Math is not hard
Posted by Ron Edwards
BONUS POST: Thanks to Ed McW and his July pledge at the Doctor Xaos Patreon! It’s really easy. In Champions, you pay for a ton of stuff in points. Just make up a fun character and find out how much it costs, and accept that superheroes, before about 1980, weren’t especially powerful at initial publication – no, not even the Hulk. (That’s one hurdle right there: you have a generation of gamers sucking on the “is” teats of the Marvel Universe and ignorant of what the Hulk, the Human Torch, or Spider-Man were like when they started out.) The structure as I know it from most of the editions of Champions, is that you get 100 points free, but the total should be about 250, so you’d need 150 points of Disadvantages to “pay for” exceeding 100. Not that we ever called such a character anything but “250 points,” though. [6th edition is the only exception: you get 400 points for purchases and taking 75 Complications points is mandatory. I’ll do one of those too.]
I’ll talk about the Disadvantages later in their own post; this one is about how much stuff costs, and about offsetting the cost’s literal amount. You can buy local Advantages on specific purchases, which make them more expensive, and local Limitations on them too, which makes them cheaper. I want to talk about these, specifically the Active Cost and the Real Cost.
To start, consider one power at a time. I’m talking 3rd edition now, for those who know. Let’s say your character has an Energy Blast, defined however you want it, which you’ve set it at 50 points (10 dice), and you want it to hit harder than most such Blasts, so you buy it as Armor-Piercing – never mind what that means in game terms, it’s good, so OK. That adds half-again its cost, so if it were a 50-point Blast, well, now it still does 50-point damage but with the Armor-Piercing effect in place, its Active Cost is 75. If you reduce that with a Limitation, the Active Cost doesn’t change; it remains as a term for how powerful the thing is all told. For example, let’s say the thing with the power is an Obvious Accessible Focus, which is to say, an power-providing device which can be taken away, which cuts its cost in half. Now it costs you 37 points (half of 75 = 37.5, rounded down), which is its Real Cost.
The notation for an individual Advantage or Limitation is set in quarters, as in ¼ or 1½ and similar. You put the (total fractions +1) as a multiplier to the cost for Advantages, and as a divisor for the Limitations. So in the example above, you can see that the Armor-Piercing up there must be ½, which it is, making the numerator (50) times (1½), or 75. And since the Obvious Accessible Focus Limitation has the value 1, I divide the Active Cost of 75 by (1+1). So the full equation for the power would have been 50 times (1½) divided by (2). Just do all your additions for the fractions above and below the line separately, before you do the multiplication and division.
One tiny confusing thing is that when referring to an individual Advantage or Limitation, use a plus-sign for the former and a minus-sign for the latter. This is strictly notation and has nothing to do with actual subtraction of that fraction, which never happens.
I chose Iron Man for the featured image because the character concept has lent itself so well over the years to messing with the limitations-in-action via explicit changes in the armor design. Sometimes it shorts out when hit with electrical attacks, and sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes the chest unit is vulnerable to a focused attack and sometimes it isn’t; sometimes it’s liable to run out of juice and sometimes it isn’t … “Depends on the writer,” yes, but in this case, it’s also easily visually tracked because a writer can more formally put a thumbprint on “now it works my way” with a special new-armor donning montage.
My fellow Champions nutbars will have expected, since they saw the featured image, that I was going to discuss the ins and outs of Iron Man’s armor conceived as a Focus Limitation, a long-time contentious topic. That is a hoary and well-trodden discussion and I don’t do those here. I do it in this PDF! (people unfamiliar with Champions are best off not clicking that, really)
Finally to the point. You can figure out a character’s total Active Cost this way with no sweat at all, adding it up without taking the Limitations into account. Typically it’ll be somewhat higher than the total Real Cost (again, usually 250). The question I’m after is, how much higher. What I liked to do, as one feature of understanding the character mechanics, is to make a ratio of the character’s total Active Cost to the total Real Cost. Say the guy has a total Active Cost of 301, and a Real Cost of 250, that’s 301/250 = 1.20 or so, which I stated in percent terms as 120.
