AMP: Year One by potatocubed
IntroductionOriginal SA post
Look at the pixellisation on that. That's not me, that's how it looks in the actual pdf.
I backed AMP: Year One on Kickstarter ages ago, largely because I'm a sucker for superhero games and I was lured in by ad copy that promised "fully integrat[ing] powers and character Loyalties into almost every die roll" and other such modern game mechanics that pull a character's personality and loyalties into the resolution system. Like Masks, or Fate, or Legends of the Wulin, or any number of other games which do exactly that.
I was... disappointed. I figured I'd F&F this game in an attempt to analyse my own distaste for it, and also because I am apparently the only person who doesn't think this thing shines like a goddamn diamond. It gets slews of five-star reviews, and Years Two and Three have both been successfully Kickstarted; clearly people have found something to love here. With a detailed read, maybe I can find it too?
Just to lay out my biases before we get started: as far as I'm concerned Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is the gold standard for superhero RPGs. I like Masks, too. Before that I was a big fan of Mutants and Masterminds (and Crooks is still one of my top three favourite RPG supplements) but I'm more and more of the opinion that crunchy systems are a bad way to do anything, superheroes included. This may be the root of my dislike of AMP, but we'll see.
This is literally the first thing you see when you start reading:
People have always wondered about the next stage in evolution, and everyone clamors to be the one to unlock the secret. Finding the missing link is every scientists dream and they'd happily step over each other's corpses to be the one to name such a find. Throughout human history have been plenty of instances where scientists went too far and governments attempted to force such a change at the barrel of a gun. Of course, they always conduct these shadow experiments behind guarded concrete walls, as their scientists get in on the action.
AMP: Year One is the result of one such hidden experiment that, without the scientists knowing... their attempts worked almost too well.
I count four outright grammatical errors, plus a lot of weird phrasing. These first two paragraphs set the tone for the writing in the rest of the book: clunky and error-prone.
The first chapter has a potted history of 'AMPs' -- the in-setting name for people with powers, which stands for Accelerated Mutant Potential
and [is] a reflection of their often hyper,excited dispositions.
A side note: AMPYO is marketed as a grim, low-powered setting. Even if AMPs did have "hyper,excited dispositions" (which they don't, at least any more than anyone else) it would be spectacularly out of place among the shady government conspiracies and low-key action.
The potted history is that "generations ago" a bunch of scientists from around the world got together to build a super-soldier powerful enough to end war forever. My first impression is that this is ridiculous, but fuck it -- I've accepted flimsier justifications from games and comics, so it would be unfair of me to rag on AMPYO for this. Anyway, there were serums, rampaging mutants, a military cover-up and then the whole thing was abandoned. Fast forward to now, and the descendants of the surviving test subjects are a) suddenly developing powers and b) being mysteriously disappeared. This is where the game starts: with the new appearance and rise of superhumans, of which the player characters are some.
The mood summary gives us three points to bear in mind: the burdens of being a new superhero, the question of what having powers does to the AMP, and the mystery of where the AMPs come from and what the future holds.
If that last point sounds like 90s metaplot, you'd be spot on. The game's not bad about giving out the whole history, but future developments? Better buy Years Two and Three to see what happens next!
Next is a quick overview of the various strains of AMP, which are basically 'classes' that define what each AMP can do. If you're familiar with the strains from Double Cross, it's pretty much exactly the same sort of system. I'll abbreviate the quick rundown here:
- Blasters manipulate energy.
- Bulks are people, but better.
- Elementals control "Earth, Fire and Air".
- Ferals emulate animals.
- Mindbenders bend minds.
- Psychs have the other psychic powers: telepathy, psychometry, astral projection, etc.
- Shapers manipulate "the various things one can see and touch in their environment, including ... controlling luck".
- Shifters are shapechangers.
- Travelers can teleport and bend time.
There's the obligatory 'What is a Roleplaying Game?' section and an example of play, neither of which contains anything out of the ordinary, and a very brief description of the system which I'm going to skip because the full system description pops up in chapter four and we can deal with it then.
Thoughts: Well, that was certainly an introduction. So far my main takeaway is that the editing is awful and the layout is just bad enough to annoy me. And that logo! The pixels! It makes me cringe every time I see it.
Next Time: Chapter One. Because the Introduction doesn't get a chapter number?
Chapter One: Year OneOriginal SA post
Chapter One: Year One
It's the setting infodump chapter!
We start with a section on AMP origins -- or origin, since they all stem from the same source. Just like I summarised last time, there were scientists, hugely unethical experiments, a mutant rampage, a breakout, a coverup, etc.
If you're being harsh, this whole timeline is ridiculous garbage and involves a lot of people acting like assholes for no real reason. If you're being more charitable, as I'm inclined to be... it still kind of pushes the boundaries of suspension of disbelief. There are a lot of holes that need to be handwaved away, which in its own way also sets the tone for the rest of the book. To quote Darren Maclennan:
At some point, you get into so much GM handwaving that the GM achieves liftoff and flies about the room like a beautiful, silken bird.
That point may be found within the covers of AMP: Year One.
Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Setting info!
We learn this time around that 'Project Black' was a multinational initiative between the US, Russia, Germany, China, Thailand, Columbia, and a few others, and it started during the 1920s. First things first, it's nice to see Thailand and Columbia getting a look-in there -- when RPGs normally talk about their nation-level power players it's usually the US, China, Japan and Europe, so a couple of unusual candidates are good to see.
Second things second, the handwaving starts here. In the 1920s Germany was the Weimar Republic and largely incapable of functioning on the international stage. Also Russia spent 1921-22 having a civil war, although according to a quick look on Wikipedia the rest of the 20s in Russia weren't too bad. Unless you were the nobility, I guess.
Anyway, around 1934 Project Black got on with human testing. Four years later they'd had no success and had just about given up. Then one guy -- Dr David Thornton, who I'm sure is going to be important later because he gets namechecked here -- makes a few tweaks and suddenly everything is awesome. Except for the test subjects, who have to be tortured to trigger their powers to manifest, and who have a 50% chance of a horrible death within three months. In any case, Project Black whips up about 200 super-soldiers with various powers just in time for WW2. Except those guys are never deployed, because... I don't know why.
Anyone who objected to the mass torturing and horrible deaths gets disappeared by the government conspiracy responsible for the whole thing, because if there's a(n unspoken) key theme this game has it's that governments -- especially the US government -- are eeeeevil and not to be trusted.
Anyway, in 1940 a bunch of the super-soldiers go berserk and kill their way through the Project Black facility. The military rocked up eventually to kill everything but Project Black was in bits and that was the end of that.
All survivors were either demoted to casualties or whisked off to the secret labs that all eeeeevil governments have, and all the countries involved agreed never to mention this debacle again -- then got distracted by World War 2, presumably, since that was A Thing That Was Happening in 1940.
So, it turns out that a bunch of scientists from PB escaped the carnage and went to ground. They stayed in touch (which I'm sure was super-simple during WW2, considering they're all from different countries...) and noticed a small problem: loads of the initial PB test subjects were starting to show mutant powers, years after the initial treatment. Together the rogue scientists whipped up an antidote and managed to get it to most of the affected. Whew.
Oh, wait, except the test subjects were passing those traits to some of their kids. Becoming a mutant death engine was heritable! Who knew! The Suppression became an organisation dedicated to keeping tabs on these AMPs and their descendants and making sure they could be dosed up with the antidote before they went feral and murdered a bunch of people. And this worked, more or less, right up to 2015, when suddenly all remaining members of the Suppression turned up dead.
With all knowledge of the antidote gone, all these third- and fourth-generation AMPs start to show their powers. This is their story.
Ah, the titular Year One. We get a list of all the big AMP-related events in 2015, starting with a woman named Stacie and her super-horse on the 8th of January. Long story short she meets a dude who believes in super powers and they get to studying her (and later boning).
Later on Stacie the animal whisperer gets into a fight with a janitor and we learn that AMPs have massive adrenal spikes when they come into proximity with each other, causing them to fight a lot. Which I'm sure isn't going to make assembling a PC party a pain in the ass, no.
I'm not a huge fan of the art in this book, but I can't look at this without thinking DOG-THROWING POWERS, ACTIVATE!
Anyway, Dr Whatsisface sets up a support group for people with superpowers, keeping order by dosing the water with tranquilisers. (Eithical!) To protect their anonymity the support group members use nicknames instead of their real names, and in a neat genre nod this is the origin of the Superhero Name tradition.
Blah blah Dr Whatsisface inherits a load of stuff from his father, who happened to be the last member of The Suppression and a direct descendant of that evil genius who was namechecked but whose name I've forgotten already, and he starts the Seekers of Enlightenment. Who are in fact not Buddhists but a US-government-sponsored organisation which tracks down AMPs and offers them the choice to have their powers turned off if they want, and does all sorts of AMP research on the hush hush.
Are you getting flashes of Aberrant? I'm getting flashes of Aberrant.
Also remember that governments are eeeeevil.
On the 19th of May Anonymous discovers a cryptic message of doom about AMPs on the internet, and nobody believes them because they're awful. Lol.
Who left this message -- which was encoded in, like, the full stops or something across multiple websites -- is never addressed. Never mind how or why.
Skipping ahead, glossing over some stuff...
We meet Typhoon, who are a giant criminal enterprise made up of people under the mental control of the Matriarch. They and SoE have a fight, then the government turns on SoE in a fit of pique and tortures a bunch of them for no apparent reason (eeeeevil, I tell you!) before they can escape.
Stuff happens, stuff happens... the government is black-bagging AMPs and their families, as governments in 90s comics tend to do...
We meet faction #3 (the eeeeevil government doesn't count) the Changelings, who are AMPs whose mutations make normal life impossible. They're pretty chill to start with, just looking to make lives for themselves, but I bet that won't last.
Then faction #4, the United Human Front, who are stock anti-mutant racists. But they're willing to employ AMPs to hunt other AMPs though, which makes them pragmatic racists.
Then in January 2016 Stacie dog-thrower goes missing and Dr Whatsisface goes completely off the rails. He crawls into a bottle, then out of the bottle, decides that VENGEANCE is the order of the day -- and naturally the entire SoE organisation goes leaps to their feet as one and says 'Yeah! VENGEANCE sounds like an awesome plan!'
Then a dude appears in a flash of light next to the President and shoots him while shouting 'Magneto was right!' or something similar, before being thoroughly killed by secret service agents.
And that's where the game's going to start.
Except it's not. The GM chapter suggests different parts of the year in which to start depending on what kind of game you're trying to run -- which isn't bad advice, all told.
Oh, and there are also various super-incidents of different levels of publicity scattered throughout. I'm 90% sure that several of these are the playtest PCs getting their name-checks in, but I can't hate on that.
Thoughts: So far, so 90s. I can see the traces in this setting's DNA from Aberrant, Heroes, and WildStorm comics -- all of which I loved, back in the day. (I still have a soft spot for the issue of Stormwatch which introduced a bunch of new characters on page one then killed two of them by the end of the issue.) I've glossed over a few of the more blatant rips from other media, like the Donohue School for the Gifted or the time traveller who accidentally sets up the future he was trying to prevent, but by and large AMPYO wears its influences on its sleeve.
I appreciate that the chapter also calls out a lot of the big conspiracies and explains the big picture of what's going on in handy sidebars. It still leaves a lot of loose ends and mysteries to fuel the metaplot (there are those 90s design sensibilities again) in the various supplements, mind you, but I'm not completely in the dark.
Next Time: Character Generation. In which we make important decisions before we discover anything more than the vaguest system outline.
Chapter Two: Forged in FireOriginal SA post
Chapter Two: Forged in Fire
Character generation! This one's a bit of a wall of text, I'm afraid.
Bear in mind as we go through this chapter that at the moment all we know about the game system is what was sketched out in the introduction: that most tests are 1d20 + Skill A + Skill B vs a difficulty number, but there are a few tests that only use one skill (such as punching dudes, which uses Fighting) and they use 1d20 + (Skill A x 1.5).
You round fractions down, but we don't discover that until chapter 4.
Step One: Concept, Loyalties and Affiliation
We're all veterans here, we know what a character concept is. AMPYO goes into some detail on the subject, though. There are several paragraphs of questions you could consider when rounding out your character, covering childhood, adulthood, gender/sexuality, ethnicity/race, and demeanour/appearance. It's nowhere near as elegant or simple as a playbook, but it's nice that so much food for thought is provided and it can deliver a bit more explanation and nuance than most playbooks do.
Next up, we have Loyalties. Remember back in post #1 where I mentioned the Kickstarter copy for this game promised "fully integrat[ing] powers and character Loyalties into almost every die roll"? These are the Loyalties in question and this section is all the rules text they get. Fully integrated my ass.
Anyway, there are eight Loyalties and they're rated from 0 to 5. At chargen you get 10 points to spread around them as you like. There's a section on loyalty challenges and another on bonus XP, which I'll cover in a moment, then we get to the list of Loyalties and their descriptions:
- Community is linked to a town or city, and gives bonuses when you're in that city. For each level you're supposed to specify a place in that town or city which is important to you.
- Comrades is loyalty to your friends, and each level gets you a friend who you can ask for favours -- and who can ask favours of you in return.
- Humanity is how prone you are to helping out strangers. You can add it to any check to help out someone who's suffering or in danger, which makes it the most broadly useful of the Loyalties but also the one most likely to drag you away from things you'd rather be doing.
- Justice is what it sounds like. You get bonuses on rolls to bring wrongdoers to justice, but you have to work one 'case' to completion before you start the next.
- Love is also what it sounds like, although it also covers non-romantic love -- just a strong bond between two people. You get bonus points to build an NPC with useful abilities as your love.
