Friday, June 3, 2011

Hero System Review Tuesday: "The Ultimate Vehicle"

This book was written by Bob Greenwade (who the hell is that?) and Steve Long. This is both an accusation and assignment of blame.

I saved this one for last because this one is quite possibly the worst book put out for the entire 5th Edition, which is irritating because it's one of the most necessary. It is the only truly unplayable book ever released for 5th Edition, and possibly the worst thing ever put out under the Champions/Hero System title.

The book is full of baffling headscratchers that make it practically unusable. My favorite is how practically every single jet vehicle has an enormous -1¾ limit to represent they have a damaging effect when their movement power is in use (jet planes burn things behind them).

Something having a damaging effect has a limitation on it? It's like a "limitation" one of the deviously sadistic minmaxing "Knights of the Dinner Table" crew would come up with, simultaneously saving points and doing damage. Heck, I have no idea where they coughed up the outrageous -1¾ figure because in the superhero genre book, doing property damage under you when you use your earth-movement powers is a miniscule -¼ if it's a limit at all, and I don't think it is. I've always been of the opinion that if someone else has to pay the cost of something, it's not a limitation. Call it a limitation version of the "tragedy of the commons."

By the way, destroyers and submarines only have a "mere" -¾ limitation for their damage-dealing screws and propellers. While manatee-killing is a very real problem facing our oceans, I somehow doubt your player characters will be inconvenienced at the -¾ level by the occasional contact with "Nature's Speedbumps." By the way, in a perfect example of how limitations in this supplement were assigned by throwing darts at a wall, airplanes with the very serious problem of stall velocity only have that as a -¼ limitation (which affects turn mode, requires constant movement, and can be a disaster in the event of Drains) and requiring a takeoff and landing is a -1.

It's also insane what they choose to give a limitation. I can't literally think of any occasion damaging exhaust is a problem, but I can think of one big limitation on planes: someone smashes or gums up a wing the whole thing goes out of control and flies like a filing cabinet. No Restrainable-esque limitation for that, though! Restrainable is, incidentally, a -½ limit, so stall velocity is a lot more damaging and gives you back a lot less. Good going, Bob Greenwade.

This reminds me of an old aviation joke. The job of a propeller is to keep the pilot cool. Turn it off, and watch him sweat.

It gets worse. The character sheet for the M1A1 Abrams tank has a DEF of 20. Now, stop and think about that. That means that on the balance, a 100 Active Point Energy Blast, or STR 100 character, will not do any damage at all. Hell, even Grond, the Champions Universe's Brand X answer to the ultrastrong Incredible Hulk, has STR 90. Considering the point value for above average, powerful superheroes is 70-90 Active Points in a power, that means a single M1A1 tank can easily shrug off an entire party of higher power player characters. Considering RPG-7 rounds, which do 4d6 Killing damage, can mangle a tank on a straight-shot, this is a little amazing.

To quote Jason Sartin: "saying this book should be burned is an insult to fire."

Oh yeah: elevators, missiles and torpedoes are built as vehicles. What?

Personally, I always thought having to pay points to have headlights and an FM radio was really pushing it, so you can imagine how delighted I was to see that an Anchor (an anchor!) actually is something boats have to pay points for! Really!

You need to charge players to have elevators and anchors? I'm actually surprised the book doesn't make you pay for bathrooms. Things necessary to the normal functioning of a vehicle aren't worth points.

I expect better from published materials than this amateur hour stuff. This book is typical of where new players go insane with the Hero System, and I mean literally insane because it is nothing short of a mental illness: they figure they have to pay points for everything, and I mean everything.

I remember once a player wanted to play a fish themed aquatic hero that tasted bad. You know how there are some fishes that taste bad and predators automatically spit them back out? He went crazy with how to represent something so trivial, including Mind Control with Persistent.

I was like…"For the love of God, Brian…Mind Control? Really? If we really, really, really want to make this something other than a zero-point feature, like red hair, we can buy it is as a low level perk, like the Fuzion did. Sure, it was a bad game and an unworthy heir to Champions, but at least it handled stupid stuff like this pretty well."

One player of mine wondered if he had to pay points for another player character as a Follower or Contact.

Another thought he might have to pay points to be a dark-skinned character because he was then pretty much immune to sunburn.

