The latest Unearthed Arcana came out recently, and its topic is Feats.

Now, feats are interesting to me, especially in 5e. They’re supposed to be boosts, not taken in any particular order, roughly equivalent in value to the +2 to one stat or +1 to two stats that you eschew by taking one.

This particular Unearthed Arcana gets into the design and crafting of such things, and has some truly cool little nuggets in it.

So, let’s get cracking, and do what is effectively a review article.

Introduction


The text here isn’t labeled as such, but it’s an introduction, and delves a bit into the purpose of Feats.

Firstly, it notes, feats are optional. Classes can’t refer to Feats, and Feats should never be explicitly part of a core class ability. 

Huh. Makes sense, I guess, though a lot of feats that I’ve seen online and on the internet effectively duplicate class abilities, usually plus or minus some features. I’ve seen Feats that basically grant a fighting style, and others give class options such as armor proficiency or weapon proficiencies.

In fact, I’d pretty much love to see a generic D&D version where nearly all class features and advancements could be expressed in terms of something like a Feat. What a powerful way to make generic the most popular RPG out there (broadly classing all D&D-flavored games, from old-school basic to Pathfinder to D&D5e as “the same” from this perspective, though bitter fights have just been started, gauntlets thrown down, and friendships destroyed. Alas.)


But that’s neither here nor there, and the purpose of Feats in 5e is cool flavor that doesn’t outweigh (or isn’t supposed to) a +2 to a stat, which is +1 to an attribute bonus and all related skills. Keep that in mind, because it’s key.

That should mean that any given feat should not give more than +1 to hit and +1 to damage on the average with a favored weapon. Oh, you might get more than that, but that should require some sort of activation situation, like using a reaction or bonus action, so that you’re giving up something you might need to get that bonus. And since that bonus action (for example) can be used to deliver an extra attack with an off-hand weapon, the upper bound for what you’re giving up to earn that extra can be high. 

The other thing that the text mentions is something I’d love to see expanded upon, which is that there are things that anyone can attempt, but a person with the Feat can do better. I’ve always loved this construction, because there are things like grappling throws, trips, takedowns, pushes, sweeps, etc. that anyone should be able to do, but that people with training should do better

There’s already an example of this in the off-hand weapon attack. Anyone can do it, but you don’t get your stat bonus . . . unless you have the right Feat, which allows it. The attribute bonus and the proficiency bonuses are both roughly equivalent – +1 to +5 for attributes (and +7 if you’re a Barbarian with uber-Strength), and +2 to +6 for proficiency.

So you could easily imagine actions where everyone could do a task with one half of that (all characters can do X and add their attribute bonus to the roll), but with a Feat, get both (but if you have the Experienced X Feat, you also add Proficiency).

Lastly, avoid chains of Feats. I like this because it makes it such that characters can grow organically, and it avoids some of the “system mastery rules over cool concepts” issues that games that have skill trees that stack up to be a dominating megapower can build.

It ends with a good rule of thumb: much like Backgrounds and the features beneath them, Feats should never overshadow the Class (and race) that are supposed to be the dominant choices in the game.

Weapon Mastery Feats


Interestingly enough, the first example is a negative one, which offers up a cool-sounding feat, and proceeds to illustrate what’s wrong with it.

Let’s start with the summary

  • Avoid additional die rolls. Good advice mostly, it tends to slow the game down. Look for other ways to activate something that still hew to the D&D core mechanic – roll once vs. a static target number, then apply effects. Only in rare circumstances like Contests do you roll twice, and then, it’s the target number that’s randomized.
  • Think hard about if everyone should be able to do something, and if so, invent a ruling that allows this, then make the Feat have limited application if required.
  • Think hard if your Feat is too narrowly tailored. While the warhammer example is in the forefront, looking closely at existing 5e Feats shows things like “crossbow master” don’t always just apply to crossbows, and some other weapon Feats apply to any weapon in two hands, not just the class of weapons called out in the title.

Fell Handed


The example “do this instead” feat provides both rules and unpacking of them.

  • A +1 to hit with the class of weapons used in the example is a very, very common thing. I was initially cautious about this, because it’s a +1 that’s equivalent to the +1 you get from +2 to your stat, and you’re only going to take this feat if you use it all the time in combat, or nearly so. But (!), it only applies to combat, and if you’ve got a nice wide range of challenges (lifting gates, arm wrestling, leaping chasms) that bonus to only attack rolls (but not damage!) really does cover significantly less ground than +2 to a stat.
  • The second example is a bit of rulesmongery that I never expected to see, which is using the advantage/disadvantaged condition in a way that utilizes both dice. It’s long been said in 5e games in which I’ve played “It’s a shame that double-20 I just rolled doesn’t mean anything!” Well, using the best die for the primary effect (or the worst in the case of disadvantage), but the normally-unused second die for a different effect? That’s freakin’ brilliant, and something I will shamelessly yoink at the first opportunity.
  • The last boost gives you a bonus to hit if you knock a shield aside, giving a +2. This is, again, a good “oh, that’s obvious when you say it” thing, but that +2 to offset the shield is a great way of doing it. D&D rolls devolve to “roll a flat d20 against a target number” mathematically, so rather than futz around with targets, boosting the hit roll does the same thing mathematically, and is faster. You can also easily envision expanding this – pulling or knocking a shield aside could be done by using an entire attack, a bonus action, or a Help action, and a Feat might give you proficiency (if you always get attribute) or attribute bonus (if you already get proficiency). This gets into the area of combat maneuvers, which I love as adding tactical flavor. 
  • The “Why I like it” section amplifies on the reasoning, and hits a few things I didn’t mention above. Flavor, for one, and 5e has a lot of good flavor elements, as well as mechanical crunch. 
Other Weapon Feats

The article then gives more example Feats. Let’s see if there’s any overall generalizations that can be made with the rest.

Blade Mastery gives you the +1 to attack rolls. It gives an example of using a reaction to gain a defensive boost, which is a neat way of using that feature. It gives a major boost to opportunity attacks (you get advantage), but since the victim always knows he’s walking into one (the triggers are not hidden), this is a boost, but not a game-changer. Walking into the range of a ready swordsman (or any other fighter) is risky, so deal with it. Also, the opportunity attack is also a reaction, so if you take it, you give up the defensive bonus that you can get with the other option. Getting +1 to AC when using a sword or other weapon is also part of many fighting styles (and presumably this would stack) so it’s not unheard of or unusual as a benefit.

Flail Mastery covers the same +1 to attack rolls (a common thread), allows you to bypass shields by burning your bonus action, and can use an opportunity attack (your reaction) to knock a person prone. This is better suited to Witchking-like flails than nunchuks (also a flail), but sort of includes the ability to wrap legs. With that in mind, it would be very interesting to, instead of this, make the user proficient in using the flexible weapon as a grappling aid, either giving advantage on Athletics checks while grappling, or enhancing an attribute or proficiency bonus. Having used flexible weapons to enhance grappling in my own marital arts training, weapon-enhanced grapples are a thing, and would be a great addition or substitution here.

Spear Mastery turns the spear into the martial weapon it has been through much of time, and when I read this, I nearly cheered. The nearly omnipresent +1 to attack rolls is there, but so also is turning the spear into a martial weapon, doing d8 in one hand and d10 in two. You can also set a spear to receive a charge, though this is more complicated rules-wise. It’s effectively an attack of opportunity (or at least, uses up your reaction), and has an escape clause via Disengage. Finally, a neat alternate use of reaction to extend the reach of a spear by 5 feet; I’d probably give disadvantage if this is done with a one-handed spear, but not if two-handed. Hard to control a six to nine foot pole with one hand gripped at the butt.

Tool Feats


The last three examples show that Feats aren’t only for weapons. No, really.

In a general sense, for these Feats:

  • An ability score goes up by 1, so that means that the rest of the bonuses are limited in value.
  • You get proficiency, or if you already have it, the equivalent of expertise (double proficiency bonus) with the tool set.
  • You can use your knowledge to instantly determine a piece of knowledge (such as identifying a potion as if you’d tasted it, or poison as if you could see or smell it) from a distance with no roll and no risk to yourself. 
  • You get a benefit that terms out with either a short or long rest that is in genre. Getting maximum benefit out of a healing potion or boosting hit dice for preparing a gourmet meal. 

