Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chunks of Ichor

The new Scion PDF (Scion Companion, Chapter 2: Manifestations of Ichor) is full of new Knacks and Boons. Most are really cool, and a great addition to the game.

Unfortunately, some of them blow chunks. Here's a list of ones I'll be house-ruling or just not using:

One Inch Punch - anything you can do with this Knack you could already do with Making It Look Easy and a decent stunt. This knack just devalues Making It Look Easy, which was already kinda weak as knacks go. What's more, Making It Look Easy doesn't have a prerequisite, and One Inch Punch does.
I won't be using One Inch Punch.

Titanium Tools - I'd expect few or no GMs currently apply real world physics to the majority of weapons, especially not where Epic Strength is involved. This knack is only useful if your GM is the kind of jerk who makes swords shatter when your super-strong hero swings them. While there's some merit to the higher end uses of this knack (using a 2x4 to shatter a concrete bunker), they don't justify the can of worms this knack's existence opens. The game doesn't have simple rules to determine when and what weapons break, so your basically forcing any strength-based weapon user to buy this knack.
I will probably allow Titanium Tools, but I'll make it abundantly clear to my players that anything built to be a weapon by skilled craftsmen already survives without this knack. As a result, the knack is of somewhat lessened value.

Microscopic Precision - Since it doesn't give any mechanics for reducing the difficulty of microscopic movements, this knack is of dubious use. A Scion with high Epic Dex (but without this knack) and a scientific microscope (or just the right Perception knack) will feel they should already be able to do this. A Scion with just one dot of Epic Dex and this knack is likely to fail at any Microscopic Precision rolls they make, since the GM will probably assign an arbitrarily high difficulty number. By forgetting to give the knack any tangible mechanical benefits and providing no difficulty guidelines for the GM, the knack fails to be helpful.
I will probably house-rule this to "Microscopic precision reduces the difficulty (or difficulty penalty) of microscopic maneuvers by an amount equal to your dots of Epic." I'd considering switching it to a Perception knack, so that you can have a character who's not a good fighter but can build nanotech by hand, except all the PCs in my campaign already have Epic Dex, so there's no need to do so in my game. Need to think about whether this knack is even needed in my campaign.

Shot To The Heart - Richochet Symphony and a stunt already do this, and more, and do it without the prerequisite. Plus, it's not like there's a lot of creatures with weak spots in the game - as much sense as it would make for leviathan's eyes to have lesser soak, they don't. Unless you radically alter the existing rules for DV, Soak, Disarming, and stunting, this knack is next to useless. It gives you a bonus on a situation that just doesn't happen in the current rules, and it's not enough of a bonus to really justify going to the work to make it useful. In fact, it just eliminates penalties - so why go to all the trouble of adding such penalties to the game if you're just going to make them go away with 5xp?
I'm probably just going to pretend this knack doesn't exist, instead of redoing all those rules or monster stats.

Under Pressure - My initial reaction was "this is so narrow, it's useless." Then I realized it completely eliminates the environmental hazards of The Drowned Road. If you intend to send your PCs there, it's incredible. But since more than a dot or two of Epic Stamina will ensure you make the Trauma rolls anyway, it's still dubious.
Not sure what to do with this Stamina knack.

Blame James - This should be a Manipulation Knack, not Charisma. Of course, that would make the prerequisite tricky, since it's Charisma-based.
House-ruling this to be a Manipulation Knack. The prerequisite is now God's Honest.

Instant Seminar - Doesn't list a duration.
House-ruled to last till the end of the scene.

Paragon of Virtue - Doesn't list a duration.
House-ruled to last till the end of the scene.

Do Not Want - Activator uses Attribute + Epic + Ability + Legend. Resistors use Willpower + Ability + Legend. At low levels that makes this week. But at high Legend, this is huge - especially since you could expend a Deed on the activation. In fact, for high-legend social PCs, this is arguably better than Untouchable Opponent. And UO is widely regarded as the most broken knack in the game, everyone house-rules it. Worse yet, this knack has a lot of rules baggage attached. Worst of all, there's nothing that prevents you from combining this with Epic Dex, UO, Arete: Athletics and Arete: Presence for a DV of 200+. At the legend where that's possible, the activation cost won't deter you from popping it every battle. The game didn't need another big DV booster - what it needs is ways around DV.
Despite the funny name, I won't be using this knack. There's no good way to fix it.

Not The Face - This shouldn't be resisted with Willpower + INTEGRITY + Legend. Command or Larceny would make more sense. Using integrity means that a cruel backstabbing bastard is more likely to grant you mercy than a pious humanitarian is.
House-ruled to be resisted by Willpower + Larceny + Legend.

Return To Sender - Has the wrong prerequisite. Instead of Overt Order (which lasts only a few seconds) it should be either Instant Hypnosis or Kill The Messenger.
House-ruled to have Instant Hypnosis as the prerequisite.

