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Complexity of character write ups from 4th to 6th editions


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Why did character and villain write-ups get so much longer from 4th to 6 th...and can they be simplified without much trouble?

I started with 1st edition, actually, but I noticed that in 6th edition rulebooks and supplements, villain and other write-ups can take up two or three pages, whereas in the Olympians book, even Zeus (1100 points) can be explained on a single page?  Is the amount of detail necessary?  Can 6th edition characters be written up without that much detail?  

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I would like to know why the more detailed write ups were done, what was the thinking behind it?

 

Partly, its more points to work with.  Partly, its more options and details to builds.  And partly its designers trying to be more specific and exact in how the powers work, so that there's less wiggle room and guesswork.  How does this apply in this situation?

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42 minutes ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

 

Partly, its more points to work with.  Partly, its more options and details to builds.  And partly its designers trying to be more specific and exact in how the powers work, so that there's less wiggle room and guesswork.  How does this apply in this situation?

That and I believe the writer’s guidelines too. If you look at say a Multipower each slot will repeat all the same limitations. (I have a buddy that complains about that). I’ll note that in HSMA, Surbrook will list extra slots modifiers as “same as listed”. It cuts down on space.

 

Certain things have gotten more complex in 6th. Hand Attack, Indirect and Trigger are three that come to mind.

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Sometimes I like a longer write-up. It's not always clear what the SFX of the power is supposed to be. It's not always clear of a Blast is supposed to be against PD or if it's ED. Sometimes it isn't clear what item the OAF is supposed to be.

 

There were a lot of those kinds of blanks spots in published characters in previous versions.

 

I can always just make up something if I don't know. But to me, the whole point of using a published character is that I don't have to make up something. :) 

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My favorite example of character write-up bloat is Mechanon. None of the GMs I played with back in the day ('80s and '90s) ever had a problem running villains as written up in editions 1-4 of the game. Perhaps this perceived need to spell out every little possible detail is an indicator of how the player base has changed since guys like Steve Peterson and Rob Bell left custodianship of the game in the hands of others.

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That and I believe the writer’s guidelines too. If you look at say a Multipower each slot will repeat all the same limitations

 

Yeah I leave out all modifier values in character write ups because I figure people either know them or can work them out.  This is mostly a space saver, but it also makes the writeup cleaner and feel less jargony and intimidating.

 

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Sometimes I like a longer write-up. It's not always clear what the SFX of the power is supposed to be.

 

This I agree with.  1st and 2nd edition writeups were so sparse you couldn't even tell what they were.  Ankylosaur's writeup in Enemies was confusing: what exactly were his powers, how did they work?  Turns out he has a grenade launcher in his tail but you couldn't tell from the write up.

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2 hours ago, zslane said:

My favorite example of character write-up bloat is Mechanon. None of the GMs I played with back in the day ('80s and '90s) ever had a problem running villains as written up in editions 1-4 of the game. Perhaps this perceived need to spell out every little possible detail is an indicator of how the player base has changed since guys like Steve Peterson and Rob Bell left custodianship of the game in the hands of others.

I wouldn’t say Mechannon is a good example for this. Solely because he is supposed to be a Master Villain and to be able to take on several powerful heroes at the same time. And the Heroes themselves have gotten more powerful too. In Fifth, starting characters went up from 250 to 350 points. 
 

Now that’s not to say that there isn’t rule bloat though. I think Laser got a little more complicated that needed to be.

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Mechanon is a good example in that he went from consuming 3/4 of a page in 1st and 2nd edition to several pages in 6th edition. He was always intended to be an Ultron clone, even in 1st edition, but in my experience it was never remotely necessary to define and describe him with the degree of bloat found in 6e.

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In the early 4th edition time period, I would imagine most of the updated characters were from 1st-3rd edition Enemies books, which were themselves pretty simple owing to fewer rules, fewer skills, etc.  Some characters like Mechanon were already pretty complex from the beginning.  4th edition also started with 100 points base + 150 Disadvantages, which 5th edition changed to 200 points base + 150 Disadvantages.  More points meant more stuff and more complex builds.

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He's right, though, both him and Dr Destroyer became books when they didn't need to be that complicated and written up.  Dr Destroyer is a great scientist, just give him the basic branches of science at a high level and then assume he's also good at molecular and experimental and all the other versions of each.  Give him x points of followers, not x points each of a-z different types.  Its not really that necessary to give each and every single possible ability on paper to bad guys, especially mega villains.  He's got a lot of followers and bases, good enough.

 

I mean seriously as a GM if the bad guy doesn't have enough points to buy that base do you just say "well shoot I guess he doesn't get it!" or just give him the base anyway?

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1 minute ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

if the bad guy doesn't have enough points to buy that base do you just say "well shoot I guess he doesn't get it!" or just give him the base anyway?

 

I will quote a very old post from the Red October BBS: Silly wabbit, points are for players!

 

Nobody is going to care if you "pay" for that villain lair with a Villain Bonus representing villain XP or if you don't even bother with that unnecessary formality.