- Perfection is dedication to a skill (or skills -- one per rank) with a particular goal in mind. You get a bonus rank in the skill(s) you choose, and can buy them for 60% XP cost.
- Self is, again, what it sounds like. You can add your Self to any test where failure might result in your death.
- Truth is, again again, what it sounds like. You add your Truth to "certain tests" (which ones? nobody knows) to reveal secrets.
So let's pull out a few points from this list, shall we?
For starters, Community is going to be swingy as hell. If you're playing a wide-ranging kind of game, the number of times you're going to get to use your Community bonuses will approach zero. If you're playing a game focused in one area, you're going to be juiced up all the time. Although I can see it being useful if you run a game focused in one city, and Community loyalty applies to one neighbourhood or turf in that city. That does seem to be a possible mode for AMPYO play, given its low-level 'everyday folks with superpowers' atmosphere.
Perfection, on the other hand, is just crazy good. The skill list is short enough that a free rank and 60% XP costs on up to five skills is a phenomenal deal. It specifically states that you can't use it to enhance powers (which use the same mechanics as skills) so it's not completely busted, but still.
Love is probably my favourite, because it lets you break the game for laughs rather than ruining it for everyone else. Your love is a regular NPC, and you get 2 BP to customise them with per rank of Love. Now, bear in mind that your love has a target painted on their forehead... so take your legendary romance (Love 5) and make them the world's deadliest kung fu master with 9 ranks of Fighting. (Skills are rated from 0 to 10, and 10 is the cap, but levels 9 and 10 cost double.) Or if you're worried about mind controllers, 9 ranks of Discipline and a shotgun.
Alternatively, buy 10 points of Hideout (a merit, which we'll see later this chapter) and have them own a sweet fortress which you and the gang can hang out in. Technically Hideout is an AMP-only merit, but I'd let it slide. And I don't think there's anything that says your love can't be another AMP -- their base stats are those of an Average Person (a specific NPC template) but you can spend 3 BP to give them a single power level in something. Possibly useful.
Or drop 5 points on Wealth (enough for "a private jet and pretty much anything else they want"), 4 on Fame (another merit), 1 on Perform and be engaged to Justin Beiber.
The possibilities are endless. Even more so if everyone in the group pulls the same stunt. Even more so if all the PCs are engaged in a poly relationship with a single NPC, letting you create Batman through the moral principles of free love.
Sadly I don't think there's any way RAW to have your love be a dog, even if the GM lets you take flaws for them to boost their BP. Booooo.
Something else worth noting is that at the top of the Loyalties section it calls out that none are "inherently good or evil". But... humanity is a straight-up good guy motivation. And so is justice. And community and truth skew more good than evil, although there is some wiggle room there. If you're trying to build a bastard, you're stuck looking at half the list.
Although you could just stack Perfection and Self and laugh in your GM's face. That also works.
Anyway: Before all this I mentioned loyalty challenges and bonus XP.
Loyalty challenges are like the Hatred (Saxons) check from Pendragon: any time your character might act against one of their Loyalties, you roll an Intuition + Discipline check against a difficulty of 20 + Loyalty. If you succeed you can do what you like. If you fail, you have to follow the Loyalty. In practice this means that the weakest Loyalty is going to be compelling your actions at least 50% of the time and a Loyalty 5 will be leading you around 70% of the time even if you stack Intuition and Discipline at chargen -- which might be a feature or a bug depending on your point of view.
There's also a small section on bonus XP which says that whenever you do something awesome with one of your Loyalties, or whenever one drags you into trouble or drama, you get 1 XP. Which is fine. It does mean that you're never going to get bonus points for Ultimate Kung Fu Husbando getting kidnapped, because his kidnapping isn't going to get you into trouble (probably) but it does provide a nice mechanical kickback for when your Comrades inevitably start asking you to do things for them.
Finally in step one, you choose an Affiliation. You can pick Unaffiliated, Seeker of Enlightenment, Typhoon, Changeling, or UHF -- the latter of which I guess makes you a self-hating tool of oppression or something?
Each Affiliation gives you certain bonuses, although they are not balanced. Changeling is the straight-up best, with 6 BP worth of bonuses, followed by unaffiliated (4 BP to spend as you like), and Typhoon brings up the rear by giving you a 'free' Indebted flaw as well as a couple of small bonuses.
Step Two: Choose Skills
There are 22 skills which can be rated 0 to 10 and you have 35 points to spread between them. None of the skills leap out at me as totally useless, although Fortitude and Beast Handling are probably the most niche. Skills you'll want to pump include one or more of the fightan skills (Fighting, Might, Marksmanship) and one or more of the defendan skills (Athletics, Speed). Unless you're particularly focused on being able to move fast, you're probably better off going with Athletics.
There's a sidebar here that mentions that beginner characters should have their skills capped at 5, or 7 if they have a little more experience. It also mentions that this is optional, and I highly recommend you ditch it -- a typical DC in this system is 20-odd, meaning that if you limit people's skills to 5 they're going to be failing 45% of the time even in their area of expertise.
The super-high 'moderate' DC which the game uses is one of its primary flaws, but I'll go on about this at length once we get around to the system chapter.
Step Three: Choose Powers
We'll cover powers in more detail next time, since they get a chapter to themselves. All you need to know for chargen is that you get a maximum of three powers ever. These can come from your primary strain and up to two other strains (secondary and tertiary), but you'll be lucky if you ever advance a tertiary power in a tertiary strain.
There are six powers in each strain, plus each power has augments for further customisation. You buy levels in powers just like they were skills, so you'll have stuff like Claws 2, or Astral Projection 5, and you get a free augment at every even-numbered power level. You can buy extra augments but only for your primary strain powers.
Oh, by the way? This section starts talking about Juice a lot, but that's a concept that isn't going to be intro-juiced (ho ho ho) until the very end of this chapter. Basically, it's points that you spend to fire up your powers.
Step Four: Spend Bonus Points (BP)
We all know how this goes: fine-tune your character by giving them all sorts of goodies. You can buy extra skills, powers, specialties (+2 skill in limited circumstances), powers, augments, loyalties... and then we get to the meat:
As I've mentioned before, we're all veterans here. We know that merit/flaw systems are almost always a terrible idea, yet here one is. I'll just skip through this section and pull out the ones that grab my eye.
There's a limit of 10 BP gained through drawbacks, so infinite abuse isn't possible, but you can still make some ridiculous builds with only a little work.
Anyway, merits and flaws:
Body Builder can be bought for 2 or 4 BP, and gives a +2 or +4 bonus to Might checks plus a bonus to Integrity (hit points, not that this comes up until the end of the chapter) and combat damage at the higher level. Which is strictly better than buying Might, since skills are bought with BP on a 1-for-1 basis.
Wealth stands out as a game breaker. All characters start at Wealth 0 unless they spend points on it, but the point investment is linear and the level of wealth exponential. Something worth bearing in mind, though, is that 100 pages later in the 'buying stuff' section we discover that characters can pool their Wealth to buy bigger items. So five people with a disposable income of $500 per month each (Wealth 1) can get together and buy a private jet (Wealth 5).
Also notable is Indebted, a drawback which gives you effectively negative Wealth and no ability to get credit while you have it. This is notable because if you're affiliated with Typhoon you automatically get this drawback without any bonus BP for it. I guess crime really doesn't pay.
There are some other Wealth shenanigans you can get up to, but I'll cover them when we get to the aforementioned 'buying stuff' rules.
In Control is an AMP-only gift that gives you a +2 to +6 bonus to resist the urge to
Addiction is a drawback which gives you 4 BP in exchange for a slew of fucking awful problems. You lose 2 Integrity (worth 2 BP right there) and if you go a day without your drug (or an hour if you're a smoker) you get the jitters and are at -3 penalty to everything. If you go without for a week you enter withdrawal and
will do anything to get the drug again, even injure their comrades. They can make a Tough (30) Mental Trauma check to resist urges at intervals determined by the GM.
A mental trauma check is Discipline + Empathy. So even if you've got a superhuman will (Discipline 10) and a profound connection to your fellow humans (Empathy 10) you still have a 45% chance of chewing your best friend's face off if they come between you and your smack after a week of withdrawal. If your Discipline + Empathy is less than 10 you only have a 1-in-20 chance of resisting (thanks to the critical success rules, which we haven't got to yet). Which may not be too far from reality?
Except that presumably smoking, which you have to indulge every hour, would similarly trigger after seven hours without a cigarette. So it's possible to have a good night's sleep, wake up to realise you forgot to buy a pack the night before, then fly into a berserk rage and kill someone for their Marlboro Lights.
Oh, and you can't overcome an addiction by going cold turkey. You can only buy it off with XP at a 5-XP-to-1-BP ratio. On the other hand, if you keep putting yourself in situations where your withdrawal causes you to screw up your Loyalties you could probably score enough bonus XP to offset the cost somewhat.
Similarly, a Phobia (3 BP) will completely incapacitate you in the presence of your object of fear if you don't pass a DC 20 Fear test (again, Discipline + Empathy). The DC goes up to 30 if the trigger is particularly bad. Remember that DC 20 is pretty hard and DC 30 is ludicrous!
Being a Kid (12 or younger) will get you 5 BP, but if you're a ranged blaster type none of the disadvantages are really important, and you get a free +2 bonus to Athletics checks and +2 Movement as well as your five bonus BP.
I'll be honest, I don't see the point in allowing PCs to be pre-teen children in a game that's not specifically about pre-teen children. Like... nothing good will come of this. Nothing.
Animal Beacon is an AMP-only drawback that makes animals hate you, and if you use your powers in front of one then they automatically attack.
"We're lost. Let me psychically connect to the internet to check our location on Google Maps."
*vanishes in a cloud of angry pigeons*
Power Addict (4 BP drawback) is pretty cool. Basically, you love one of your powers so much you use it for everything that might even be remotely applicable. (DC 20 D + E check to resist, as usual.) It's characterful, it causes both mechanical and fluff problems for you, but it's not overwhelmingly bad to the point where the character's unplayable.
Side-Effect is a collection of 4 BP drawbacks, consisting of one for each AMP strain. Ferals suffer social penalties when there are lots of people around, Mindbenders get crippling migraines when they use their powers, and so on.
There are a couple of oddities, as you'd expect.
Bulging Muscles is the Bulk drawback, and it means that whenever you use your powers you... well, Hulk Out. Ripped clothes, massive frame, and you find it difficult to hide or talk to people until you de-Hulk. (Takes about an hour.) Buuuuut... the Bulk strain includes six powers, of which only Behemoth covers boosting strength. But there's nothing stopping you from taking this flaw in conjunction with Biomorph if you want to be immune to poisons -- while also hulking out. Or Evasion if you want to pull Matrix-style bullet-time dodges -- while also hulking out. Or Acceleration if you want to be able to run at 500 mph -- while also hulking out.
Moving on, the side effect for Travellers is Lost: when you roll to activate your power and roll 1-4 (so, 20% of the time) you are instantly teleported to somewhere within one mile. (GM's choice, I think. It's implied but not made clear.)
First of all, teleportation covers two of the six powers in the Traveller strain (Teleportation and Portals) and could theoretically work with one other (Chronos -- time manipulation). But you can totally take this drawback if you've got the ability to raise forcefields (Barrier), slap people about with telekinesis (Telekinesis) or just fly (Flight). You still get teleported.
But it gets better! Of all the abilities in Portals, only three require a check at all (and one of those has no resistance listed, so I don't know why you're making a check or what you're checking against -- it should just work). In Teleportation there are two, and one of those is just for pulling combat tricks with teleport.
So if you're an actual teleporter of some stripe, Lost is almost 4 free BP. Combat teleporting is awesome in theory, yes, but since to use it you need to make a DC 20 check each time you try you might as well grab Lost because it's not like any of your sweet tricks will work.
Also, if you're an actual teleporter suddenly being a mile away is no big deal because you can just teleport back again.
Step Five: The Rest Of It
Your character also has Integrity equal to 10 + Fortitude. This is hit points by any other name, and damage is tracked using the bashing/lethal distinction you'll be familiar with from every White Wolf game ever. In this system it's renamed damage and brutal damage, but w/e.
You have Juice, which has a 'baseline' of 3 (which it resets to after about half an hour of chilling out) and a maximum of 10. Juice is spent to fuel your powers, and is fuelled in turn by adrenaline -- so getting into fights, working out, getting laid, getting scared... all of these flood your system with tasty, tasty Juice.
Which I suppose means that if you really need Juice in a hurry, you can just neck a load of amphetamines. The sample drugs section later on does cover coke (+1 Juice per dose) and EMT adrenaline syringes (2 Brutal Damage in exchange for Juice being set to 10) but not speed or the artificial adrenaline that Addisons sufferers get.
Oh, and you get Juice when one of your Loyalties is harmed or threatened. I've got sort of vague visions of a supergoon with Lecherous (3 BP drawback), Phobia: Women (3 BP drawback), and Loyalty to some true
You also get +1 Juice when you roll a critical success (nat 20) or a critical failure (nat 1). Which I like; the nat 1 angle takes a little of the sting out of screwing up something you should have been able to do easily.
There's also a sidebar about how tuning the rate at which the GM hands out Juice can colour the way the game plays, which I think is good to call out.
Moving on... we have Movement! It's based off Athletics + Speed and converted into a feet-per-round movement rate, which gives us the following fun stats:
- Usain Bolt covers about 300 feet in a single 10-second combat round, meaning his Athletics + Speed is 15 or so.
- Someone who cranks their A + S as high as it'll go will be able to sprint the 100 metres in 8 seconds.
