June 2010 Archives

DC Adventures Design Journal #6

A Knight in Gotham

In one of our recent Design Journals, we looked at a full DC Adventures character. This week, we take a look at characters in action, with the Dark Knight Detective himself, Batman!

The middle of the night in the industrial district of Gotham City. Shadowy figures load a truck backed into the loading dock of the chemical plant while steam wafts among the metal catwalks and beams overhead. A shadow passes across the dirty window, backlit by the nearly full moon outside.

"C'mon, hurry up!" one of the rough-looking men calls to the others. "We gotta get this stuff loaded before..."

He trails off as a shadow spreads out from the end of the truck, falling over the men hurrying to load it, a shadow that spreads dark wings out to encompass them.

"Aw, no..." one of them whispers.

Round 1

Investigating the Joker's latest scheme, Batman has tracked the Clown Prince of Crime to a supposedly shut-down chemical plant, which now appears to be anything but. Knowing the Joker intends to poison the city, Batman wastes no time getting to the plant.

Taking the Dark Knight's routine Stealth check value of 30 into account, compared to the routine Perception value of 11 for the men loading the truck, the Gamemaster allows him to approach undetected without the need for a die roll. She describes the scene of the men loading up an eighteen-wheeler.

Batman's Player: I stand on top of the truck, casting a shadow down over the men to intimidate them.

GM: Roll your Initiative.

Player (rolls a 15): With my +11, that's 26.

GM: (nods and rolls a 7) You beat them easily. You also surprise them, so you get a free standard action.

Player: I'll make that a move action to jump down from the truck into their midst.

Batman's routine Athletics check value of 24 is more than enough to jump down from the back of the truck as his move action, so the GM does not call for a die roll.

Round 2

GM: The thugs all gasp and you hear one of them mutter "Aw, no..." they reflexively step back a bit, but otherwise hardly move. Your turn again.

Player: I'm going to take out the closest one.

GM: You want to make a routine attack check?

Player (grins): Ah, minions! Yeah, I'm going to go for the Takedown, too, so I'll Power Attack, full +5.

Since the thugs are minions, Batman gets to make attacks against them as routine checks. His routine check value with his unarmed attack is 30. Even with the -5 modifier from his Power Attack, more than enough to beat the thugs' Parry defense value of 12. Since they are minions, a failed Toughness resistence check automatically takes them out of the fight, and since Batman has the Takedown advantage, he can follow a successful attack with another against an additional thug within reach.

GM (rolls 1 and 10, for Toughness 4 and 14, both failures): You easily take out the two guys nearest to the end of the truck. How do you do it?

Player: I land, then rise up, menacingly. I lunge into one guy, grabbing him in an arm-lock, and then twist to throw him into the other one, the two of them going down in a heap at the edge of the loading dock.

The player's description is just for color, but the GM nods approvingly at the added detail.

GM: You've still got a move action.

Player: I'll move towards the other guys.

GM: Now the four remaining thugs get to go. One reaches for a gun, but another guy yells, "Don't, you might hit the gas!" and the other three rush you, swinging wildly.

The GM makes attack checks for the three thugs. Rather than make them all separately, she decides to give them a team check: two of the thugs roll their +2 attack bonus against DC 10; one gets a 16, the other an 11, for a total of three degrees of success. That's enough to give the third thug a +5 circumstance bonus on his attack check. The GM rolls an 18! With his +2 attack and +5 circumstance bonus, the thug has a total of 25 ... which just manages to beat Batman's Parry defense class of 24!

GM: Two of the guys box you in and the third manages to connect with a sock to the jaw. Give me a Damage Resistance Check.

Player: (rolls a 9) I got a 17.

The GM compares this against the thug's Strength 2 Damage. The resistance check is a success, right on the nose.

GM: It was little more than a graze. No damage.

Round 3

Player: HA! I turn and glare at the guy who just tagged me and demoralize them. I'm going to take a -5 on my Intimidation and do it as a move action. (rolls) I get a 27.

Compared against the thugs' Will DC of 11, that's four degrees of success, enough to disable them (-5 check penalty until the end of Batman's next turn).

GM: They're clearly rethinking the wisdom of their actions.

Player: Good. Now I take 'em down! Power Attack again!

Three of the thugs are within reach, and Batman's routine attack check is enough to hit all of them. The GM rolls Toughness checks against DC 24: all failures.

GM: How do you do it?

Player: I duck under the guy's next wild swing so he hits one of his friends and knocks him out cold. Then I kick that guy in the stomach, putting him down. When his other buddy comes up behind me, I do that thing where I bring my arm up and hit him without even looking back, keeping focused on the fourth guy who was going for his gun.

GM: (laughs) Okay, they go down. Just one guy left. He's backed into a corner and looks scared out of his wits. What do you do?

Round 4

The GM has decided that the remaining thug is too scared to do anything and that it's time to wrap this fight up, so she goes to the player's turn again.

Player: I loom over the guy, knocking aside his gun, if he goes for it. Then I grab him by the lapels, holding him against the wall and say, "Where's the Joker?"

GM: Sweat is pouring off the thug as he tries to swallow, eyes darting around, "He... he..." he stammers.

(in a different voice) "Yoo-hoo! Batsy!" a voice calls from the catwalk above. The Joker is up there! He has a gun out and leveled in your direction.

Player: I toss the thug aside. "It's over, Joker!"

GM: The Clown Prince of Crime gives an exaggerated pout. "Oh, and we were going to have such fun! You need to lighten up, Bats, have a few laughs!" Then he points the gun and pulls the trigger...

Player: (grabs the die, prepared to take action)

GM: ... and a flag with a big "BANG!" sign pops out of the gun.

Player: I draw a Batarang to take the Joker down.

GM: The Joker laughs maniacally. "Didn't get the joke?" he asks. "Don't worry, this one'll kill you!" He pulls the trigger with both hands, and the little flag shoots out of the gun like an arrow! It misses you by a mile, but it hits one of the metal canisters sitting on the dock waiting to be loaded into the truck.

Player: Uh-oh...

GM: A cloud of white gas hisses out of the punctured canister, quickly engulfing you! I need a Fortitude resistance check!

Player: (rolls an 11) I got a 20.

The GM compares this result against the rank of the Joker venom in the canisters (10). That's a DC of 20. Just enough!

GM: You manage to clap a hand over your mouth and nose just in time as you reach for the rebreather in your utility belt. The white cloud of mist covers the loading dock and you hear the sound of laughter and a truck engine starting up! You emerge from the cloud to see the truck pulling away, with the remaining thug at the wheel and the Joker hanging out of the passenger side of the cab, the open door swinging. He grins and waves at you. "Be sure to catch my encore act, Bat-breath! It'll have everyone in stitches! HAHAHAHAHA!"

Player: I grab my grapple-gun and shoot it at the truck's bumper!

GM: Make a ranged attack check. You can use your Batarang value.

Player: (rolls a 2) Um... 16?

Luckily for the player, only a roll of 1 would have missed a target as big as the truck.

GM: Good enough. The grapple drives into the edge of the metal just as the truck accelerates towards the highway on-ramp. It might be in there a little loosely, though. The cable spools out and snaps taunt.

Player: Oh boy.

GM: (grinning) Better hold on. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Can Batman stop the Joker before he escapes with his cargo of deadly gas? What does the Clown of Chaos have planned for Gotham City? Only the Gamemaster knows for sure...

All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2010. All rights reserved.

DC Adventures Design Journal #5

The Game System Top 10

With the appearance of a full hero write-up for Green Lantern last week, everyone is abuzz about what to expect from the game system of DC Adventures.  Here's a list of the top ten modifications and updates to the Mutants & Masterminds game rules you'll see:

1. Abilities

Rather than the original six abilities of M&M, DC Adventures has eight with the addition of a Fighting ability (representing a character's raw close combat capability) and Agility, splitting off the movement capabilities from the fine motor skills of Dexterity.

We also changed the names of some of the existing abilities to make them better fit the super-hero style, rather than the game's d20 ancestry. So we have Stamina, Intellect, Awareness, and Presence in place of Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Strength and Dexterity remain unchanged, save for the aforementioned split between Agility and Dexterity, which helps to spread out the ability's elements, keeping it from becoming a single "uber-ability".