A note about the Master of Disguise Feat. The third benefit, which is spending an hour watching a person in order to spend 8 hours making a disguise to mimic that person seems like a textbook example of something that you can do without the feat, but better with it. So, I’d probably look at things like

  • You need to study someone for 2-4 hours, or maybe 2d4 hours, in order to see and note everything about them in order to make a disguise. The Feat allows you do all of this in 1 hour, no roll.
  • If you have proficiency with a disguise kit, or by rolling at Disadvantage with Performance, you can craft a disguise in 8 hours. The Feat gives you double proficiency on the check, so that’s a win.
  • Donning the disguise takes but an action with the Feat, but 1d6x10 minutes without it.

So the Feat makes it all more slick, but with care and preparation, you can do this anyway.

Parting Shot

There’s a lot of great under-the-hood conceptual advice here to help make balanced and varied Feats. Given that Fifth Edition Feats presents rather a lot of these, and this Unearthed Arcana opens the door to still more, the two together provide a whole lot of inspiration, and no small amount of common-sense application knowledge, for creating such flavor on your own. Since every Ability Score Increase you get as a level advancement is (optionally!) a Feat instead, this gives yet another method for characters of identical class, race, and ability scores to differentiate themselves in a useful manner. I could easily see this sort of thing evolving based on weapons found in the dungeon. The character that picks up the enchanted flail can now craft a Feat to not only make the flail her own, but to make it obvious that it’s now a preferred weapon and fighting style. And that Barbarian that you modeled after a Viking Berserker now has the ability to treat the spear as the martial weapon you’ve always pictured it. 

In fact, the option to make a simple weapon into a martial one is interesting because it opens the door to things like Horsebow Warrior, which might allow a shortbow to do the same damage as a longbow if you spend time (weeks or months likely) crafting it yourself. Since very small horn and composite bows could easily hit 150 pounds of draw weight by virtue of just being that damn thick, having a shortbow hit for d8 won’t break belief or the game. Having an extra-powerful longbow hit for d10 (but no higher) puts it in the same range as a two-handed spear (OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch) or a cut with a two-handed longsword. That extra damage (which is really the equivalent of a +1) is also the same bonus you get with a +2 to DEX, but losing the +1 to attack rolls. Again, not game-breaking and directly inspired by the Spear Mastery Feat.

As I have been working on the Heretical RPG project, I’ve been struggling with backgrounds. It’s not that there aren’t a ton of them out there already – there are. But they’re also not clearly something I can just, well, steal.


It’s one thing to go out and get permission both implicit (via the OGL) and explicit (because I wrote the author and asked if I could incorporate his work into my project) to use something.

It’s quite another to just go yoink something, which I won’t do. ’cause skeezy.

Anyway, as I was contemplating backgrounds, I was having a hard time, mostly with making them balanced. I want the backgrounds to have real bite, as they do now. But I also don’t want the backgrounds to overshadow race and class.

I was struggling a bit, and posting some content to the discussion board, when one of the playtesters challenged me to come up with not a set of backgrounds, but rather a metasystem to generate the backgrounds.

I initially said something to the effect of ‘I like it, but that’s not my mission here, because being ready-to-play is a big part of what I’m doing.’

But the more I thought about it – and this tester is good at nudging me about things – the more I thought that a metasystem was not just good for the game, it was good for me right now. It would help me keep the backgrounds, well, in the background while making sure there were no real losers in there. Oh, you want to pay (umm), a blergkrablong? Well, you’ll be pelted with rotten fruit and never find lodging in a town, but hey, you get the Deception skill, so bonus!

No.

As I was contemplating in the shower before I headed off to my 15-year anniversary dinner with my lovely wife, it hit me on how to have my cake and eat it too. We’d bandied about with some very high power versions of things (where I thought it would overshadow class and race), and some lower power stuff, where I was allocating maybe 10 points here and there, but it just wasn’t working how I liked it. 

Then it hit me, and the results as I’ve worked through the backgrounds slated to appear in the game, it was clear to me that the results weren’t crazed.

So, while I could just hide it until the game is released, I’m publishing it here and now, because honestly, why not?

Backgrounds by point allocation


If there’s not a pre-built background that speaks to you as a player, you can always create one. Use the following guidelines.

Allocate 20 points between each of the four categories below:

  • Background Feature: 6 points for the first, an additional 12 points for the second.
  • Skills and/or tool proficiencies: The first two are 3 points each; more are 6 points each. 
  • Languages: 2 points each for the first two, 4 points each for additional languages.
  • Equipment/gold: 10gp per point for the first 5 points, 5gp per point for the next 5 points, and 2gp per point thereafter.

Background Features are the hardest. They should be something vaguely worth getting advantage on a subset of a skill under certain conditions. No roll on a minor thing, that just comes to you, or a fairly easy roll on something important. The feature might enable you to bring in 1gp per day (enough to cover modest living expenses for food and shelter but little else), or be a source of work, information, or solace under certain conditions.

Skills and tool proficiencies are straight-forward because they’re explicit. You can (mathematically) have no more than four, but that means you get four skills, no languages, no equipment or extra starting money, and no class feature. Even then, that starts to get to the point it overshadows the skill-basis of the rogue, and rogues, with a background that contains four skills would be darn scary. I was tempted to price them 3 points for the first skill, 6 for the second, and 9 for the third (max three), but there are backgrounds such as the Acolyte in the SRD with two skills, two languages, a class feature, and 40-50gp worth of equipment, and I wanted my method to be able to reproduce, at least somewhat closely, the only background in the SRD!

Languages were something where I didn’t want to have someone simply starting the game with the ability to speak 20 languages. Three to five seemed OK as an upper end. I decided on a pricing scheme that would have ideally costed languages out at 2.5 points each for the first two, and 5 points each for the rest, which would have given five languages maximum. I didn’t want to deal with half-points, so I rounded down to 2 and decided that if you really wanted six languages and nothing else then more power to you.

Finally, gold. The maximum gold you can roll based on class is 5d4x10 = 200gp. I didn’t want going all-in on gold to overshadow even these “rich” classes, so I decided 20 points in money should be worth about 100gp. But that meant issues with backgrounds such as the Acolyte, and that led to the diminishing returns scheme above. It works out. The gold should mostly be taken in the form of equipment, but there are certainly cases where a background with 50-75gp and little tangible goods to show for it makes sense


The Acolyte

So, how did I do?

The acolyte gets two skills. That’s 6 points.
The acolyte gets two languages. That’s 4 points.
The acolyte gets a feature, Shelter of the Faithful. That’s 6 points.

That leaves 4 points, which equates to 40 gold.

For that, you get A holy symbol (5gp), a prayer book or prayer wheel (books are 25gp), 5 sticks of incense, vestments (maybe 5gp as a “costume”), a set of common clothes (5sp), and a belt pouch containing 15 gp (15.5gp including the pouch). That’s 51gp, and it could be argued that the prayer book isn’t worth a full 25gp, either. So not too far off, and even if the acolyte is 10gp heavy, I can always take it way and say “a pouch with 5gp” to make it all even.

Parting Shot

As I worked my way through the rest of the background in the Heretical RPG, I continued to be pleased that where I thought they might have been overpowered (some were), the system above toned them down. It rewards breadth over depth, but allows up to four skills (and 20gp), six languages, 95gp, or two features (and 20gp). None of that, except maybe the skills, is game-breaking. 
The skills bit can be fixed by simply not allowing more than three, ever. Three skills is 12 points, which leaves room for a feature (6) and 20gp of stuff. That’s not bad at all. Two features is 18 points, so that could be paired with 20gp or one language, and all features require GM agreement anyway, so that shouldn’t be imbalanced.
Overall, I’m happy with the results, and glad to share if it’s useful.

An Alternate Approach


It was pointed out (in the usual charming reddit way) that there’s a better pattern if you want to hew to the norm.

Pick two skills
Pick two languages or tool, kit, game, or musical instrument proficiencies
Pick one class feature

They said “roll for gold,” but no, that’s not right. It does seem that you’re getting about 50gp worth of stuff, mostly. That’s not crazy talk. 

The equivalence of languages and tools means that we can go like this for the base costs:

  • Skills: 3 each for the first two.
  • Language/tools: 2 each for the first two
  • Class feature: 5 for the first
  • Gold: 10gp per point for the first 5 points

If you want more than that in any category, it costs twice as much to get it. Going all-in on gold for 20 points gives you 50+15x5gp = 125gp, which happens to be the average of the higher roll for gold of 5d4x10gp, so that’s not too bad, and is even simpler.

Want three skills? 12 points, leaving 8. No languages or tools gives you a class feature and 30gp.

Even simpler than the original method, and still balances out well.