Visage Great And Terrible - Examined against merely the Scion cannon, this knack is fine. However, as discussed below, this knack is inferior to at least two very similar fan-made knacks, neither of which is the least bit broken. (Some bias is possible here, as I made one of those knacks.)
Using Terrible As The Dawn instead.

Axiom - Seems to overlap heavily with Mystery, and will generally out-perform it. Rather unfortunate that single knack is better than an entire Purview.
Luckily, I've house-ruled Prophecy and Mystery, so I'll be able to use Axiom without a problem.

Concept To Execution - Overall, I love this knack (though I wonder why its Intelligence + Craft + LEGEND for the roll). It's the Hitori Hanzo fix we've all been craving. However, I do have one fairly serious problem with it. The entry for the difficulty chart says "Item runs counter to part of the story, theme or plot: +10". Shouldn't that be a bit higher in a game where PCs can have rolls that baseline at 45 before even looking at the dice or power-ups?
House-ruling that one line to be +20 to difficulty. That should keep the story/theme/plot from being wrecked until very late Godhood, at which point PCs should feel entitled to do so.

Adaptive Fighting - I see no point to the increasing cost, but perhaps I'm misunderstanding something since it's all written a little vaguely. Seems like they mean your Epic Wits Dots, not Successes, in which case the increasing cost is unneeded. Unless the "if this fails or you choose not to attack" is meant to be taken literally - as in, if we're supposed to infer the bonus lasts as long as you keep hitting, then that's really good and the extra cost is justified. But it's hard to say for certain what they mean, and if the bonus is dots and lasts for just 1 attack, there's no need for the stepped costs and limitations.
House-ruling this as follows: Works for next attack/action only. Costs just 1 legend. Bonus is equal to dots in Epic Wits.

Don't Read The Manual - This knack steps on the toes of Well-Read Virgin and Jack Of All Trades. Depending on whether or not you interpret it as getting around the "no Epics if you don't have the Ability" clause, it's either strictly better or strictly worse than both those knacks. I'm not sure what the writer's intent was.
Both the knacks it supplants have yet to be taken by anyone in my campaign, so I'll probably just not worry about this, and rule in the way that makes it strictly better than them.


Scire - This purview has some neat powers, but unless you've got Atlanteans in your game, there's little chance you'll find it useful. I won't spend much time on it.
I'm not using this Purview, as I have no plans of incorporating the dead Atlantean pantheon into my game.

Faunaphagia - Is a die-adding power, and unfortunately the existing Level 3 of Animal is also a die-adding power. This version is a lot more balanced than the existing power, so that's a nice plus. I'm more comfortable with this as a 3-dot boon, despite it being a lot more limited and taking more work on the GMs part if the PC chooses a non-standard animal. At least it works for the scene, so it's not strictly inferior.
Since I'd house-ruled the existing Animal 3 to reign it's power in, I probably won't be using this boon in my campaign.

Paper Tiger - Is fun, but ultimately it just duplicates the existing Animal boon of the same level.
I'll allow this Boon, but I think it's redundant, and doubt anyone will want both boons of this level.

Unlikely Pattern - Awesome power, but the costs and difficulties are silly. Making a handful of change land heads-up shouldn't cost a Willpower and 10 Legend - at least not for a level 8 power. But you can't lower the level since a mere 50 successes lets you create your own Pocket Universe. Ultimately, it's too costly to use for parlor tricks, so it'll only see use for things that are truly busted. PCs can score 50 successes by low Godhood, and that chart pretty much implies a top-end to difficulty.
I'd probably cut the legend cost to 1/3 the difficulty, rounded down, or just add it as a seperate column to the chart. The coin trick would cost 1 legend, making a cake would cost 6 legend, and making a car would cost 8. I'd then adjust the upper end of the chart. I'd add "rubies, chemistry set, batteries, and aluminum tubes" into "industrial laser" at difficulty: 35 / legend 11. I'd add "shipyard" into "aircraft carrier" at difficulty: 50 / legend: 16. Then I'd push the existing "dark matter becomes pocket universe" entry up to difficulty: 75 / legend: 25. Even then, though, someone will eventually get a helium tank and try to make a portable sun out of it, and the GM had better be prepared for it.

Absorb Light - This 4-dot Darkness boon provides weaker invisibility than the existing 3-dot Darkness boon or the existing 3-dot Moon boon. On the other hand, it renders you immune to lasers and radiation, so it's not entirely useless. You'd still be killed by the concussive force of a nuke, though. And you'll have to house rule whether immunity to infrared energy means protection from fire - I'd think it would, but the text doesn't specify.
I wouldn't criticize any GM who chose to alter it's stats or rule it doesn't stop fire and then downgrade it to a 3-dot boon. I'll probably rule that it boosts all your soaks vs fire, heat, and radiation by your Legend (instead of granting total immunity), and then leave it at 4-dot.