This is where you can go literally insane with a system like Champions – if you're wondering if being a lightskinned redhead is a disadvantage or advantage or start paying points for boat anchors, you have literally lost perspective and gone totally mad, a full-on mental disorder. The Vehicles guide totally embraces that madness. It's like the Necronomicon for the simultaneously clueless and anal-retentive.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, no other book used the rules in the Vehicle Guide (someone correct me if I'm wrong and the fantasy books did – I didn't read them and really, neither did anybody else). Nobody else gave an insane (-1¾) power break to every single jet vehicle. Nobody else treated elevators and anchors as things you have to pay points for. The Vehicle Guide is isolated from the rest of the entire system in a way that makes me think of the court orders on registered sex offenders.

There's a howler on practically every page. The "flying carpet as a vehicle" idea was, um, interesting, especially for something that is pretty much a textbook example of an OAF at most. Let me know when you can roll up and carry with you your Volkswagen beetle, though.

On that note, the book also broke the 11th Commandment of the Hero System: thou shalt not build suits of power armor as vehicles! I could see powergamers the world over lick their chops hungrily at this ugly, broken, heretofore nonexistent precedent. That's the part that baffles me...despite it being a book on Vehicles, it's a little unclear on what counts as an actual vehicle at all.

I feel a little guilty going after elevators, flying carpets and suits of power armor built as vehicles because though it was a misfire of an idea, and one that might have been responsible for the big change in 6th Edition where it's impossible for a vehicle to have a vehicle, nonetheless it had the guts to think outside the box. It was a misfire, but a spectacular misfire. When you go off the beaten path, sometimes you find new things never seen before. On the other hand, what happened here was this book went so far off the beaten path it got so lost that Jimmy Hoffa couldn't find it.

Another one of my favorite bits was how every modern fighter plane had both electronic countermeasures (bought as a Suppress) and electronic counter-countermeasures, which is bought as a Suppress for Suppress. When I explained this to my game table, there was an awkward moment because my players assumed I was joking and then realized I wasn't. One of the most pursued and pointless chimeras of the Hero System is figuring out the "correct" way to build something, but if everyone you explain how you built something responds with a "wait, seriously?" you're probably not doing it right.

Anyway, as even a casual Tom Clancy war porn reader would tell you, the pace of avionics development is so extreme countermeasures useful in one decade are out of date and nearly useless the next, though the book treats countermeasures as an absolute set number for every vehicle. They mumble something in the back about how this is probably not a good idea, but no guidelines are presented.

There are moments where I seriously wonder if the guy that wrote this ever actually played any tabletop games ever in their lives. The "missile lock is bought as a Detect" gave me that feeling in that it makes characters aware of something incredibly obvious, especially if you're playing on a map, which by the way, 5th Edition Champions assumes you are.

Imagine this at your game table.

GM: (moves enemy planes onto the game map) "Captain Rick, just when you think you're in the clear, your radar screen flashes with the red of hostile MiG fighter planes. You can see them screaming through the air at you and their muzzles flash."
GM: "Roll your Missile Lock Detect."
PLAYER: (rolls dice) "7."
GM: "You get missile lock from the enemy planes."
PLAYER: "…Really? Gee whiz, I never would have guessed, almighty GM. That was 5 points well-spent. Can I roll Combat Piloting or do I need a Detect (Ground) so I don't hit it?"
GM: "Yeah, yuck it up, smartass. They're heading right for you."
PLAYER: "Hey, you know missiles are vehicles now, right? You *DID* put them on the initiative chart…right?"
GM: (grumbles, as he rifles through his papers and places missile tokens on the map)
PLAYER: (watching) "Well, I'm sure glad I rolled that all-important Detect. By the way, I'm using my electronic countermeasures."
GM: "They use their electronic counter-countermeasures."
PLAYER: "I use my electronic counter-countermeasures."
GM: "Alright, I got a 36 on one and a 42 on the second and…damn it, what subtracts from what again?"
PLAYER: "I'm not sure. By the way, I spend my next phase doing a flyby so I hit a MiG with my Killing Attack exhaust."
GM: "Good thing for you no manatees can fly, or that limitation would *really* sting right about now...."

See what I mean when I say this is unplayable?

In conclusion, authors of the Ultimate Vehicle, