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DJWebb2

Legalities in a superhero battle

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So one of my players (the brick) punched a normal undercover VIPER agent in my game on Saturday. The agent had little to no DEF because she was undercover. In HIS defense, he is a brand new character as in new to his powers, the idea of being a superhero, etc. His group is/was loosely affiliated with PRIMUS and they currently have the character in custody. 

 

So how do I get him out of it, or do I just tell him his character is incarcerated and he needs to make up another character?

 

Any advice is welcome.

 

DW

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How did he know she was an undercover viper agent and why did he punch her?

 

if she was a clear and present danger to others shooting at civilians or had a bomb he would be justified in using lethal force.

 

If she was just attacking him then his self defense claim might need to be litigated due to him using lethal force against a target that could not harm him.

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Hmm. This, obviously is not a rules question. It depends on your campaign tone and style.

 

If the person is quasi-police with quasi-police powers and the suspect was acting in a suspicious way and it is not Iron Age then I think that the hero might walk after a stern talking to about careful use of powers.

 

In my game (far more four colour), if I had not fudged the result to have the victim look far more damaged than he was, I would find someone to heal the victim and chat with the player about how to play it out. It might be fun to have an internal investigator who dogs the hero's footsteps for a while, sniffing round secrets and other stuff. That would be like an imposed watched or hunted complication. If the player wanted it dropped, I would be looking for in-game reasons for that to happen, or how he persuades the judge (or equivalent) that he can be trusted on the streets again.

 

In extremis, rewind the campaign, retro-actively change what happened at that point. Tell the player you don't do this often but understand it is not something the character would do and so, once, you are willing to make this adjustment.

 

Doc

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Thanks for your input - both of you.

 

To answer your questions freakboy:

 

party Telepath read her mind as the VIPER car was pulling up. They jumped out of the car brandishing pulse pistols and did not fire, but were trying to go after an NPC the team was protecting. The brick grew in size and proceeded to smack the leader of the VIPER group. It was pretty much a one-hit fight as he PRE attacked the rest of the group into giving up.

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I'd be careful penalizing characters in a game too much with the law.  I understand the desire to make things more "realistic" and get away from the "superman flies Lex Luthor into the exercise yard of the state Pen and he stays there" silliness of silver age, but you can go too far the other way, and I think its easier to damage the campaign in that direction.

 

What's fun, what maintains the genre feel, and what works for your campaign?  Do you want a game where players are very cautious to even take heroic action to save people from fear of legal repercussions and lawsuits?  Do you want a campaign where the law winks at superheroes, out of an understanding of heroism and trying to help?  Do you want vigilantes or front page news heroes?

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If the brick is throwing around enough damage to flat kill even a normal human - let alone a Viper agent, who tend to have more body in a single hit (even factoring hitting a  really solid object 0 meters away with knockback) then as GM I would suggest removing the OCV penalty for pulling a punch (the book even suggests as much for superhero games) and encouraging your players to use it

 

It doesn't affect the stun damage done, just body (and knockback), so unless you're going all out against a robot that takes no stun, breaking something, or are hoping for extra distance (and/or damage for hitting an object) from knockback there's little reason to not pull your punch as a hero (until you're sure your foe can take it).

 

In this particular case, especially with a new player, I would either mulligan the fight or ret-con (this is comics, after  all) that the agent was actually wearing an experimental force field generator that did *just enough* to put them in a coma instead of kill them, or an experimental healing serum (Someone coming in to see the hero in jail saying 'Looks like it's  your lucky day - they escaped. Our agents thing they had some sort of healing tech: it put them some sort of healing hiberation that even fooled our doctors and when it came time to do the autopsy they were gone.  Now, let's talk about proportionate response for a second before you go after them....")

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It's a genre question, really.

 

In a "real world" sense (forgetting about superpowers for a minute), VIPER is a known terrorist organization.  If this guy has any kind of authority to use his powers in a public way, he should be a-okay.  Imagine if a carload of Al Quaeda guys pulled up holding machine guns.  Do you think a cop would be in trouble if he shot them?  I can't imagine a situation where he would.  You'd have to really contrive a strange set of circumstances to say that the hero had broken any law.  As long as he has some sort of legal authority to use force (i.e., use of superpowers isn't illegal in your world), then he's justified in using it here.  Heroes receive information that the civilians pulling up to the scene are actually terrorists.  Terrorists pull guns.  Hero smashes terrorist leader.  I don't see a problem, legally.

