arguably low-level metahuman), and the second is for those with the Super-Strength power. What the two charts said was that normal Physique could not achieve any type of result on the super-strength opposition chart. In the back of my mind, this harkened back to the Advanced Marvel Super-Heroes RPG concept of an impossible FEAT, and achieved the mechanics that I wanted in Fate.

Here’s how they turned out:

Lifting Opposition (Physique skill, only)

Mediocre: 50lbs

Average: 100lbs

Fair: 200lbs

Good: 300lbs

Great: 400lbs

Superb: 500lbs

Fantastic: 600lbs

Epic: 800lbs

Legendary: 1,000lbs

Monstrous: 1,400lbs

Colossal: 1,600lbs

Unearthly: 1,800lbs

Inconceivable: 2,000lbs

 

And for those of you who want to throw around very large objects, we have:

Lifting Opposition (Super-Strength power)

Mediocre: Lifting a car is no problem

Average: Semi trucks are weapons in your grasp

Fair: You could lift a fully loaded jet fighter

Good: Modern tanks are not a weight problem for you

Great: You can heft a small building

Superb: You can move large buildings

Fantastic: With your strength, Battleships can be carried

Epic: You are strong enough to raise an aircraft carrier

Legendary: At this level, your strength can lift a skyscraper

Monstrous: You could lift the Great Pyramid of Giza

Colossal: You can move mountains

Unearthly: You could lift an island

Inconceivable: Your strength is a plot device, congrats!

So, someone with the Super-Strength power would face a Fantastic (+6) Opposition to lift a Battleship. To lift anything on the normal Physique chart, there’s no roll for a super-strength character.

Now, since the maximum Super-Strength 6 power level provides +6 to those lifting rolls, it bears saying that even someone like Superman doesn’t need a super-high Physique. Let’s a take a quick look at building a character like that, since it relies on some of the things that should be considered.

 

Character Building Advice

 

Yes, Superman is strong. Exactly how strong depends on the writer, but for the sake of sanity I always prefer the general level of the John Byrne era, or the DCaU. It was clean, manageable, and wasn’t so much of a plot device.

First, let’s remember that his weakness will cause him to lose his Super-Strength 6, so let’s build his Physique skill to that point. Let’s say that without his powers, Superman has a Physique of Good (+3), which allows him to lift 300lbs on average.

So just looking at where he sits before any dice are rolled, Superman can achieve a Monstrous (+9) Opposition and lift the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Invoke an Aspect for another +2, and he can move an Island. If he can invoke a second aspect for +2 more, really pushing himself, he becomes Inconceivable. His strength is now a plot device!

On the flip side, if he rolled really well and got a +4 on the Fate dice, plus invoked an aspect for another +2, he would have achieved a +15 result. In other words, he would have Succeeded with Style against an Inconceivable Opposition for a strength related Overcome action.

Likewise, if he rolled poorly and got –4 on the Fate Dice, which likely failed whatever extraordinary lifting roll he was attempting, because it is an Overcome action, he could still choose to succeed— but at a cost. That’s also something we’ve seen happen in the comics, films, and cartoons on occasion.

This keeps him within the realm of yes, the player-characters can be this level, too, keeps in mind his Physique when his powers are shutdown, and displays his Superman strength levels while at the same time making sure an Aspect or two still enter play.

And that goes for any character. Due to aspects (which all Fate gamers should make sure are brought into play), and the customization of powers, stunts, and skills, you can easily make a world-hitter without having to break the bank on skill ranks— or even hit the skill cap in a majority of cases, which also allows you to spread your skill points around more.

And that’s all there is to it.

Now wait. We know it’s bound to happen. Someone is going to want to play that Batman type of character and say that his investigation skill (amongst others) should be at least Fantastic (+6) along with his Stealth, Fight, and you name it. But, it’s impossible to purchase enough skills at that level due to the skill column and skill points.

That type of character is easy to do, though. Although we all likely have a lot of experience with a variety of super-hero roleplaying games where purchasing those specific ranks was a necessity to make the character feel right, the numbers in Daring Comics (like in any Fate game) work a little differently.

You don’t need Investigate at Fantastic (+6) to be that level. Remember, various Stunts will provide a +2 bonus to specific uses of the skill (or even an advanced +4), offer new ways to use the skill, and so forth.

So, if the character had Investigate at Great (+4), and then a Stunt that applied a +2 to specific circumstances, that is equivalent to a Fantastic (+6) from the start in those situations.

The same applies for Fight and the provided stunts, or stunts you guys create on your own.

Skills are just what you can do. Stunts are how you do it, and help define your character as much as aspects.

Another interesting thing about the Fate system is how the dice roll. Unlike in other RPGs, the dice can actually roll a –1 to –4 and thereby reduce your effective skill by sheer back luck, where even Opposition that seems like a sure thing can instead provide a failure (or a success but at a major or minor cost, such as with an Overcome action), and propel the narrative forward.

So, even though the numbers on paper might look like Character-A is sure to beat or overcome Character-B, this might not actually be the case once the dice are rolled and aspects are invoked.

Personally, that’s been one of my absolute favorite things about the Daring Comics games I’ve run. It went a long way, just via the basic Fate mechanics, toward making the stories interesting even in instances where we expected an oh-hum easy victory for one side. The underdog managing to dig deep and come out on top is something all of us comic book fans know is a staple of the genre.

Anyway, there some are other benchmarks in the game, too. Such as for Material Strength, which provides Overcome action opposition to breaking things

And that’s that for this week. In the final part of Creating the Daring Comics RPG next week, I’ll talk about why we decided not to go with a size scale system, and why we went the way of the hacks in the Appendix chapter at the end of the rulebook.