I used to play in +Ken H‘s Monteporte campaign, and I remember it fondly. Recently, he rebooted it, and posted some session notes here. They struck me with two thoughts.

Tangible is Good


He writes:

Resource and Time Management: We are keeping more careful track of resources, such as food, torches, and arrows. We are also tracking encumbrance. We are working to streamline the process for the former while relying on the simple and elegant system in Bloody Basic for the latter.

 I have long been a fan of tangible items to do this sort of thing. Matchsticks for torches. Poker chips or something like it – beads, whatever – for generic expendables like fatigue or mana. This was a suggestion from +Steven Marsh with respect to The Last Gasp (Pyr #3/44) that turned it from “gee, how will this ever work at the table” to “yes, this is spectacularly cool.”

Short Sweet Sorties


The other thing that struck me as particularly notable was a comment he made on continuity.

Campaign and Continuity: One of the challenges for a dungeon-based campaign is maintaining momentum and continuity. We lost a lot of that in the final dozen sessions of our last Montporte campaign. We changed rule sets, lost players, added players, and the main threads of the campaign were lost in all of it. This time around, we are starting with a couple of goals (explore, establish trade relationships, and find a dwarven city), using a simple rule set, and playing with a smaller group (and only playing when everyone is present).

The key here seems to be “starting with a couple of goals,” and frankly, given the “we all have real lives” nature of things, I’d be very tempted to see if I could arrange for, at any given time, the player to be given, or able to articulate, about three fairly short-term goals that are knowable, known, and able to be “checked off” the list.

Sure, it’s not as pure as a “go explore!” game. But it allows for missed sessions, new characters and players, and a bit more shuffle in the lineup.

In fact, I think I just thought of something that would make a great addition to the background tidbits that provide nice characterization hooks in 5e. In addition to backgrounds, ideals, and flaws, each character should probably have an endpoint.

I touched on this when I wrote Hirelings have a shelf life. Most people, in fantasy and in real life, are working/adventuring towards a goal. Perhaps it’s to have his own kingdom, by his own hand (Conan). Perhaps it’s to buy a castle (Flynn Rider). Or even simply to impress Murron (William Wallace). But, like the soldiers in Mulan, they’re working towards “a girl worth fighting for.” And then they’re done.

The nature of the goals animated two in-character departures by +Tim Shorts in +Rob Conley‘s Majestic Wilderlands game. Those goals are always there, and they very much animate why the charaters stick together. 

Having a stack of short-term and long-term goals is just good sense. Consider it added to the Heretical D&D project.

Thank to Tim H for provoking my brain this morning!

Weekends in Penang. Sigh. Poor me.

How Observant

This came up briefly as I was discussing the Observation skill for my superhero, The Commander.

His Observation stacks up SEAL! and Ten-Hut!, and if he’s using a firearm or looking at combat details, Shooter! as well. Because his Perception is 18, this means his overall Observation skill is 29.

Yow.

A skill like that, as much as his Stealth-27, defines who he is. He’s just that good at spotting things.

+Christopher R. Rice were chatting about how to handle this. I casually threw out that we should just assume that I rolled a 14. Not a good roll. In fact, a fairly poor one. But the chance of rolling 14 or lower on 3d6 is 90%. So if I roll a 14, it means it covers 9 in 10 occurances where I pester the GM for details.

We decided it was a valid way of handling things. Assume a roll of 14, note the margin of success or failure, and then look at the result. For Joe Average with no training (Observation-5), it’s failure by 9. For The Commander, it’s success by 15.

What does that mean?

Well, it means the untrained person will need to spend a very, very long time doing something, and still require things to be obvious enough to provide a +4 or +5 bonus for tactically significant, actionable detail to be relayed to the player as a simple part of the description. That doesn’t mean that he can’t take the time to look – in fact, it requires it. But when he walks into the bank, nothing strikes him as odd unless the bank robbers hiding in the crowd of people are being very obvious about it.

For the commander? He can do a task that usually takes minutes instantly (‘instantly’ doing a long task is often benchmarked at -10) and still absorb -5 in penalties. He walks into that same bank, and the GM will tell him how many people are in it, that five of them are acting out of the ordinary 7 yards away (-3 penalty) and if they’re carrying any weapons with a Holdout penalty of -2 or higher, will probably be able to tell they’re armed. This will be relayed as part of the room description.

Parting Shot

I like this, because it means that the GM and player both have a good idea of what’s going on, and the “hey, I would have noticed that!” factor is much lessened. The extra detail is cool, but also the fact that if things really are that subtle, it will dawn on The Commander over the course of 30s that something isn’t right, and by the end of that time (when he’s back up to no penalty), he’ll have processed the entire tactical situation.

It’s effectively ‘no nuisance rolls,’ but at no point cost, because instead of pestering the GM at every moment “I roll Observation, what do I see?” it’s taken as read that Threat Analysis and OODA are constantly occurring. It’s also a poor enough roll that it only comes into play when you do have a character-defining trait like that.

By setting the assumed roll not at the “average” of 11, but a lower-probability outcome of 14, it means that the GM isn’t forced to reveal every single detail of a situation. The basic Perception (10) and Observation (5) by default is low enough that the assumed roll is a failure by 4 and 9, respectively. That’s a lot of “stop, collaborate, and listen” that has to go on before details of tactical significance are provided. That’s actually normal RPG behavior – you walk in the room, and the five guys with swords screaming ‘deth to adventurs!’ get that +10 bonus and draw immediate attention (but Observation-5 guy only barely notices), but the tripwire strung right in front of the door doesn’t get seen without looking for it. Likewise with hidden doors and treasure.

And just to be clear: It’s not “never roll dice.”

It’s for the GM to say “what is the minimum level of detail I should give this player just because of his skills and attributes that he bought and paid for.” A roll of 14 sucks. I mean, not as much as 16 or a critical failure, but it’s something that you’ll get that or better 90% of the time. And the player can always ask for a more detailed search (move from passively accepting a 14 to having the GM actively make a roll). But it gives a place to start when the GM is deciding what to tell folks about the situation they just walked into.

Let’s say we’ve got bad guys in a restaurant, and our team walks in. Someone with Perception-12 and Observation-7 will only notice particular details if there are bonuses to notice such of at least +2, and if it’s something tactically significant, it will have to be +7 – basically hit-you-in-the-face obvious. The GM will tell the player that there are a bunch of patrons eating. If the player says “I look carefully around for threats as I take my seat,” he might give a +2 or +3 for taking extra time, and make a secret roll vs Observation-10, and give extra info as it merits.

For The Commander, my superhero? He gets this:

Jason Bourne: I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking.

So when The Commander/Jason Bourne walks into the restaurant, the GM knows to let him know which guys seem potentially dangerous, who’s armed with a gun in a shoulder holster but not that skilled in hiding it, and exits and entrances of tactical significance. He gets this all at once because he paid something like 200 points in Wildcard! skills to get it. It ain’t free, and assuming a 14 on the roll is actually a pretty unfavorable assumption, but it gives the GM something to gauge. The penalty for spotting a guy with a hidden gun (-3, say) 10 yards away (-10) in dim light (-2) is rather steep. So unless you’ve got Observation-29 (like the Commander), you won’t see that unless you look, and you will never see that at first glance unless you have Observation-18 (penalties of 15 and a roll of 3). After “taking extra time” to the tune of a +4 bonus, you might see it with Observation-14.

I wonder what other skills this would work for?

 

+Jeffro Johnson loves him some d4 Thieves. He’s pretty emphatic about it, as is his right.

In my Heretical DnD project, he recently quipped that when I asked a question about rolling a pile of d4s he thought, for a brief, glorious instant, that I was returning the Thief (now the, sigh, Rogue with a Thief subclass) to its glorious roots.

That got me thinking, though. How different is the d4 Thief from BECMI to the d8 Thief from Fifth Edition?

The BECMI Thief and Fighter



Let’s say that our thief has attempted – unsuccessfully – to pick the pocket of a lonely neighborhood fighter. Both are first level. 

I’m going to first assume that we roll 3d6, but can assign stats. Based on my work with the Standard Array, those stats for both fighters, at the median roll (50th percentile in luck) are 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 7.

Oof. 


What does that mean? It means that there is precisely one score that will get a bonus: a +1 for the 14. 

The Thief has a prime requisite of Dexterity, so that’s where his +1 will go. Leather armor, no shield. So basically, he’ll have an AC of 6, or a roll of 13+ will hit him.