If I did this with Iron Man of any vintage all the Champions people will scream bloody murder concerning the word “Focus,” so instead, here’s a pretty classic 3rd-ed character I just made up, built a bit more complicated than the ones in the core book of that edition, but a lot less so than most of the characters Champions gear-heads tried to wedge into my games, some of whom were pushing ratios close to 200.
JET STAR whom I’ve written up here. To summarize the relevant math:
- The Multipower has 40 Active Points, so the three slots, which are fixed in application, cost 4 each. All of that is reduced by the ½ Limitation of “Usable only with Move-By and Move-Through,” which brings the costs down by a third (rounded down to 2 for the slots). Two of the slots are further reduced by their No Range Limitation to a minimum of 1 point each.
- His Armor cost is 40 and his Faster-Than-Light Speed is 20, both of which are reduced by the ½ Limitation of “Observable Inaccessible Focus,” which brings the costs down by a third.
- All the rest of his Active Cost, 104 for his characteristics and 80 for some of his powers/skills, is the same as its Real Cost.
Without his Limitations figured in, he costs 40 points more, so his total Active Cost is 290; dividing by the Real Cost 250 gives him a ratio of 116. If you have the 3rd edition core book, you’ll see that most of their example heroes and villains have very low ratios, like 102 and even plain old 100, unless they have a powered suit.
The same calculation can be done for any edition of Champions too, although the exact values aren’t comparable across the three distinct groups of editions (1st-3rd / 4th-5th / 6th). Here’s a similar example for a 6th edition character, KOBALT who is here. In this case the math goes like this:
- The Multipower’s and its slots’ Active Cost is 96, but costs 70 due to the -¼ Limitation and another one on one slot.
- The Telepathy’s Active Cost is 30 and the Mental Defense’s is 10, but they cost 15 and 5 due to the -1 Limitation.
- All the rest of her Active Cost, 310 points, is the same as its Real Cost.
So her total Active Cost is 446 and divided by the Real Cost 400, gives us a ratio of 111.5 on the nose. If you have the 6th edition book, the example characters are very similar to the previous editions in terms of ratio: most a bit lower than this including 100, with the armored guys being considerably higher.
This post feels naked and cold without some art to liven things up. Hey, does anyone want to draw Jet Star and Kobalt? Send me an email (see top right); I’ll pay a bit for it and I’ll post’em here.
As a tentative point, it seems to me that 4th edition is the worst of both worlds, in providing relatively few points but demanding extensive skills, talents, and knowledge for a functional character, which leads to more and more dishonesty in Limitation definitions merely to work at all, which then leads to the failure to apply the Limitations in play or else they’d cripple the character. 1st-3rd gives you a ton of conceptual and useful stuff for free (e.g. the Baxter Building); 6th makes you pay for everything but also gives you a metric ton of points so you’re not sucking wind just to be able to fly and blast someone, and its various maths are much sleeker and more consistent throughout.
This ratio idea is not hard or weird at all, and it’s incredibly helpful when organizing play for this game. I’m not even saying what particular range is good or bad; that’s something you can decide for yourself. But man did people squeal when I tried to discuss it. I wrote a little essay and submitted it to The Adventurers’ Club, the Hero Games magazine, in 1987, and posted it in my first material to The Clobberin’ Times in 1988 … completely to silence or flak. No one gets it, no one gets it – they called it the “combat ratio” or expected it to account for every scrap of effectiveness; they miscalculated it (somehow); they refused to look at it; they told me to stop “ranting” which is to say, regarding a single essay. I never saw a single person adopt it as a useful, specific tool for discussing Champions characters. I still don’t know why.
Thanks: to Steve Long for a little pre-pub criticism
Next: Right there in the title
About Ron EdwardsGame author and publisher via Adept Press / Biology author and former professor
Posted on July 21, 2015, in Clobberin' callback, Supers role-playing and tagged Active Cost, Adventurers' Club, Champions RPG, Focus, Iron Man, Jet Star, Kobalt, Limitation, ratio, The Clobberin' Times. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.