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My Champions players have come up with some excellent concepts, but they're not skilled character designers. And we're hitting smack against two different barriers I don't know how to scale.

We've run one extended adventure, light on combat and keeping things a little vague, but the players definitely want the characters nailed down and I don't blame them. It's a mystic-themed adventure in the standard 5th Ed Champions universe, and in Champions mystic characters tend to get built with VPPs that are heavily special-effect-limited (as all VPPs need to be). All three have "more to it" than just "I do magic", which is great.

But it's really damn hard to run a game where characters have VPPs but the players don't feel comfortable with the character design process, because a VPP always means you're redesigning your character on the fly.

They're all willing to be menu-based - the character is at any point restricted to "only choose from these powers" because they have to go research and experiment and invent in order to build new powers. But this still means a ton of work up front to give them decent menus.

Meanwhile, even if I could nail down these concepts, there's a separate problem.

The character concepts don't generally wind up being "standard PC" power levels - they're ordinary humans with magic. And the concepts aren't really designed for combat -- two of the three, anyway. And I like them having to dodge around fights because fights are dangerous. Except that it makes the players feel useless when there's an actual combat -- so maybe what's happening is that we are falling into the same trap we always fall into when I try to do mystic-themed Champions.

One is a cybermage - carries a smartphone, writes magic spells on it, typically with subtle electronics-based effects. She can control computers and electronic devices, and can supernaturally gather tons of information from the internet. The second is based off Harry Dresden's apprentice Molly: invisibility, mental illusion/control powers, and "hermetic" magic. The third is a Native American "druid" - she shapeshifts into animal forms and controls/summons nature spirits.

Designing adventures that all three can be useful in is a huge challenge. Designing fights that they can all be useful in is an even bigger nightmare. If there's no computers involved, the first is almost useless, but if the opponents rely on electronics, they tend simply to fall apart. If the opponents don't have both mental defense and invisibility detection, the second is nearly invulnerable. The third can one-punch anything that can't one-punch the other two.

I have gotten myself into what feels like a deep concept hole, and I don't know really what to do. All three characters are wildly unbalanced, in that they're all way too effective within their own regime and too useless outside of it. This makes them extremely hard to challenge properly (that is, oppose with someone roughly *equal* in power), as the challenges for each are very different, and tend either to uninvolve the other two or else be trivially solveable by one of the other two.

I have some stories I want to tell. I can fold them into the Champions setting easily - there are tendrils in their backstories into several of the groups in that universe, and I have a ton of ideas I want to pursue.

But - I dunno - this lack of balance is really difficult and I don't know how to solve it. But maybe a skilled third party, who can throw together Champions characters really well and provide us with an actual team that works, based on these concepts, could help me with it.

I'm almost tempted to chuck Champions and declare that they're a Virtual Adept, a Hermetic, and a Dreamspeaker, and run World of Darkness instead - that's how desperate I am. They're *great* concepts. Good backstories, interesting powers. But it's virtually impossible, near as I can tell, to put them together using Champions mechanics.

But first things first. They're expecting me to write up their characters - which I've done, but they're complaining that the designs aren't fleshed out because they don't know what they can and can't do with their VPPs. I feel like if we had really good character write-ups with clear definitions of capabilities, it would make things a bit clearer. (Yet I might still have the adventure design problem.)

I suspect I am just plain doomed.

Date: 2013-05-19 11:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eyelessgame.livejournal.com
Maybe what I should do is buy the Harry Dresden roleplaying game and see if those mechanics would work better.

Date: 2013-05-20 03:36 am (UTC)
merlinofchaos: (sad merlin)
From: [personal profile] merlinofchaos
Ping me on LogrusMUSH about the Dresden RPG. It's based on FATE and as such it works a lot better for things that are more loosely defined, but it may still ultimately be a little bit problematic. I can answer lots of questions about it, though, which I can't do about Champions because I never liked the hero system. It is really bad for people who aren't number-crunchy. Which, uh, you're in that exact position!