 

The problem is that it may be against genre for a true blue hero to squash a pathetic normal, even if the normal is a bad guy.  We don't want to see Superman hospitalize Lex Luthor's goons.  It isn't in genre for him.  He follows a moral code beyond what the law requires.

 

In a Golden Age campaign (1940s era), being a villain was a dangerous occupation,  A lot of mad scientists fell to their deaths, or had their machines explode when the heroes smashed them, or died in some other violent way.  A henchman had no guarantee of safety.  A mob thug could expect to wind up in the hospital, or worse.  In that sense, I don't think the hero was that out of line, except for the fact that he hit a woman (she can fall to her death, but the hero shouldn't shatter her jaw).  Good behavior in this time frame is acting like Indiana Jones.

 

In a Silver Age campaign (1960s - early 70s), he probably would have grabbed her and she would have fainted.  No Body would have been inflicted.  In the Silver Age, this wouldn't be an issue because the genre rules probably prevent anyone from being injured too badly to begin with.  Good behavior here is acting like the Adam West Batman.

 

The Bronze Age (mid 70s through maybe early 90s) is the only time I can see this coming up.  In that era, accidental death was a more common occurrence, and the hero should feel a lot of guilt over what happened.  Heroes now have the power to seriously injure or kill people (they aren't prevented from it by the cosmic forces of the Comic Code Authority), but they haven't quite reached...

 

The Iron Age (early 90s to present).  In this period, many heroes have a higher kill count than Arnold Schwarzenegger.  "Heroes" have ripped people's heads off and talked about it on national TV.  Issues of morality and the law give way to the pleasure of hyper-violence.  Good behavior here is acting like Jason Voorhees, as long as you only target bad guys (or people the author disagrees with politically).

 

 

 

The only type of game I see this being an issue in is a Bronze Age campaign.  Even then, I don't think he acted illegally.  The character should probably be very remorseful, but it's because of his strong moral code, not because he's in danger with the law.  

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So one of my players (the brick) punched a normal undercover VIPER agent in my game on Saturday. The agent had little to no DEF because she was undercover. In HIS defense, he is a brand new character as in new to his powers, the idea of being a superhero, etc. His group is/was loosely affiliated with PRIMUS and they currently have the character in custody. 

 

So how do I get him out of it, or do I just tell him his character is incarcerated and he needs to make up another character?

 

Any advice is welcome.

 

DW

 

VIPER. like any major criminal organization, will have Lawyers ready to bail out it's agents.  He might have to leave the jurisdiction for a while, which will be a good plot point.

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The average person on the street has 8 BODY and 2 PD.  If the brick is throwing a 12d6 punch, an average roll would put that normal at -2 BODY, and dying.  Knockback on average might do another 3 BODY to them, putting them at -5.  Assuming you're using Champions style "bleeding" rules, they lose 1 BODY per Turn.  You've more than likely got at least three Turns to stabilize them.  

 

Assuming a VIPER agent is slightly tougher than a normal... if they have 13 BODY and let's say 5 normal PD, that 12d6 punch is most likely going to take them to 5 BODY, more or less, and an average roll for Knockback (10m, doing 5d6) would most likely completely bounce the BODY taken.  Nowhere near dying.  I'm quite sure VIPER has some additional defenses they can provide to undercover agents that are better than nothing (hint, hint).  

 

I guess the questions are:  

  • What kind of damage is the brick throwing around? 
  • What were the VIPER agent's BODY and PD?  

If this is a new player as well, not just a new character, I'd likely retcon it so that the agent survives (another 3 PD from that concealed light body armor might just do the trick, hint hint).  Maybe battered, possibly requiring a hospital visit, but VIPER agents aren't supposed to be as fragile as spun glass.  

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For me I handwave it.  If a Super hits a mook, unless there is a specific reason they want that mook dead (extremely rare in a supers campaign)  I just downgrade the damage.  Dead to critical condition, etc. 