- But a twelve-year old who cranks their A + S as high as it'll go will be able to sprint the 100 metres in 6.9 seconds.
- Conversely, someone who's not particularly fast or athletic (A + S 0) will take 40 seconds to sprint 100 metres.
- If you're wondering how long the average vaguely healthy person would take to do 100m, it's about 20 seconds. Or an A + S of approximately 5.
Something worth noting is that the various movement powers -- mostly flight -- work based on your base Movement stat. Which on the one hand prevents you from cheesing a low Movement and bypassing it by flying everywhere, but on the other hand makes you painfully slow even if you're being propelled everywhere on a pillar of fire.
Also, among other things the Elderly drawback gives you -4 Movement, which can drop your Movement to 1. That's a standard walk/jog of one foot per ten seconds, or almost a minute to cover a single 5 ft square. I know old people can be slow, but they're not that bloody slow.
We've also got rules for jumping, climbing, and swimming. There are supposed to be rules for determining lift/carry weight and initiative checks here -- they're in the chargen summary page and the sample character creation blurb -- but they're not here.
Step... Oh, no more steps. Experience Points!
This is modelled on the White Wolf/Onyx Path system of 1 XP for showing up, 1 XP for doing something notable, etc. The book reckons people will get about 3 XP per session, which I think is a little low. You need 15 XP to raise a power in your primary strain by one level, for example, and since that's what people are going to want to be doing I'd be inclined to make things a little faster. Maybe 5 XP a session.
The system is designed so that 5 XP = 1 BP, and it more or less works that way -- except for the Perfectionist Loyalty.
Since Perfectionist gives you a 40% discount on raising a skill with XP but no discount on raising it with BP, you're better off starting your Perfectionist skills with nothing but the free rank in them that Perfectionist gives you then raising them with XP. If you start with, say Discipline 1 and raise it to 5, that'll take you ~4 sessions. Another character would take ~7 sessions to do the same thing.
I mean, there's a story there -- someone who starts out sucking but wants to be the very best is a well-trodden fictional path -- but it doesn't change the fact that you're going to end up plain better than the other PCs.
Thoughts: My God, it's full of the 1990s. (This game came out in 2014, for the record.) Merits and flaws, crunch which doesn't quite line up with fluff, glacial character progression because of stingy XP rewards...
This section in particular owes a significant debt to White Wolf/Onyx Path. The structure of character creation (build a mundane, then 'layer' powers on top, then spend bonus points), the two-page summary in callout boxes, the example character... yeah, all of that.
Apart from the occasional flash of coolness I'm honestly struggling to see why people like this game so much. Like any d20-based game specialisation is the key to an effective character, but the way the skills are mixed and matched -- you can in theory roll any two together -- makes it really difficult to work out which ones to invest in. Discipline for sure, but I have no idea about the rest.
Oh, and in case you were wondering how broken I can make the game with these merits and flaws? With just what you see here I can make an eleven-year-old chain-smoking bodybuilder who gains 2 BP (after buying back all the Integrity they would lose) and +2 Athletics, +2 Movement, and +4 Might (7 BP's worth of stuff) on top, all for the cost of a reduced carrying capacity, a -4 penalty on Intimidation checks against grown-ups, -1 Juice, and psychotic murder-frenzy if they ever run out of cigarettes.
Which they can't buy, because they're eleven.
Merits and flaws, folks. Not even once.
Next Time: The Powers. The meat of many superhero games, once again presented before we understand any of the systems that they're going to depend on.
Chapter Three: Strains and PowersOriginal SA post
Chapter Three: Strains and Powers
The good shit!
Or possibly just the shit. This is the longest chapter in the book, and it's pretty much the definition of 'hit and miss'.
(I've tried to break up the wall of text with pictures, some of which are pictures of text.)
Powers are divided up by strain, and then each power has its augments listed after it. Augments come in two types: enhancements, which change the effect of the core power, and tricks, which give you a whole new power with the same theme. Augments also tend to have other augments as prerequisites, so you get these little tree illustrations to spell things out.
I'm not going to reproduce everything, just give an overview and look at the stuff that catches my eye.
- Battery lets you vacuum up your chosen energy type and turn it into Juice. Handy! The augments mostly involve using that stored energy as weapon or shield, although you can also charge other people with Juice and make your own Juice a little more effective (spend 2, get 3).
- Bolt is the throwing of death rays, with optional special effects based on energy type.
- Constructs is the creation of tools, weapons, and eventually life forms out of your energy type.
- Enhancer is a support power that makes all of your other powers more effective and lets you hand off Juice to others. Augments cover various other ways of boosting yourself or others, including the absurd Ultimate Power which multiplies a numerical effect of someone else's power by 5.
- Flux is the ability to wrap yourself in energy and hurt people who touch you. Augments let you pull other fancy tricks, like dodging attacks by transforming into energy, or transmitting yourself down power cables as living electricity.
- Vampire is the ability to take other people's Juice (or Integrity) and use it for a variety of things. Augments allow the vampire to steal other things as well (skills and powers) or just vacuum up all energy attacks a la battery.
Blasters have to pick from a list of energy types when they choose their powers, each one of which comes with its own special effect on a natural 18+ (or 1-3 on a reaction roll). The types are cold, fire, force, electricity, gravity, light, and sound.
A notable oddity is that Gravity Battery charges when the AMP is falling, not when they're just standing around, you know, being subject to gravity. Based on my (quite possibly flawed) understanding of gravity this is balls, and it kind of annoys me that it's here.
Vampire is a bit of an odd fit for this set, since it mostly isn't energy-type-dependent the way the others are.
The various powers also have a decent amount of overlap, which is handy since you're only ever going to get three. Battery especially offers a variety of powers through augments which function like knock-off bolts or fluxes.
- Accelerate makes you into the Flash. Ethically dubious super-prison not included.
- Behemoth makes you into a budget Hulk.
- Biomorph is full of really handy body manipulation tricks like no longer needing to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep; the ability to reflexively rearrange your organs out of the way of an attack; ...and the ability to become immune to disease.
- Evasion is Matrix dodging, with the really handy/aggravating ability to just spend Juice and say 'you missed' when someone attacks you. Further augments allow you to repurpose your reactions into attacks.
- Invulnerability makes you into a budget Luke Cage.
- Regeneration heals wounds fast... and slows aging, so if we ever get up to AMP: Year Thirty, your Regen character will still be young and fresh! Also, you can purchase an augment called Regrow Head which does exactly what you think.
Haven't got much to say about bulk powers. Biomorph is one of my favourite 'power sets' in games that have that kind of thing, although the ability to be immune to disease is just one of those things that's quite handy for NPCs and plot hooks (Typhoid Mary, anyone?), but entirely worthless for player characters. I'd be inclined to just hand out disease immunity for free to anyone with Biomorph, Regenerate or Accelerate.
If anything, I'd be inclined to say that the bulk powers are too narrowly defined -- like Evasion could easily be a sub-set of Acceleration, or the two could offer separate entry points to the same augment tree. Likewise Biomorph and Regeneration, and Behemoth and Invulnerability. Unlike the blaster powers they don't really overlap, they just kind of... sit next to each other, a bit awkwardly.
- Air control makes you good at throwing and shooting, and predicting the weather. Augments offer a bunch of useful powers including lightning bolts, flight, and the ability to summon an actual (if short-lived) tornado.
- Earth control lets you dissolve 'earthy' materials into sand by touch, and once again augments allow for a variety of useful effects such as having rocks leap out of the ground to block attacks, golem creation, and levelling small areas with localised earthquakes.
- Fire control, again, has an underwhelming base ability (temperature control -- in Fahrenheit, to add insult to insult) and really cool shit in the augments. Sense and see through fires, turn into fire, and bring people back from the dead.
- Metal makes you Magneto. Yawn.
- Plants is back to the 'bunch of varied but cool' abilities. Make any plant grow any fruit! Adjust the DNA of that fruit so it does weird shit! Seed an entire area with stuff by standing in it! Accelerate plant growth! Use a tree to swat flyers out of the sky! Fun for everyone.
- Water lets you swim real good and breathe underwater. Also become a human water cannon, drown people on dry land, and control "the nearest large body of water, bringing it high into the air and crashing it down upon the area" which causes a medium flood and wrecks everybody's shit. The power is always instant, mind you, so you can fire it off even in the middle of the Arizona dust bowl and wash everyone away... somehow.
I really like these. They're kind of rubbish as secondary or tertiary powers because so much of their utility is in augments, but the top-tier augments are boss. Metal/Magnetism is kind of underwhelming, but I think that's mainly because it's in such excellent company.
I'm not 100% convinced by the ability of fire elementalists to raise the dead. And for only 4 Juice a go! It doesn't sit well among their other more overtly 'burny' powers.
The writing and editing haven't improved. Get a load of this power that turns into a different power halfway through:
In a related note, a lot of the top-tier 'natural disaster' powers have the problem of really strong fictional positioning but little to no mechanical support. For example, Chasm:
Creates a serious chasm that splits the ground apart or sinkhole that swallows up there area. Anyone in the area takes 5 damage and risks being swallowed themselves. A success on an initial Dodge check halves damage.
While the AMP’s involvement in creating the Chasm is over instantaneously, the aftermath can go on for quite some time. Depending on where the chasm originates, the GM may ask for up to (Earth/2) Athletics + Speed checks to reflect their attempts to escape the disaster surrounding them, as buildings topples, boulders fall and secondary sinkhole open. Failure at any one of these checks could mean the victims find themselves trapped under falling debris or knocked down, in risk of being swallowed and taking additional damage from being crushed or falling.
None of this shit is defined. It's all just handwaved by the GM. Also, the spelling and grammar mistakes set my teeth on edge. The tornado and flood powers have more structure, but the effects are largely left to the GM. (Oh, and the tornado and flood effects specifically exclude the AMP who created them. Chasm explicitly puts the AMP in danger from their own earthquake.)
- Chimera lets you pick an animal, then a bunch of animalistic features that may or may not be linked with it. Furries, this one's for you.
- Claws does exactly one thing. Snikt, bub.
- Killer Instinct is all about being really deadly. It's a good choice for a secondary or tertiary power if you're building a fighter, since most of its augments upgrade your melee capabilities the same way whether your power level is 1 or 10.
- Leash is all about animal control and using animals to gather information for you. If you were building Skitter, this would be your primary power.
- Pheromones is all about the good kind of BO. It makes people like you, or maybe fear you. Weirdly, a lot of its powers use Fortitude + Pheromones; if you want to make a subtle manipulator with this power your best bet is to also be really tough.
- Venom also does exactly one thing -- and that thing is make you immune to drugs and poisons. (Hope you never have to have a tooth filled!) If you want to actually be venomous, you'll need to pick up some augments.
Chimera has the augment Beast Form, which does exactly what you'd expect: lets you turn into your chosen 'attuned animal', but only +/- 50% of your own mass. It doesn't mention if you can turn into a giant version of a normally-small animal or a small version of a normally-giant animal, like a pygmy elephant or a 100 lb chaffinch. On the one hand games normally say 'no' to this sort of thing, but on the other hand you only get the one animal so it seems a little harsh to rule it out.
But there's more! The Any Size augment expands Beast Form to... well.
Any Size (E3): Must have Beast Form. They can transform into their attuned animal as big or small as needed.
I suspect it's meant to be an expansion for Beast Form to accommodate people whose attuned animals are whales or spiders or something, but the writing's so bad it seems like you can adopt your attuned form at any size you choose, from subatomic to skyscraper.
And 'Claws' does not need to be its own thing, no matter how iconic Wolverine is.
- Authority is straight-up mind control. Purple suit not included.
- Brainiac is about being really smart, being a gadgeteer of sorts, and with augments you can pull all sorts of "I can kill you with my brain" shenanigans.
- Heartstrings lets you screw around with people's emotions. It is broken as fuck. (See below.)
- Illusions does exactly what you'd expect, plus letting you pull people's dreams and fears out of their heads and show them to them.
- Mnemonics is all about the manipulation of memory. You get perfect recall of everything, all the time, and you can screw with other people's memories. The effects are usually permanent.
- Telepathy is a sort of catchall for 'psychic powers' that aren't covered by one of the other categories.
Brainiac is fantastic, in an understated sort of way. Its core power includes the ability to commit information to memory at the cost of 1 Juice -- and as I've discovered, a perfect memory is an absurdly powerful gift in most RPGs. They can also pick up speed-reading as an augment, and commit the contents of whatever they read to memory as well, and two augments into their tree they can pick up a limited extra action power called Outthink; it only lasts for a few rounds, but extra action powers are always top tier.
Oh, and the prerequisite for Outthink? Recalculate, which lets you reroll a failed check for 1 Juice. And reroll powers are also neat.
I am a little disappointed at the absence of a metagame retcon power, though. No 'just as planned!' here.
Mnemonics has an even better perfect recall ability, and the ability to screw with what other people remember and know about themselves is crazy powerful. You also get Taskmaster's power as a sort of free extra thrown in there.
In this strain's 'bad rules watch' I'd like to draw your attention to Heartstrings. All of Heartstrings. Several of its augments list resistance rolls (Mental Trauma Resistance, which is Discipline + Empathy) but completely fail to specify the resistance DC. I think it's the roll mentioned in the core power (Heartstrings + Empathy) but I don't really know.
But that's only the tip of the bollocks iceberg. One of the low-tier Heartstrings augments is Enflame. Enflame specifically doesn't permit a resistance roll as it's affecting an emotion already present. But what does it do?
Any already ongoing emotion may grow, effectively doubling any garnered bonuses or penalties from having said emotion.
