My Evolving Marvel RPG Datafiles

I wanted to try and sum up what I’ve started doing differently in designing datafiles for the Marvel RPG.

Very quickly, I came to realize that there isn’t enough detail in the mechanical half of the datafiles to adequately describe how a character’s power works. I wanted more flavor in my SFX, which I’ve started to do, but I think the biggest influence on how I approach the process is the FATE Fractal.

In FATE, a character has three or four mechanics: Aspects, Skills, Stress Tracks, and occassionally Stunts. The idea is that any object in the game can be modeled as a character.

Following that line of thinking, I figure that any Trait, SFX or Limit can have Distinctions. For that matter, if the name of an object is catchy enough the name can stand in as a Distinction. Simple, effective, and a useful tool for improvising at the table.

I’ve also started to blur the lines between what should be a trait or an SFX according to how I want the character to act in combat. If I have power traits that I want to use concurrently without including an additional cost or penalty, I figure that I have two choices. I can either split them into separat Power Sets or I will turn one/both of them into SFX if I can find a trait they can reasonably key off of. This second method gives me more room to be descriptive too.

I’m also moving toward a datafile where SFX and Limits might be connected to either a Power Trait or a Power Set. This give me a little more granular control over how the action is expressed in the game.

The hardest part of the datafile for me is usually the limits. Limits like “exhausted” or “conscious activation” seem too obvious—bullshit limits, really.

I could buy “exhausted” as a limit if the power trait or SFX actually imposed a condition by that name when used. I can’t think of a good excuse for “conscious activation”. The latter limit seem as if that should be the default unless the object is modified, say by “uncontrollable”.

Regardless, I’m not using the stock SFX or limits if I can come up with something sexier, though they make a useful shorthand at times (area attack).

So here’s an example of all these ideas in action:


Kale El (secret)

d10 Solo
d6 Buddy
d8 Team

The Last Son of Krypton
Secret Identity: Mild-Mannered Reporter
Truth, Justice, & The American Way

d12 Super-Strength
SFX: More Powerful Than a Locomotive – Superman routinely pulls his punches unless faced by an exceptionally powerful foe. If Superman includes Super-Strength in a die pool when he has a d8 or more phsyical stress, you may step up his effect die.
d12 Durability
SFX: Able to Withstand a Bursting Shell – Spend 1 PP to ignore phsyical stress from an attack.
d10 Inhuman Reflexes
SFX: Faster Than a Speeding Bullet – Spend 1 PP to allow Superman to make a reaction roll in place of an ally. If Superman succeeds, he interposes himself between the acting character and target, physically intercepting the attack and becoming the target of the attack’s effects.
d10 Super-Speed

Under a Yellow Sun
d10 Heat Vision
d10 Inexhaustable Stamina
SFX: Regeneration – Spend 1 PP to recover your physical stress and to step down your physical trauma.
SFX: Super-Breath – Superman’s powerful lungs can compress and store large quantities of air. If you have included Inexhaustible Stamina in a action pool you may spend 1 PP for one of the following benefits:
—ignore the need to breath until Superman rolls an opportunity.
—exhale and freeze a target in place
—exhale to knock back a target or targets (area attack)
d10 Supersonic Flight
d10 Super-Human Senses
SFX: X-Ray Vision – While using Superhuman Senses in an action, you may spend 1 PP to see through an obstruction.

Special Limits
Limit: Child of a Red Sun – If deprived of our sun’s unique energies for an extended period of time, Superman’s powers may begin to fade. When this limit is activate, each time you include a KRYPTONIAN or UNDER A YELLOW SUN power trait or SFX in an action/reaction, step down the related dices after the action is resolved.
Limit: Green Kryptonite – While confronted with the irradiated pieces of his home planet, shut down KRYPTONIAN and UNDER A YELLOW SUN power sets. Superman may not recover stress or trauma and his phsyical trauma steps up before each action/reaction that he rolls.
Limit: Magic – Superman is vulnerable to mystic spells and enchantments. He cannot prevent stress or trauma inflicted by a mystic attack.
Limit: Reverence for Life – Superman refuses to kill or inflict trauma, regardless of the circumstance.

d10 Journalism Master
d8 Combat Expert
d8 Cosmic Expert
d8 Science Expert
d8 Tech Expert

Last Son of Krypton
1 XP when you encounter knowledge of Krypon or Kryptonian culture outside of The Fortress of Solitude.
3 XP when you use Kryptonian resources, such as knowledge or technology, to achieve a goal.
10 XP when you embrace Kryptonian culture to the exclusion of Human values or when you foreswear your Kryptonian heritage and embrace Humanity.

Secret Identity
1 XP when conceal your powers from another person OR when you are accused of having special abilities.
3 XP when your repeated deceptions regarding your secret identity causes strife yourself and a loved one OR when you narrowly prevent another from exposing your secret identity.
10 XP when you revelad your secret identity to the world OR when the last person to know your identity is silenced.

To Boldly Go

How far can we push the fractal concept? Pretty far. I give you a temple as character . With very little tweaking you can define gear as you would characters (just add distinctions). Thor’s Mjolnir effectively uses a skill as a power trait on pg 8 of this free download from Margarette Weiss Productions.

So fas as blurring the lines between design elements, why couldn’t a Distinction, Trait, or SFX become a Limit? You just need the proper context. Wolverine’s Adamantium skeleton is an excellent exampt of that!

Likewise, a little creative tweaking can also reduce the size of your datafile without losing it’s flavor. Consider the suggestion that I make on this original character. If he adds the Incorporeal limit to the Golem power set, he can eliminate Intangibility, Invisible, Invulnerable, and Multipower. The three I’s are all part of the definition of incorporeal—at least I would consider them obvious enough to drop. A smaller datafile may be a more effecient reference at the table, so long as you don’t sacrifice any important detail in the bargain.

If nothing else, this is an exercise in keeping a flexible perspective on how to use your datafiles. The more flexibility that you can envision up front, the more prepared you will be at the table.


~ by Hunter Rose on July 12, 2012.

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