 

If it is Golden Age/Pulp then killing off a bad guy is not a big deal.  Later comic tones can be adjusted for easy enough. 

 

The game is about Super Hero fun and we get enough real stuff in the daily news.  The rules as written are guides so that fun is run in a manner that is fair. 

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So a car load of terrorist determined to take over the world pull up, and exit a car brandishing strange weapons. Before the heroes can find out how much these weapons can hurt one of them punches the leader of the terrorists and knocks her out. He does however punch so hard she needs to worry about internal wounds causeing death. Legally he gets a medal. Gamewise as others have said it depends on game tone. A four color game espically if he has a cvk he spends the next few games getting a lecture about using superpowers against normal and feeling bad. A more iron age game or one where no one has a cvk, they go to a bar, have a drink, and laugh at how good a hit it was.

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He could be charged with involuntary manslaughter in court which would be months away from an actual trial and his lawyer could present a defense of self-defense on behalf of another. It depends on how your state self defense laws are written.

If he or the team are locally popular the District Atty.'s office may plea bargain it to some form of Probation (a new Watched) and community service working with the State Police.

I watch a LOT of Law & Order.

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Couple of things here.

 

Most importantly, whatever the campaign tone, this player is new and didn't understand things fully. So I'd pull strings to make it an object lesson rather than a career finisher. You are allowed to cheat as GM!!!  A perfect opportunity to explore the legal system and establish some campaign ground rules. Maybe pick up a Watched or Hunted and a Public Defender contact. Reputation change is likely. Press attention almost certain.

 

And... maybe the agent was more than she seemed and only appeared to be broken like a child's toy. Or that after months on life support she awakes thirsting for revenge and submits to VIPER's latest supervillain creation scheme. Power armour that offsets her paraplegia is always a good one for a shock reveal if you still need to drive the guilt hammer home  :)

 

Secondly, there's a responsibility on the part of a GM to check player actions if you think they're going to do something their character wouldn't. Does the character have a Code vs Killing, or Honorable or something? You don't need to forbid them from doing something dumb, but a quick "are you sure you want to hit her with your full strength, which is capable of crumpling plate steel and shattering reinforced concrete?" might do.

 

Finally, I don't think you mentioned what actually happened to the VIPER agent? Has the character been held for Assault, Causing Grievous Bodily Harm, Manslaughter or Murder? The telepath that identified the VIPER agent as such might also face charges as an accessory. Who are the witnesses? Are the cops in VIPER's pocket? How trustworthy ARE PRIMUS, anyway? (IMHO, not much!) Was it all a setup all along???

 

However, given that weapons were pulled before the punch happened, there's probably a case for self-defense. Unless the leader herself was unarmed.

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Again, thanks to all who have given input - it is appreciated.

 

To give more specifics about the scene itself:

 

  • 4 undercover VIPER agents pulled up in a generic rented car (nothing special), each had a 8d6 blaster pistol (normal damage) and a single Stun grenade to knock their target out (6d6 NND gas grenade).
  • On phase 12 the Speedster of the PC group runs up and Disarms the leader, taking away her blaster pistol. The brick got to go before the agents (higher DEX) and punched the leader using his full STR (15d6).
  • I told the players that when the agents pulled up they had changed into more casual gear from the evening clothes they first saw them in the previous scene.
  • Still wanting to preserve their cover as "normal" couples I didn't give them too much armor (armored street clothes 3rPD/rED) because they weren't expecting to deal with metas, except for their target - a known telepath. At most they [VIPER] were expecting other agents to oppose them.
  • The VIPER agents had/have 10 BOD 26 STUN and the damage rolled was 17 BOD 55 STUN -> in and of itself, the leader might have survived that, albeit being severely damaged. However...
  • 10 inches of knockback that knocked her into a building, resulting in extra dice of damage which did the agent in.

So...I want to preserve a blend of  4 Color/Realism in the game, but not bring down the hammer (if that makes any sense?). I also want to use this as a teaching device so the player (the brick) knows that he needs to gauge his strength when he tackles normals.

 

Thoughts? Feedback?

 

Dave

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That should have been survivable by the agent (though it's hospital time).  Did you remember to add their normal human 2 PD to the 3rPD (5 total)?

