Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Things I Learned from Champions: Keep Some Surprises Under the Hood

Much of the superhero genre is steeped in secrets and misdirection. The heroes themselves were referred to mystery men and women, so a surprise or two from them was to be expected.

I'd argue therefore, that the 'classification' of superheroes into narrow categories (in other words, representing them as rigid classes) in an RPG runs counter to the spirit of the source material. Fortunately, many of the early superhero RPGs avoided this, despite the influence of D&D.

TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes may have had types of origins in the random generation of characters, but they didn't shackle you into 'mage' or 'fighter' or 'speedster'; that tended to be a function of the powers you rolled up. Mayfair Games' DC Heroes RPG and Hero Games' Champions, as point-buy systems, sidestepped this entirely -- your combination of purchased stats, skills, and powers crystallized the type of character you were playing.

And while the was a shorthand on the types of builds you had (Brick, Martial Artist, Energy Projector, etc.), there were always different kinds of each, and certainly mixes of several builds, as was often seen in the source material.

So, we used this to our advantage, in-game.

What you see isn't necessarily what you'll get

One of my characters was a martial artist had a grappling hook that he used to attack the enemy, ie up the enemy, and so on. The obvious build was to use Energy Blast (for the ranged attack) and Entangle (for tangling up the enemy) -- but I didn't go that route. It was built as stretching, bought on a focus, and I used my Martial Arts for Strikes, Throws, and Grabs at range. And while I could therefore take damage from damage shields, it also allowed me to type at long distance, feel the texture or warmth of things far away, etc... chalking it up to mastery of my weapon. It helped with that element of surprise when playing under good GMs (or perhaps more adversarial GMs who forget the builds that they approved, and just go by your character art).

But building in surprises -- like a woman whose costume shouts martial artist, but is really built as a brick ("My kung-fu makes my body impervious to bullets!"); or an item that seems to be a focus (like a power ring) but is bought straight ("I summon it back onto my finger via sheer willpower!"); or building a martial art that allows you to Full Move with every manuever; or combat skill levels that only work when you're fighting by yourself ("I just didn't want my friends to think badly of me, when they see what I can really do.") -- but using them sparingly, does add to the mystique of your character.

And helps when your opponents stereotype you and your capabilities.

The joy of Champions is that it allows you to do all this -- after all, points pay for the effect; the special effect is up to you.

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