Thursday, January 17, 2013

Levels of Power

In The Hat brought me a big ole' stack of RPG manuals this week.  I got Nobilis, Wraith, Aberrant, and In Nomine, none of which I had experience with before.  I like the immense range of superhero oriented RPGs I have on my shelf now.  It starts with the fairly mundane Heroes Unlimited where you get to play a superhero with a cool power or three but who is likely terrified of a random mook with an AK 47.  It proceeds through Aberrant where the average character can defeat a swarm of bad guys with guns or perhaps even smash a bunch of tanks to Nobilis which has the most outrageous listing of effects I have ever seen.

Jump over a mountain?  Easy.
Smash a mountain with your fists?  Pretty hard.
Hide a mountain in your shirt?  Possible, but extremely difficult!

Wait, I can be powerful enough to hide a mountain in my shirt, you say?  Sign me up!  The trick with insane powers in games is to make the game robust enough to handle it and to give everybody crazy powers.  Vampire feels a lot like that even though the power level is somewhat lower because you can be totally broken at any number of things and virtually any concept can be awesome at something really relevant.  The trouble with high powered mechanics is when they

1.  Only let a few people be powerful.  DnD is the classic example where wizards get to be cosmos defining, plane shifting, teleporting, invulnerable world destroyers and fighters get to hit people with swords.  Hard, you know, they hit HARD with swords.

2.  Don't build the world around dealing with those mechanics.  Whether you are playing Nobilis or Amber for your ULTIMATE POWER fix you know that there are lots of people out there who can kick your ass if they want to.  Even though regular mooks are irrelevant there are plenty of good challenges to be had.  Again DnD fails because it tries to transition from a setting where three dudes with swords are scary to one where you fight the gods and that sort of switch is ultimately very clunky.

I feel like this is a good reason to keep Heroes By Trade firmly grounded in the low power universe.  Doing a high power game can certainly work with the right mechanics but trying to hybridize a game between mundane and high power styles is a recipe for being bad at both.

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