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I particularly like the use of the balloons and caption boxes to make it look more comic-book-y
Kapow! the Super RPG!
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Since Dan’s interested in changing his Warhammer 40K setting using SavageWorlds over to Kapow! I need to get cracking on writing up a minimal set of the genre-specific rules for changing it from supers to space opera.
Broadly I think these are the areas that need tweaking:
For superheroes, equipment other than vehicles is just an explanation of some heroes’ powers. For most SF settings, gear matters and players care about it (and upgrading it). Tentative rule: an item of gear is a power, with its own dice rating, but most gear requires that you have an appropriate Shtick to use it to full effectiveness; roll only 1 die if you don’t have a Shtick that covers it. E.g. a Blaster might be d8, d8 but you only roll d8 if you lack a Shtick like Soldier or Gunslinger to justify it. Some characters might still take a full-fledged Power where the explanation is gear, such as a cyborg with a built-in laser, bought with the usual power rules.
Vehicles will have their own Scope appropriate to the vehicle, so a groundcar would be Scope: Planetary Region, while a in-system shuttle might be Scope: Interplanetary, and a star-cruiser Scope: Interstellar. There will probably be more Scopes, so you can make distinctions between FTL where travel between nearby stars takes a couple weeks, a couple days, a couple hours, etc. Movement will be rated in terms of Scenes. One of the things I’ve noticed about travel in RPGS, and in SF RPGS in particular, is beyond a certain point unless travel is insanely dangerous (as in wandering monster rolls every 6 hours) players tend to stop caring about how long trips take; a journey of 10 days is not really any different from a journey of 100 days… both will be blipped over with the exact same hand-waving. Zap! will address this by requiring that you play out, or at least describe, a scene aboard the ship for each unit of distance traveled (size of unit determined by scope). Hopefully the scenes will be interesting, since the point isn’t to punish players for wanting to travel longer distances, but to give the act of travel texture so that the trips become more memorable and make longer trips seem longer because you can expect to have and later remember more incidents happening during them.
Similarly, and along the lines of my musings in Clarke’s Law and SF Roleplaying, to make tech seem a bit less magical, we’ll give equipment maintenance ratings (and maybe Advantages/Disadvantages like Low Maintenance/No Maintenance and High Maintenance/Constant Maintenance) that will also be expressed in terms of Scenes that need to be spent playing out or describing maintenance being done, or else it starts having chances of degrading or malfunctioning. Scenes will probably require that a character with an appropriate Shtick make a roll, with failure or mishap resulting in having to spend extra money or get replacement parts. I think this kind of thing is pretty important in SF…even in squeaky clean futures ships like the Enterprise require a ton of work to keep in repair, if the number of episodes where something goes wrong or needs replacement prompting them to make a landing and get in trouble is any indication. Again the idea is to make sure that there’s some “spotlight time” devoted to players, particularly those who’ve focussed on Shticks like Engineering, doing the things that define this as SF.
We’ll just be using the Template rules from Argh! to handle alien races that have unusual abilities. We’ll probably also use the Argh! Templates for characters, but with new names if needed (e.g. Magician -> Technician).
I’d like to come up with a simple way of handling commerce and trade, since that’s often important to star-faring SF. Again this is probably going to be expressed in terms of Scenes rather than tables of trade goods and prices, perhaps with some notion of trading off travel distances and risk vs. profit.
I think that’s the gist of it… but I’m open to suggestion on things I might have overlooked that would be important to an SF campaign that aren’t already covered.
Based on last night’s Argh! playtest that means we have two rules to change:
Non-simultaneous Actions – the original rule was you had to specify all your actions in your Turn at once, without pausing to assess what was going on. The reason for the rule was to try to avoid the situation where because one player has a lot more actions than the others, that player ends up taking up most of the combat time as he does an action, assesses what’s going on as a result, does another action, and so on. The problem is that the players, Wendy in particular, hate this… her character only has two Actions per turn, but she always wants to see if her first attack takes out the target before committing to another action. So the new rule will just drop the restriction: if you want to take an action, and then decide what action to take next, that’s your prerogative. I still think that simultaneous actions are desirable (I throw a bar-stool at the first vampire, while I ward off the second one with my cross) both for game-play and for genre, so I’m considering encouraging people to use them by saying that if you describe the actions as simultaneous then the villains can’t react until you’ve resolved them all, whereas if you choose to go sequentially it’s possible for the villains to react after your initial action(s) and before you start your next.
What counts as an Action? The other thing that people had trouble with is what constitutes an action. This surprises me, because I thought the rule was truly simple: using an active Power counts as an Action. Nothing else does, not moving, not talking, not grabbing something… but for some reason this doesn’t seem to click with people. Not just the players: both of the other folks who’ve GMed (Russell is the GM for Argh! and Mike GMed a Danger Room scenario in Kapow!) charge players for actions for doing things like climbing ladders or opening doors, and players spontaneously charge themselves for things like kicking a gun out of reach even though it doesn’t require a power to do so. I’m a bit reluctant to change this to something that’s (to me) a lot less cut-and-dried, and will tend to encourage a lot more asking questions of the GM (would X count as one of my Actions? what about Y?)… but according to my principles I ought to…
When next we resumed, the players were treated to the first genuine villain monologue of the campaign, which they sat still for and even seemed to find amusing. At least part of the reason they bore it patiently is that last time they interrupted a villain’s monologue (in the Weird West Campaign), they destroyed the Universe before the villain had time to warn them against it.
