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AGE of Heroes – Design and Development 1: Broad Changes

I’ve been looking at my superhero skin for the AGE system again recently after starting to watch the first season of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! on Netflix with my wife. After doing some brainstorming, I’ve finally hit upon a couple of key features.

The AGE Engine will tend to produce characters that, while heroic, are generally going to be “just a cut above the rest” when starting out. While this might be fine for the setting the game is designed to be run in (that of the Dragon Age computer games), that doesn’t jive well with superheros, who should be beating the crap out of street toughs by the alleyway full. After thinking of a few ways to address it, I think I’ve hit on it, along with a way to drive the full background the character home.

When creating a character, you select from two background. The first one is the Origin, which describes the “how” of your characters powers. What happened to him that gave him his powers. The second one is the Event, or the “why” of your characters motivation. Something happened to him in his past that turned him towards a life of fighting crime on a super-heroic level. Two backgrounds is going to give you characters a fair bit more power starting out. That, combined with power talents suitable to the feel of the game should go a long way towards making level 1 superheros feel more heroic.

For those curious, I have six Origins, and ten Events.

The Six Origins

Accident: You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe it was the right place at the right time depending on how you view your powers. Maybe you were present when a nuclear reactor went critical and the radiation changed you. Or maybe you were caught in a freak storm and empowered through the energy of the storm when struck by lighting.

Alien: You are not of this earth. Maybe your entire species shares the powers you possess or mayber you are unique among your own people. Whatever the case, you are a stranger in a very strange land.

Endowment: You were given your powers by an outside force. Maybe a dying hero transferred his powers to you, or maybe you discovered an artifact that bestows the power of an ancient hero to whoever is worthy enough to wield it. Or maybe you were just lucky enough to be born as the reincarnation of a fallen hero. Whatever the case, whether gift, blessing, or birthright, the powers are yours now.

Experiment: Whether you were abducted by an outside force or volunteered for it, you were the subject of a more than likely dangerous experiment that gave you your powers.

Mutant: You were simply born different. Whether you’ve known about your powers all your life or developed them later, you’ve always known you were more than a little bit different from everyone else.

Training: You worked hard to develop your powers, be it esoteric karate techniques, mental powers derived from being born with a genius level IQ, or preternatural skill with a certain weapon. (This would be the realm of the “super-normal” archetype.)

The Ten Events

Orphaned: You lost your parents to a violent crime. Maybe you were present and maybe you weren’t. It doesn’t matter beyond the amount of psychological scarring you likely suffered. The point is, this is the event that pushed you towards a career of crimefighting.

Victim: You were the victim of a violent crime. What the exact details of the crime were aren’t important, but it was the driving force behind your call. You don’t want anyone to have to feel as helpless as you did that day, and as long as you have anything to say about it, they won’t.

Last Survivor: Whether you are the last survivor of an alien race sent to Earth or the only surviving member of a monastic order that was attacked, you’ve sworn to honor the memories of those fallen with your deeds until you are able to join them.

Drafted: You have little choice in why you do what you do. Perhaps an organization has information that could damn you if you don’t do what they tell you to do or you were pressed into service early in your powers and your superiors M.O. is all you’ve ever known.

Sense of Duty: You’ve been given these powers for a reason, and while that reason may not be entirely clear to you, you feel you have a responsibility to use them properly. Protecting those who cannot protect themselves may sometimes be a thankless job, and sure, some may misunderstand your true intentions, but you know the world would be a lot worse off without you here.

Revenge: At some point in your past you were horribly wronged by someone. Unlike others who have suffered similar experiences, you are able to direct your pain and rage at an individual who stands over you like a shadow… and you want revenge. Who he is and what he is are irrelevant to your burning desire to bring your justice upon him.

Love: You do what you do out a need to protect someone you love, be it a family member, a wife, a child, or a lover. Whether they are still with you or gone, you fight for them, either to keep them safe or to honor memory.

Restitution: At some point in your past, you did something really bad with your powers. Maybe you caused severe damage to several major cities or worse, maybe you killed an innocent. Whatever the details, you’ve sworn to use your powers to make it right.

Fear: You’ve seen the evil that can be wrought with your powers, either by your own hand or by someone else’s, and now you live in constant fear of seeing it happen again. Training yourself and seeking proper channels to use them is absolutely vital to keeping yourself in check.

Seeker: You’ve always been in search of something. These powers are another means to that end. This could be a lofty ideal, something material, or even something as basic as an adrenaline rush. Whatever the end, these powers are a means to it.