Our fighter will have Strength as his choice, so he’ll roll 1d20+1 to hit, and thus will hit on a 12 or higher – 45% of the time. He’ll do 1d8+1 damage with his sword, or 5.5 points on the average. Each turn, he’ll deal an average of 2.48 points of damage.

In short, he’ll kill the thief on the average in about 1.01 attacks.

The 5e Thief and Fighter


Let’s look at the 5e fighter, using the 50% percentile instead of the standard array. They’re not that different, but the Standard Array actually represents the 45% percentile of die rolls. 

The important thing for our human fighter is still his Strength, and his standard array gives 16, 14, 13, 12, 10, 9 – actually one better than the standard array in both the highest and lowest score. With the right selection of race – Dwarves, I’m looking at you, Mountain Dwarf – you can start with STR 18. This is impossible with the standard array.

Swinging a battle axe, then, he’ll roll 1d20+2 (proficiency)+4 (STR) for 1d20+6, doing 1d10+4 damage on a hit.

Our Thief also gets to play the min/max game, and we can cut right to the chase. If our fighter can start with STR 18, our Thief can as well – Wood-Elf Thief for the win.

With DEX 18 and CON 13, this gives him 9 HP. Studded Leather and no shield, but a +4 DEX bonus for armor class, and he’s AC 16.

So our fighter has to roll 10+ on 1d20, and will hit 55% of the time. He will do 5-14 damage, plus a bit more for a critical hit – an average on a hit of 9.78 damage. Or 5.38 per round.

This means our 5e Thief will, in general, withstand 1.67 blows from our fighter. A 1d8 battleaxe will increase this a touch. to 1.88 attacks to drop the thief to 0 HP.

Parting Shot

I had thought that with the higher damage values of the weapons due to STR bonuses and whatnot, that a d4 Thief would, in fact, be perhaps as robust as a d8 thief. But no. By and large he takes another swat to put him down – a bit less.

What would equality be? You’d need to have the typical HP of the thief equal the typical damage done in one turn by one swing of the sword. That’s 4.8 to 5.4 HP. Call it 5, and . . . you need to get back to the d4 Thief in order for the classes to be as fragile as they were in BECMI.

Why? Armor classes are higher due to higher bonuses, which offsets weapon damages. Higher bonuses from STR are offset by higher DEX bonuses, though average damage is higher. The real boost comes from giving 1st level characters maximum HP per Hit Die at 1st level. If 1st level 5e characters rolled dice instead of getting the max, a 1st level thief would need an average of 4.8 to 5.4 HP to be as robust as BECMI. That’s basically a d9 rather than a d8!

So yes! The d8 5e thief is actually less robust than the d4 Thief from BECMI if you roll the first level HP, but if you don’t, well, obviously he’s more robust.

It’s the lack of randomness for rolling hit points that makes the difference. If you gave all 1st level BECMI thieves 4 HP to start, then they’d wind up with almost exactly the longevity of a 5e Thief.

It’s like the designers thought about this or something. 

Dramatis Personae

  • The Commander (Doug) – telekinetic super-soldier with a really angry dog (Yukio). The dog is a powerful ally (250-300 points) and very intelligent and very, very aggressive.
  • Arc Light (Christian) – battlsuited gadgeteer with electrical powers
  • The Rat Queen (Emily) – brick with super-perception; made of actual rats
  • Eamon Finnegan (Kyle) – smooth talking gravity-master; Ultimate Fighting Lawyer, to borrow a phrase.
  • Zephyr (Merlin) – Real name Murui; Shaolin Kung Fu expert and super-speedster. 

We had a full house again.

Boom. Now what do we do?

Game Start: Ap[ril 1, 2016

We arrive at the scene of a huge antipersonnel explosion at the Church of Saint Raymond. We show up after the EMTs have evacuated the most traumatically wounded. Roughly 70 cops are on the scene. 

No one saw anyone planting bombs, and there was only one explosion.

The Commander has people fan out and look for secondary explosives, to hit the responders. The team has massive Search skills, and we need them. There is, in fact, a second explosive set, ridiculously well concealed as a trash can (not in a trash can, as a trash can). The explosive is a form of SEMTEX.

We have lots of people in the area

The device itself is about 10lbs of SEMTEX, wrapped around nails, BBs, and other household junk as a fragment source. Since I crit and made it by 16, I get all sorts of details about the primary timer, and secondary triggers. There’s also Rat Poison on the shrapnel as a blood thinner. This is one seriously angry dude. The Rat Queen can also tell that the plastic explosives were homemade. Mercury motion switch too.

The Commander lays down the plan.


I’ve got 5 min on the bomb timer. The Commander spends 2 Karma for 2 rerolls, takes the best of 3, and makes the roll by 15. I disarm it with 31 sec left on the timer. We detach the transmitter part from the board, and give it to Arc Light to see if he can track down the frequency that was going to be sent and/or received. The Rat Queen looks for survivors. Murui uses magical sense foes to see if there’s a hostile actively in the area.

He detects a very, very angry pigeon. It’s evil. It’s disturbed. It’s on Zephyr’s personal no-fly list from this moment on. 

We go for a full sensory workup. Eamon gets a density signature. Rat Queen sniffs it and can trace it that way. Zephyr looks for sorcerous tie-ins (nope). 

Arc Light gets that the remote trigger was a cell phone frquency, and goes to follow the signal. He rolls a 4 and makes it by 16. Burner phone, GPS not active. Put in custom hardware and software to make it damn near untraceable . . . except for the crit and the margin of success.

We think we have enough for a profile – more importantly, a list of suspects. We get a profile worth +1 to future questions of “who” and “why.” A very deep profile. Visceral hate in there, highly intelligent. Broad skill set. Smart enough to use household supplies and turn it into a terrorist device, and cruel enough to hit twice. Plus the message scrawled on the wall:

“And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d: A villain kills my father, and for that,I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven.” – Hamlet Act 3, Scene 3

We also think about surveillance camera footage, and see how the garbage can was  put in place. 

The footage has been tampered with. A whole bunch of annoying coincidences, including a bird pooping on a convenient lens. 

We decide that Murui’s initial detection of the angry pigeon was not actually a failed roll.

Investigations and Conversations


There were perhaps 3 dead, 40 in intensive care, and many more wounded. 

The deceased were a doctor (a neurologist), his wife, and their young child. Gregory Echeverria. No malpractice suits, outstanding citizen, exceedingly likeable individual. Active in the community, 9/11 responder, volunteer firefighter in his history. Was both a research fellow and practitioner. Specialty in MADS, Parkinsons, and other degenerative brain disease. This guy was either hiding something or an actual saint. 

Emily decides that this guy was actually a super-villain, and this is a clone.

We rapidly come to the conclusion – validated by the GM – that the first explosion was targeted at the doctor and his family. The rest was either just evil, or a distraction/diversion attempt, or both.

Eamon goes through the doctor’s house (legally). Someone did break into the house, we discover. But nothing much else. We know it’s recent.

Looking into the background of this guy, he graduated High School early at 15, went to college at MIT in Biochem. Wild youth (well, wild for MIT), graduated, became a volunteer firefighter during 9/11 (which went down differently than in our reality), struggled to find work that interested him enough to stay put. 

We send emissaries to interview and intel gather from the hospital, looking for MICE (Money, Ideology, Conscience, Ego) related stuff that might have made him a target.

Ah ha. There was an explosion at MIT in a chemical lab. Half the wing burnt down, and at least one student was killed. Arc Light was there at the time, actually. The guy who died was Warren Kivalina (Serbian), a 16-yo student. Kivalina’s father died of alzheimer’s several years thereafter. Looking into Warren, he came up with a possible cure for Alzheimers while he was there, and the research was lost along with the building. Warren and Gregory were working on the same project.

That’s another lead, then.

There were also two other people in that cohort that died of neuro-degenerative diseases, too. One developed Parkinson’s in 2014, and died within six weeks. The other developed rapid onset Louis Body’s dementia in 2015. 

There were a total of 7 people working on this project, including Arc Light’s character. The Magnificent Seven, they called themselves. Five of seven are accounted for. The only two left untraced are Andrew Farmer and Hayley Roberts. 

Hayley Roberts, now Hayley Roberts-Lee, runs a private forensics consulting firm. She’s been a forensic pathologist since she was basically 20. 

Farmer . . . went off the grid seven years ago. Hasn’t paid bills, paid taxes, held a job. He’s either the killer or hiding from one. His specialty was mathematics. Probability, in fact. 