In writing, when you have characters that are uber in a narrow field, the key is to write in such a way as to take away the character's hyper focus and rely on the secondary abilities to save the day. This is how you generate real jeopardy. It's why Superman even *has* kryptonite.

With Kryptonite, you take away the Super and leave the Man. Then the Man has to figure out an alternate means of winning. It means that, as a GM, you have to figure out what that alternate means can be, and then let the players discover it.

If I were writing a story here, I would have a single NPC...perhaps a villain, perhaps a teacher...separate the 3 characters, and take away their one schtick. Each character, alone, must figure out how to solve the problem without their primary tool. This NPC might be trying to figure out if these characters are more than the sum of their parts. As a story, then, there is a carefully crafted exit strategy and the trick is...can each character do it? And it's got to be something important. Something either in terms of sacrifice or of self discovery. Something that really takes stuff away from the characters.

I don't know how that can translate into an RPG. It could work well as fore-story. Something that you do in between, in a series of one-on-one sessions where you talk the characters through it, and then put them all back together for the big finale.

Since you're writing up each character, you could also go so far as to put Other Stuff on their sheets for them. Maybe you even wait until they're right up in the thick of it, and let the scenario dictate what it should be. What awesome secret can they find out about themselves that re-balances the character and gives them a fitting foundation for episode 2.

I would start by doing something that ties the universe and the primary nemeses together. Some kind of Greater Forces at play, and part of the schtick is that the 3 characters start out completely outside these forces, and that in and of itself gives them power, because they're not part of the system that is inherently balanced and keeps things in check. For example, you might have something akin to the struggle between Fae, where the system itself directs everything through a particular set of channels. Mortals, obviously, violate all the rules of the Fae, while at the same time being totally subject to some of its nastier powers. Thus, there's a starting point to balance vulnerability with power. Since you've got a bunch of magicians, I might go that route but maybe with Dark Forces. Perhaps demon summoning leading toward the inevitable invasion from Outside. From there, you end up with a teacher who is him or herself stuck within the system and thus unable to affect it, but can see that these 3 mages are something unique, something outside, and while at first their powers *within* the system are weak, they can break some rules. This might lead you to summoning electronics demons, mind-controlling spirits and melding wind spirits with demonic powers (just to ping each of your 3 mages) in a crazy way that changes the power dynamic.

Date: 2013-05-21 01:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eyelessgame.livejournal.com
(Leaving the stuff below because it's a fine little mini-rant; it's just that it really has virtually nothing to do with what you actually wrote. Shouldn't post when I'm distracted. I really like the idea of the backstory event that pulled away everybody's powers, and revealing "balancing" stuff within the context of the adventure... this is really useful. And believe me, there's a grand idea brewing for Greater Forces...)

I dunno. A story can get away with things an RPG can't, at least with our social contract. In a story, you can can rely heavily on defining once that the character is uber in way X, and then spend most of the story with power X unavailable, where the character is trying to just get power X back or bring it to bear, and facing all the dramatic difficulties of "cosmic power, itty bitty living space".

Try to do that in an RPG campaign and your players eventually pour their diet coke on you. If the player buys "controls computers" and then never gets to control any computers, the game just ends up being one big frustration-fest. I wouldn't want to play in that campaign and neither would my players.

There's more of a simulationist aspect to games than to novels. You have to show, not just tell. If the character can control computers, then *most* encounters have to have computers she can control. Limited, obviously - it's easy to have computer-control be only part of the solution. But then we need to make her useful for the rest of the solution, too, as she can't exactly sit out all the fights.

(The first couple of seasons of Smallville had kryptonite in almost every episode, and it eventually irritated the hell out of me. At some point, he's not Super at all, he's a wimp who falls apart all the time because everybody and their cat has kryptonite.)