As previously mentioned, the system also streamlines abilities by assigning them a single numerical rank, dropping the previous ability score used to calculate that rank. Now abilities simply cost 2 point per rank.

Lastly, note that the prior Attack and Defense scores have been folded into abilities, based off of Fighting and Dexterity (for close and ranged attacks) and Fighting and Agility (for parry and dodge defense) modified by specific skills. Now the odd-duck traits of combat work the same way as other abilities and skills do.

2. Skills

Speaking of skills, DC Adventures slims down and streamlines the game's skill list. Where possible, multiple redundant skills (Climb and Swim, for example) are folded into a single skill (Athletics). Various specialty skills like Craft, Knowledge, and Profession have become a single Expertise skill. We've also added Close Combat and Ranged Combat skills, helping unify the skill system as a whole.

The smaller skill list means a bump in skill cost: 1 power point per 2 skill ranks, since characters typically have fewer overall skills (and therefore ranks in them). We also simplified power level limits with regard to skills with a flat (PL+10) ceiling for total skill bonus.

3. Advantages

Feats are gone, but not forgotten. They are replaced with Advantages, which perform the same function: minor benefits and abilities, most often for things a character either has or does not have. We generally consolidated the advantage list, making ample use of the Benefit advantage to cover a lot of general ground.

Other modifications to advantages include making many combat advantages like Power Attack into improved versions of combat maneuvers (so everyone can Power Attack, those with the advantage simply do so better) and use of circumstance modifiers (see below) to clarify the relationship between advantages and power level.

4. Effects

Powers in DC Adventures have been clearly divided into effects, which are the components and game elements, and the powers themselves, which are made up of one or more effects with modifiers. So Damage, for example, is an effect, whereas a Blast is Ranged Damage, possibly with some other modifiers and appropriate descriptors, such as electricity or force. Similarly, razor-sharp claws are Close Damage, perhaps with the Penetrating modifier. Powers may even have arrays of Alternate Effects, choosing between different ones each round.

Again, where possible, effects have been consolidated and made consistent. For example, the Affliction effect and its modifiers allow you to custom-build a wide range of powers that impose certain conditions, including Dazzle, Mind Control, Sleep, Snare, and Suffocation, to name a few. You can even fine-tune the power so your Dazzle has different conditions (or imposes additional ones). The pre-built powers are simply examples of what you can do with the effects and modifiers.

5. Defenses

"Saving throws" are converted to defenses in DC Adventures, values used for both the difficulty of certain attack or effect checks, and for resistance checks against certain effects. So your character's Dodge defense determines the difficulty to hit him with a ranged attack, and may also be used for a resistance check to narrowly avoid a danger or trap.

6. Complications

Complications come into their own in DC Adventures, taking over the role filled by drawbacks as well (some power drawbacks get turned into flaws for effects). Now pretty much anything that causes trouble for the heroes is handled as a complication which earns the players hero points. They range from personal issues and dramatic subplots to vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and physical challenges. In particular, players are encouraged to define their hero's motivation as a complication, which the GM can use as a story hook, rewarding the player with hero points for doing so.

7. Actions

We provide a clear breakdown of different types of actions during a conflict, including some new ones like Recover (letting you take an action to remove a damage condition), and modified actions like Grab, the new-and-improved version of grappling.

8. Conflict

The game's combat rules are generally cleaned-up. Modifications include the addition of maneuvers like All-out Attack, Defensive Attack, and so forth; different ways of performing actions that affect how the checks for that action are rolled. There are also additional options for critical hits beyond increased effect, including adding an additional effect onto the attack--such as a critical hit that blinds or stuns in addition to doing damage--or even having an alternate effect.

9. Circumstance Modifiers

The vast majority of situational modifiers in the game have been consolidated into a simple scheme of +2 for an advantage (+5 for a major advantage) and -2 for a disadvantage (-5 for a major one). Various conditions, effects, maneuvers, and so forth reference these circumstance modifiers and they provide a quick guideline for applying modifiers to any situation. Circumstance modifiers (being situational) do not count towards power level; anyone can partake of them, depending on the circumstances.