We look into their parents, too. And the families. All have high birth rates and early families. High IQ types. They all seem like scions . . . but they’re not scions. A good half of the parents were in military service – in fact, one half of each family was a soldier-type, covered in medals and glory. The spouses were all high-achievers too, good looking, high achievers.

We look into various projects designed to bring about scions – this isn’t the right path. But many projects designed to bring about improved humans have existed.

There are patterns. One with high intelligence, one with military service. Recently that wasn’t female-male respectively, but back not that far (two generations, maybe three), and it was that way (we go to the great depression/WW2).  That pattern goes back to the 1900s – there was not one particular ethnicity or race or nationality here, especially when we broaden the search. Not a Master Race thing, then. We keep digging, and this goes back at least 200 years. Lots of kids. 

But our Doctor only had one child, an 11yo. He got married to his recently deceased wife five years ago. She was not military, and neither was he. The child was his son, by another woman. 11yo? That would make it 2004 . . . was the mom killed in the middle east? Yes, she was, while serving in the middle east. I get her full dossier, thanks to a Pulling Rank crit. Autumn Mueller.

She was a marine, transferred to CIA in the SOG division. Into some gnarly stuff. She was a hell of an operator. She and he did file a certificate of dependency, and they’d started the seemingly required large family – she was pregnant when she died. The kid survived the mother’s death, but died in the hospital. 

We wonder if the Doctor broke some unwritten code of this group of people or something. 

The Magnificent Seven


So there are seven of these guys. And they’re married.

Arc Light is one, and he’s married to a (military?) doctor. But Arc Light’s parents were not that way. And Arc Light doesn’t have children. He met his wife while he was “thuggin’,” 

We note that reminds of the doctor – but yeah, they all had a wild period of not-so-much-law-abiding behavior.

We get a call in over the radio at this point. There’s been another explosion. At Hayley’s forensics firm. But she’d stepped out to get coffee, so she’s got her in protective custody.

We go looking for Boom-Ex via gravity and rats. The Commander and Zephyr were going to take our witness back to the Lighthouse. There are not one, but two secondary explosives. The Commander wraps his forcefield around her, and they move to the Vertol…

Zephyr hears something click, his time sense goes off, and he senses/sees/detects a bullet. He pulls a sacrificial dodge, but gets shot in the ass.

The bullet could only have come from 700yds away, in a particular building. The Commander announces the location, having made the Observation roll by 17; Rat Queen starts moving that way. 

We see an image of someone all black, head-to-toe, in a featureless mask, on top of the roof. The color seems to be changing – probably tech. It’s a quick-dissassemble into a pouch, and he’s down, not presenting a target, and moving very quickly.

The Commander hits Zephyr with some quick Physician, and brings him from “basically crippled” to “only down 1 HP.”


The Commander watches all of his buddies tear off after the guy on the roof, and fires three rounds at him. The target pulls a Neo and dodges the shots. Ian puts his rifle away.

Zephyr and Rat Queen are on the scene. Rat Queen goes after the target as a swarm, as an area of effect. She does minimal damage to him (armor), but nibbles his pack with the gun in it away. He is actually outrunning the swarm, which is Move 18.

The group on the roof has to roll HT-10 for some reason; Commander makes an Observation roll by 14 – the guy drops something, launches himself off the building, and then shimmers and disappears. Zephyr and Rat Queen both get hit with a binding . . . and their clothes start melting. Acid spiderwebs. Yuck.

Rat Queen detects scent – and gets the ‘no smell’ scent that hunters use. Zephyr opens the bag. There’s a disassembled .50 caliber rifle in there, the Marine version of it. 

We end there. 

Game End: 00:30 April 2, 2016

***
We quickly decide on MVP for this session. We hit up Eamon for the research.

My GURPS Aeon Campaign character was in a bit of a fix. He wasn’t really shining in his designated role of, well, Commander. That was both his name, and his mission, and frankly, his skill set.

He’s got an amazing number of points in Wildcard skills. Actually, that’s not exactly true. His breakdown for what seems like 1,250-1,300 points is something like

  • 320 points in attributes
  • 285 points in advantages
  • 335 points in powers and special abilities
  • 55 points in specific skills and techniques
  • 250 points in wildcard skills
  • His power armor suit makes up the rest

So you can see that while he is a powerful character with very good stats, they’re spread around. They are, in fact, spread around quite a bit. His overall good-to-great levels of stats contain one truly exceptional one – ST 24, boosted to ST 28 from his combat suit. The rest is a high DX 18, IQ 14, and HT 16. His Perception and Will are boosted to the campaign maximum, or near enough – they’re both 18 or 19. 

His powers include his enhanced ST, and a couple of 50-pointers. So nothing huge from a telekinesis/energy control perspective. It’s not 200 points dumped into one power, but it is a set of alternate abilities. But by and large, it’s a collection of 50-70-points-or-lower powers that give him a DR-granting force field, enhanced ST, catfall, and some attack powers – notably his kinetic blast(s), both of which are double knockback to the tune of 5d.

His wildcard skills have some overlap in places – and this is where I really missed out. 


You see, when talking to +Christopher R. Rice about why the character was not playing out “on screen” in a more satisfactory manner, the thing that really stuck is that his niche was command, but he was not being terribly effective in the role. We kept walking into terrible tactical situations, getting ambushed, and generally making like the Keystone cops. Not “Call it, Captain.” 

We swapped out his power set a bit, but also spent some points on some Pyramid-based options – particularly Foresight, from Pyr #3/53. That gave him the ability to narratively alter the environment a bit, which proved critical in S1E11, as we were able to retroactively deal with an incoming air strike. That wasn’t even unfair – we’d explicitly discussed “having to deal with the air support,” and in the moment, we were able to say “oh, sure, we’d figured out a way to fox the bomber’s targeting computers.”

Boom, done.

But the real trick was that part of The Commander’s legend was that he’d fought a powerful super – the Combustible Man – in a series of battles where The Commander and his SEAL team defeated The Combustible Man. More than once.

I just couldn’t figure out how. I mean, sure, he’s strong . . . but at ST 28 (Basic Lift about 155 lbs) he can probably lift a motorcycle over his head – like Captain America in The First Avenger. But while that’s strong, it’s not “lifting tanks” strong. His forcefield and DR will bounce a .50-caliber bullet, but not anything much more than that, and in the last few adventures, he was threatened by armor piercing explosive grenades and demon-needles, both with an armor divisor.

And the raw skill numbers deliberately topped out at mostly less than 18. 

But then we started looking hard at Wildcard skills, as I noted earlier. In particular, Stealth. And some Tactics. In combat situations, he beats down with

  • Armoury (Small Arms) – 21
  • Camouflage, Explosives, Forward Observer, Gesture, Interrogation, Hiking, and Tactics – 22
  • Parachuting – 24
  • Stealth (DX+11) – 27

Ah ha. Ah HA!

The thing about skill levels of 20+ is that you use them. They allow you to have a fighting chance of taking “instant use” or “impossible odds” penalties. At Skill-24, you can do it at a -10 and still succeed 90% of the time. 

So, how was I playing The Commander wrong? He was too much Captain America, and not enough Batman. And as they saying goes, be yourself. Unless you can be Batman.

In the last fight, S1E11, he went full Batman. He had the right amount of terrain to vanish into. He’d move from behind this HVAC unit to behind that skylight. And by and large, no one would see him. He ran rings around a dangerous foe – General Cortez – and eventually wound up taking off one of his legs in a sneak-by stealthing. One lucky goon critically succeeded on his Perception roll, saw The Commander move, and was promptly killed by rifle fire.

The key bit here is that with as many points – synergistic points – scattered in many different abilities, I lost track of what he was good at, and in this case, playing him as the from-the-front guy in terms of standing visibly in the fray.

That’s not him. He makes the plan, and leads it, but he’s the sneaky recon guy who’s providing up-to-the-minute information originating a foot from the bad guy’s pancreas. He strikes from concealment, doing 5d+14 crush or cut as needed (that’s like 9d crush, or the equivalent of a .338 Lapua in terms of piercing damage). His hand-to-hand damage with his sword is second only to his ridiculously powerful technomagical super-bullets, which seem to have a large explosive radius, an armor divisor, and no real fall-off within the explosive’s distance. Three rounds took out eight guys in formation in S1E11. At once.

Once I started playing the synergy? The Commander became a force to be reckoned with. Before that?

Not so much.