May grow? I dropped Juice on activating this power, so it had better bloody grow. Never mind that the only things that bestow numerical modifiers based on emotional state are four of the nine Heartstrings augments.
See, this could have been saved by a simple sidebar like the blasters get for energy types: just a list of 'amped up emotional states' with their own mechanical effects, and an augment that lets you apply them. Then Enflame would have a definite effect! Instead we get all kinds of handwavy bullshit.
Opposite Reaction, another low-tier Heartstrings augment, has the same problem: manipulating emotion-related mechanical effects, when such effects are vanishingly rare.
Oh! Oh! And the top tier Heartstrings augment is Paragon, an ability which hits everyone within Persuasion + Heartstrings x 10 feet. Make a test to resist Fear! (That's Discipline + Empathy again.) Hope you stacked resistance, because the DC is 20 + Heartstrings and
Those who fail become the AMP’s willing servants and follow almost any order given (as long as it does not go against their nature or survival instinct).
The duration is (Heartstrings) days, although in a tiny nod to reason the augment description does note that "targets are seldom happy to learn someone was pulling their strings, so dealing with a lapsed servant can be dangerous". Of course you can just blast them again, so who cares!
You could also blast them with Opposite Reaction -- one of the prerequisite powers -- and they'd immediately stop hating you and think you were p. cool instead. That one doesn't have a duration, by the way, so it wouldn't wear off until someone reminded them what an asshole you are.
Let me further note that a starting character can take Heartstrings as their primary power and bump it to 8 with plenty of BP left over. Heartstrings 8 is enough to pick up the three prerequisite augments plus Paragon, so even characters who started with Discipline 10 and Empathy 10 have a 35% chance of becoming your willing servant every time you fire up your power.
A typical NPC will have a D + E of +2, by the way, making Paragon all but auto-hit against them. If all you want is a legion of loyal followers you can fire it off at a football game, in a mall, an airport... anywhere there's a big crowd.
But if you want to make the GM cry, use it in a police station. Or an army base. Or in your nation's chambers of government.
Paragon is fucking ridiculous.
a.k.a. The Weird Shit With No Other Category
- Astral Projection lets you send your spirit off to do stuff while your body sits around drooling. With three augments you can attack people while remaining untouchable () but the other options are things like possession and manifesting multiple astral bodies, which are neat and flavourful. (Also horribly broken when combined with 'intangible stab-woman' powers, but hey ho.)
- Awareness is the super-senses power. It's not a bad support power since it's got several good augments that aren't based on your Awareness level, but you should never take this as a primary power. Also there's no Daredevil 'radar sense' option, which seems like a glaring oversight.
- Mediumship lets you sense the dead, hauntings, etc., and have conversations with them. Or eat them for health and wellness. Oh, and you can animate zombies.
*sound of mental brakes screeching*
Hold up a second. The existence of Mediumship means something for the setting: specifically, that souls are real, that ghosts and hauntings exist, and that there is an afterlife such spirits can be sent to by augments like Put To Rest.
This is important information! Fuck the science serum superheroes, the paranormal is real!
- Oneiromancy is the manipulation of dreams. With the right augments you can hoik a nightmare out of someone's dreams and let it rampage around the real world, which I'm sure is never a bad idea.
- Psychometry lets you learn things from an object you touch. Augments let you learn immediately useful things (like swordfighting from a sword or guitar playing from a guitar) or get flashes of the future. It's a rubbish primary power, but as a secondary or tertiary power it's got some good utility.
- Visions is all about predicting the future. It's a great tertiary support power since you can get away without many levels in it unless you grab the combat augments.
Mediumship has setting implications. Man. Even if you peel away as much of the 'soul' stuff as you can and ascribe it to 'what some AMPs believe', it still requires that ghosts and hauntings are real. The effect this sort of power would have on organised religion (including atheism) would be huge!
says this is never raised as a plot point in future supplements.
Oneiromancy's got some sweet tricks (including the ability to travel to a real-world location that somebody's dreaming of) but its base range is touch and it only works on people who are sleeping. You can bypass both these restrictions with augments, but that just makes them speed bumps for some of the other augments which are obviously written with the intent that you bust them out in super-fights. I'd be inclined to just allow ranged and waking use by charging extra Juice.
Overall I rather like the psych powers strain. Quirky, interesting, useful, and not colossally unbalanced. Even Visions, a power that normally risks being screwed up by a bad GM, has a mechanism which allows you to 'force' a vision and decode it with a dice roll rather than try to second-guess what your GM think dream symbolism should be about.
- Blight makes you a walking disease factory, and with the right augments you can emulate your favourite poison-type Pokemon by oozing toxic slime and emitting noxious smoke clouds. Alternatively you can heal yourself by eating disease and pollution.
- Darkness lets you play with shadows and darkness. Puppets, invisibility, shadow teleports... the usual sort of deal.
- Healing does what it says on the tin and nothing else, making it super-boring. You can totally bring people back from the dead but it'll probably kill you in the process, making 'being a fire elemental' a strictly better way of resurrecting folk. It's an excellent tertiary power, since only two or three effects are dependent on your Healing rank, but frankly it's best taken on a friendly NPC.
- Luck's core power is really good (spend Juice to add bonuses or penalties to dice rolls before rolling) and some of the augments are pretty neat as well. Miracle is broken as fuck, because it's an almost literal win button.
- Technopathy lets you control computers and electronics with your mind.
- Transmutation lets you change things into... kind of similar things. You can make things heavier or lighter, copy items, or turn your clothes into armour or different clothes. That's it.It is spectacularly underwhelming, apart from the two-augment combo that lets you turn an umbrella into a deadly weapon.
The existence of Blight makes my earlier derision about 'immunity to disease' being a power a little less confident. I still don't think disease has a place in superhero narratives except as a plot point, but Blight kind of sidesteps this by having handy poison/pollution powers as well.
The Miracle augment in Luck is literally 'spend 4 Juice and the situation will end well for you'. Which is really kind of dull, given how cool a lot of the other Luck powers are.
I'd like to point out that 'light' is an element that blasters can use, but 'darkness' is a thing that shapers play with. This inconsistency bugs me a little.
Also, the Technopathy augment Tech Speak gives us the following gem of written English:
The AMP no longer requires keyboards or mouses to interface.
- Duplication makes you into Multiple Man. It's p. cool.
- Elasticity makes you into a budget version of Plastic Man, complete with augment names like Stop Hitting Yourself. It is easy to be ridiculously tough with this power, though.
- Intangibility makes you Kitty Pryde, although it also includes the ability to reach into someone's body and mangle their organs. Nice.
- Invisibility is boring, except for the augment that lets you make buildings invisible. Just imagine the shenanigans!
- Shapeshifting covers turning into copies of other people, regular animals, or animal-shaped monsters. So no Martian Manhunter style full shape control here. On the plus side, with the right augment you can copy another AMP's physical powers when you copy their shape.
- Sizing is growing and shrinking. The biggest you can get is 3x normal size (so 15-20 feet tall, more or less) and the smallest is "insect-size".
These are wholly straightforward. Moving on...
The last strain!
- Barrier creates invisible forcefields, a la Sue Storm.
- Chronos is time-bending. It's absurdly powerful.
- Flight... lets you fly. I'd say you're usually better off picking up flight as part of a different power set -- feral, elemental, and blaster all have various ways of flying, plus there are flight-like abilities in shaping and psych powers -- but the big advantage Flight has is that with only a few levels you can start clocking up some impressive speed.
- Portals lets you open portals between pre-existing doorways that cover (Portals) in miles. Augments offer various tweaks to this ability but no dramatically new stuff.
- Telekinesis does what you'd expect, although putting it in the traveller strain seems a little odd.
- Teleportation also does exactly what you'd think, although range is limited without augments. It's a fantastic secondary power, mind you, offering a whole bunch of good utility options with only a minimal investment in levels.
A note on Portals: with three augments you can make your portals permanent. This costs 5 Juice a go (1 for the portal, 4 for the permanence) but if you can find a way to bump your 'resting' Juice from 3 to 5 -- relatively easy with the right merits and a good supply of cocaine -- you can very rapidly turn a regular house into a nightmare dimension.
You can also grab an augment which lets you pull something of Size 4 (not defined yet, but basically human-size) out of any old pocket. Fun!
Let's talk about Chronos for a second (or maybe longer, ho ho).
You know he has time powers because there's a clock on his t-shirt.
For starters, Chronos is a heinous offender in the category of 'augment lists a check but doesn't tell you what the DC is and resistance makes no sense anyway'. I mean, about half the powers in this entire chapter end up in that category, but Chronos stands out to me. Possibly because I've been looking at it in more detail?
But forget that. Two augments into Chronos you can get Blink (the check is Chronos + Discipline, the DC is not listed or obvious) which lets you freeze time for ten seconds (1 round). You can't attack people in this time but you could do stuff like pull the pin out of a grenade and leave it by someone's feet. Steal their sword moments before a critical parry. Deflect bullets in flight. Steal their motorbike and drive away. Snatch an important document and stuff it into your pocket. It's ten seconds of god mode and it's fantastic, especially if you've got the Juice to use it for multiple rounds.
A typical character will start a fight with Juice 4, which is enough to use Blink twice.
And then one augment more gets you Freeze Time, which is the same but costs twice as much and now you can just straight up murder dudes in your 10 second window.
Thoughts: Aaaaaaaargh. There's a lot to like in the powers section -- blaster seems like a competently-designed power set, and I like a lot of the elemental powers. Some of the psych powers are pretty sweet too, in a 'weird and esoteric but surprisingly useful' kind of way. And reading through the power sections got me thinking about ways you could use them to set up antagonists and get some interesting super-adventures going. It got me thinking about potential PCs if I was to play this game, and I mean in more than just a 'look how easy it is to break this system over my knee' kind of way.
But the writing is bad. Unclear in a lot of places. Several strains -- behemoth and feral in particular -- feel like they've been sliced into six powers arbitrarily, just in order to have six. There are some really odd choices about where powers are slotted, too, such as cramming Telekinesis into the traveller strain or Darkness control under shaper. I've mentioned before how wacky this makes the strain-specific drawbacks.
Over and over we get powers listed with checks but no resistances. No passive DC, no indication of what any opponent needs to roll, nothing. There's a section at the start of the chapter explaining how powers work, how you use one in game mechanical terms, but if the powers line up with that it's largely by accident.
And when we get to the mental powers in Mindbender the rules disintegrate into a mess of handwavy bullshit. Heartstrings is the most awful offender, but not alone. If you're going to make 'screwing around with emotions' one sixth of one of your power strains, you need more robust mechanics for emotional states than 'these other powers' plus 'eh, whatever the GM thinks'.
Likewise for Mnemonics and Illusion, where the key ability is 'messing with what people believe' -- if you're going to do that, you need a more concrete system for noting what people believe and how that affects their behaviour.
Masks can handle this. MHR can kind of handle this with complications and emotional stress. You can do it in Fate. But it doesn't work here.
The handwaving continues in other places. Transmutation has a lot of powers which boil down to 'ask the GM'. Weirdly enough, although Visions' core power is pretty much nothing but 'ask the GM', it has some mechanical support that you can use to make it useful in the event that your GM isn't doing their part. Telekinesis' Fling augment "can deal additional damage" if you throw people into walls and wotnot, but no guidelines are given regarding how much.
Just... this system is incomplete. It relies far too heavily on GM fiat to adjudicate the results of several powers, and that's a bad fit for a system not specifically designed around that conceit.
Fortunately, next time: we cover the game system itself!
Spoiler: It's got problems.
Oh yeah, hey, want a broken power combo?
At chargen grab Heartstrings 3, Battery (fire) 2, and Fire Elemental 1. Use 11 BP to buy Heartstrings up to 6 and buy an extra augment, which lets you take Paragon and all its prerequisites. Take whatever augment for Battery you like. Stack Persuasion and Empathy because they're your Heartstrings skills.
A fire elemental can "with a snap of their fingers" (and no Juice expenditure) create a spark that'll ignite combustibles or deal 1 damage, so you spend all day strolling about snapping your fingers like an extra from West Side Story and scorching yourself to the tune of 1 damage each time. Battery (fire) will automatically absorb this damage and turn it into Juice, ensuring you always have a full charge. Whenever anyone looks at you funny you blast them with Paragon and they (and anyone else within 110 feet) become your willing slave unless they can beat a DC 26 Discipline + Empathy check. Fuck it, you might as well take Power Addict for the extra 4 BP because God knows you'll be solving all your problems this way anyway.
Also, we can build Sonic the Hedgehog. At chargen take Athletics 10 and Speed 10, the Kid drawback, and the Sprinter merit. Spend 6 more BP to get Acceleration 6 and Chimera (Hedgehog focus) 2. Take any augments you like.
Your base speed is now 35. If you choose Speed as the Chimera focus skill, it's now 37. With Acceleration, it's 43. Then burn two Juice to get the pumped-up versions of both powers and your Movement is now 270, which is about 18 mph.
Feel a little slow? Well, that's because that's your walking speed. If you sprint that gets multiplied by 15: your Movement becomes 4050, almost a mile every 10 seconds, which works out to about 275 mph.
Which is fast... but we can go faster.
Ditch the Chimera. Where we're going, we won't need hedgehogs. Instead take Flight -- because like Acceleration, Flight multiplies your Movement (although only while you're flying). Go Unaffiliated, grab another five points of drawbacks, and spend all the extra BPs with some min-maxing shenanigans to get Acceleration 7 and Flight 6. Make sure to grab the Faster Flight augment for Flight, and whatever others you like the look of.