10. Rank & Measure

Lastly, DC Adventures uses a consolidated table for converting game ranks into real-world measurements of things like distance, time, mass, and so forth. This applies some consistency across the board in terms of how abilities and effects work, and allows for quick in-game calculations like the distance a character can cover with a particular movement effect rank (since speed + time = distance).

The Rank & Measure table is broadly used throughout the game, bringing many game systems under the same set of guidelines.

There's much more: addressing things like specific power effects, modifiers, actions like grabbing, and so forth, all designed to make things clearer, most consistent, and easier to use. We'll take a look at further examples and get a look at the game system in action in an upcoming design journal. Stay tuned!

All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2010. All rights reserved.

DC ADVENTURES Design Journal #4

"In Brightest Day..."

Last week, we revealed which DC heroes and villains will be detailed in the DC Adventures Hero's Handbook. This week, we take a look at a complete character sheet for one of those heroes, the Emerald Gladiator, the Green Lantern!


Green Lantern                            PL14

Abilities
Strength 2Fighting 5
Stamina 2Intellect 1
Agility 2Awareness 3
Dexterity 3Presence 3


Powers

Power Ring: 124 points, Removable (-24 points) • 100 points

AI and Database: Features 2 • 2 points

Communication: Senses 1 (Communication Link to Central Power Battery) • 1 point

Flight: Flight 14 (32,000 MPH), Movement 4 (Environmental Adaptation: Zero-G, Space Travel 3) • 36 points

Force Field: Protection 12, Impervious 12; Immunity 9 (Life Support) • 33 points

Force Manipulation: 36-point Array

Force Blast: Ranged Damage 18 • 36 points

AE: Force Constructs: Create 18 • 1 point

AE: Lifting: Move Object 18 • 1 point

Scanning Beam: Senses 6 (Analytical Auditory, Chemical, and Visual) • 6 points

Universal Translator: Comprehend Languages 4 • 8 points

Advantages

Fearless, Teamwork, Ultimate Will

Skills

Athletics 4 (+6), Close Combat: Unarmed 3 (+8), Deception 4 (+7), Expertise: Law Enforcement 8 (+9), Expertise: Military 8 (+9), Insight 8 (+11), Investigation 4 (+5), Perception 4 (+7), Persuasion 4 (+7), Ranged Combat: Power Ring 7 (+10), Vehicles 12 (+15)

Offense

Initiative +2

Power Ring +10, Ranged, Damage 18

Unarmed +8, Close, Damage 2

Defense

Dodge 12

Parry 10

Toughness 14/2*

Fortitude 10

Will 18

*Without Power Ring Protection.

Power Points

Abilities 42

Powers 100

Advantages 3

Skills 33

Defenses 38

Total 216

Complications

Guilt: Hal feels at least partially responsible for the terrible acts of Parallax while the fear entity controlled him.

Power Loss: The power ring needs periodic recharging and issues a warning as its power runs low.

Reputation: Hal Jordan is a maverick in nearly all aspects of his life and known for having issues with authority. He is also both famous and infamous as Green Lantern.

Weakness: Green Lantern power rings depend on the willpower of the wearer; the maximum rank of the ring's effects is equal to the wearer's Will rank, and moments of self-doubt or hesitation can cause the ring to fail.

Green Lantern Power Ring

Green Lantern wields one of the most powerful weapons in the universe: a power ring created by the Guardians of the Universe to tap into the green light of willpower, gathered and focused through the Central Power Battery on the planet Oa, headquarters of the Green Lantern Corps.

A power ring protects its wearer from harm automatically (its Force Field power) and a Green Lantern on the defensive can use Force Constructs to Create powerful barriers. The ring is equipped with an artificial intelligence (AI) allowing it to answer questions for its wielder from a knowledge base on Oa. (The GM largely gets to determine what information the ring can provide.) Power rings are programmed to seek out a suitable new wielder if their current wearer dies.