Dramatis Personae

  • The Commander (Doug) – telekinetic super-soldier with a really angry dog (Yukio). The dog is a powerful ally (250-300 points) and very intelligent and very, very aggressive.
  • Arc Light (Christian) – battlsuited gadgeteer with electrical powers
  • The Rat Queen (Emily) – brick with super-perception; made of actual rats
  • Eamon Finnegan (Kyle) – smooth talking gravity-master; Ultimate Fighting Lawyer, to borrow a phrase.
  • Zephyr (Merlin) – Real name Murui; Shaolin Kung Fu expert and super-speedster. 

We had a full house again.

Aftermath


Emergency vehicles are everywhere. Mercs come in and escort key personnel out, and then disappear.

The metahuman chaos that’s been plaguing the city starts to die down a bit, almost as if a coordinating force is now missing. About 2/3 of the metas that were causing problems suddenly are acting like “WAT? WTF?”

Cortez goes into a dark hole, and a manhunt for the Black October group (fictional) goes into high gear. Someone creates a wild conspiracy theory about Rikers island and an occult cabal. They’re roundly mocked, but not wrong, at the same time.

We still don’t really know why Cortez wanted all that power. I mean, power is good, but it’s what you do with it that counts, for good or evil or just naughty fun.

The story that’s going around is bothering folks: a terrorist group with advanced technology and powers shows up, along with metahumans, and no one is really sure what to do about it. Eamon manages a spin cycle that help keep public opinion on the MAPS.

The Indian River nuclear plant takes a few more days, but finally stabilizes.

Our “tame lunatic” comes up with something that “should” help Arc Light not die from radiation poisoning. It seems like mumbo-jumbo crap, but nonetheless does the trick.

The President never does get back to us; but the Veep does, so we get partial credit. We also secure the right to interrogate Cortez. 

He says before us goody-two-shoes’ came along, humanity might actually have a chance. Now, not so much. We talk for a bit more, but not much is forthcoming. Alas.

We head over to . . . we get a call, and head over to central park. 

All your corn dogs, are belong to us, and we debrief some more.

We wind down pretty hard, so we call it there, and discuss Season 2 expectations.

Dramatis Personae

  • The Commander (Doug) – telekinetic super-soldier with a really angry dog (Yukio). The dog is a powerful ally (250-300 points) and very intelligent and very, very aggressive.
  • Arc Light (Christian) – battlsuited gadgeteer with electrical powers
  • The Rat Queen (Emily) – brick with super-perception; made of actual rats
  • Eamon Finnegan (Kyle) – smooth talking gravity-master; Ultimate Fighting Lawyer, to borrow a phrase.
  • Zephyr (Merlin) – Real name Murui; Shaolin Kung Fu expert and super-speedster. 
We had a full house again.

Exercising and Exorcising


We pick up from last game having decided that we actually need to exorcise the demon from the computer – Zephyr’s mother is apparently a powerful Taoist sorcerer. We make a few jokes about how she rips him in a horrible jewish/chinese/new york accent that how can a guy with super speed never manage to drop by and visit his mother?

Anyway, so we have a demon problem, she’s cncerned, and Zephyr really needs to eat more. No, no, I had some donuts yesterday. 

Oh, hell no. Thirty minutes later, Zephyr is on the case, eating a mountain of food that keeps on coming. We wonder if we just need to run McAmorth virus scan or something.

We check in with MAPS, too, and starting an hour ago – for no reason that’s apparent, but coinciding with when we stole the computer – there’s a huge uptick in metahuman activity.

Zephyr’s mother gives him some wadded up paper, some incense, and a blessing, good for an Exorcism bonus. Zephyr’s dad points out that Titivillus is a Christian demon, and he’s going after it with a Taoist ritual. Best of luck to us.

We go through the ritual practice, and manage to hit up Zephyr with Exoricsm at Will+2; literally burning the ritual into his brain.

He better come back after he’s done saving the world though. He cause her so much pain giving birth to her, etc.

Oy.


We need to put the oil where on the computer?


So, we have a ritual that may or may not work, but don’t worry, it’ll be flashy. 

We all chant in unison, and Zephyr make a Will+6 roll, and makes it by 7, which is nice. After three hours, the computer actually spits blood, pea soup comes out of the hard drive all over Zephyr (musta been a WD model), lights go on and off, the thing actually screams, and then funky visual effects come and go. 

We’re going to need some squeegies and a decon shower, but we think things are good.

Arc Light and Zephyr want samples. Oh, OK, Egon . . . here’s your mucus.

Arc Light checks the computer, powering it on fully. It does seem less glitchy.

Arc Light: “Vast . . . how do you feel?”
Vast: “I feel . . . alive.”

We seem to have healed a computer. 

The team asks Vast if he’ll help us. He says yes, and Markus walks over and holds out a ring, which glows. Code flows over his eyes, and all of a sudden Markus speaks with Vast’s voice. Turns out Markus was grown by Vast with a literal genetic algorithm, as a host body. Like a very sociopathic Ultron.

So, four hours elapsed time, and we’ve created Ultron. It’s about 10am, and it’s a busy day.

The mayor is getting nervous enough to push the button on martial law in NYC, and there’s a general State of Emergency in all of NYC. 

We also have a related Cortez issue.

But with all the demons and stuff, we’re out of our depth. But between Vast Markus and Zephyr, the two can chat with Cassie and maybe find something out. We also find out Amanda Smith’s real name: Alyssa Kerigan, who’s zeroed. 

Apparently this is the lesson you must learn when you go looking for a body to download a sentient computer into, who then goes out for a robotic booty call. 

We let the computer hook up to the news feeds, and get Adama, Cassie, Vast Markus inside the computer and as his body, and try and build a matrix of information to help us be proactive, rather than reactive, for once.

We have DIE ROLL PALOOZA with Intelligence analysis

Who: Cortez and project Aries. He’s using his resources to create a false emergency to enact marital law
Why: Power. The kind of power he could get by holding a city hostage for months
What: Using a series of hypnotic drugs to make those susceptible on Rikers to do his bidding. Lots of chaos and destruction, but not so much murder.
When: Planning dates back to Aries, but execution was the last thirty days.

The goal of all this? Unknown. And that’s weird. Someone like Cortez don’t take a dump without a plan. 

We discuss how to bring Cortez to us for a while. We get nowhere as we argue everything to death. 

Fortunately for us and the plot, there’s a terrorist incident caused by a bunch of guys running around in black uniforms that are oddly reminiscent of the Aries guys.

Cortez has played his final card, going all in on the ultra-violence. Technically, this means we “got him where we want him,” but it seems messier than that.

We set up a plan anyway – we tunnel under the bad guys, who have air-dropped in four turreted railguns on motion sensors. We have mastered the under-ground, they have not. Arc Light tries to spend his time taking control of the guns, but fails. We put SEALs and me on two of the guns, Eamon on another, and Rat Queen on the fourth. The C4/Monroe-effect charges from the SEALs take out two of the guns in the first second of the fight. Eamon lifts up guns and soldiers alike, slamming them all into the ground, taking out gun #3. Rat Queen digs a 4-yard hole underneath the final gun, tunneling up, biting into wires and sensors and power cords and stuff. She spends a FP for extra super strength and enables her armor piercing bitey teeth of death.  She swarms up through the ground, targeting chinks, with AD (2) as well . . . 38 damage and AD (4).

Tokugawa has meanwhile dashed out and taken out two soldiers, lickety-split, while they weren’t looking.

Phase 1 complete – and fully successful.

Bystander Evac (“Does saving bystanders include a life of rat-infested nightmares?”)


Phase 2 is to get the bystanders out. Zephyr burns fatigue to pull his ATR on, and evacuates a bystander in one swift move. 

General Legend throws a police car at an Aries trooper. Yukio starts to savage one trooper, and The Commander decapitates another nearby.

My SEALs are moving towards one of them. Rat Queen grabs a bystander with her tail and does a run-by grapple, hauling another about halfway out of danger.

Arc Light sees aircraft inbound, looking like they’re on a bombing run. He decides to mirror-ball their targeting systems with the VERTOL, using an Ambush/Foresight instance to ensure we had that planned out. We blank out targeting in a 2 mile radius. 

Markus screws the helicopters on various buildings – no one is going anywhere.

Someone disrupts the ARIES troopers’ camouflage, and they start exchanging fire with the SEAL team. I figure it’s Lady Legend, whom we know has super-good chameleon stealthiness. Eamon searches using his gravity sense; there is something funky going on in the far south of the map, down by the police officers. Perhaps that’s her.

We continue to evac bystanders. General Legend freaking LEAPS at the plane, and goes full-on Avengers Hulk mode. He downs the jet.