This will cost you three Juice to power, but give you a Movement of 1974. You can take a casual stroll (well, float, since you have to be flying) at 60 metres per second. When you go all out this accelerates to 902 m/s, about two and a half times the speed of sound (~340 m/s) and more than fast enough to outrun bullets. Kiss goodbye to your windows, suckers!
Oh, by the way: the Magnetism powers in Metal Elemental let you move metal objects around at a speed based on your Movement. Have fun!
Chapter Four: Superhuman SystemsOriginal SA post
Chapter Four: Superhuman Systems
The actual game system at last!
We open with a description of the skill system again, this time in more detail. It turns out that it's not just Skill A + Skill B, it's a primary skill that covers what you're actually doing (such as Crafts to repair something) and a secondary skill that colours how you're doing it (such as Tech to repair a broken laptop, or Marksmanship to repair a broken gun).
This is a neat idea, but it's never mentioned again.
Difficulties are set by the GM based on a nearby chart, which lists DC 10 as 'simple', DC 20 as 'moderate', DC 30 as 'tough' and DC 40 as "Legendary: Nearly impossible feats of Skill that only a master could accomplish."
Let's unpack that a bit.
If you're maxed out in both relevant skills, you still only have a 5% chance of hitting that Legendary difficulty and only a 55% chance of hitting a 'tough' check.
If you're sitting on a mere 5 + 5 ('Expert' level according to the chargen chapter) you're going to have a hard time with 'moderate' challenges. God help you if you did what the sample character did and spread your points around to pick up 1-3 ratings in a whole bunch of stuff.
And all that's assuming that you can swing your chosen skill pair anyway. Game circumstances may dictate that you only get to use one of your stacked skills, at which point your chances of success will drop off by about 15-20%. You can mitigate that problem by spreading your skill points around, but then you're going to just suck at a whole lot of things instead of having a chance of success in one particular area.
Moving on, we have a small section on near successes, which basically says that if a character fails a check but gets within 5 of the DC they get most of what they wanted, with complications -- a 'yes, but'. I appreciate it when partial success options exist in any system, so credit where it's due: this is a good inclusion. It also takes a little of the edge off the absurd difficulty benchmarks.
Near successes have never been mentioned before and are never mentioned again.
Then we cover opposed checks and extended checks, tools, teamwork and trying again. Nothing you haven't seen before. Something worth noting is that while this game system works better if you stick to opposed checks (and the GM stats other characters to match the PCs) the text explicitly says opposed checks are a bad idea and you should be using static DCs wherever you can.
Trying again may (or may not, it's all 'GM discretion' and handwaving) impose a -2 penalty for every time you've previously tried and failed. I'm mentioning this here so that I can get into why this is bad in the Thoughts section at the end.
Then we hit boosts. Boosts are a special bonus extra you get for every 5 you beat a check result by, in theory allowing supremely skilled characters to perform simple tasks with added style or other good effects.
In practice you have to be supremely skilled to even have a chance at a 'moderate' check, so.
Then we're onto critical successes (nat 20) and failures (nat 1). In this way anyone has a 5% chance of succeeding at whatever they're trying, and a 5% chance of failure even if they've got enough skill to make it a walk in the park. You get +1 Juice when either of these happen, and if you're in combat there are other effects for the GM to choose from -- including the always-hilarious 'accidentally attacks a comrade' on a crit miss.
Oh, and here's the section that tells you to always round down when dividing. Could have done with that much earlier on.
It's pretty straightforward: if the cost of an item is less than or equal to your Wealth, you can have it. If it's more than your Wealth, you're stuffed.
However, you can combine your Wealth with other characters -- in which case your purchasing power is the sum of all your Wealth scores -- or you can get credit, which can boost your Wealth by up to two (GM's discretion) at the cost of being in debt for three months. You also have the option to default on the debt, in which case whoever you got the credit from will come after you.
So, let's assume we've got three PC AMPs. Two have Wealth 1 and one has Wealth 0, so we've basically got a janitor, a waitress, and a grad student. All of them hit up various shady loan sharks for credit, bumping their Wealths to 2, 2, and 1. They pool all that for Wealth 5, buy a mansion, then sell the mansion for a few million dollars. Their effective Wealth scores are 0, 0, and -1 for a few months... but they also have a million dollars each so who gives a shit?
Also, defaulting on loans is no big deal if you're a superhero. If you're a fighter go to a shady credit shark and just murder the enforcers who show up to claim the cash. If you're a social powerhouse you could do something similar, or you could rock up to the bank and have them write off the loss because you're just so lovely.
Or you could take one of the various augments that let you duplicate objects and pay for everything in fake cash. Sure it'll vanish inside an hour or so, but once it's gone into the till who's going to know it was specifically your that disappeared?
In short, I seriously doubt you're going to have money troubles.
Next is a list of sample equipment so you can get a feel for prices. The list in its entirety covers:
- camouflage gear (cost 2)
- climbing gear (3)
- a first-aid kit (2-3 depending on the bonus it provides)
- a gas mask (1-2, although the cost affects nothing)
- lock picks (0-4, providing a bonus that might range from -2 to +3, no further guidelines available)
- pepper spray (2)
- a makeup kit for disguises (1-3 depending on bonus)
- nightvision goggles (3-5, no difference based on price)
- scuba gear (2-4, again no difference based on price).
- silencer (3)
- telescopic sight (3)
- toolkit (2-5, for a bonus which ranges from +3 to +5 so I don't know what a 2-cost toolkit gets you)
I get that it's just supposed to be a representation of gear pricing, but since I have no idea how much any of this stuff costs IRL it's completely useless as a guide. Something like "an item which grants a tool bonus costs at least as much as that bonus" would have been vastly more helpful.
That's it for items, although vehicles, weapons and armour are coming up.
The vehicle system describes all vehicles as a combination of top speed (slow/average/fast) and size (small/average/big). There's also a little table of sample vehicles with their speeds, sizes, Integrity and cost. Weirdly a sports car is flagged as small, where a compact car is average. A minivan is average, an SUV is big.
I don't even know.
There are rules for collision damage based on current speed + size. A small car (like a VW Beetle) travelling at 90 mph (freeway speed) will do 7 brutal damage if it hits someone, which probably won't kill a PC (Integrity 10+) but is enough to kill an Average Person instantly (Integrity 7). It's also relatively simple to get a character's Integrity up to the point where they can survive a hit from a big rig at 200 mph (16 brutal) even without toughness powers.
I've got to give AMPYO props for keeping the vehicle rules simple, though. It's a smart idea distilling them down to speed and size. The more I think about it, the more I like keeping the damage mostly non-lethal but serious enough to be a big deal (to PCs). It makes running over your enemies a viable tactic, but not enough to solve your problems all on its own.
Feats of Strength
We've got some blurb on lifting and carrying weights, which makes the mistake of assuming that anyone without the Might skill is a pasty nerd who's never so much as looked at a weight in their life (deadlift 100 lbs). The world record for a deadlift is in the vicinity of 1000 lbs, which back-calculates to an effective Might score of 18.
There's a table of feats of strength, which show the minimum Might + Athletics to perform (because a deadlift isn't a feat of strength?). Apparently to drag someone the same size as you requires M + A 2, implying that most of humanity has either Might, Athletics, or both.
Meanwhile the world's strongest man with a Might of 18+ (and thus, an M + A of at least 18) can throw motorcycles, flip cars, and punch through cement walls. An AMP with Behemoth and the right augments can trivially batter people with lampposts, throw trucks, and generally make a nuisance of themselves.
Law of Attraction
Remember the blurb from earlier about how when two AMPs meet they have an immediate adrenaline surge and take an instant dislike to each other? That's what this is.
I'm going to say up front that this section gives the GM carte blanche to "wave" the law of attraction rule under certain circumstances, such as if the AMPs have been friends for a while, for the other PCs, and if the current situation is more urgent (such as saving people from a burning building and encountering another AMP doing the same thing).
Which is good, because the law of attraction is bollocks.
When two AMPs meet a) they both recognise the other for what they are and b) they both make a good old Discipline + Empathy check. If everything is chill it's DC 10. If there are "loud noises or darkened alleys ... strong words or threats" then it's DC 20, so better hope you don't meet another AMP in a nightclub. DCs 30 and 40 are also listed but basically you're already in a fight at that point so w/e.
If they fail this check
they immediately confront the other AMP in a manner of their choosing, but never in a nice way.
So you don't have to attack them, but you do have to get up in their face. Doesn't matter if your character concept is 'super-nice librarian', 'silver-tongued negotiator','pacifist' or any other non-confrontational sort. When you meet another AMP, anger and aggression are the order of the day.
I'm going to digress here for a moment to mention the Frenzy/Rötschreck rules in V:tM. By those rules as written, vampires were liable to fly into a murderous frenzy if another vampire gave them so much as a funny look and/or someone lit a cigarette nearby. This was bad because it actively punished players for engaging with the core conceit of the game -- hanging out with other vampires in pre-smoking-ban nightclubs -- and no-one I have ever known who plays Vampire plays frenzy RAW.
This is the same deal. AMPYO is about superheroes, but God help you if you meet another superhero because odds are one or both of you is going to fly straight off the handle. I can't imagine anyone plays this rule as written.
'AMP feedback' -- I'm not sure if I'd prefer it if this joke was accidental or intentional -- does play a role in keeping AMPs' lives in turmoil, preventing them from settling down and pretending to be nobodies for any great length of time, thus forcing the PCs to 'adventure' rather than living a quiet life... but I think you can keep that fictional element without needing rules for it going off all the time.
For example, I'm running Blades in the Dark at the moment, and if AMP was in that system AMP feedback would be a nice thing to always have on the table as a potential complication -- but that game is built from the ground up to handle that sort of thing. Here every new AMP risks starting a fight, forcing the PCs to stop whatever they were doing and hide from the police while the A-plot sits and gathers dust.
Anyway, speaking of fights...
It's a pretty simple fight system: roll initiative (fresh at the start of every round) and take turns. If you want to wait and interrupt someone else's action, you delay until their action comes up, then the two of you have an initiative-off to see if you're fast enough to get the drop on them.
When it's your go you have to pick from a selection of actions: inflict harm (melee or ranged are different actions), inflict pain (a persistent debuff), 'prepare' (which covers anything not really about fighting, like standing up or reloading), grab (a prerequisite if you want to use Might as your combat skill), break grab, feint/distract, knock back, knock down, touch (for delivering touch attacks), take aim, change emotional state, move (although you get some movement for free), sprint, use power, 'non-combat action', and retreat.
It's very D&D, right down to measuring movement in five-foot increments and needing to use a special action to escape combat.
The effectiveness of knock back is based on the flat difference between your Might + Athletics and their Might + Athletics. It does 0 damage and knocks an enemy back one foot per point of difference -- which is fuck all unless you've stacked Might + Athletics.
Change emotional state is a giant heap of GM handwaving, culminating in
The GM can give the target either a -3 penalty or a +3 bonus to their next check based on how the change affects the person. If their response is particularly negative, they may also take 1 damage.
So the effectiveness of your action is entirely in the hands of the GM, but if your is particularly effective (and they've taken a beating already) they might just collapse unconscious.
Retreat doesn't work against people whose Speed is 5 or more higher than yours; they get a free attack against you as you run away, although for half damage.
...but just walking off using the move action doesn't trigger this at all, because this isn't D&D. You're worse off using the special retreat action than you are just strolling away with your hands in your pockets.
When the attacker's done selecting their action the defender (if there is one) can choose a reaction. Each character gets one free reaction per round, but suffers a -1 penalty for each one after the first. (Otherwise known as the onslaught penalty, from WoD and Exalted.)
Your available reactions are block, dodge, grab, find cover, catch, resist (for most non-physical attacks), and protect.
Naturally trying to block, grab, or catch attacks from weapons is very difficult and may lead to you getting hurt if you flub it. I normally prefer a more cinematic outlook in my games, but AMP specifically pitches itself as gritty, so this is fine.
Oh, and RAW protect can't ever be used. Its purpose is to let you jump in the way of an attack meant for someone else, but RAW only the target of an attack gets to react so it'll never hit a valid use case. No one is ever going to play it that way because it's obvious how it's supposed to work, but I just thought I'd point that out.
Damage is primarily by weapon, with a +2 bonus in melee because basic punches and kicks do 0 damage. You get +1 damage for every boost you score on the roll. Simple!
It's all the other stuff you can do in a fight! Here we've got rules for...
- armour (useful but heavy)
- all-out attacks (really good when you're going first and not outnumbered)
- automatic weapons (lower accuracy, but you get more damage or more targets or both if you go crazy)
- blind fighting (tricky without powers)
- concealment and cover (useful)
- co-op attacks (two people trade accuracy for damage at the same time)
- fancy options for crit fails and crit successes in combat
- fighting defensively (bo-ring)
- stunts (good for a +1 to +5 "depending on the quality of the description and the rest of the group's response")
- shooting into close combat and hitting your mates by accident (it specifically mentions that stuff like throwing a truck into close combat is just going to hit everyone so don't worry about checking and jump straight to damage)
- improvised weapons (use Fighting + Crafts as your attack pool at a -2 penalty)
As an aside, it's always better to be using an improvised weapon if your (Crafts - 2) is more than half your Fighting skill. This also means that the nerd who's never been in a fight in his life but spends all his time in the basement making robots for Robot Wars is surprisingly dangerous with a broken bottle and a claw hammer.
- knockouts (surprisingly easy)
- multiple actions (tricky but probably worth it)
- pulled strikes (turn brutal damage into regular damage, or just do half damage if you're showing off)
Because of the way damage works -- which is exactly the way bashing/lethal does in WoD -- you only need to successfully pull an attack once in order to make sure someone is unconscious rather than dead when you finally knock them down. All you have to do is make a free Intuition + Fighting check after you hit to tone down the damage.