 

17 body rolled = 12 body taken = -2 body.  8 left to death.

 

10 inches of knockback, even if they were standing flush against said wall and took the full 5d6 amount, could not have done 8 body through 5 PD even if you rolled max (10 body on a 5d6 damage roll - 5 = 5.  -7).  If they had to move 2 or 3 inches before they hit the wall (more realistic if they were just getting out of car) they would take 3 or 4d6 instead - no threat at all.   

 

So you're definitely within your rights to say something like 'I forgot to add <x> - they're actually in a hospital.' and have PRIMUS give them the lecture on watching their strength (ONLY if you remove the penalty to Pull a Punch, in my opinion - it's not fair to penalise people for trying to do the right thing).

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That should have been survivable by the agent (though it's hospital time).  Did you remember to add their normal human 2 PD to the 3rPD (5 total)?

 

17 body rolled = 12 body taken = -2 body.  8 left to death.

 

10 inches of knockback, even if they were standing flush against said wall and took the full 5d6 amount, could not have done 8 body through 5 PD even if you rolled max (10 body on a 5d6 damage roll - 5 = 5.  -7).  If they had to move 2 or 3 inches before they hit the wall (more realistic if they were just getting out of car) they would take 3 or 4d6 instead - no threat at all.   

 

So you're definitely within your rights to say something like 'I forgot to add <x> - they're actually in a hospital.' and have PRIMUS give them the lecture on watching their strength (ONLY if you remove the penalty to Pull a Punch, in my opinion - it's not fair to penalise people for trying to do the right thing).

Thanks for the input.

 

DW

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One of the things I remind my players, they are all experienced Champions players, is that 10d6 normal damage is potentially a lethal attack.  In fact in our last Champions game they were deal with super villains and their mooks.  One of the players was about to really smack down an agent and I reminded them the agent is just a highly trained normal with some armor.  They hit them with an average 10d6 roll and the agent went flying into a tree - no body got thru but plenty of stun did.  When it came to the super villains they definitely let them have it - they had run into them before.

 

Also there was a player who used a lethal attack on a super villain - basically a lethal gas type attack.  The player kept up the attack even though it became obvious that she was dying from the attack.  He kept it up until she was almost dead and the other PCs told him to stop.  His excuse was 'She tried to kill me first'.  As the characters are associated with PRIMUS and the fact he had no remorse at all about what he did, PRIMUS let federal prosecutor charge him with attempted manslaughter.  His character is currently serving time in Stronghold.  The player was heading off to college so it was ok.  He was use to playing D&D (hack/slash/steal/look/kill)....

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Getting people coming from various editions of MurderHobo, The RPG to realize that those levels of lethality are unacceptable in most Superheroic Genres is a bit difficult. Even people who've played Hero before slip into bad habits if they've been playing too much D&D, Pathfinder, etc.

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Again, thanks to all who have given input - it is appreciated.

 

To give more specifics about the scene itself:

 

  • 4 undercover VIPER agents pulled up in a generic rented car (nothing special), each had a 8d6 blaster pistol (normal damage) and a single Stun grenade to knock their target out (6d6 NND gas grenade).
  • On phase 12 the Speedster of the PC group runs up and Disarms the leader, taking away her blaster pistol. The brick got to go before the agents (higher DEX) and punched the leader using his full STR (15d6).
  • I told the players that when the agents pulled up they had changed into more casual gear from the evening clothes they first saw them in the previous scene.
  • Still wanting to preserve their cover as "normal" couples I didn't give them too much armor (armored street clothes 3rPD/rED) because they weren't expecting to deal with metas, except for their target - a known telepath. At most they [VIPER] were expecting other agents to oppose them.
  • The VIPER agents had/have 10 BOD 26 STUN and the damage rolled was 17 BOD 55 STUN -> in and of itself, the leader might have survived that, albeit being severely damaged. However...
  • 10 inches of knockback that knocked her into a building, resulting in extra dice of damage which did the agent in.

So...I want to preserve a blend of  4 Color/Realism in the game, but not bring down the hammer (if that makes any sense?). I also want to use this as a teaching device so the player (the brick) knows that he needs to gauge his strength when he tackles normals.

 

Thoughts? Feedback?