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1 hour ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

He's right, though, both him and Dr Destroyer became books when they didn't need to be that complicated and written up.  Dr Destroyer is a great scientist, just give him the basic branches of science at a high level and then assume he's also good at molecular and experimental and all the other versions of each.  Give him x points of followers, not x points each of a-z different types.  Its not really that necessary to give each and every single possible ability on paper to bad guys, especially mega villains.  He's got a lot of followers and bases, good enough.

 

I mean seriously as a GM if the bad guy doesn't have enough points to buy that base do you just say "well shoot I guess he doesn't get it!" or just give him the base anyway?

 

Another thing I notice about Mechanon (for example) is that he has several multipower slots where he buys a big attack, then the next slot is that same attack at fewer dice but 0End.  Dr. Destroyer does the same thing.
I can totally understand how these are useful, but are they useful enough to actually keep track of?  If he really needs all these options, you could still cut about half his multipower out by giving him Blast, variable advantage.

Once again, these are examples from a Master villain, but I think it's a thing

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19 hours ago, Jhamin said:

 

Another thing I notice about Mechanon (for example) is that he has several multipower slots where he buys a big attack, then the next slot is that same attack at fewer dice but 0End.  Dr. Destroyer does the same thing.
I can totally understand how these are useful, but are they useful enough to actually keep track of?  If he really needs all these options, you could still cut about half his multipower out by giving him Blast, variable advantage.

Once again, these are examples from a Master villain, but I think it's a thing

 

Variable +1/2 advantage becomes a +1 advantage, or +3/4 advantage for limited options.  That impacts the active points, and also the END cost in itself.  And even then, you'd probably want to define what the options are.  Also, if there's charges involved, this really doesn't work the same.

 

One thing I've noticed is that Variable Advantage and Variable Special Effects are markers to consider a VPP instead.  If it's on MP powers, it's a BIG marker.  They're raising the AP ceiling for that MP.  Additional damage from other sources have to take them into account, by the rules too...and for the hypothetical +1/2 variable advantage, it's on the full +1.  So say you have a 40 STR, and +2d6 HA with a +1/2 variable advantage.  It's always a 6d6 attack with a baseline cost of 2 END, plus whatever for the STR, rather than, in slots or a VPP, buying it as a 2d6 HA double KB.  The HA would be 1 END;  the net damage would be 7d6.

 

I will grant:  I may be wrong in those interpretations.  However, the END cost increase is still there, and the AP cost increase.

 

Plus, you could never do 10d6 because you can't turn the advantage off.  In a VPP, you can...by building the VPP power without any.  Obviously this is presuming a VPP that can be changed reasonably quickly.

 

BUT if you do that with a master villain, you'll also get GMs who'll try to slice and dice and make even MORE complex...and sometimes extremely abusive...powers, and do so without any guidelines.  The 5 page writeup is largely there no matter what;  the major difference is whether it's written descriptively in text, or spelled out on the sheet.  I go back to 1st Ed AD&D;  one of the complaints was that there was no guidance for anything, and thus things ran off the rails too easily.

 

I often spend a fair bit of time reformatting the text output from HD too.  It's far too wordy, but different users have different requirements.  Their baseline is to be verbose because overall it's easier to trim verbose than to pad lean, IMO.

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42 minutes ago, unclevlad said:

I will grant:  I may be wrong in those interpretations.  However, the END cost increase is still there, and the AP cost increase.

 

Your arguments make sense for a PC that has to balance his points and keep within campaign limits.  Mechanon is an uber-villain who gets to ignore all that.

Mechanon's got a zillion powers now and as an uber villain his point totals and active point limits and END totals are ridiculous anyway.

 

Built in weapons multipower: 150 active points

1) Pulson Beam Array: 15d6Blast variable advantage +1/2 (+1)

2) Disintigrator Array: 5d6 RKA, variable advantage +1/2 (+1)

 

This does leave him without his 22d6 main blast, but you could replace that with a 3rd slot if you wanted.  Otherwise, this gives him 90% of what he can do now with his main multipower and actually increases his flexibility while making his sheet a lot easier to read.

 

I'm not arguing this is how he should have been written. I'm not sure Mechanon needs an affects desolid Pulson Beam or a Megascale Disintegrator beam.  I am arguing that at some point his three offensive multipowers with a bunch of slightly different slots crosses over from a lot of utility into "too much to keep track of".  I miss 4th edition Mechanon that could still take on a whole PC team but whose writup fit on half a page.

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You're correct that with a mega villain writeup, you can absolutely adjust the numbers and no one's gonna care.  But you would need to do so.

 

Also, there's some unstated goals I see in the design (I'm looking at the Villains V1: Master Villains version):

1.  He's +4 with his primary weapons array.  

2.  3 weapons MPs allows taking out one of them to afford a sense of accomplishment but not crippling TOO much.

3.  Enforce the notion that he's highly modular.

 

But that's an argument for multiple frameworks.  (BTW, I count 4....primary array, secondary array, missile/rocket array, bio-dissipator ray.)  The primary array screams VPP, and it could be shortened greatly.  Some of that is the writers' guidelines, tho, as is the long-winded Cyberkinetic section.