I’ve added a number of new focuses, as well as a number of new talents. The various weapon style talents are gone, rolled into Weapon Training. There are also three “unarmed” styles – Street Fighting, Boxing Style, and Martial Arts, each lending themselves to a slightly different feel of fighter. The classic superpowers are there as well, such as Superstrength, Superspeed, Supersenses, Movement (flight, teleporation, wall crawling, etc), Energy Affinity, Gadget, and Telepathy. I’m also working on a Sidekick talent that should be a lot of fun.

For your edification, I’ll include the first write-ups of the Boxing Style, Street Fighting, and Martial Arts talents in a later posting along with a behind the scenes look at my design and development choices behind them.

Weapons were another sticking point. The Dragon Age game has a number of weapon groups, which is well and good, but those superheroes that do use weapons are so widely varied that its hard to define them into definable “groups.” So, weapons will now fit into one of nine categories: Melee One-Handed, Melee Two-Handed, Thrown One-Handed, Thrown Two-Handed, Shot One-Handed, Shot, Two-Handed, Melee Improvised, Thrown Improvised, and Unarmed. Individual heroes won’t have to worry about being trained in different weapon groups, but various talents will improve the use of their chosen weapons should they go that route. Of course, in a game where its fully possible that your main form of attack could be shooting lighting bolts out of your eyes, weapons can really take a backseat.

There will be more of these – “Design and Development” articles as I continue to work on the skin. Until next time.

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AGE Of Heroes

Justice League – ASSEMBLE!

I don’t usually run Superhero games. It’s never really been my preferred genre.

But I do sometimes get the urge to run comic book villains, and no other genre does it quite as well. The problem is, I’ve never really been able to find a system that does IT for me. There’s lot of games out there that I’ve taken a look at that are interesting, but I’ve so far seen nothing that has made me say “I need to get that on the table!”  The closest I’ve been able to come to this feeling is the GODLIKE/Wild Talents games written by Greg Stolze. This performs admirably and I have a blast every time I run it (as do my players), but the fact that it’s so frelling lethal makes it hard for characters to feel sufficiently… well, super.*

So, I was paging through some rulebooks the other night as I often do for inspiration on some completely unrelated stuff. I wound up in the Dragon Age Set 1 Players Handbook from Green Ronin Pubishing. I don’t know why, but my mind suddenly made the connection, and a lightbulb went off in my head.

“These character backgrounds are practically begging to be used as superhero origins!”

From there, it continued to snowball. As I looked at the book, a number of things immediately jumped to my mind making me believe that this is the perfect system for superhero roleplaying.

-The three class system of Warrior, Mage, and Rogue can be retrofitted to work with the Bruiser, Blaster, and Acrobat hero archetypes.

-Talents as they are written give a natural progression to abilities that scale. Superpowers could easily fit into these existing molds with few problems (the biggest being on making them general enough without making them too general and filling most of a sixty page book).

-Stunts. Well, do I really have to say anything about stunts? I have heard more good things about the stunt system (and witnessed it firsthand I should add) than anything else about this game.

-The game’s fast, not overly lethal, but tough enough that players aren’t not going to be challenged. The small number of rules allows for fast, fun play and really emphasizes the ‘rule of cool’ which is necessary to a game like this.

So, for the past few days I’ve been slowly picking away at this, and I think I’ve made some serious progress. I’ve got a couple of ideas jotted down for some origins, some talents ready to be filled in with crunch and meat, and I’m looking forward to rolling out a ‘first pass’ document sometime soon** and doing some playtesting on it to refine it. I’ve come across a few stumbling blocks, but nothing that’s been insurmountable yet. And if I’ve made it this far, it doesn’t look like I’ll run into any too bad. I’ll keep you updated, Gamer Nation.

 

*Note that this is by no means a shot at they system. The game is brilliant, and the lethality of it really reflects well on the kind of game it’s designed to simulate. GODLIKE, for those of you who don’t know is supposed to tell the story of normal men and women who have suddenly developed larger than life powers in the middle of World War II. These powers grant them the ability to do things a normal soldier couldn’t do and survive longer than a normal soldier could hope to. However, as is the nature of war, even the supers have a very short life expectancy when the bullets start flying. To date, I’ve run about a half a dozen GODLIKE one shots. I’ve never not killed a player.

** Sometime within the next few months. Don’t be expecting it next week.

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Star Wars: Now With… Dragons?

Not quite. Found myself in a conversation yesterday morning over Twitter with @newbiedm about a very interesting proposition, and one that had come to my mind much earlier, but had abandoned for some reason or another. Porting Star Wars to the AGE system.

For those of you uninitiated, the AGE system is what was developed by Chris Pramas for the Dragon Age Roleplaying Game published by Green Ronin Publishing. He brought up the idea of Star Wars AGE after someone released a very well done version of Mystara, the Known World for AGE.

Hearing that other people were interested in this idea as well galvanized me a little bit. After batting some ideas back and forth, namely how to handle the inclusion of the Force in the game, I found myself furiously scribbling notes and paging through the Dragon Age books as well as the copies of my old WEG books for Star Wars.

