To Roll or Not to Roll? Powers and Narrative Effects

  • 4 Replies
To Roll or Not to Roll? Powers and Narrative Effects
« on: October 17, 2013, 03:47:29 PM »
I'm currently working on a superhero themed Hack and I'm facing a bit of a quandary of theme and game design, all because of a simple question.

Should you roll to use your super powers, or do they just happen?

There are cases to be made for each side, for example, a laser blast should be rolled like an attack with all the possibilities for success, success but, and a failure, but super strength? Your super strong. You should just get to lift the car, not roll and possibly face consequences for it. These are super heroes after all, they should be awesome.

So I'm theorizing and want advice from other Hack designers out there. Where does the line get draw between you can just do it, and you need to roll in the thematic world of super heroes?

My current thought processes says, if your power conflicts with another Move, Basic or otherwise, it needs to be rolled. So attacks need to be rolled, super charm mind control needs to be rolled, observing particular parts of the environment with super vision needs a roll and you get to answer different questions, but things like super strength, teleportation, flying etc. do not.

Maybe I should make a distinction between Active and Passive powers or Moves? Any thoughts and input you might have are appreciated!

Re: To Roll or Not to Roll? Powers and Narrative Effects
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2013, 11:00:55 PM »
You're thinking about it wrong.  The question isn't "should they roll to use their superpowers?"  It's "should they roll to use this move?"

Look at the Monsterhearts skins.  Almost all of those moves represent supernatural powers of some sort.  Sometimes, they're rolled, sometimes they aren't.  It depends on what the game needs to happen when the player uses that move.

Re: To Roll or Not to Roll? Powers and Narrative Effects
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2013, 12:28:22 AM »
I would suggest looking at the powers not as Moves in an of themselves, but rather something that you can act through; a tool that expands what you could do.

Take Laser Beam Eyes. You could come up with a couple of custom moves for it, but ultimately, it's what the player wants to do with it that will engender rolls or not. Same with flight, or super strength or any other power. By itself, it just happens, no need to roll. It's like walking, or making a sandwich. Now, in a dangerous situation, when the stakes are high, when there is a chance of failure? Yeah, there's going to be a roll, but it won't be a Super Strength roll, it'll be a standard Move that was made possible because you have super strength.

As a suggestion (just spitballing here), you could do something like have each super power be a Stat. If you use your super power to perform a Move, instead of rolling a Move using your normal stats, you roll using your super stat, kinda thing.

Re: To Roll or Not to Roll? Powers and Narrative Effects
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2013, 03:38:43 AM »
I'll chime in, in agreement with the above: powers provide opportunities to do things in the fiction that the character could not otherwise do, but those actions will still mostly come down to using the basic moves of your game.
So yes, if you're superstrong, you can lift that car, but if you want to throw it at someone and hurt them or use it to shore up the break in the dam that is threatening to flood the valley, then you need to make a move.
If you weren't superstrong, you wouldn't be in a position to do those things and so might have no suitable weapon to throw or have no option but to run away from the breaking dam rather than trying to repair it.
The superpower moves are largely going to add colour to the game, e.g. "You can fly" or "You can see through walls," leaving the players with the option to get creative with their powers and come up with novel ways of using them.

I'm currently engaged in a major redraft of my Just Heroes hack, taking on-board feedback from playtesters, and part of what it amounts to is that players want flexibility from the game: they want to be told what their powers can do, not what they can't, so permissive, open powers are surely the way to go. As with Monsterhearts, open a discussion about the assumptions of the game world and what the individual strengths & weaknesses of the various character types are, e.g. are all heroes stronger and tougher than an ordinary human? Can I lift a battleship with my superstrength (comic book physics) or will trying just tear a hole in it (real world physics)? And so on.

Re: To Roll or Not to Roll? Powers and Narrative Effects
« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2013, 11:46:44 AM »
Wow that's a really novel way of thinking about it that I had not considered.  In the interests of more specific categories of +Stat maybe you should roll when you use your Power for general categories of things, much like Basic Moves.

So if your aim is to use your Power in a agile description, perhaps you should roll +Dex like Defy Danger in Dungeon World? +Str to hurl the car, etc.

If that's the case then making super powers could be rather easy-ish. Just define your 'Power' or 'Powers' in narrative terms, apply some Tags so that there's a narrative balance to it all (my +Water Power cancels out your +Fire Power! etc.) and there you go.

Equate any sort of damage with a starting base and work it into the Basic Move for attacking with possible added bonuses to damage or Moves from Playbooks to add to damage.

This is really simple and brilliant, thanks so much for this suggestion!