 

I'd also bet a lot more is just carryover.  His defenses...why not buy 0 PD, 0 ED, then Resistant Protection (or Armor, for 5E) with Hardened and Impenetrable?  Probably because before 6E it was the norm overall to buy it this way, even if it's longer and more complex.  

Another issue is the desire to name EVERY attack or attack variant.  

 

But at least a half-page of the 2 page writeup is from Writer's Guidelines restrictions, and the textual redundancies they demand.

 

And as to why some of those crazy special attacks?

Because of the writeup.  Any time you beat Mechanon, he rebuilds himself and corrects for the inadequacies that led to his past defeat.  If it *was* needed before, it'll be there now and forevermore.  So Mechanon is never going to get any LESS complex.

 

 

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2 hours ago, unclevlad said:

  3 weapons MPs allows taking out one of them to afford a sense of accomplishment but not crippling TOO much.

 

There is no mechanical way to do that other than the usual Dispels and when you have as many active points & as much power defense as he does I'm not sure it's a realistic way of dealing with him.  If anything, the multiple attack multipowers make it *less* viable to deal with him this way.  You are better off going after his Stats.

 

I do agree that the duplication of modifiers over and over add a lot to the "chatter" on his writeup, but on the other hand I don't want to return to the days of power writeups that you have to interpret.  (Why does Anklasaur have a RKA Explosion?  Oh, his tail launches grenades!)  There is probably a middle ground that would balance the two.

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The succession of Mechanon write-ups from one edition of the game to the next feels to me like Second System Syndrome over and over again, as if each version after the first was a new "even better version" that learned all the wrong lessons from the limitations of the version preceding it.

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7 hours ago, Jhamin said:

 

Your arguments make sense for a PC that has to balance his points and keep within campaign limits.  Mechanon is an uber-villain who gets to ignore all that.

Mechanon's got a zillion powers now and as an uber villain his point totals and active point limits and END totals are ridiculous anyway.

 

Built in weapons multipower: 150 active points

1) Pulson Beam Array: 15d6Blast variable advantage +1/2 (+1)

2) Disintigrator Array: 5d6 RKA, variable advantage +1/2 (+1)

 

This does leave him without his 22d6 main blast, but you could replace that with a 3rd slot if you wanted.  Otherwise, this gives him 90% of what he can do now with his main multipower and actually increases his flexibility while making his sheet a lot easier to read.

 

I'm not arguing this is how he should have been written. I'm not sure Mechanon needs an affects desolid Pulson Beam or a Megascale Disintegrator beam.  I am arguing that at some point his three offensive multipowers with a bunch of slightly different slots crosses over from a lot of utility into "too much to keep track of".  I miss 4th edition Mechanon that could still take on a whole PC team but whose writup fit on half a page.

 

The main argument which I'd have against writing it up that way is that when I'm in the middle of running combat, I've already got a lot of things to think about and keep track of.

 

Honestly, I can no longer remember the entire list of advantages he could get with his variable advantage when I'm in the middle of doing something else, much less pick the most effective advantage for any particular situation.

 

So at the least, I'd have to write up a list of all the advantages he could possibly pick and keep that sheet with his character sheet. And probably have to stop combat on each of his phases to at least glance at the list of advantages to see if I'm missing something that I should have been able to remember.

 

I have a similar problem with VPP's which don't have a pretty comprehensive list of the character's commonly-used configurations.

 

I'd have to spend time trying out a large number of things which could be built using the character's VPP. Winnow those down to the best ideas. Then I have to write them all up on additional sheets and keep them with the character sheet.

 

I understand that VPP's might more accurately fit a character's concept AND that it might make the printed write-up a lot shorter. But it creates a hell of a lot of additional work for me and makes me have to keep track of additional physical pieces of paper.

 

I'd much rather have a lengthy multipower, lengthy EC, or lengthy list of equipment in the printed write-up than to have to spend a lot of my own time building the character then have to deal with the other crap of keeping up with additional physical pieces of paper of the homemade write-up which would be needed to make the character actually playable.

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The main argument which I'd have against writing it up that way is that when I'm in the middle of running combat, I've already got a lot of things to think about and keep track of

 

Just as a GM tip, when I am going to run a combat with someone complicated, I work out a strategy in advance: he does this, then this she responds to that with this power, etc. That way I have a playlist to work from instead of trying to work it up on the fly.  As a player I can wing it because I have not just time between each phase to consider my actions, but only have to worry about one character.  When I'm GM I don't have down time to work on the next cool thing to do but usually am running like 5 characters at once.

 

Obviously it never, ever works out the way I planned, but at least I have a head start and with experience I've gotten pretty good at working out basic likely shifts or events in combat that I can set up a reaction to.

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On 1/19/2021 at 6:22 PM, Kevinvt said:

Why did character and villain write-ups get so much longer from 4th to 6 th...and can they be simplified without much trouble?

I started with 1st edition, actually, but I noticed that in 6th edition rulebooks and supplements, villain and other write-ups can take up two or three pages, whereas in the Olympians book, even Zeus (1100 points) can be explained on a single page?  Is the amount of detail necessary?  Can 6th edition characters be written up without that much detail?  

Answers to questions used to be shorter too.

 

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