While the development is coming a lot easier than I ever dreamed it would, it’s still no where near complete. But I figured I would post up some of the basic stuff I’ve been working on to whet your appetites a little bit for things to come.

Like the Dragon Age game, there are only three classes. These are the Noble, the Scoundrel, and the Soldier. Species selection (as well as Droids) will all be handled through the background system, with broad strokes such as Wookiee Sidekick, Astromech Droid, Protocol Droid, Corellian Pilot, Bothan Spy, Gungan Warrior, etc etc.

The toughest part about this was figuring out how the Force would work. I finally settled on letting the player decide if their character was going to be Force Sensitive right out of the gate. If they wanted to, they could at no additional charge, and they would have access to the Force talents (Control, Sense, and Alter). If they didn’t want to at creation, but decided they wanted to become Force Sensitive at a later point (awakening to their latent power as it were), they could, but it would require them to sacrifice a talent slot and find a teacher. After that, they would have access to the same talents as any other Force Sensitive character. When you take the novice rank in either Control, Sense, or Alter, you get an associated ability, as well as three Force powers grounded in that discipline. Control powers will include things like Accelerated Healing, Force Trance, Detoxify Poison, Reduce Wound, etc. Sense Powers will include things like Telepathy, Mind Trick, and Beast Languages. Alter will include the combat powers, like Force Slam, Force Thrust, Telekinesis, and even Force Grip. Each time you take another rank in one of those talents, you get more associated powers.

Jedi will come into play through specializations. If you are Force Sensitive and can find training, you can take a Jedi specialization when you qualify. The Noble can specialize into Jedi Consular. The Scoundrel gets the Jedi Sentinel specialization. And finally, the Soldier gets the Jedi Guardian specialization.

Look familiar? They should. These are the broad three types of Jedi throughout the Old Republic, made most popular by the Knights of the Old Republic video games. Jedi specialization will also open up the Lightsabers Group proficiency for your character.

A lot of the focuses and talents can be used as written, with a little bit of flavor text rewritten. A few need to be scrapped, like all of the Magic focuses and talents and replaced with Force ones.

Speaking of which, the Magic attribute has been completely removed and replaced with the Force attribute. It does the same thing mechanically, but it fits the milieu a lot better.

I’ve been jumping around the past few hours on various pieces of the game, and will probably continue working that way, bouncing back and forth between this and other projects as well (I’ve got about five of them, and as of yesterday, a new appreciation for Google Docs), but I’ll be sure to post more on this as I write.

To leave you with a little taste here’s how the three Force talents appears right now.

Control
Classes: Noble, Scoundrel, Soldier
Requirement: Must be Force-Sensitive, and you must have a teacher
You have begun to study the Jedi discipline of control.

Novice
You have become skilled in letting the Force flow through you, allowing it to help you heal from your wounds more quickly. You add your Force score to any healing your receive. Additionally, you gain three Level 1 Control Powers.
Journeyman
Master

Alter
Classes: Noble, Scoundrel, Soldier
Requirement: Must be Force-Sensitive, and you must have a teacher
You have begun to study the Jedi discipline of alter.

Novice
You can use the Force to lift small objects with basic telekinesis. You can lift an object within 5 yards and weighing less than 5 kilograms. You can move the object, but you cannot manipulate it. For example, you could pick up a blaster, but you could not fire it. You can try to slam the object into an opponent, making a Force (Alter) test against your opponent’s Defense. Success deals 1d3 damage plus your Force score. Additionally, you gain three Level 1 Alter Powers.
Journeyman
Master

Sense
Classes: Noble, Scoundrel, Soldier
Requirement: Must be Force-Sensitive, and you must have a teacher
You have begun to study the Jedi discipline of sense.

Novice
You can use your basic powers of telepathy to sense the surface emotions of a creature within 10 yards of you, but you cannot influence the creature. For example, you could sense whether or not the Hutt’s goons are agitated, but not if they are agitated at you specifically and you could definitely not use this power to calm an angry Rancor. Additionally, you gain three Level 1 Sense Powers.
Journeyman
Master


Finally, on a personal note, I’d just like to mention that as of last night, I just crested the 10,000 view mark (I was at 10,001 as the date switch). This is a huge milestone for me, and I’d just like to take a moment and thank you, the people that have been coming here and looking at the site and reading what I have to say on roleplaying games. This is what I love to do, and to have you people even give a passing interest is more than I could have ever hoped for. So once again: Thank you. I’ll see you guys at 25,000. Let’s keep this thing growing. I’ll keep posting if you keep reading.

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Filed under Dragon Age, Roleplaying, Star Wars Saga Edition