Death of the Soul - Technically not a 1-hit kill, but it feels like it. Everything hinges on a single die-roll, and if you don't resist it, there's nothing you can do to come back. Uncertain what I think of that. Also, it says the victim is now restricted to 5 dots in Abilities. They must have meant Attributes, since abilities are already capped at 5 dots.
I'll be leaving it alone for now, but reserve the right to house-rule later for power concerns later. My existing house-rules allow Abilities to go above 5, and Attributes cost a lot more than Abilities to buy up, so I'll probably not house-rule the likely typo, but just interpret it literally.

Rust/Shine - Is under powered. Hardness is laughable. It doesn't affect Relics, either. 4-dots and 2 legend per activation for a demigod to make a gun have a 50% chance of malfunctioning? Not good enough, especially since rusting out a sword or axe won't stop them from attacking you with it. The only thing that could make it worth it is being able to do so subtly over range - but the vague write-up implies you have to pass your hand over the item.
If any of my PCs pick up Earth, I'll probably downgrade this to a 3-dot Boon. To be safe, I'll house-rule that it can't work on an item in someone else's control, just free-standing items and things you're holding. That seems to be the intent of the original text, but it's nice to make it specific. Or maybe I'll just make a 2-dot version that's just Rust for small objects, and then house-rule the 4-dot version to work more offensively and/or restore items at range.

Toxic Thorn - I know this isn't meant to be a huge combat power, but to make a poison that would reliably kill an average mortal extra in 10 minutes after getting a single dose you'd have a difficulty of around 26. If the mortal's not an extra, the difficulty is around 35. That indicates to me that the author might not be using the poison rules as written in his home campaign.
I'll be leaving this one as-is, but I have no illusions that it's potent, at least not until you get to Godhood.

Flamin' Bullets - Has been criticized in a previous post. It's way underpowered, being weaker than the existing Fire 4, and Sun 4, and the Frost 2 boon in the upcoming Ragnarok.
I'll be house-ruling this to be Fire 3, and I wouldn't argue with any GMs who wanted to knock it down to Fire 2.

Hotter Than Hot - Sounds great until you get to the part about the die roll. So, someone who's Stamina+Fortitude+Legend trumps your Wits+Control is still immune, even though it was written that it "suffers no such limitation". It's like the author (or editor) wussed out at the last minute. Since all this power does is override resistance against your other fire powers, this is sad.
I'll probably strike that last paragraph.

Bolster - Doesn't state whether the bonus health levels are damaged first or last. This makes a huge impact on the power of the boon. If they fill last, it saves lives but doesn't prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. If they fill first, then this power (especially with high Epic Stamina) is bustedly good, since you could effectively cancel the first 50 levels of damage to get past someone's soak - and that's too good for level 2.
I'm house-ruling that the bonus health levels are the last to fill, and that they have whatever penalty the characters normal last pre-incapacitated health level has.

Antidote - Overcoming Jormungandr's venom is just difficulty 5. But if that same venom were made via Toxic Thorn, the difficulty to Antidote it would be 60. Seems like Toxicity might not be the right thing to base the difficulty on for Titanspawn.
I'll houserule it to be double the higher of (Toxicity or Damage). Instead of supernatural venoms running difficulty 3 to 5, they'd have difficulty 12 to 20. Mundane poisons would remain an automatic cure.

Drown - This is a little nitpicky, but here goes. When the existing level 5 is an attack power, why make the new attack also be level 5? Also, when the game has rules for drowning, and other rules for environmental effects, why not use one of those two systems for a power that makes people drown? Instead, this power uses a totally new system, that doesn't even match the games general rule of making things harm you on your tick, but instead requires keeping track of a separate 3-tick cycle on the battle wheel.
I may eventually work up my own drowning power, based on the games drowning or environmental rules.

And that's all the Knacks and Boons. Most are really good, but the ones mentioned above need house-ruling. I suppose that's not surprising, since so many boons in the original books needed fixing, too.

I've skipped Magic. It's a tiny bit complicated, and none of the PCs in my game have it, so I'm not really up to speed on it.
I can comment that the new 2-dot Spell "Legendary Surge" is really close in effect to the 9th Dot of the Aztec-specific purview. That's pretty awful. Mind you, Itzli 9 isn't that impressive, but to see that somewhat at White Wolf thinks it's balanced to put the same effect as a 2nd level power says something. Either one is grossly over- or under-powered for it's level, or their both off by a few dots from where they should be, but I couldn't say for certain which.

In general, the new powers that are just plain inferior to an existing Boon of the same or lesser rating in the same Purview (or an existing knack for the same Epic) really piss me off - that seems like a fairly amateurish mistake. I'd think it would be something you actively try not to do when designing powers for an RPG. That's one of the standards I've used when making things for my own campaigns, and I've observed a similar rule in published games like D&D. So why'd this happen?

Maybe the campaign Jesse (the author of most or all of that chapter of the Scion Companion) is running is operating at a subdued power level compared to the original rules? I don't know.

What I do know is, I'll be filling in additional Boons and Knacks for my own game.

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