Customisable superheroes

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Joined: 11 May 2005
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Location: Munich

PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2011 12:58 pm    Post subject: Customisable superheroes Reply with quote

Some months ago, Tonitrus mentioned the Tri-Stat roleplaying game to me (the PDF is available here for free). I decided to have a play with it, and I really like the way it handles character customisation.

In most roleplay games you decide what you character is (a warrior, an elf, etc) and that determines what you can do. However effects-based roleplaying games like Tri-Stat work the other way around - you first focus on what you can do, and then describe how you can do it.

For example, in a typical roleplaying game you might choose to be a pixie, which grants you wings and the ability to fly. In Tri-Stat you just buy the Flight power, apply the Detectable penalty to it, and describe your character as having wings.

Likewise, it doesn't matter whether you're a warrior with magical armour, a werewolf with thick fur, or a demon with tough skin, because they all work the same way - they protect against damage. So you just focus on the effect by taking the Armour power, and then you describe the source of your protection.

I've been trying to think how this could be applied to a mud, in particular for a superhero genre (most effects-based systems seem to be geared towards superhero games). The hard part is really the cosmetics, because they're so freeform - however I think it would suffice to offer an initial selection of cosmetics to choose from, and then expand on them over time.

As I scribbled down my thoughts, I came to realise that some aspects of my demon warp system already work this way: Demons can teleport, use a fast movement mode, and gain a feet-based attack. By default the teleport is described as spreading their wings and flying into the sky (then landing at the destination), the fast movement mode is described as beating their wings while remaining airborne, and the feet-based attack is described as a wing-bash. However they can choose alternatives - for example placing the Storm Demon warp on their wings will describe the teleport as transforming into a bolt of lightning and shooting into the sky, the fast movement is described as levitating while their body crackles with lightning, and the feet-based attack is described as a blast of lightning.

There are a couple of dozen variations, some of which offer slightly varied mechanics (for example Frog Fiend "wings" describe the teleport as a powerful leap, it doesn't have any fast movement mode, and the feet-based attack is replaced with the ability to coat weapons in toxic venom). However in general, the underlying functionality tends to remain the same - you can teleport, you have a fast movement mode, and you have a feet-based attack. Every demon has the ability to do these things, with the warps primarily describing how you do them.

I wonder how effectively this approach could be extended to an entire mud - allow players to customise their own superheroes, taking generic powers like Movement, Protection and Attack, and then select a flavour for those powers such as Bird (wing-based flight, thick feathers and wing-bash), Storm (levitation, electrified aura and lightning blast), Spider (webslinging, carapace and entanglement), Gadgets (rocketpants, powersuit and ray gun), Psionic (telekinetic flight, forcefield and psychic blast), etc.

My main concern is that a single flavour might prove too limiting - but on the other hand, it would ensure a consistent character theme. Perhaps each flavour could have a set of options or subflavours though, to allow for some reasonable variation - or maybe players could purchase a secondary flavour if they're willing to sacrifice raw power for versatility, so that you can have a "Fire and Ice" concept without being automatically better than Human Torch or Iceman.

Although there'd be a lot of opportunity to customise characters, most of the customisation would be cosmetic, so hopefully the min-maxing could be kept in check through careful balancing of the generic powers.

I think it could make for an interesting game.
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