The wielder's will and imagination are the only real limits on a power ring; a wide range of power stunts is possible using the ring's effects, particularly its Force Manipulation Array and Scanning Beam (for exotic senses or scans). A power ring's Force Manipulation Array is limited to ranks no greater than the wearer's Will rank.

All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2010. All rights reserved.

Making the Grade

One of the things we knew the DC Adventures Hero's Handbook would include was a selection of DC characters, both heroes and villains, to get players started and to provide gamemasters with some resources and examples. The big question was: which heroes and villains? It was a process of putting together a list of the best characters we could fit into a limited amount of space, given we had room for basically fourteen hero write-ups and the same number of villains.

The Brave & the Bold

We started with the heroes. The no-brainer was to include the "Magnificent Seven," the founding members of the Justice League: Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman. That was half of our heroes right there.

We decided to go with the most iconic versions of the characters. That meant a beardless Aquaman (with both of his original hands), Barry Allen as the Flash and Hal Jordan as Green Lantern (although other Flashes and Green Lanterns show up in Heroes & Villains, Vol. I).

We considered the other seven heroes. Should we try and round things out with some Teen Titans or Outsiders? It would be tight and wouldn't leave much room for anyone else. No, this really had to be the A-list, the most iconic and well-known DC heroes, who also provided a good mix of character types and examples.

Green Arrow is both a major comic book archetype and core member of the JLA, so he was in. That made Black Canary a natural addition, providing some additional "girl power" as well as another unarmed fighter to match with Batman. We did get one teen hero with Robin, since we could hardly have Batman without his famous sidekick. Although Dick Grayson has the longest history as Robin, we decided Tim Drake was the most "iconic" of the Robins these days. Dick Grayson makes it in there as Nightwing, bringing us up to eleven heroes.

The rest were rounding out some niches: Plastic Man made it in as a great example of a shapeshifting hero. Captain Marvel provides some comparison and contrast with Superman, Wonder Woman, and the other physically powerful heroes, as well as a look at handling a hero with a secret identity who is a whole different person! Lastly, we wanted a magical hero. Dr. Fate was one of the contenders, naturally, but we ultimately decided to go with Zatanna because she: 1) Had a less involved history than Dr. Fate; 2) Was not as cosmically powerful, but still very capable; 3) Fit into the largely Justice League group of heroes better, and; 4) Added another woman to the roster.

Speaking of power, one thing we wanted the sample heroes in the Hero's Handbook to do was provide benchmarks for players, gamemasters, and designers of the game, so they could look at, say, Superman's Strength or Batman's Investigation skill and use them to gauge where their own characters should fall on the scale. So the first thing we did was come up with power levels for all of the heroes in the book:

Aquaman (12), Batman (12), Black Canary (10), Captain Marvel (15), Flash (12), Green Arrow (10), Green Lantern (14), Martian Manhunter (14), Nightwing (10), Plastic Man (11), Robin (8), Superman (15), Wonder Woman (15), and Zatanna (11)

You might immediately think that DC's "trinity" of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman should all be power level 20, the very top of the scale, right? After all, they are the world's greatest heroes. So why are they "only" power levels 12, 15, and 15 (respectively) and why is Batman, of all people, a lower power level than the other two?

A lot of it is in understanding what power level is and what it's used for. All power level does is provide a guideline for players to follow in creating and improving their DC Adventures heroes, and it gives an idea of the kind of capabilities, particularly combat capabilities, you can expect from a character. On the other hand, consider the power point totals for the "trinity": They're all within just 4 points of each other, and all of them at values close to the recommended starting points for power level 19!

Thus, many of the characters in DC Adventures have broader and "deeper" capabilities than their mere power level may indicate. For all his amazing abilities, Batman is still a mortal, without superhuman powers. It's impressive that his power level is as close as it is to two of the mightiest beings on Earth!

Villainy Unleashed

With the heroes set, it was time to bring on the bad guys. We wanted to have a good cross-section, along with major archenemies for most of the heroes. That gave us an immediate "must have" list: Lex Luthor, the Joker, Cheetah, Sinestro, Black Adam, and Black Manta. We also wanted perhaps the DC Universe's biggest villain, Darkseid, as a given. That still left seven spots to fill and, admittedly, we looked to the foes of DC's trinity (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) for some of them. We added Brainiac, Catwoman, and Circe to the list.