Oh, except it never mentions what the DC of that check is, which suggests that the playtest groups never found the need to pull their attacks.
Personally, I prefer the D&D 4e method of 'when they go down, choose whether you put them down lethally or not'. Simple.
Anyway, there's more!
- range modifiers
- size modifiers
The GM can invoke Size modifiers to help enhance the realism of the Scene or to calculate what types of objects certain powers can affect. For instance, when a fighter is attacking a huge, easily hit opponent. These rules are not necessary when a character is a skilled ninja, but are appropriate for starting characters.
That last sentence, man. That last sentence. How do you know when a character is a skilled ninja?
- called shots
The exact result of a Targeted strike is left up to the GM.
- fancy terrain
- weapon modifiers
And then we have a page-long list of weapons, covering both melee and ranged. Highlights include chainsaws (which have a load of special rules designed to make them nasty, and they are) and stats for motorcycles, cars, and trees when used as weapons. Weirdly the Hurl stat on a motorcycle -- which is used a bonus when you throw a melee weapon -- is +2, the same as on a spear and on par with a typical handgun's attack bonus.
Captain America fans will be pleased to note that a) the shield is better when you don't have anything in your other hand and b) it's got a Hurl of +1, so it's pretty handy for throwing.
Captain Boomerang fans are also catered for, at least in the weapon list. Unfortunately bringing a boomerang to a gunfight in-game is going to get you messed up.
In this section we've got rules for healing (wait around for hours or days depending on whether it's regular or brutal damage) then straight into the shit that will just kill you.
Once your Integrity is 50% full of brutal damage, you start bleeding to the tune of 1 brutal damage every round. Also, if you try to do anything you have to make a Fortitude x 1.5 check vs 10 + damage taken. Failure bleeds another point of damage.
Someone with the Medicine skill can roll Medicine + Knowledge at DC 20 to stop the bleeding -- so you're basically fucked unless you've got a world-class doctor hanging around or a power that stops bleeding, because there's no other way to stop. Also one round is about 10 seconds so you'll probably be dead inside a minute.
Once your entire Integrity track is filled up with brutal damage, you're dying. You can make a Fortitude x 1.5 check vs DC 20 + any damage in excess of your Integrity to stay alive, but if you take damage again you have to check again.
Oh, but since your Integrity will be more than half full of brutal damage by the time it's completely full of brutal damage, you'll be bleeding, so you'll be taking an extra brutal -- and making a new death check -- every turn. If your Integrity drops to -10 you flat-out die anyway.
But wait! A doctor with Medicine 5+ and the right equipment might be able to bring you back to life! (Provided you died from something you could plausibly be resuscitated from rather than, say, being beheaded.) It's a DC 30 Medicine + Knowledge check but with Medicine 5+ and the sort of equipment in a typical A&E department (probably good for a +5 tool bonus) this might actually be easier than trying to stop you from bleeding to death in the first place.
But wait again! As an optional rule, AMPs can take consequences instead of dying. The basic idea is that depending on how fucked up you are at the end of combat, you pick up a pile of drawback points that you have to spend on your character -- and there are plenty of good choices! These drawbacks can be bought off with XP at a reduced rate (3 XP per point instead of 4) and even when bought off or healed there's always a reminder scarred onto the character's body.
This! This I like! AMPYO is a lethal system unless you're specced for survival, and giving characters the option to pick up scars or psychological problems instead of dying fits the tone of ordinary people thrust into a dangerous world they're completely unprepared for. They're going to get messed up! They're going to get traumatised! And each scar will be a story, and that's cool.
Unfortunately because of the way the bleeding mechanic works you'll always bleed out to the maximum negative Integrity, thus ruining what would otherwise be a neat extra.
Turns out bleeding to death sucks. Who knew?
Moving on we've got rules for going without food and water -- is this really likely in a modern-day superhero game? -- holding your breath, falling...
A quick side note: falling is really tame. An Average Person (7 Integrity) can't be killed by a five-storey fall, and won't even take enough overflow damage to start bleeding out. They'll just be unconscious for an hour or three then can get up and go on their merry way.
...fear (also so tame as to be useless), being burned, being electrocuted...
Where do I even start with this? The text lists two hazards (stun and Juice drain) which aren't in the table. (AMPs of the blaster strain can stun with their electric attacks, though.) A taser does 4 brutal damage, putting it on a par with a crossbow or assault rifle (!) plus it might knock you out. Touching a power line forces a check vs "Knockout or Death". Which one? And lightning lists a "Moderate (30) check" which is wrong because moderate checks are DC 20 and tough checks are DC 30 -- as illustrated on the previous two rows of the same goddamn table.
...there's some rules for disease...
Blight-based characters aside, what the fuck are disease rules doing in a superhero game? Diseases are a plot device, they're not something an RPG character catches and has to get better from. Or if you do want to do a thing where you have to go out and do your superhero stuff while suffering from a nasty dose of flu, model that as a complication that grants you some sort of benefit when it comes up -- a trick I first noticed being used in Mutants and Masterminds 2nd edition, back in the mid 2000s, but is now ubiquitous.
But wait, no, it's okay because although there are rules for catching diseases that's where it ends. No effects are listed, no hints about what diseases might do, no rules for recovering from diseases... you just catch one and it sits in your system forever, doing nothing.
Seriously. Here's the entire rules section for disease:
D&D has better disease rules than this.
But we're not done! We've got rules for wounds getting infected! And they're terrible!
If you have an open wound from brutal damage, you need "immediate attention and disinfection by a medical professional (Medicine 4+)" or you risk it becoming infected. That's a Fortitude x 1.5 check against a DC based on how much brutal damage you took. Failure means the wound is infected, so you can't heal brutal damage any more and you take 2 extra brutal damage every day until you can get medical attention.
Once again, why is this in my game? Is this really a game of superheroes getting into a single fight then dying in a basement somewhere of their infected wounds? Well, rules-as-written yes it is, because that's what's going to happen unless you know a doctor who isn't going to raise eyebrows at gunshot wounds and various superpower-related injuries.
You know, if you don't just bleed out in the street first.
...there are some non-rules for mental trauma like the non-rules for disease, rules for inflicting pain (a debuff on all your actions; the rules are a hot mess), rules for drugs and poisons (including rules for becoming addicted which are different to the way the Addiction flaw works), and we round out the chapter with a poorly-edited combat example where several plain-clothes police officers ambush three AMPs in a bar for reasons unknown.
A couple of things to note in the combat example: one character keeps doing cool things, and is only able to overcome the absurd penalties that doing cool things invokes because they are specifically built to do cool shootist stuff and little else. Also, because the GM just fiat lets them knock two guys unconscious while rolling against a difficulty of 15, instead of using the rules of the game.
Oh, and one guy uses Healing (the power) + Medicine to stabilise a bleeding police officer. Entirely reasonable call but, again, not the way the rules work.
Thoughts: The AMP system has two massive flaws:
1. The idea that a moderate difficulty is DC 20.
2. Way, way too many 'ask your GM' moments.
The system overall is massively hamstrung by this idea that a moderate difficulty is DC 20. Making opposed checks is fine, because your opponent is going to have the same low skills as you (assuming your GM isn't an asshole); but when the DC is set 'by the system', so to speak, it defaults to 20.
The problem you're looking at here isn't just a swingy d20-based skill system. It's a swingy d20-based skill system where your skill rating can be literally cut in half if you happen to act slightly outside your established idiom. This is then backed up not with a way to take 10 or take 20, which would make sense, but with a WoD-like mechanic that punishes you for trying the same action over and over.
This is not good design. This is taking bits from d20 and bits from WoD and mashing them together going "NOW KISS!"
My suggestion would be to reinstate taking 10 and 20 with the usual D&D rules, and lowering the 'moderate' DC to 15 and the 'tough' DC to 25. Now moderate tasks are plausibly within the reach of untrained people and relatively simple for anyone with enough relevant training to scrape up a +5 bonus. If it happens to be in your specific wheelhouse where you have a +10 bonus then you're going to probably clock at least one boost in the process of succeeding, letting you pick 'style' and look like a total rock star.
It would also mean you don't have to stack Discipline + Empathy at character gen or risk losing control of your PC every few minutes.
As for the 'ask your GM' stuff... ugggggh. A good GM could paper over these cracks as they come up, but they shouldn't have to -- a game system you paid good money for should be complete. Or build that freeform creativity right into the bones of the system, a la PBTA. Instead we get a system that's going to require the GM to make repeated on-the-fly rulings in order to get around the most basic stuff.
I like the nods to modern storygames present in the 'near successes' and 'consequences' rules, but neither section really plugs into the rest of the game. I think if the whole thing had been designed with more of an eye towards that sort of thing, it would be a better game.
Oh, and one more thing: the word for when you could impose a penalty but don't is "waive", not "wave". This error is consistent throughout the entire book, which suggests that the editor doesn't realise that 'waive' is a real word, and it drives me up the wall.
Next Time: Pre-Statted Antagonists. In which we put a police officer and a peregrine falcon in a cage and see which one comes out alive.
Officer Sylvester vs Tweety the Peregrine FalconOriginal SA post
Officer Sylvester vs Tweety the Peregrine Falcon
Officer Sylvester's attack with his nightstick is d20 + 5 doing a base of 4 damage, and his defence is d20 + 3. Tweety's attack is d20 + 0 doing a base of 2 brutal damage, and her defence is d20 + 15 -- except she's also small, which is good for a -4 modifier on attacks against them, so Sylvester is rolling d20 + 1.
On any given round Sylvester has a 12.25% chance of landing a hit, and a single hit will knock Tweety unconscious because she's only got Integrity 4. On each turn she, however, has a 43% chance of striking Officer S, and about half of those hits will be with a boost (or maybe two) which can be piled into extra damage. With an Integrity of 11 two or three hits from the hawk will have Sylvester bleeding out, at which point the bird can just fly off and let him die.
So Tweety's going to last maybe 9 rounds, but hit 2/5 times; odds are she's going to stack up enough damage for the policeman to bleed to death before she catches a club to the beak, but it'll be a close thing.
But we can make this more complex. An officer expecting trouble and/or falcon attacks would be wearing their Kevlar vest, which would completely negate Tweety's damage (boosts notwithstanding). Tweety has two possible responses to this:
(Assuming 'fly off and find something easier to fight' isn't on the table.)
1. Tweety can pull her strikes. A Kevlar vest absorbs 3 brutal damage from each hit, but only 1 normal damage. If Tweety can make a reflexive Intuition + Fighting roll after each attack they effectively bypass two points of armour. But a) this means she'll be missing out on the bleed effect of brutal damage, b) a falcon's Intuition + Fighting is 0, and c) the DC for the check isn't ever mentioned so this option is non-functional anyway.
2. Tweety can make called shots to the face to bypass the vest. (Bypassing armour is specifically called out as something targeted strikes can do.) But a called shot to the head is at a -6 penalty. So Tweety cheeses the system and makes a called shot to the arm instead, which is only a -4 penalty and will still bypass the vest -- and has a GM's discretion chance of disarming the police officer in the process.
This drops Tweety's hit rate to fractionally more than 25% though (one-in-three hits scoring a damage boost) which means that she'll need about 12 rounds or some serious luck to get the police officer bleeding out before they get swatted.
But wait! Armour carries D&D-style armour check penalties. Kevlar has a -1 penalty just for being Kevlar, and imposes a further -2 penalty if you don't have sufficient Might to wear it.
...which police officers don't.
So Sylvester is now rolling d20 - 2 vs Tweety's defence of d20 + 15, and his defence roll is only d20. That's a 10% chance of striking Tweety every round (basically wholly dependent on nat 20s on attack or nat 1s on defence) and a 36% chance each round that Tweety's going to connect.
So wearing armour is pretty much a wash. Might be different if Officer Sylvester hit the gym every now and again, but w/e.
But Tweety... Tweety's got other options. She can fly out of reach until she wins initiative (it won't be a long wait: +7 vs +3) and then declare an Assault Round. This gives her a +3 bonus on combat actions, +1 damage, and an extra action, all at the cost of -4 to her defence roll.
Tweety now gets two attacks before Officer Sylvester can respond, the first with a 48% chance of connecting to the tune of 3+ brutal damage and the second with a 50% chance because of the onslaught penalty. If both attacks hit, it's all over -- Sylvester will bleed out within a minute. To make things worse, the first attack has a 5% chance of doing the magic 6 brutal damage just straight off and the second 6%.
By way of compensation Sylvester's counterattack now has a 13.5% chance of connecting. Wooo.
Officer Sylvester surveys his character sheet looking for options. Because of his special police training he has a +2 bonus on Grab attacks -- however, because he has no Might score this actually works out exactly the same in terms of trying to grab the bird, armour penalties and all. Worse yet, once the grab is established his bonus goes away -- and Tweety has a higher Might + Athletics total than him. (Birbs get Athletics 5, police officers Athletics 3. Neither has Might.)
I'll just take a moment to point out that a grabbed target suffers a -3 penalty to physical actions for each grabber. The grabber does not suffer this penalty. It does not specify whether the Break Grab action is subject to this, or a counter-grab, or what, but the upshot here is that it's actually in Tweety's interest to get the grab in first, hitting the officer with a -3 penalty on everything and tearing him part with her superior athleticism.
Oh, and RAW Grab does not restrict movement. Officer Sylvester can grab Tweety then Tweety can just fly off on their next action.