 

Dave

 

So you've just got to make a decision on how you want things to work in your campaign.  As you said, you want a blend of 4 color and realism.  What you do next depends on how you want that balance to work.  It is entirely dependent on what you want to do.  That's the good news -- you aren't straitjacketed into any particular outcome.  The bad news is -- it all comes down to how you want the game to flow and there are no simple answers.

 

 

 

Now in real life, I am a criminal defense attorney.  I was a public defender for almost 10 years, and I've been in private practice since.  I've handled dozens of murder cases.  In real life, the scenario you've described isn't a murder.  It's not a manslaughter.  It's justified homicide (which is not a crime).  So your heroes are standing there in the street or something, and suddenly these guys pull up:

 

5801030.jpg

 

They jump out of the car and they're holding weapons.  Your characters don't know what the weapons do.  They're just holding sci-fi looking ray guns.  You already know they're terrorists.  So one of the heroes starts to run forward to punch the leader, and then in the blink of an eye, her gun is gone as the guy with superspeed snatched it from her.  The other hero follows through and hits her.  She drops immediately.  She's either headed to the hospital or she's dead.  The hero says "you guys give up or I'll do the same to you!" and the other terrorists surrender.  In the real world, what legal situation does our hero find himself in?

 

He's in absolutely zero legal trouble.  Everything he did is 100% justified (in the US anyway).  Here's why.

--VIPER is a known terrorist organization.

--The VIPER goons were carrying what are probably highly illegal military weapons.

--The heroes had a previous violent encounter with the same VIPER agents.

--VIPER goons are known to wear concealed force field belts that protect them from bullets.

--A fraction of a second before the hero punches her (literally in the same segment), she was holding a gun and pointing it at the heroes.

--None of the heroes (and none of the prosecutors) really know exactly what those guns VIPER was carrying can actually do.

 

There's nothing at all in the law that will punish the hero for killing the VIPER chick.  Think about accidental cop shootings, where a policeman blows away some kid holding a toy ray gun.  Cop doesn't know that the gun isn't real.  Only this time, it's not a kid holding it, it's some convicted felon and the gun is real.  Did he mean to kill her?  No.  Did he use more force than he intended?  Yes.  But he was justified in killing her anyway, regardless of his intent.  There's no requirement that he rely on his "nigh-invulnerability" and hope that the gun she's carrying can't hurt him.  Remember that an 8D6 Energy Blast can punch holes in a brick wall.  It looks like a pretty lethal gun to normal people.

 

Then there's the very real political issue that no prosecutor is going to want to go after a popular superhero who saves the lives of countless civilians, just because he accidentally killed a crazy terrorist lady when she and her co-conspirators were pointing guns at people.  Who wants to be the DA who tried to put Superman in prison when he killed one of the terrorists who was trying to hijack a plane?  Nobody is looking to be that DA, let me tell you.  In real life, the other VIPER agents will be charged with felony murder (someone died while they were committing a felony, so they get charged -- it doesn't matter that it was their friend who died.  I've got a former client doing life in prison on very similar facts).

 

So, in the real world, he's perfectly fine.  This is all the justification you need to let the character go.  He hasn't committed a crime.  You might do a slight wave of your hand and say that PRIMUS has been holding him for psychological evaluation.  "At first I thought they'd hold him because he might have committed a crime, but after checking on it, it turns out that he hasn't.  So what they're really doing is having him see counselors to deal with the psychological stress of what happened.  Bob, your character is really upset about this.  People keep telling you that it's okay, you were justified in what you did.  But you keep feeling that you didn't need to swing so hard.  You never realized just how hard you can really hit.  You just see that body twisting in the air, limbs going in directions they weren't meant to go.  You think you need to stay a while longer and talk it through with the doctor a bit more."

 

 

 

In a comic book world, the law is whatever you want it to be.  But if you plan on prosecuting the character for this, ask yourself why?  He's a new player who didn't know any better at the time, and now he does.  You'd be intentionally diverging the comic world from the real one, just to make a point about players showing restraint.  Is that going to be necessary?  Is that what your players are going to enjoy roleplaying?  Is the new player sick of his brick character already?  Does he want to play something new?

