Wednesday, July 9, 2008

a Knack that is Great And Terrible

Some time back in April, I posted that I had a story to tell, but it would have to wait until early June. June came and went, and I was still sworn to secrecy because a product kept falling back. But today I can tell the story...

That product in question is the Scion Companion, chapter 2: Manifestations of Ichor. It was originally supposed to release in May, but y'know, this is White Wolf we're talkin' about. This new chapter, available as a PDF (and eventually as part of a hardcover book) if packed full of knacks, boons, and the like for Scion. I've been waiting impatiently for it, and my wait was all the more painful because of the story below. Part of my growing dissatisfaction with Scion, and my related tendency to post here less often, has had to do with this.

The chapter includes one knack in particular called "Visage Great And Terrible". It's an Appearance Knack that lets a character flip-flop between having Epic Beauty and being Epically Ugly. You may recall that I made something similar way back in January - a knack called "Terrible As The Dawn". The name of both knacks refer to Galadriel's transformation in the Fellowship of the Ring. I quoted her lines in the name, the White Wolf staff just referenced it, but it's clear where they were coming from.

I'm by no means the first person to come up with such an idea. My wife actually thought of it first. She's playing a daughter of Hel, and wanted to be alternately alluring and horrifying. She'd asked me to make a knack to let her do so, and I gladly did so. One of the forum posters replied to my initial post of the knack by saying that one of his players had made up a similar knack called "Scary Hot" so the concepts not terribly unique.

We briefly debated the merits of the various versions at the time. Scary Hot's main benefit was that it's elegant. It was like a two-sentence knack, super rules light. Something to the effect of "You can be frightening or sexy as you see fit. You can buy and use any Epic Appearance knack, regardless of whether it's normally restricted by whether your Epic Appearance represent beauty or ugliness ." Scary Hot didn't indicate whether it was a reflexive action, or a diceless 5-tick action, which could matter in some situations. It also didn't give any clues as to how the transformation took effect, which is both a strength and weakness, as it leaves it to the player or GM. And of course, Scary Hot didn't take a stance on whether or not your various versions still looked clearly human, and whether or not observers could tell you apart. There's games where such a vague power is perfect - I've played, GM'd, and enjoyed many of them. But, for a game with rules as fiddly as Scions, I think that stuff needs to be addressed, so I'm happier with "Terrible As The Dawn" than I would be with "Scary Hot". It's worked well for our campaign, and is useful without being overpowered. But I digress...

The real point is that in April, one of the staff at White Wolf took a peak on the Scion Wiki. There they saw my knack Terrible As The Dawn, and saw it's credit as being created by r_b_bergstrom. And one of the staff at White Wolf thought that meant Rebecca Borgstrom had made it. Friends and long-time readers will know, I am not Rebecca. I've had to post explanations of that here, on the Scion Forums, and on my user page on the Scion Wiki. I'm Rolfe Bergstrom.

So, since Rebecca Borgstrom sometimes works for White Wolf, but didn't work on the Scion Companion, the WW staffer sent me an email:
Hey Rebecca,

...wrote an Epic Appearance Knack that works very similarly to one that you wrote, in that it allows the user to switch back and forth between hideous and awesome appearance. Thought I would drop you a line and let you know so that you didn't wind up cracking the Companion and thinking "Hey . . . that was totally ripped off from my material!"
(Incidentally, I even had one of the same inspirations as you, namely Galadhriel, which led to the name I ultimately used for the Knack.)
Though tempted to pull some shenanigans, I behaved myself. I replied, indicated that I'm not Rebecca, and that I've never signed an NDA for White Wolf, but that I'd be happy to keep a secret for them till the book released. To which they replied:
...since Rebecca Borgstrom is an NDA'd writer, she'd generally have the ability to access and discuss material in process. Sorry to be such a downer, but it was simply an error.

At least now you know - when you grab the next installment of the Companion in May, you'll see it there.
I can't begin to tell you how hard it has been to keep that one under wraps. I'm playing the game week after week, my wife (whom I never keep anything from) gave me the inspiration for the knack in the first place, and the product was two months late. Man, I nearly burst on so many issues. Every time my wife's character would use the power, I wanted to comment, but couldn't. Every time some random Scion forumite would assume I was Rebecca, I wanted to say "don't worry about it, even the White Wolf staff has gotten confused!" but I was afraid that would cause trouble for the person who emailed me. I figure said staffer is safe now that the book has come out and I was able to keep my vow of silence. (You're welcome, by the way.)

But now, I'm afraid the next thing I'm going to say will sound a little snarky. I'm sorry, but my critique of Visage Great and Terrible is that it's more the latter than the former. Lets compare it to the knacks mentioned above (and for disclosure's sake, I'll remind you that I wrote Terrible As The Dawn).

KnackElegantCost EffectiveDisguises
Scary Hotyesyesno
Visage Great And Terriblenonoyes
Terrible As The Dawnnoyesyes

Like Scary Hot, Visage doesn't mention if the knack is reflexive or diceless ("at will" has no rules meaning in Scion), so there's still a ruling to be made by the GM and different campaigns will handle it differently. Unlike Scary Hot, it doesn't have the elegance of being two sentences, Visage is 3 paragraphs yet has no added functionality within them.

Like Scary Hot, (and unlike Terrible As The Dawn) visage does nothing to disguise you. In fact, Visage states quite explicitly that it doesn't change your appearance at all. You still look the same unless you also have the Detail Variation knack from Scion: God. Somehow, you're just ugly, but you "can change from an elegant, refined woman to a vengeful, nerve-wracking hag in the blink of an eye." Honestly, good roleplaying can do that without a Knack. But as long as it's free to activate, it's no big deal, and would be nice as a cheap tool to make up for lackluster acting.

However, Visage isn't free - has an activation cost - you must pay 3 Legend Points per transformation. What are you paying for with Visage? The ability to use the 2 or 3 knacks that require you to be ugly/beautiful? I'd have thought that the 5 xp you spent on Visage was payment enough - but 5xp and +3 legend per activation seems overkill. Terrible As The Dawn also has an activation cost, but it's 1 willpower (roughly = 2 legend), and you get +1 auto success on disguise rolls and get to specify what physical change makes your alternate version look so horrific. So Visage does rather less than Dawn, and yet costs more to activate.

Since over 5 months of play with Dawn in the mix has shown it to NOT be broken in any way, I can only conclude that Visage is just over-costed. I'll definitely be sticking with Terrible As The Dawn.

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