Roleplayer #15, August 1989

Writing SUPERS

Weirdness Magnet Works Overtime for New Editor

by Loyd Blankenship

Strange things seem to happen to me. I don't know if it's a weirdness magnet or an ancient curse . . . but the most recent odd happening in my life was that I got to write GURPS Supers.

February 14, 1989 (morning): I'm a happily employed graphics software engineer putting the finishing wraps on a new device driver.

February 14, 1989 (evening): I (along with half the programming staff) am now an unhappily unemployed graphics software engineer.

After explaining to my wife that this wasn't the worst Valentine's Day of her life, I immediately began considering where I wanted to work next. Like any hard-core GURPS player living in Austin, my first thought was Steve Jackson Games. I wrote up a nice proposal explaining to Steve what a great opportunity this was for him and the company, and Steve (being a very wise man) saw that this was true. Some four weeks later, I was in.

The first thing dropped into my lap was an 8-inch stack of files containing playtest comments and old drafts of the Supers manuscript. After digesting them for a day, I ventured my humble opinion that what was there was a very interesting game that bore insufficient resemblance to GURPS. Steve concurred, and asked what I thought it would take to fix it. Since I have a firm opinion on everything, I said that it needed to be redone from scratch with a system that worked something like [imagine lengthy system description here]. He told me to start writing.

I started by sketching out the basic Power/Skill system (based on the existing psionic system). I assembled a list of Power Groups that I thought was complete enough to cover 99% of the comic-book supers out there. After much head-butting, bribery, and out-right threats, Steve agreed that the psionic system needed some tweaking, so I added the basic psi groups.

I then started making long lists of skills. People on the BBS started making long lists of skills. Total strangers started making long lists of skills. I spent a few days typing in all the lists, arranging them by advantage, disadvantage, and power group, and then started thinking seriously about how many points they were going to cost.

This was probably the trickiest point in the process – and was certainly the one that had to be adjusted the most as playtest results came in (6 different costs for Enhanced ST were tried out before settling on the current one). Assigning the cost per level of Power was relatively easy, but because of the disparity in the skill cost tables between mental and physical skills, deciding which skills were which was a crucial problem.

The final solution to this turned out to be simple – make a new table for super skills. The next issue was the modifiers. Using the existing system that took a flat percentage off of Power cost proved easily crockable. It was too easy to load up on fairly meaningless limitations and buy Power levels of 40 and up. After several brainstorming sessions, I decided that Power was Power – the cost never changed. What did change was the cost for buying a skill. If the skill was severely limited, it should be cheap to buy. If it was highly powerful, it should be expensive. This system also allows the player to tailor the skills under a Power Group to his exact taste.

With the modifier system in place, playtesting could begin in earnest. The big issue was point balance between offense and defense, and point balance among the various utilitarian advantages and skills. Several people (including myself) worked up mathematical models of the attack/defense powers to see how they balanced out. The main thing I found was that defense need to be a lot cheaper than I originally had it. I changed some numbers, sent it back out, and this time it worked!

By now, some four weeks had gone by, and I was used to working 10- to 15-hour days. My wife began having mail forwarded to the office, and my cat no longer recognized me, but I was in gamer heaven.

During this time, I had realized that I was not going to have time to write a world background. About then, Bob Schroeck posted a really nifty background on the BBS. I called Bob, negotiated a bit, and ended up sub-contracting out Chapter 7.

This left me free to concentrate on the next hurdle: combat. I spent a lot of time perched on the desk of Mike Hurst, author of GURPS High-Tech, discussing weapons, damage, explosives, death and destruction. Since Mike knows everything about this (or at least knows where to find it), I was able to formulate rules that dealt with super combat in a reasonably realistic manner while still maintaining the flavor of the genre.

I did run into a wall for a few days, however. Playtesting proved that characters die like rats when the 8d+8 energy blasts begin flying. Something had to be done to give the PCs a chance to live and fight again! The first option was to cheapen defense even further. This would have worked, but would have badly un-balanced the system. Steve, however, came up with the idea of an optional Stun attribute based on HT. By using the damage reduction idea (my contribution to the Stun rules), the GM of a campaign can fine-tune the level of reality (or lack thereof) in his world.

We had also received a nice Roleplayer submission from C.J. Carella – a set of rules for cinematic martial arts. They looked good, so we contracted C.J. to flesh them out for the combat chapter. The final martial arts rules are 85% C.J.'s, so direct the applause to him.

With combat safely in hand, I began to attack chapters 1 and 6 (characters and campaigns). Time was beginning to run short, however, and there were still a lot of sidebars to be written. Enter Steve Jackson, who got involved in the project seriously at about week 8 (two weeks later than he should have . . .) and started by reorganizing my rather haphazard manuscript into a clear, logical order. He also filled in a lot of the blank sidebars with tidbits from his own twisted mind.

Finally, Bob Schroeck's manuscript came in. Unfortunately, it came in 14 pages long. Undaunted, and wielding an editor's pen like a scythe, we killed huge chunks of copy (most of which will come back when we publish a sourcebook for the IST world).

We were now running out of time. Steve and I began living at the office – 15 hours was a light day. The characters were trickling in from playtesters, but most of them had to be redesigned; the point costs had changed based on the last set of playtest comments.

About then, another white knight arrived. Playtester wayne a. lee (that's how he spells it!) was down from Canada looking around Texas. He wandered by SJG one day, and asked how Supers was going. Since he was familiar with the system, it was easy to drug him and convince him that going over the character designs with a fine-tooth comb would be fun. He agreed, and did a fantastic job (Darkshell isn't his fault, but mine. I changed some numbers at the last minute and didn't check Darkshell carefully enough.)

Finally, it was done. The book looked fantastic, the cover looked fantastic, and I was too tired to move. We packed it off to the printers, and I spent the next two weeks coming into the office about noon every day. When I hold a copy in my hands, though, it makes it all worthwhile!

Supers Errata as of 7-12-89

P. 18. Concentration: All powers have a Snap Shot number of 25 minus Skill.
P. 19. Under Advantages and Disadvantages Modifiers: The third paragraph refers to a Body of Ice with the Burst Effect enhancement; this should be a Body of Ice with the Explosive enhancement.
P. 24. Under Damage Types: Metal should be listed as Common. Fire/Heat should be listed as an Occasional attack form.
P. 30. In the example for Armor Piercing, only 9 points of damage penetrate.
P. 30. The Accuracy enhancement is a +1 level enhancement instead of +2 and each level adds +2 to Acc instead of +1 (remember, your max Acc is equal to your skill!)
P. 30. Under Cone Enhancement: Add the following – "The cone is two dimensional and can be dodged. 'Cone' refers to the outline shape; it does not have a volume."
P. 35. Under Psionic Resistance: Add "The Switchable enhancement (see p. 31) is available for this skill."
P. 40. Flash should be a mental skill, not a physical one.
P. 44. The Psychokinesis table should be based on Power, not Skill.
P. 44. PK Shield protects against physical attacks only, not against energy attacks.
P. 50. Buzzsaw should be a mental skill, not physical.
P. 56. All of the Generic Attack Templates should read "1d(+/-1) per 2 full levels of Power," not "1d per level of Power."
P. 60. The table for "Unreliable" is backwards. 15 should be No Bonus, 13 should read -5%, and so on.
P. 67. Nightflick's flying speed should be 56.
P. 76. Mount Fuji subtracted 20 points for an IQ of 8, when he should have only subtracted 15. Just assume he gained five points from his last adventure.
P. 77. Necron's Death Bolts do 3d-3 impaling damage.

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