Friday, July 2, 2010

Physical Adepts

Physads were always my character archetype of choice when I got to play Shadowrun. For the style of game I was in I was much better going for the modded out street sam, since they were more powerful, but I always liked the aesthetic of somatically channeled magic. So I took the hit in performance and had my style.

That thought rose again when it came time to deal with adept powers. Naturally, my first inclination was to look at the powers offered by Shadowrun to get an idea of what adepts could do. The problem was, I didn't like the answer, which appeared to be "most of what street sam's can do, without cyberware." Throw in the additional rider of "and not as well," for good measure.

I get why that is. Street sams are limited by their essence score. Each piece of ware chips away at it, and when they zero out, they're done. They can't augment themselves further. Adepts, on the other hand, can continue to pile on the powers as long as they earn experience. So they've got to start at a lower level or they'll leave sams in the dust almost out of the gates.

The thing is, I don't like that solution for several reasons. It's no fun playing in someone's shadow, and the promise that one day, maybe, if the game lasts that long, you'll be able to step into the limelight doesn't salvage the situation. Not only does that mean you're enduring a situation instead of enjoying it, but when the switch finally does come, you're now leaving someone else in the shadow.

To top it off, if magic and technology are so different, which Shadowrun's flavor text and mechanics scream, then being physically augmented by one rather than the other should also be different.

This lead me to consider the first radical departure from Shadowrun definitions since beginning this project. All along, even when I altered the mechanics, I did so in order to represent by-the-book flavor. I've yet to consider rewriting any aspect of the story or world. Now I am.

We have street sams, and they do their thing. Do we need another group who does the same thing the same way, just with different advancement mechanics? Seems redundant. And a quick query to my group got me the same answer. "Adepts are a poor man's samurai," someone said.

So why not have adepts do something different? Sams are king of the die pool in Shadowitz. Their implants usually give them bonus dice, and can even push their pools over the normal maximum of 10. But in the end they follow the same rules as everyone else. Their knacks work the same way as anyone else's, they just roll more dice to do it.

Instead of piling dice on adept knacks, I'm thinking of giving them powers that expand or enhance them in some other way. Adepts receive a cap of 10 dice like everyone else, but they can use their knacks to do things that other people can't. For example:

  • A gun adept that's so good at suppressing fire that he can generate yin dice from his Firearms knack
  • A martial artist that's mastered such a brutal style of combat that he can negate two of his opponent's yin dice for one yang die
  • A driver that's so accomplished behind the wheel that he can ignore certain terrain penalties
Bonuses such as these provide real mechanical benefits to being a physical adept, but give the adept a niche and feel complete apart from that of the street sam. Both can bring heavy muscle to a fight, but they manifest it differently. Now, when you want to play a physically superior character, you have a real choice to make.

As a trial, I'm going to take the stunts from Fate and translate them to work under my mechanical system. This has several big ramifications for powers.

First, Fate's stunts are all tied to skills. There are no freestanding powers like magic armor or increased reflexes. Now, an adept is something of the skill king. All of his powers enhance his knacks. He's a master of action, with very few passive powers (there are a few tied to Resolve and Endurance that are exceptions). This means that your power selection interacts with your knack picks more closely, and in my mind that makes them feel more personal somehow.

Second, Fate's stunts have no rating. You either have a stunt or you don't. For the moment anyway, we bid farewell to purchasing powers in levels. This is especially important given that I want to keep adept powers from adding to die pools whenever possible in order to keep them thematically separate from cyberware. For now, anytime a power is supposed to enhance a die roll, I'm going to use the general guideline that it lets you subtract 2 from a single die, or 1 from a pair of dice. This should grant an adept a higher success threshold without increasing the die pool.

As for cost, adept powers used to have the same style of magic cost that cyberware did for essence. Minor powers were fractions of a point, while the heavy hitters cost you several at a clip. For this new array of powers, I'm going to simplify it: 1:1. That'll again make picking adept powers feel less like gear shopping. Seeing a cost like .25/level feels very cold and scientific to me. That belongs in cyberware, where it's a perfect fit. Magic needs something different.

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