 

You've got the easiest excuse in the world to just ignore what happened and move on.  The law doesn't require superheroes to follow a superheroic code.  If the Joker has a bomb, and Batman blows his brains out with a shotgun, Batman doesn't go to jail.  He feels guilty, he feels like he's broken his code, failed his parents, etc.  But he doesn't go to prison under anything resembling the actual law.  The only time he's in danger of that is when a writer ignores what the law actually is and just wants to tell a "Batman in prison" story or something like that.  Is that what you want to do with this adventure?  Nothing requires you to.  So it's completely up to you and your players.  If this is something you want to make a major story arc, you can.  Just know that you can also get rid of it if it's something you don't want to mess with.

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In my games a hero's responsibilities / accepted responses are based not just on what they can deal out but also on what they can take.  

 

in the absence of innocents to protect a hero with 30 rPD would be in *big* trouble for killing someone who pulled a 1d6 or 2d6 rka pistol on them. That gun was no threat to them: They can claim self defense no more than a man who shoots a toddler who swung a nerf sword or pillow at them can.

 

(edit: if it's clearly identifiable as such / been proven to be unable to harm them.  Massey's point about unknown weapons, like Doctor Deathtrap pulling out his new raygun and pointing it at the hero, is 100% agreed with.  It's more like the hero is hit in combat, realises it can't break his skin/armor/whatever, and then decides to beat the attacker to death anyways.)

 

On the other side of the law, though, shooting a gun at Superman still gets you charged with Attempted Murder.  You were clearly hoping that this one time, miraculously, it would kill or incapacitate him.

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I had a similar event (though with a far more established group). I decided (for fun) to run through a court case with a variety of people giving evidenace for and against. The against were all looking to make it look bad, VIPER was using its financial might to get high quality lawyers and (for story purposes) the judge was allowing lines of questions. At the end of the trial, I sent the judged player out and asked the remaining players to act as the jury. They all cast their votes, almost all innocent until I told them that the brick's arch nemesis had mind controlled them to vote guilty. Yup, complication in play. That allowed me to go for a death penalty verdict, supported by the (mind controlled judge) and a scenario where the rest of the group learn of the mind controlling and they have to try and save the brick as he is being transported to death row, unpowered and open for the rest of those with grudges to take revenge.

 

It was good fun, the brick's player was let into the secret after the initial shock and played his secondary character for the rest of the adventure.

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Getting people coming from various editions of MurderHobo, The RPG to realize that those levels of lethality are unacceptable in most Superheroic Genres is a bit difficult. Even people who've played Hero before slip into bad habits if they've been playing too much D&D, Pathfinder, etc.

 

Then there's the genre savvy players who happen to like Punisher, Wolverine, Ultimate Marvel and such and *want* to play a lethal character. Some can handle it in a 4 colour campaign (Wolverine manages to pull it off in the comics), many cannot. Not a lot you can do with the latter if common ground can't be found. I have to admit to being lucky with my players in that resect.

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  • 10 inches of knockback that knocked her into a building, resulting in extra dice of damage which did the agent in.

So...I want to preserve a blend of  4 Color/Realism in the game, but not bring down the hammer (if that makes any sense?). I also want to use this as a teaching device so the player (the brick) knows that he needs to gauge his strength when he tackles normals.

 

Thoughts? Feedback?

 

Dave

 

Yeah, I'd go with the agent surviving with severe injuries on this one. The agent may have technically died, but didn't suffer so much damage that her body was totally obliterated. I assume she got fairly rapid medical attention? In any case, VIPER (and PRIMUS) have access to super science and having them bring her back to life is not beyond the realm of possibility. Even in the real world a person struck by a car who was thrown against a brick wall and lost all life signs can be survive and recover with fast enough paramedic action (no guarantees mind you, but you're the one writing this story).

 

Doctor Doom has come back from FAR worse than that. You may also want to recall The Six Million Dollar Man.

 

Steve Austin. A man barely alive. We can rebuild him...

 

But maybe that's a bit before your time. Google it.  :)

 

I still like the idea that this becomes her Origin Story and she turns up later as Captain Payback. Even better if you fill out her backstory and set things up so her relationship with the hero is less than one dimensional. I'm always a sucker for a good guy/bad girl romance, myself :)

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