All in all it was a highly satisfactory set of sessions.
We’ve had a couple of sessions since the last report, and the players seem to be enjoying it a lot, but I’ve been too busy with other things (such as working on the manuscript for Kapow!) to do proper recaps.
Just so that we don’t forget what’s gone on so far:
Redline has been working with Dr. Barbara Kelso, the scientist who developed the original treatment for the degenerative nerve disease that young Artemis Simon was suffering from, which eventually led to her being banned from the Olympics (and years later to her become Olympia) and Dr. Kelso being booted from her university on ethics charges. Dr. Kelso landed at Paradigm Labs, Where the Future is Today!, where she’s being continuing her research on apes. Redline felt guilty about falsely accusing her of being in cahoots with Olympia, so to make it up to her offered to help fund her research at the lab; this led to them collaborating on some research having to do with the neuro-mechanical linkages he’s developed that let him control the Redline suit. Of course, he’s doing all of this obliquely,showing her the interface components without the suit to try to preserve his secret identity.
While he was at the labs he got a call from the CFO/accountant at his small business, saying that he had found something disturbing going over the books before the audit that was supposed to happen in 48 hours as part of the deal Redline was setting up providing certain pieces of the Redline technology on an exclusive basis to a large motorcycle manufacturer; before he could explain what it was he found, the call was abruptly cut off.
Racing into action, Redline headed back to the firm. On the way back he was challenged to a drag race by a mysterious silver-and-blank racer… and he lost. Arriving at the parking lot of his company, the silver and black racer was waiting… and transformed into a powered armor suit of an unfamiliar design.
To be continued…
We’ve been playing Kapow! and overall I’d say it’s going well: the players seem to be engaged and having fun. At the end of one session, in which as a result of one of his character’s Complications it was revealed that unbeknown to him, his character had a 20-year old daughter, Doug gave it a big thumbs up and said “This is a great comic!” And Wendy has praised the clarity and concision of the combat cheat-sheet.
One thing that hasn’t gone quite as well, or at least has caused me to rethink one of the basic rules, is what happens to a character’s defenses when they are Hindered. Where other games like Champions have status conditions like Stunned, Knocked Down or Blinded, Kapow! has the more generic Hindered. It’s simpler, in the sense that it’s one status condition to cover everything instead of separate rules for each kind of thing that can interfere with the character’s ability to act effectively, and it’s less debilitating than some in that you can still act while Hindered. Losing a turn due to a status condition gets boring pretty quickly, particularly if as in most games it can happen over and over so you end up spending all your turns standing back up or recovering, only to be stunned again on the villain’s turn (sometimes called “chain-stun”).
I wanted to avoid that, and to avoid the “Death Spiral” effect where getting stunned or damaged makes you more likely to get stunned or damaged in the next round, so that once you start to lose you’ll probably be defeated if you don’t run away. So in Kapow! not only can you can still act while Hindered, albeit at a penalty, being Hindered doesn’t reduce your defenses. For many, if not all, superhero defenses that makes a lot of sense: if you’re invulnerable, even if you’ve been temporarily blinded or glued to the spot with webbing you’re still just as hard to knock out. And in play it means that just because you’ve gotten hit and are suffering from a penalty to your attack, you’re not on the verge of losing. For some defenses, such as acrobatics where if you’re tied down or dazed you really ought to be easier to clobber completely, it makes less sense, but sometimes playability trumps what passes for realism in comic books.
The problem that play-test revealed is that the players really expect to be able to soften up the villain’s defenses by Hindering them so that follow-up attacks by their companions stand a better chance…but that’s not how the rules work. One of my design principles is that if players keep misremembering a specific rule, that probably means you should change the rule to match their mental model of how things ought to work instead of trying to beat it into them that they’re playing it “wrong.” Fixing it to match the way the players think it works, though, could cause a ripple effect through the rest of the rules in order to balance things out (for instance, I don’t want to make Powerhouse characters, who are designed to have fewer but more powerful actions weaker than fast, nimble Jack of All Trades characters…but if they had to keep spending their limited actions on shoring up their defenses they could be).
What Doug suggested, and we’ll probably go with at least to test next session is that we make what the players are attempting one of the combat maneuvers. So the rules for defense would stay as they are, but the players would have the option of deliberately trying to weaken a target’s defenses just as they were (repeatedly) trying in our play-test sessions… but there would be a built-in penalty for doing so since trying to weaken the target’s defenses would preclude trying to KO the target with the same attack. In addition, Weakening the target’s defenses would only last for the next attack (or maybe the next round, we’ll have to experiment); that way Powerhouses wouldn’t have to spend all their time undoing the weakened defenses. The characters could act deliberately to set them up for a more devastating attack, but they would have to keep doing it to continue to get the benefit, and the slower characters wouldn’t be unduly penalized by forcing them to spend their time recovering from being weakened.
I may also emphasize that certain defensive powers (like acrobatics, or heightened senses, or super-speed) really ought to be taking the Disadvantage “Can Be Hindered” to represent the fact that they’re much easier to interfere with than, say, being invulnerable, or being able to become intangible. It’s possible I should swap it so that by default defenses are affected by being Hindered, but you could take an Advantage “Can’t Be Hindered” for characters with defenses that don’t really involve being maneuverable or having heightened awareness of attacks…my gut is that being really tough and able to withstand a beating is a bit more common as a defensive superpower, particularly when you include villains, than being really nimble or having great reflexes, but I could be wrong. Comments are welcome.