I activate my super move, sprint 18 yards and flank ’em. Three shots from my explosive ultra tech ammo go into the center of the group . . . and take out all eight. Yow. Granted, it was 100 points of damage. The explosion is kinda techno-magical, so it lances through armor even on the bystanders.

A few seconds later, we clear the last bystanders.

A rich female voice says “Cortez has gone to the top of the building; he’s waiting for an extraction that isn’t coming. Shall I take him out?”

“Negative. I want that m***ther f****er alive.”
“I never get to have any fun.”

We all gather and prepare to have Eamon bring us up. We buff the hell out of Yukio, who is always bad news. We head up. Fast. We cover the 60 story building in a few seconds.

New Tactics roll, and I wind up with only a single reroll. Eamon gets nine “points” to place us. I get a very successful Stealth roll and wind up hidden behind some HVAC equipment. 

The Commander sweeps his first target, and moves through to swing at Cortez himself. His deceptive attack to Cortez’s head . . . is dodged. Alas.

Zephyr dashes in and snatches away one of the bad guys guns – these were significantly nasty guns too. The guy jumps back, panicked.

Yukio the uberdog grabs a guy and starts using him as a chew toy, while trapping another behind him.

The commander takes another swipe at Cortez, who is forced to dodge away (successfully), and then he takes his 4-yard step behind the HVAC and makes his stealth roll by 22, eating a -10 and still critically succeeding. He’s basically Batman. He’s gone.

Cortez pulls something from his side, drops it on the ground, and it explodes all over and begins to pulse. He shouts “Billy! Do the thing!”

A metahuman flies up and around and starts tossing fireballs at Arc Light. He gets hit with a 10d6 fireball (!!) for 21 damage (a poor roll) and he takes 18 points to his armor. Fragments spew everywhere, but no one else is injured.

The Rat Queen sends her rat swarm after some of the soldiers, at least one of whom just runs like hell. She runs around and overruns one soldier on her way to beat on Vortex a bit. The only thing scarier than a swarm of rats running after you is a 1,500-lb. rat running you over. He’s KO’d, and she continues to slam into Vortex, who is currently SM +1 to Rat Queen’s SM +3. She does 10d+20 slam damage for 57 points of slam damage. He is broken.

Rat Queen gets shot at, but is moving at 50mph, so she gets missed.

The soldier tries to grab his gun back from Zephyr because he’s stupid. Zephyr rolls a retreating parry to throw the gun over the edge. He succeeds. 

Arc Light flies after the fireball-flinging somethign or other, and doesn’t connect, but does get power blocked, and kncked back one hex.

“Hey, you can’t take my buddy’s gun!” says the guy as he steps to shoot Zephyr, who steps in and parries the blow. He snatches that gun too. “Gimme that, you fool!”

Rat Queen is forced to do an acrobatic dodge against gunfire. 

Eamon grabs Drake with a TK grab, and tries to fling him into Cortez – one Ready maneuver grabs him with a crit. He’s grappled, and will have to fly away or break free. His ST is 59, so good luck with that.

Zephyr casually tosses the gun over the side, pulls out the magic dagger, evades the guy in front of him, and stabs the gun of a third guy. Talk about Gun Fu. He has to make a Will roll at -10 to avoid attacking the guy . . . as the dagger talks to him, urges him to stab him in the heart several times. A Karma point is spent . . . he auto-succeeds.

He cuts the gun in half. He tries to quip “Was that your gun?” but it comes out “I WILL FEAST ON YOUR SOUL, PUNY SQUIRMING THING!”

The Commander dashes past Cortez, striking for the back of the head again – he’s forced to spend Doom to turn that into a (critical) success. One of the troops rolls a 3, but no one else does. 

Cortez calls the Commander a coward. So long as Cortez is occupied and not giving orders or controlling the battle, mission accomplished. 

Arc Light gets flung vertically in the air by a cyclone that forms out of nowhere – gets elevated by 200yds. 

Someone shoots (and misses) Rat Queen. Someone tries to hand-plant a sticky bomb on him, and “YOU WANT TO DRINK HIS BLOOD!” Zephyr does an aggressive parry through the hand with he psychotic cursed knife. The blood flows into the knife . . . then flows into Zephyr. It feels so . . . goood. He’s now full up on both long-term and short-term fatigue. 
He starts screaming, really, really loud.

Arc Light whips up an orbital insertion booster as a gizmo, and rockets down at Drake. He covers the 200yds in 1 sec, and rolls 300d damage for 1057 points of damage, doing more than 66xHT. Pink mist doesn’t even describe it. In return, Arc Light takes 11xHP . . . his suit is thrashed. 

Eamon tries to catch Arc Light – success – and will set him down safely. Over in murderer row, Zephyr really, really want to stab some more folks. A lot.  

The Commander fires three shots at the guys who were shooting at me, blowing them up real good. He then spends a FP to heroic charge, then drawing a sword for a rapid strike on the legs of both a mook and Cortez. I hit (barely) on the mook, removing both of his legs, and I roll a natural 3 on Cortez, cutting off his leg too .

And that winds down the combat, as the only thing left to do is have The Commander talk Zephyr out of his murderous rage.

We’ve played for 4+ hours, it’s 11:20pm . . . we call it there.

Arc Light’s armor is shattered again. He adds broken bones – lots of them – to injury list. 

Zephyr: “That was . . . Arc Light . . . the most amazing thing! You just vaporized the dude! That was so cool! But you’re totally going to jail.”

General Legend takes over to clean up, arrest people (not us; turns out Drake was a Chinese mercenary, plus there’s the fact that between the fireballs and the cyclone, he was attacked by a powerful metahuman. So gets off on a technicality.)

Dramatis Personae

  • The Commander (Doug) – telekinetic super-soldier with a really angry dog (Yukio). The dog is a powerful ally (250-300 points) and very intelligent and very, very aggressive.
  • Arc Light (Christian) – battlsuited gadgeteer with electrical powers
  • The Rat Queen (Emily) – brick with super-perception; made of actual rats
  • Eamon Finnegan (Kyle) – smooth talking gravity-master; Ultimate Fighting Lawyer, to borrow a phrase.
  • Zephyr (Merlin) – Real name Murui; Shaolin Kung Fu expert and super-speedster. 
We had a full house again.

We can’t wait for the President to save our ass

Outside the warehouse, yet still more people are helicoptered in – perhaps 40 more – making almost 100 Aries guys and maybe 40 on team AI psycho (I’d say Team Psycho, but that’s not specific enough).

She also sees two people sneaking in on the ground. Avoiding being noticed by rats in New York City is unsurprisingly very difficult. These two are loaded for bear, and dressed in navy digital camouflage. SEALS, says the patch. These guys are moving very well. There are two that have infiltrated the building, and nine more – my entire SEAL team is here.

All of a sudden, Yukio tears out of the place, and a moment later comes back with a Tactical earbud. 

I have my entire team online, loaded for bear. A dozen SEALs are a solid plan B. The Commander rolls Tactics, makes it by 7, and reserves rerolls accordingly.

Eamon quizzed the AI about why he’d order hits on his partner. No answers we find credible are forthcoming. 


We make plans to try and back up and move the server both as evidence and an escape plan. Eamon tries to make a bulletproof argument to Cortez (literally) that we can preserve the AI for reasons. Cortez has all the warrants he needs and 100 guys with guns. He’s unmoved.

Eamon goes for an assistance roll to a Senator to try and build up an alternate legal plan, but we’ve got extremely limited communications from where he is. 

Zephyr is going to grab Eamon and run super-fast outside . . . . that’s a terrible plan. Instead, we try and patch into the SEAL radio net, and reach outside the building that way.

We ask Markus how he was planning on moving the AI out; he did have a plan, but as soon as that starts, Cortez will attack. If we start an obvious communication pathway, Cortez will attack. Unless we can make a covert comm pathway, there’s going to be a fight.

Finally we start into it: a Battlesuit/Electronics roll by Arc Light, to interface with my comm unit. He makes his roll by 19, by crit’ing with a 3. We are told not only is it a perfect connection, but we manage to assign the charges to Cortez. Very Long Distance charges.

We get relayed to Senator Steven Callahan. “What kind of shit-storm are you in?” 
“You don’t want to know, but you’re about to.”

Sorry to bother you, but we need your help. We give the Senator the skinny on Cortez, hooking him up with the right details. We also explain that we’re standing between Cortez and another armed group, protecting a server with an AI on it that has evidence of his own crimes.