What Sylvester notices is that you can use firearms in a grab -- and he remembers that he has a gun. Two, in fact! (A light pistol and a shotgun.)
Now Sylvester has a choice to make. The shotgun offers a +1 attack bonus but will instantly vapourise Tweety on a hit. The light pistol offers +2 attack but will take two hits (or one with a boost) to bring the bird down.
Using the pistol Sylvester has a 43.75% chance of hitting an all-out attacking Tweety, including a 23.5% chance of one-shotting her. Using the shotgun gives a 39.75% chance of a hit and an insta-gib minimum of 8 brutal damage - and if he all-out attacks as well, that gives him two attacks at 52.5% (plus onslaught penalty) provided he survives Tweety's initial assault.
So Sylvester brings a gun to this bird fight.
But if you think Tweety's done for, think again.
Instead of circling at 20 feet for move-and-attack shenanigans, she catches a thermal up to 300 feet -- safely out of the range of any of Sylvester's guns. Then when she wins initiative she declares an Assault Round and stoops on him. This is a Rush move, which takes one action but lets you move your Movement x 15 feet (300 in this case), and gives you bonuses on your next attack's to-hit and damage, and makes it harder to hit you when you're moving at speed.
Except she's a smart raptor, so what she does instead is spend a round Taking Aim for a +3 bonus, then stooping.
Side note: Officer Sylvester doesn't get to Take Aim despite his special police training giving him +4 instead of +3, because if you use a Reaction you lose the bonus. He just doesn't have time while Tweety's controlling the pace of the fight.
So she gets to plummet 300 feet and make one attack at +9 to hit (+5 including the called shot penalty), +2 damage, with a net -1 to her defences. Her attack has a 70% chance of hitting for a minimum of 4 brutal damage, including a 27% chance of dishing out 6 brutal in one go. She can't quite one-shot him, but she has a 1% chance of doing her max damage of 10 brutal in one hit. Which is more damage than a shotgun, carries a 75% chance of an instant KO, and will cause him to bleed out if he can't bandage himself up with his next action. (He has no Medicine. He's going to bleed out.)
Sylvester's response has a 32.5% chance of hitting -- he can't all-out attack because he's used a reaction this round -- and then it pretty much comes down to who wins initiative next round. If Tweety wins (~62% chance) she goes assault again, takes a swipe at Sylvester, then fucks off at top speed out of the range of his gun. If Sylvester wins she doesn't declare assault, thus improving her defences slightly, but if he declares an assault round he gets two attacks at ~40% chance of hitting, which is probably going to be the end of our plucky falcon.
By using Inflict Pain instead of Inflict Harm, she can dish out cumulative penalties to Officer Sylvester's actions. If those penalties ever equal -10 he falls unconscious in agony. Even better, Inflict Pain doesn't care about armour so we can ditch the called strike penalty. Even better, when you make a Rush attack with Inflict Pain each boost grants a stacking -2 pain penalty (on top of the base -2) instead of -1.
So. Tweety goes for the nuts.
She's got an ~11% chance of taking Officer Sylvester out in one, causing so much pain that he passes out, and about a 36% chance of giving him a -6 to -8 penalty to everything (including initiative) which is pretty much as good as taking him out because he'll never succeed on a check again. For her defence this round Tweety's looking at a d20 + 14 versus Sylvester's attack of d20 + 8 minus whatever pain penalty he's got, so odds are she's going to get away with it. Then she just needs to survive until she wins initiative again, probably through the magic of Defence Rounds (no actions, but +3 to reactions), fly out of range, take aim, and repeat.
At this point Sylvester's all out of fancy tricks, so he's probably going to get ro-sham-bo'd into oblivion.
So by the numbers, I'd back the bird.
Fake Edit: I think I forgot the armour check penalty on Sylvester's shooting rolls, so his attack rolls may be up to 10% lower than I just said. Again: smart money's on Tweety.
Chapter Five: Put To The TestOriginal SA post
Chapter Five: Put To The Test
People, animals, and AMPs. I'll be honest, Officer Sylvester vs Tweety was probably the best thing to come out of this chapter.
Right up front we're told that this chapter focuses specifically on NPCs which might be a threat to the characters -- which is fine, if not exactly true. The majority of this chapter is in fact AMP opponents, who I suspect might also be playtester characters? But a lot of them aren't really threatening. They're just... folks.
Which is at least in keeping with one of the themes of the game: that people are people, superpowers or not.
We have a nod to minion rules as well, with fodder. Fodder have the stats of Average People, or
They may also simply rule that a successful Inflict Harm Action takes out the target in question, due to either luck or the difference in skill level between the character and the Fodder.
So yet more 'the GM might just rule things go like this, maybe?' in place of actual rules or guidelines. Ugh.
Anyway, moving on to the meat of the chapter.
We've got stats for bears, birds of prey, dogs/wolves, horses, and big cats.
Bears are moderately dangerous -- they do hefty damage, have loads of hit points, ok stats in attack and defence, and they've got natural armour that reduces all incoming damage by 1. They also have a Might + Athletics score of 9, which means they don't have the minimum strength to break a 2x4 (M + A 10). They've also got a Movement of 12, which works out to a sprinting speed of ~12 mph.
A quick Google tells me that a grizzly bear can roll around a quarter-ton dumpster "like a beachball" and sprint at 35-40 mph, so there you go.
We've already seen how dangerous birds of prey can be. Also worth noting is that they have Perception listed in their stat block but no number next to it. They're "Perception Speed 10".
A digression: It's interesting to me to note the oddity with the Movement system on display here. Basically, to stop PCs from dumping their Speed and taking a power that lets them get around that (like Flight, for example), all Movement is derived from your base Movement which is derived from Athletics + Speed. But then if you start with something particularly fast -- like a bird of prey -- you have to back-solve from a high Movement, giving it an arbitrarily high Speed.
But then you start deriving other things from Speed or Athletics, like defence in combat (or wrestling skill) and everything goes to hell.
Anyway, back to the animals.
Big cats "may attack and perform a Tackle with the same action at no penalty". There's no Tackle action in the book. Presumably they mean a knockdown?
A horse's back kick "automatically causes a Knock Back" which also doesn't mean much of anything RAW. Presumably it means that if a horse hits you with its back kick it does knockback in addition to damage -- which is totally irrelevant because a horse's Might + Athletics is 6, which will knock anyone hit by its back kick six feet away (i.e. just outside of melee range, because we're using D&D measurements) unless you have an M + A of 2 or better, in which case you won't even get knocked a full square away.
Having spoken to some horsey people in my time I'd judge that a stun would be far more likely than a knockback, but I'd also use a completely different system for animals than people because they're not really directly comparable in terms of raw strength or athletic prowess.
As a side note for this section, I'm going to complain that although several animals have size modifiers to be hit -- the size modifier table in fact uses animal sizes as examples -- those modifiers don't appear in their stat blocks.
Here we've got stats for Average People, police officers, small-time criminals, big-time criminals, soldiers, 'commanders', and men in black.
Average People are so useless they might as well just auto-fail everything. They have one skill at 3 and all others at 1, meaning that in their area of specialty they're rolling d20 + 4, which is terrible.
Police officers and small-time crims are fairly decent antagonists for non-combat PCs -- combat-specced characters (or peregrine falcons) will destroy them by the dozen. Although a thug with a baseball bat would have a pretty good chance of going one-on-one with a bear and coming out on top.
But soldiers... soldiers are hardcore.
Their skills are listed as
Choose one focus (Fighting 6, Knowledge 6, Medicine 6, Technology 6 or Travel 6), All others at +4
Now this is unclearly worded -- does it mean 'all others from that list' or 'all other skills'? The former would be more reasonable, but it would also mean that no soldiers have Marksmanship... so I suspect the latter is the correct interpretation. Which is ridiculous.
Oh, and this:
Other Notes: Soldiers fight as a team and receive a +1 bonus for each other allied Soldier to all combat checks for the Battle.
Oh, and if they have a commander with them they can clock an extra +3 on all combat checks while the commander's giving orders.
They're also all listed as having "Machine Gun[s]", which you'll note in the equipment list are actual belt-fed machine guns. (Assault rifles have their own entry.) A soldier with one of these has an attack bonus of +8 and does 6 brutal damage on a hit -- but they'll always be using short bursts, so make that 8 brutal on a hit. One of these guys alone will probably kill at least one PC if they start a fight; especially if they go all-out attack and attack twice per turn at +11 to hit, 9 brutal damage. Or they could empty the magazine in two long bursts, attacking up to 10 targets each time at +5 to hit and doing 11 brutal damage.
And that's just Rambo by himself. God help you if he brings his mates and/or his commanding officer.
There are 33 AMPs presented here, so I'm going to try and keep things brief. The back cover of AMPYO says they're pregenerated characters you can just pick up and play: of the six I ran the numbers on not one came in with the right points value to be starting characters. You could probably still just pick up and play since they're not hugely out of whack with one another, but you know. Details.
Anthem is a self-duplicating sound blaster who wants to be a punk singer. She's also a kleptomaniac, which is how she's likely to cross paths with the PCs.
Arbiter is a TV psychic who is also (unknown to most) an actual psychic. Her build is missing Wealth, though, so despite being a famous TV psychic she's nearly penniless.
Bombadil is a beardy weirdy who loves his plants and has an exact 50% chance of being able to stop you from bleeding to death. Also
Any time his home has been found, he welcomes the visitors in, offers them tea and asks them their purpose. If there to harm him or his plants (and he'll know because he talks to his plants quite often), their tea just so happens to be poisonous. If they are friendly, then they get to experience the strangeness that is Bombadil.
He's got no poison powers, so I guess he just straight up pours rat poison into the drink of anyone who wants to hurt his trees. He's got a lot of escape powers but no defence against mind control and no combat skills -- an Average Person could take him in a fight, assuming they didn't mention this intention to any of the plants they walked past to get to him.
On the other hand, with Medicine + Knowledge 9 he's one of the few people in the game as it stands who might be able to stop you from bleeding to death. Too bad that with Discipline + Empathy 2 if a PC rocks up on his doorstep he'll probably just poison them because of the law of attraction.
Breezy used to be a vacuous it-girl but a near-death experience gave her a new lease on life and air elemental powers. Now she's an instructor at the School for the Gifted, which I've just realised makes her a chilled-out Canadian version of Storm. She's actually built as a fairly decent pacifist character, and would make a decent PC with the addition of some bonus points. (To buy some Wealth, which once again has been forgotten.)
She's a pretty handy doctor too, and is a) more resistant to the law of attraction and b) less likely to murder you even if she fails than "the strangeness that is Bombadil".
Carver is a doctor with giant always-on sword-claw arms. He's trying to find a cure for having giant always-on sword-claw arms.
Charon is an emo teen from a shitty broken home who regenerates and can talk to the dead. He's a pretty good character as a PC or an NPC, with a built-in motivation (to help lay ghosts to rest) and a twisted past that can come back to haunt him. He's also completely incapable of resisting urges or impulses, but I figure that's okay for a teen.
Chrome is an anti-conformist invulnerable butch lesbian magnet-woman who fights crime. Which is p. cool.
Citizen Arcane is a stage magician who also has actual illusion powers and a pet squirrel. Somehow, he is even more twee than Bombadil.
Conduit is basically Rogue if Rogue was a bloke and a teenage asshole. And he's leader of the Changelings!
Courier is a teleporting English teacher who lives in Japan, and somehow has a permit to carry a firearm which I thought was a big no in Japan? He loves his wife a whole lot. I don't know why he would be involved in AMP drama at all.
Critter is Stacie Winters, dog-thrower extraordinaire. She's probably missing as of the start of the game's timeline.
Cypher is a shadow-controller who works as an assassin for the UHF because his brother is a member. (Side note: He's got Love 4 for his brother and rubbish Discipline, so he mechanically cannot resist his brother tugging on his heartstrings -- which is sort of neat?) He's quite handy at fighting and godawful at anything else.
Diamondback is a poisonous assassin for Typhoon and... just look at this:
He doesn't have the Kid drawback, note. He also doesn't have any Wealth despite being a highly paid assassin who "live[s] the life of luxury".
He's also kind of shit at being an assassin. His poison spit is nasty but he's going to have trouble doing it more than once or twice per fight and with a base damage of 3 Brutal that's not going to do the job. His poison bite is at least lethal to an Average Person (over the course of a minute or so) but because he's got no Might he's going to have trouble getting the Grab he needs to deliver it and it's still not going to kill fast enough for him to avoid being smeared across the walls by anyone who knows how to fight. (He's not even very good at escaping for bite-and-run tactics.) His poison kiss is his best assassination trick because it knocks people out as well as hurting them, but he's pretty short on ways to persuade people to kiss him.
Here's how you make a better assassin: take Portals instead of Venom and take the Pocket augment. Pick up a bunch of social skills so you can get close to the target, then literally pull a shotgun out of your ass and blow them away.
I think technically that augment only works on pockets, but if I was GM I'd let that slide.
With the same Portals you can stop your target from running away and make a clean getaway and leave fewer CSIs scratching their heads over a human bite wound with pronounced venom-delivering fangs. Hell, with the right augment you can even pull someone else's shotgun out of your ass and frame them for murder in the process.
Portals is the best assassin power.
Frostbite is an ice-controlling street gangster who works for Typhoon and wants to expand his gang into a global crime ring. He could wreck Diamondback in a fight, and would make a better assassin too.
Hunter blames AMPs for the death of her husband and daughter so she joined the UHF to kill them. Then she got AMP powers. Oops! She hates the UHF but she hates AMPs more, so she's a self-loathing murder machine who plans to kill herself once she's killed all the others. Her only powers are Killer Instinct and heightened senses for Danger Sense, which I like as a power concept for a 'regular Joan' killer a la the Punisher.