So it's really not a viable option to have most of the stories make most of their powers useless. That's simply no-fun roleplaying. For a climactic battle, sure - that's the way to raise the stakes. But for most of most adventures, they have to be able to bring their strengths to bear, and face an opponent commensurate with those strengths.
Edited Date: 2013-05-21 01:28 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-05-21 05:05 am (UTC)
merlinofchaos: (sad merlin)
From: [personal profile] merlinofchaos
Right. Yes you figured it out but I was definitely not wanting to take away the character's strengths all the time. That's not a fun thing to do to a player. It *is* a fun storyline from time to time, and it's a growth experience. It's an opportunity for the character to grow. It forces a player to do something with it. It can be challenging, and it can be rewarding!

Also the idea wasn't to pull away everybody's powers, but in fact to make those powers the lynchpin to making something bigger.

Date: 2013-05-21 01:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eyelessgame.livejournal.com
I don't want to sound harsh, though - I was just twigging on the one thing that doesn't translate well. Most of the rest of this is really useful and I plan to steal it. :) Thanks!

Date: 2013-05-20 02:23 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You sound like you already know how to solve your problem: tune down everyone slightly so they still have dominance in their area but won't be helpless. Body armor and taser for cyber mage, make the illusionist more limited (60 points of total invisible, uses up mental def + ego of observer in points - I.e. 5 agents but not 10 - their choice who they have to stealth against), and Druid gets natural animal defenses only with regen on shifting shape, so they're not invulnerable against guns (but can't wear armor and shift). Limits make the story interesting while preserving character.

Scissors, paper, rock - make sure they need to swap opponents from the obvious first choices, let the opposition make interesting but flawed choices - technological mind shields to deal with the mind ripper, that make hem traceable by cyber mage, redneck American ninja that sneer at technology and know how to skin a bear but can't believe someone can out stealth them, wanna be goddesses drawing on the video game cultists to give them speed, power and hive minds but can be server crashed once the heroes find out about the game...

Strongly theme the characters so the limits seem natural - the machine sees much, but not all, you can only divert the attention of so many minds, and natural animals have some perks, but gunfire is still rough.

Date: 2013-05-21 01:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eyelessgame.livejournal.com
I kind of like this. The cyber mage already has a taser; I need to convince her to use body armor too. (She's also the hardest to buy while staying in the point range, specifically because she has the most backstory and most interesting "world-related" extra powers, like contacts and skills and perks, and they add up to being expensive, and that makes it really hard to afford all the other powers she wants. And then she finds herself helpless a lot because the other two are, comparatively, combat-monsters.)

I like the idea of "mental invisibility" that has to use up points against one's opponents' brains - having 2/3 of all opponents able to see invisible strains credulity. I'll see how he likes the idea - he's no munchkin and is perfectly happy to have the powers adjusted, he just wants to know what they actually are and how they work. :)

The illusionist needs to be toned down another way, too - he also has an ego drain, which is a one-two punch with the rest of his powers that ends up being overpowered (now opponents need see-invisible, mental defense, *and* power defense). I suspect I'll just declare that we dump or limit the ego drain; it's simply too effective a power. He'll just have to use his wizardry (fireballs, anyone?) to be effective against high-ego opponents.

And yes, I overpowered the poor druid's animal forms. I'll cut them down so they're not quite so overwhelming (multiform needs a rewrite badly anyway).

And the illusionist and druid need to have some points sucked away into skills, perks, and contacts.

Date: 2013-05-20 02:43 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Previous comment was me, Earl. The idea is to make sure that no one is helpless when the others are shining by carefully dovetailing both power levels and the pyramid of evil, so that evil is usually responding to the last person to shine, leaving screen time for the other two (and giving props to whoever shone last as the villains prep for them).

And of course making sure everyone can deal with the cyborg velociroosters, so that most combats have something fun that is dangerous enough to be covered, but vulnerable to everyone in their own way. The Druid can slap them around as a bear, the stealthier can take down the controller, and the cyber mage can disrupt them. But they'll mess you up if you let your guard down, so someone has to play the fox.

Not that I would have done that in a previous game to provide important balance to fights...


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