Gorilla Grodd won a spot for several reasons, he: 1) is a Flash villain (and perhaps the most unusual one); 2) has mental powers, which we hadn't touched on, and; 3) is a gorilla, and it's hard to deny the appeal of a gorilla.

Our remaining three villains were more general characters to round out the list: Vandal Savage (a villain who has fought just about everyone in the DCU at some point), Solomon Grundy (for sheer brute-force power), and Prometheus, one of the higher power level foes (able to take on the whole Justice League), made even more suitable (and villainous) by his role in Justice League: Cry for Justice.

How high power level, you ask? It came out looking like this:

Black Adam (16), Black Manta (10), Brainiac (13), Catwoman (10), Cheetah (12), Circe (14), Darkseid (16), Gorilla Grodd (12), The Joker (11), Lex Luthor (14), Prometheus (14), Sinestro (14), Solomon Grundy (14), Vandal Savage (13).

Darkseid and Black Adam tied for highest power level characters in the book, although Darkseid wins out in terms of point total (weighing-in at about 30 power points more than Black Adam).

Now that you know all the characters profiles in the Hero's Handbook, next up we'll give you a more detailed look at one of them. Which one? Check back with us next week...

All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2010. All rights reserved.

DC ADVENTURES Design Journal #2

The New Issue Number One

One of the goals with DC ADVENTURES was to present it as a complete RPG; DC wanted "a game" not a sourcebook for an existing game. On the other hand, it was the strength of the Mutants & Masterminds system and the production values of its products that attracted DC in the first place, so it had to be a game strongly rooted in what we'd already done. For us, the path to a new edition of the M&M rules seemed clear.

We could have simply repackaged the second edition of M&M with DC art, examples, and sample characters, but if we were going to produce a new, stand-alone game product anyway, why not take this opportunity to tune-up and spruce-up M&M? It was time: the second edition is five years old and, while it has been solid, there are things we've wanted to fix, either known issues with the rules (like ... sigh ... grappling) or ways in which we could streamline and simplify. We also had the benefit of years of supplementary material and insight, particularly Ultimate Power, to work with.

Another key reason for putting a new iteration of M&M in DC ADVENTURES was the change in the d20 System market. M&M Second Edition had long since established its independence from its Open Game License "ancestor" so why not go the rest of the way towards making it a truly independent system? That involved looking closely at what really worked in the game, and what was merely a holdover from the System Resource Document(s), whether it was terminology (*cough*feats*cough*) or mechanics (ability scores vs. ability modifiers; the scores didn't actually do much of anything).

One of the advantages of Open Content is also that it evolves and develops, and those developments are shared. So M&M could benefit from improvements in system design in our products as well as throughout the Open Game Content "infosphere".

We also knew that it was important to hold on to what made M&M such a success, the elements of the game that worked, and to make it possible to use our extensive library of M&M 2e material with the new edition with a minimum of conversion and tinkering. That's why we absolutely did not mess with things like the game's core mechanic (of d20 roll + traits vs. difficulty class) or popular elements like the damage system, hero points, or power levels (and their associated trade-offs and customization). You'll still find all of those in the game, although some of the terminology might be slightly different and some of the resolution a bit more streamlined.

Speaking of compatibility, the decision to tune-up the M&M system as the engine for DC ADVENTURES led directly to the decision to also produce a new, separate edition of Mutants & Masterminds. We wanted the two games to be 100% compatible, and for core M&M to benefit from the work we were doing on DC. So by this Fall, players will have the option of choosing from the DC ADVENTURES Hero's Handbook (with its full-color hardcover production values and DC Universe information) or the Mutants & Masterminds Hero's Handbook, a softcover just-the-rules approach to the game, both with the same game system content for playing and running the game. Further M&M material will be compatible and usable with DC ADVENTURES source material, giving you two game lines in one!



All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2010. All rights reserved.

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