She also has the Stable Psyche merit! Because nothing says 'stable' like a bereaved mass-murderer.
Inukpak is a Canadian First Nations teenager who turned into a giant and wrecked a TV station.
Juegar is a Spanish matador with stretchy powers who got "gorged on the bull's horn".
The Lance is a cool concept. He's a paramedic by day, and a vigilante speedster with a healing touch by night. Unfortunately he's a shit paramedic with a Medicine + Knowledge of only 5. (That healing touch makes up for a lot.) With only Fighting 3 he's pretty crap as a vigilante too.
Lost Boy is a kid (with the Kid drawback) who was horribly traumatised by his parents' deaths and manifested erratic teleportation powers.
This guy has Wealth 2. Despite being about nine, and therefore not able to have a bank account in his own name or a job with which to provide income.
Oh, also? Dude is still subject to the law of attraction. If you meet him anywhere there's a bit of tension, he may well be compelled to confront you -- by attacking you or otherwise getting up in your face. Despite the fact that he's a kid, he's traumatised, and he's basically terrified of everything.
Even better/worse, if you meet him anywhere there's a bit of tension there's a non-zero chance that you will feel compelled to get up in his face, further traumatising him (at best) or maybe just blowing him away with lightning/disembowelling him with your shadow sword if your principle method of conflict resolution is violence.
Remember when I mentioned that the law of attraction is bollocks? And that the Kid drawback will never lead anywhere good? This is what happens when the two intersect: you roll badly one time and your Cool and Good PC ends up punching a small boy in the face.
Nether lives in a nice neighbourhood, and brutally murders anyone who disturbs the peace. (Or at least he would if he had a half-decent build. Even with his powers I'm pretty certain a regular thug could take him.) I think he's a cross between D-Fens from Falling Down and that bit-part villain from Warren Ellis' Punisher run who also murdered anyone who disturbed the peace in his nice neighbourhood.
Oh, except he has Wealth 0 so he actually lives in a slum. Oops.
Nymph is a model with plant and pheromone powers. Fairly decent character build; not combat-focused but able to fight, but she's got no Persuasion skill to capitalise on her pheromones and her Attractive merit.
And she's rich! (Wealth 4)
Pattern is a with psychometry and technopathy powers, meaning she's the clue dispenser. Good to have on your pub quiz team.
Radiant is a light-wielding rich girl who's basically crossed the line from 'vigilante' to 'arbitrary violence dispenser'. She's actually pretty well-built and would -- pre moral collapse -- make a decent PC. A notable problem for a PC Radiant is her Discipline + Empathy zero and aggression problems, which means she's a) probably going to fail any and all law of attraction rolls and b) jump straight to violence when she does.
Rapture is a powerful oneiromancer who is convinced that dreams are actually another dimension and she should be able to pull things from one to the other permanently. On a related note she's in love with a dream-character of hers called Lilith, who popped out of her head to murder her repressive parents when she was a kid, and is trying to find a way to bring Lilith into this world permanently so they can shack up. Well-adjusted!
Rapture is phenomenally powerful, although her stats don't quite line up with the rules as written. She also has a permit to carry a gun, which is odd because a) she can summon items from her daydreams and b) she has no Marksmanship so has no idea what to do with the gun she's legally allowed to carry.
Ripley is an amnesiac dual-pistol-wielding badass with Marksmanship 8 and hyper-agility. That's someone's player character alright.
He also has an "Addition" to cigarettes, so better pray to God he never runs out or he's going to murderise everyone between him and the corner shop.
Samaritan is an old dude who's had a great life and has a loving family, and now he travels the world using his portals to help folks out and take in the scenery. Another pretty cool character concept.
Savage is another Typhoon "killing machine" whose stats don't do justice to the concept.
Savior is a mind controller and water elementalist who's built a little cult around himself but isn't quite sure what to do with them. Another neat character concept, built in such a way that I'm getting ex-PC vibes from him as well. (Low combat skills bumped up by specialities in the weapons he was going to be using anyway.) He has a Hideout and followers, but no Wealth.
Shell makes forcefields and is almost terminally dull.
Stench is a concept straight out of the X-Men: a guy whose power involves being a walking disease vector, who tries to live like a hermit but keeps having to help people out of car crashes and muggings and things.
Thrasher is a Native American dude who has visions and can turn into a bird. He'd pretty much abandoned his heritage, and now is a bit conflicted about going back to his mother and asking for spiritual insight. Could be exploitative or a good story? I don't know. Kind of pointless as an NPC though because his plotline, such as it is, is contained almost entirely within his own head.
TimeX (capital X intentional) is a nigh-legendary kung fu master (Fighting 8) who runs a strip mall dojo with too few students to pay the bills. With Luck and Chronos for powers, he's the most dangerous fighter among the pregens. (Although Ripley's pretty close.)
Vigil is a homeless woman with earth control powers who doesn't sleep. She fights crime and looks after the homeless, which make for good hooks whether she's a PC or NPC.
And that's the lot!
Thoughts: The bulk of this chapter deals with the AMPs, so that's where the bulk of my thoughts are.
Basically, they range from alright to pretty good. There are a few with almost no reason to interact with the PCs even if they are the PCs (Thrasher being the best/worst example) but most of them are interesting concepts at the very least. The mechanical execution is variable (Diamondback) although almost none of them can reliably hit DC 20 Discipline + Empathy to resist the law of attraction if you meet them in a tense situation.
I'm 99% certain that these are the player characters of the playtesters. I can see what looks like the makings of a game set within each of the major factions plus maybe a street-level vigilante crime-fighting sort of game and a street-level 'among the homeless' sort of game. And one which is all famous people? (Nymph, Arbiter, Citizen Arcane)
Which does showcase the game's versatility. You can play games from a whole host of different angles with AMPYO, which is definitely a point in its favour.
The big mechanical problem is with the Wealth rules -- I suspect at least some of the games these characters came from didn't use them, which is why you have so many characters at Wealth 0 even when their description would lead you to expect more. But then that's what happens when you include a background that's pretty much compulsory to function in the modern world but make it cost precious chargen points. At least AMPYO beats out WoD by having Wealth 0 give you minimal wealth instead of the literal 'you own nothing, you are a homeless bum' of WoD's Resources 0.
Next Time: GM Advice. Insert your own 'use a different system' joke here.
Chapter Five: The Immersive World OR Chapter Five: StorytellingOriginal SA post
Chapter Five: The Immersive World
Chapter Five: Storytelling
depending on whether you're looking at the table of contents or the chapter header.
AMPYO takes its cues from WoD with regards to themes and moods, in the sense that it uses the words 'theme' and 'mood'. The book says the setting's themes are:
- Unveiling the Mystery. Basically there are loads of conspiracies. It does point out in this paragraph that because of the way the strains originated in 1940 and follow bloodlines, characters' parents and grandparents may well have known each other -- which has the potential to be a great hook into a 'big setting mystery' plot if you want to go that way.
- Most Important Things. What's important to you? What will you do to protect it? Good questions both, and actually mechanically supported (a bit) by the Loyalty system.
- Hero vs Villain: Are you a hero or a villain? Are such distinctions meaningful? Since the answer to the latter question is (in-setting) a firm 'no', I don't know why this is called out as a theme. It doesn't really matter.
- Danger Around Every Corner. The law of attraction forces AMPs to fight, but various groups (like the gubmint) are always on the lookout for AMPs and want to black bag them. Nothing is safe! This theme isn't mechanically supported at all, but the fiction leans into it.
So you know, not a bad answer to 'what is this game about?'
The films Push (which I liked a lot, which is apparently unusual) and Wanted (oh dear), the TV shows Heroes (um) and Misfits (yay!), and the comic books Gen-13, Teen Titans, and X-Men.
Although not listed the game's mechanical inspirations are clearly WoD and d20 grafted together, which makes for some uneven joins. I've mentioned before that the swingy d20 skill system combined with the WoD 'punish someone for trying the same thing over and over' is a bad fit.
If you've been wondering 'but what do you do in AMP: Year One?' this section is here to answer you. Every faction (plus Unaffiliated) gets an overview of the sorts of things they're likely to get up to, and three concrete story hooks to get you started.
On the whole these are pretty good, although there's no section covering what to do if your players gen up characters of mixed affiliations -- I suspect the official advice would be 'don't do this' but it would be nice to have a sidebar or something to that effect.
I have a couple of minor gripes about this section, but they're pretty minor -- it is overall a useful and good inclusion.
First gripe: the UHF is treated as a faction that PC AMPs can join and work for. Because a game about working for a group of bigots who hate you for being un/lucky in the genetic lottery seems a bit... grim. Unless you frame the game as AMPs breaking free from the fucknut assholes and making a better life for themselves. That might be p. cool.
Second gripe: this is one of the hooks for the Seekers of Enlightenment:
Missing Teammates: As time goes on, many of the AMPs discovered and embraced by the Seekers end up missing. The characters may need to investigate their disappearances and may only find more danger in the process. AMP: Year One leaves the truth of their whereabouts hidden, but this could put them at odds with any of the other organizations quite easily.
Yep, the first book encourages you to set up a mystery plot where the Actual Answers are transparently going to be revealed in a later book. I'll take "Why is metaplot bad?" for $300, Alex.
There's some advice about making NPCs which boils down to 'spend some time on the major ones' and a section about how the setting influences the game. This latter part is 100% devoid of useful advice. It might as well not be there.
A handful of pointers for the AMP GM.
1. Have Fun!
Hello, boardgame thread? Would you like to explain the definition of fun for us?
2. The Characters Are The Story
This is actually good advice about keeping the story focused on the PCs and making sure that what they do matters.
3. Don't Control Everything
Also good advice. It's 101-level good advice, but that's fine -- going into an in-depth discussion of illusionism and why it's bad is probably not the best use of page count for a product like this.
4. Involve Loyalties, Involve Everyone
Basically, 'make sure the characters have a reason to bite on the plot hook'. Although it could probably do with a little more on intermediate techniques like 'ask the players what would motivate their characters to get involved' or 'tell everyone beforehand what the hook will be and have them build characters with appropriate Loyalties'.
5. Be Descriptive, Not Definitive
Ehhhhhh. Basically 'don't spell out what's going on in short words, because this frees you up to mislead the PCs and throw them a curve later'.
And that's the end! That was a short chapter.
And apart from a glossary, that's the end of the book!
Thoughts: Well, that's certainly a game.
...okay, it's about 85% of a game. Depending on which powers you choose you may have guaranteed effectiveness in certain circumstances, or be entirely dependent on the GM permitting you to function, or sometimes both. Remember Heartstrings?
Honestly, I feel bad ragging on it so much because from what I'm told and what I can see Third Eye Games are one of the best companies in the industry (such as it is) and I think there's mileage in supporting that kind of friendly, positive, professional style.
But AMP is not a good game.
In terms of game design it's straight out of the 90s with all the flaws and wobbles that entails, most notably the metaplot and the eminently abusable merits and flaws system. It's also got the D&D problem that you can break the game over your knee without even trying just by accidentally picking one of the powers that lets you do so. The system itself is an unholy fusion of d20 and Storyteller, and has carried over some of the worst bits of each -- a swingy d20 roll, needing to invest in two skills to be good at one thing, a focus on narrative without any mechanics to support narrative... it's a hot mess.
It's also internally inconsistent. The Addiction flaw has different rules to the way addiction is described in the section on drugs. The drugs version even references the flaw version! Not that the two function together in any meaningful way. Or the Pain rules -- I just did a Ctrl-F through the pdf looking for them and found six versions, all very slightly different.
And I expounded on this when we looked at the Systems chapter, but the 'moderate' DC for things is too high. You could fix almost all of the mechanical problems this game has by dropping that DC to 15 and allowing people to take 10 or 20 to establish a baseline level of competence. (Although the areas where mechanics are incomplete or entirely absent would still be a problem.)
That would also allow you to circumvent the law of attraction if everything was chill when you met another AMP, although that's another area of the game that requires a whole overhaul. I get that it's meant to prevent AMPs from living a quiet life by forcing them to act out whenever another one shows up -- which could happen any time, anywhere -- but you don't have to do that by taking people's agency away. Have their powers flare up outside their control until they've 'attuned to the other person's aura' or something.
The game would benefit in general from better rules for handling beliefs and emotional states, not least because they have power sets and a combat action that interact directly with those. If that was in place you could refine the law of attraction into something a little like an Exalted limit break: hang around with other AMPs too much and eventually you'll fly off the handle -- but the player can choose the way in which their character goes when they do go, perhaps based on their current emotional state. You could do a lot with a system like that.
And that's kind of the thing, I think. AMPYO's major flaws are glaring but fixable, and they're pretty much all mechanical, but there's a major disconnect between the game's stated themes (conspiracies, shades of grey, superheroes taking their place on the world stage, the price of power) and what the mechanics support (fights, losing control). You could port the AMP setting to almost any other supers game and lose nothing. Hell, looking at those themes I reckon you could hack Night's Black Agents to do it.
But not so much Mutant City Blues? That has a strongly-defined powers system baked right in, so it's probably less suitable.
I started writing up this game because I thought a close read might show me what it was that other people love so much about it, and now I'm done I still have no idea. I get that with a skilled GM and a load of handwaving (and no-one setting out to break the game, or picking the wrong power and doing it by accident) you could have a good time playing it -- if I had the opportunity I wouldn't turn down a game of AMP, which means it still comes in ahead of Champions -- and that maybe the d20-based mechanics might make it an easier sell to the D&D crowd, but overall... it's just not very good.