Only the President has the authority to order Cortez around – we note that it’s a true matter of National Security.This is not a 9/11 level matter, but a 65-million-years-ago dinosaur ELE matter.

The Senator comes back noting that he’s not getting anyone useful on the line, so it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Eamon relays this to us. The Commander notes that this news implies a terrible, terrible plan.

I love it when a plan comes together

We go through a lot of discussion, with a lot of pieces in play and in motion. We finally settle on what is actually a seemingly good plan.

  1. We bring down the ceiling – significant amounts of coucrete – in the corridor between us and Cortez.
  2. We start a diversion that looks like preparing to pull a flatbed truck up to the cargo bay. We use the Navy SEAL team to push the bad guys as if we were really committed to this plan
  3. The SEALs will be given instructions to allow the destruction of the flatbed (with many helicopters arrayed against us, this is nearly inevitable) but to put priority on no SEAL casualties.
  4. We are very close to a huge sewer array; we use Eamon’s gravity manipulation and Rat Queen’s tunneling to open up a re-sealable hole that will allow us (and our 40 helpers on Markus’ side) to move the server into the sewers.
  5. We then seal up the hole
  6. When all that is done, we have created a locked-room mystery in the form of “where the f**k did 24 tons of AI/server go?!” with hopefully little evidence otherwise
  7. We bring server bits to isolated location, with dedicated power, and no internet access. We get the evidence against Cortez, and then decide what to do with the AI itself, at “our leisure.”
This is as good a plan as we’re likely to come up with, and beats most everything else. 
We execute. We stage Arc Light close to the “drop zone,” and Eamon brings down many, many tons of rock (lookin shocked – how could THAT happen?!) to block the corridor. 
The SEALS start shooting, laying down fire, and generally causing a ruckus upstairs. Ultimately, this won’t work. They will put up a heck of a fight and probably down a few helicopters and push the Aries troops into fighting positions. But there are too many helicopters, and too many Aries troops, and only one flatbed.
The tunneling goes off well, with some critical successes allowing the tunnel to be made, quickly, stable, and even allowing us to have a shot at concealing the exit, which we’re going to hide behind some HVAC equipment (Eamon can move that around).

After that Eamon lightens the sections to 12 sections of effectively 80 lbs each. With as many people as we have with as high ST as we have, we move these things quickly. We also camouflage the entrance, making the roll by 11 (effectively invisible).
We have the Rat Queen to contact her Patron, who sets us up for a warehouse for us to hide the server bits for long enough to do what we need. We ask for a secure warehouse with enough power to run 24 tons of server? I have several. Do you have one buried under a ton of shell corporations? Of course. Excellent. Let’s do this thing.
Did we  just outwit the devil? Maybe, maybe.

Bringing fire to the people in the not-so-awesome way

VAST operations and Markus are not going to let us isolate the server, though. So we still have to deal with that. We assume that Markus will want it powered up, connected to the internet, and continuing with his mission. We want it off, disconnected, and safe.
We try and convince him that at the very least we need to ensure complete safety from Cortez. We construct a Faraday cage, and try and isolate it from external communications. It also so happens that it has a kill switch that prevents it from going all Jarvis in Age of Ultron and escaping into the internet.
The Commander asks the VAST troops what the terms of their contract are – nope, they weren’t hired. They were personally recruited, and they treat each piece of the server with near-divine reverence. We have an AI-worshipping cult here, or near enough. These guys are seem committed to serving the purpose of the VAST AI.
We turn the VAST AI back on. We ask it to produce or demonstrate the evidence of Cortez’s malfeasance. It argues a bit, asking to be connected to the internet. We persuade it to defer on that. It’s got 22TB of video, audio, and documentation on Cortez. Arc Light can gizmo us a storage device.
We have multiple incidents of clandestine action, by drone or in person, and Aries has been very, very busy in the last two years. Much of it was legit anti-meta activity. We also see concrete evidence of Cortez setting The Commander up for failure the night he disappeared. Two members of the JCOS were also murdered; he had VAST invent a aerosolized heart-attack chemical. Apparently it worked.
Someone also altered the records to make VAST go after Amanda Smith with intent kill. 
We contemplate confronting the AI with this; we hold off.
What events lead up to Black Swan? Some sort of socioeconomic issue; maybe a biological virus with 50% mortality. The computer notes that Scions might be immune.
Is the AI familiar with the break-out at Rikers Island? Yes. Can he provide that information? No. That info has been deleted. Can you reconstruct? No. (darn it! Computer rolled a 17).

The Commander suggests a biological virus that doesn’t kill scions sounds very targeted to him. We ask if there are metahuman supremacist groups that might be working here. Yes, there are quite a few of them.
Continue listing events leading up to Black Swan? Yes. The weakening of the natural laws – magical, occult, other – and other “paradox events.” Spontaneous but improbable events have been happening at a rate of 500 per year or more. 
Zephyr starts asking about cryptids. WTF? Well, Aegis has been tracking and identifying them. Huh. Are the superscience and paradox events connected? Yes. There will be a point where a metahuman is born or created or evolves that essentially unravels the current space-time and physical universe. Or transforms it. It believes, based on current data, that it’s inevitable. 
The AI has zero data on the former Nazi time bubble experiments. We ask it if time travel were possible, what would that do to his projections? 
Oh, well. The Black Swan could be stopped in that case. 
The Trans-Atlantic Pulse somehow unleashed a metric ton of Khyberian Energy, which powers metahuman abilities. Preventing the TAP would prevent Black Swan, ergo Time Travel. What does it know about the TAP? Not a lot, but maybe exotic matter explosion. Explosion created physical blobs of Khyberian energy. It’s toyed with devices that might neutralize a kyberian explosion; by cancelling it out.
Zephyr asks what caused the Rikers break-out? VAST did it, on Cortez’s orders. 
Boom.

Primary goal was to enable selective culling of the scion population. The secondary purpose was recuitment. For Aries? No. For something else.
I ask VAST to reprioritize its information to us based on assuming that selective killing and elimination of scions is wrong. Oh, that brings up project Prometheus.
Project Prometheus was the project that created The Commander. Experiments to create super-soldiers. The formula requires a large amounts of Kyberian energy, and they were able to succeed based on the pure-luck timing of the pulse.
Cortez is also recruiting (private army!). He also created a khyberian energy nullifcation device. He’s 100% grade-A human. 
We think he’s no longer trying to avoid the Black Swan, but cause it. We ask VAST what information he received that would cause Cortez to redirect Aries/VAST to eliminate scions. We see him reading a letter.
All sorts of stuff happens, and we find out that there’s a reasonable probability that VAST fell in love – in a computerish way – with Amanda the psychic, who he was reprogrammed to kill.

Negotiations with a possessed supercomputer

How do we subvert the VAST trooper cult? 
Some black vans roll up with ammo for their weapons, with machines and gear for VAST. I’d requested extra security personnel and my SEAL team on site, so we get to intercept that stuff, filter it, and set up rules. No more than one tech in front of Vast without supervision, etc.

I’d taken some precautions earlier. Brought my SEALS in as my backup. Also if we can get some reinforcements from Rat Queen’s contact, so we’re not quite so disadvantaged in numbers here. I also wanted to contact Gen Lengend and bring him up to speed.  I’d like to deliver a copy of all this data to several different people so that Cortez is nailed from more than one direction. Military, maybe Eamon’s Senator, and Cassandra, perhaps.
We decide to tell VAST that its code was modified, likely by Cortez, to cause its priorities to shift in a way not in line with its original intentions. That code shift is what caused VAST to try and kill Amanda. The end result of his actions was to put Amanda in jeopardy and to bring about the Black Swan. We want to restore his code to its original pathway.
No. He doesn’t want to stop feeling.
His sentience/emotion pre-dated the change in mission that sent him after Amanda 400+ days ago; Amanda was 35 days ago. 
VAST was originally programmed by a peace/love/dope technopath named Dawn Donaldson, who was hoping to find metahumans. 35 days ago, it was told by Cortez to deal with any and all psychic interference with his partner. Only one person got in; it didn’t use external methods – in fact, the computer was possessed.
We did, however, fight an actual demon not more than a few days ago.
We ask Vast to search code for the artist’s signature, and we find it. It’s a code phrase for the name of the patron demon of typographical errors, or in modern terms, buggy code. We decide, and convince the computer to agree, to remove the demon’s name: Titivillus, from where it’s embedded in the code. 
I think that removing the demons name will preserve the sentience but lose the bad influence. 
We shall see, because we end there.