Master Plan - September 2006
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Supercharged Powers for Truth & Justice

Moving apartments. Changing jobs. Sporadic internet connectivity. Jury Duty. In a word: September.

This has been busy month for me. Thankfully, I have close friends with long Ethernet cables and the patience of saints; otherwise, September would be my second missed month on this project.

That brings me to something I've realized in the past few months, thanks to writing Master Plan. Missing February still haunts me a bit -- not in a way where I continually worry or beat myself up for missing it, but enough to where I don't want to miss one again. Let's face it: Any relevance I might have by doing this I lose if I miss issues.

It might seem unusual for a writer to talk about such things openly, but this is on-topic for Master Plan -- this is a larger version of the little projects I do every month, so reporting on my experiences with it is something I feel I should do.

The reason I bring this up is because, in a roundabout way, I'm trying to say "You remember all those bold ideas I mentioned last month? Yeah, uh, this month's been hell, so here's something that isn't one of those ideas." I still think that it's a neat idea, though.

With no further adieu...

Project: Supercharged Powers for Truth & Justice

I run an on-again, off-again supers campaign using Truth & Justice. It started as a test one-shot to try the system out so I could write a review of it, and turned into one of the coolest games I've had the pleasure of running. This is part of why I have become a "T&J fanatic."

In my home campaign, we've got a nigh-unstoppable foe emerging, and one of the main PCs is trying to find a way to gain power himself to be on the same level. After writing up an Actual Play report on a very fun T&J session I ran for my fellow The Edge of Propinquity writers at GenCon, an idea for my home campaign formed in my head. The idea is simple: rather than buying a Power up one rank, one could "supercharge" it somehow, gaining additional power for a short, plot-influenced amount of time at the expense of losing it (and possibly more) later.

Goal: Create a usable add-on for Truth & Justice to support this particular vision. I actually have a specific character in mind for this, and mostly wrote it hoping the player would enjoy this idea.

Supercharged Powers for Truth & Justice

Sometimes having a superior strength, the ability to fly, telekinesis, or whatever fantastic Powers you have are not enough to stop a threat. Even increasing your powers in the normal way may not be enough to combat foes from beyond time and space or those who have vast, extraordinary powers. This is especially true for those who have achieved the pinnacle of their abilities, the fabled Master rank.

Fear not, for there is yet an option! But beware, for it is not for the faint of heart or those who seek quick, easy power. When you are in dire need, though, you just may be able to Supercharge your Power.

When a Power is Supercharged, the Hero has new, but costly, ways of gaining Hero Points to use that power, and is able to roll an additional die when using that power, even if he doesn't normally have enough upshifts to do so! This option is particularly useful for heroes with Meta-Powers or with many Stunts off of a Power, as all uses of the Power may benefit from being Supercharged. Supercharging a Power is not easy though, not is it cheap.

Qualifying for a Supercharged Power

To qualify for a Supercharged Power, the following must take place:

  1. The hero must have fought against a threat that was too much for her. Perhaps facing a foe they couldn't hope to beat ("Comrade Nilzya's magic is too strong! He's unstoppable!"). The threat could also be a formidable group, where one or a small number is a formidable challenge all their own, but together pose an impossible challenge ("The K'lipth are a fierce warrior race. Defeating one taxed me greatly -- how can we fight their entire army?").
  2. There must be good in-game and in-character reasons for the hero to suddenly surge in power. ("With the Innovator in his possession, Eye Robot is able to overload it to give his systems a boost!")
  3. The GM must agree. As always, he has the final word.
  4. The Hero must have 8 MAX to spend, as if she was increasing a Power.

Gaining the Supercharge

Going from a normal hero to a Supercharged hero should be more than a simple scene. In superhero stories as well as others, these are the quests of legend. Indeed, the ancient world has similar stories, where the hero faces a great danger and side-quests to gain some item to help him on his way or to consult an oracle are epic in themselves.

To gain the Supercharge:

  1. The threat that caused the hero to seek out this new option must be noted down. This determines when the hero will be able to use some of the new abilities, and how long the Supercharge will last.
  2. The hero must spend at least one session focused on doing something to boost their power. Some ideas:

    • A gadget-based hero might hunt for rare parts to create a more powerful device, or convince a scientist to create one for him -- possibly even both.
    • Skill-based heroes, such as martial artists, might quest long and hard to find an ancient and mysterious master who can bestow upon them The Way of Badassery...provided they prove themselves worthy.
    • Other heroes may be drawn to cosmic rays, ley lines, or places of power that resonate with their own abilities.

    Ideally, this should be a fun session for all the players, not just for the one who is questing. This is something the GM should consider when allowing a player to choose this option.
  3. At the time the Supercharged Power is gained, the hero must pay 8 MAX. This is not the same as increasing a Power, so the Power remains at its current rank. Put a star next to it and make a note that that Power is supercharged.

This option is geared toward heroes who have Meta-Powers, as many individual Power Stunts are not as high as the Powers a cosmic-level Villain may have. Should the hero not have a Meta-Power, but has thematically-related powers they chose to purchase separately, the GM may allow more than one related Power to be Supercharged. If so, there is no additional charge.

Effects of Supercharged Powers

When a hero gains a Supercharged Power a number of new benefits occur, some with their own drawbacks:

  1. Rather than buying an upshift as one would when increasing a Power, Supercharged Powers gain one additional die. Any stunts based on the Power are also affected, including Spin-Off Stunts and Power Stunts. This "Supercharge die" is optional; if used, is should be easily distinguished from all the other dice (such as a different color or larger).
  2. If the hero uses the Supercharge die and it comes up as a 6, the hero takes one damage rank after the roll is resolved -- the power is too much for the hero to cope with. This damage is mandatory, and ignores any Qualities or Powers (such as Armor, Immortality, Invulnerability, or Super-Armor) that might otherwise cause the hero to ignore it. If another die also comes up with a 6, the GM may state that, while successful (if the roll in fact was), the power also did something uncontrollable.

    The hero still gets to keep the 6 they rolled. It is up to the GM if such damage can be healed by through the use of Powers, which may be linked to the origin of the Supercharge.
  3. When faced with the threat that caused the hero to seek this option out, or faces with something standing in the way (either literally or figuratively) between hero and the threat, the hero may "Burn for Power". This option allows them to give themselves one Damage Rank in exchange for one Hero Point to be used immediately.

    Such Hero Points may be combined with regular Hero Points, but in any case they must be spent immediately on one of the following Hero Point options: Energizing Stunt, Haymaker, Make It Count or Push a Quality or Power. The use must relate to the Supercharged Power.

    The Damage Rank does not take effect until after the Hero Point use is resolves. These Damage Ranks, called "Sacrificial Damage Ranks," are different from normal in two ways: first, just as with rolling a 6 on the Supercharge die, the Damage Rank cannot be ignored or cancelled; second, it may only be healed over time or when dramatically appropriate (i.e. up to the GM). No power, quality, hero point use, or other mode of recovery affects Sacrificial Damage Ranks. (Note for GMs: a good time to remove them might be some dramatically appropriate moment during the middle of the final fight against the threat.)

    Finally, the hero will not gain another Damage Rank from the Supercharge die when using this option. They've already purposely caused the Supercharge to surge within themselves for damage -- there's little more an accidental surge can do.
  4. When faces with the threat itself, such as in a final fight, if the threat is overpowering the hero (as determined by the GM), any stunts and the "Make It Count" Hero Point use costs 1 HP maximum. "Burn for Power" can used to power this.

Losing the Supercharge

Powers cannot remain Supercharged forever. By their very nature, they are quick flashes of intense power that can damage and even cause the hero to sacrifice herself completely. The in-game reason for this will depend on the source of the Supercharge: cosmic radiation wearing off, running out of mystical or rare fuel, or perhaps the need for the boost itself is what tied the Supercharge to the hero.

In any case the player will lose the Supercharge for one of two reasons:

  1. The threat is vanquished. In this case, the hero will either lose the power right away, or may have some scene where the power is last used or discarded, depending on what's appropriate for the game.
  2. The hero stops pursuing the threat. If this happens, the GM should remind the player that the Supercharge won't last forever. If a long enough time is spent ignoring the threat, the Supercharge is spent. If the hero is staying on task though, and the campaign just takes them a bit longer to reach the threat again, the GM should be generous -- especially if the player plays in character and doesn't use the Supercharge options often, saving them for when they are needed most.

As it stands, the hero will have spent 8 MAX and gained nothing permanent from it. That is the act of sacrificing oneself and is the cost of getting to play with some fun new options. However, that might not satisfy everyone, so the GM may award the character after vanquishing the threat by increasing the previously Supercharged Power one Rank (or add some new Power, if the old Power was already at Master).

If a GM plans on using this option, it may ruin some of the sense of self-sacrifice if the player knows they'll get the increase at the end. I would suggest holding off of telling the player until it happens, and don't guarantee them in any case.

(You can download these rules by themselves. See "More Information," below.)

(You can download these rules by themselves from the website.)

Player Reaction

The gamer adage "No adventure survives encounter with the players" equally applies to new rules. I showed this to the player I essentially wrote in for, and he his comments boiled down to three statements:

"8 MAX is too much. Maybe, say, 2 MAX at the beginning of each session you keep using it."

This is an interesting idea. It has that sense of "Are you sure you still want to keep it? How about now?" that you can get out of Dogs in the Vineyard -- though I will admit that am comparing apples and Mitsubishis here. Essentially, it's about how far someone is willing to go for something, and I think it conveys that better than my idea does.

If I was going to keep the optional bit on awarding a Power one Rank at the end, I would treat the paid MAX toward the cost of the Power Rank.

"I don't like that last option, with being able to get a Rank out of it."

His point was about how, if these rules were intended to simulate a sacrifice, he couldn't see the point of that option. I point was two-fold: first, I wanted to make sure more generous GMs didn't dismiss the idea outright, because it wasn't mentioned; second, I'm a big believer of using "player hope" -- if the player things he might keep something after all, he might be more willing to do it, and I can use that hope to drive some of the tones or themes of the game.

Nonetheless, his point was valid, which is why I say to not guarantee such an option.

"I wouldn't use this for my character."

Given that I wrote these with him in mind, I was a bit shocked to hear that. I wasn't offended or anything like that -- this was something I was inspired to do on my own, not something he requested -- but it was still surprising to hear. We discussed that some, and in the end his rejection came from not wanting to do such a sacrifice as a player.

This is an important division -- just because a character is expected to perform sacrifices doesn't mean a player wants to as well. With that in mind, I doubt these rules will ever see use in my campaign, but perhaps one of you out there can cannibalize parts of it or maybe even use it as-is.

Something you need to get: Spirit of the Century

It would be criminal if I didn't tell you about Spirit of the Century by Evil Hat Productions. Finer folks than I have talked about this amazing book, including Bruce Baugh, author of Adventure.

I haven't had a chance to digest the entire book, but what I have read so far has blown me away. If someone would invest self-unpacking boxes, I could spend more time reading.

On a personal note, after reading Spirit of the Century I'm torn between finishing my old pulp RPG and throwing in the towel -- my "pulp-jazz" is renewed, but man, these guys just plain Got It. Gentleman, you have definitely raised the bar.

They're still taking pre-orders (at the time of this publication), and I encourage everyone to take a look. I will definitely be throwing together an Experimental Sunday session with this. I'm wishing I had read this before I did the character generation for my current Unknown Armies campaign, because there are definitely ideas in here that can work for any game.

That's it for this month

I'm almost done unpacking and still getting used to my new work commute. Hopefully, I'll be able to grill up some Master Plan: Audio Style for your consumption by the end of the year. Speaking of which, anyone care to point me toward any good podcasting primers or books?, as usual.

Until next time, I'm Ryan Macklin, Adventurologist!

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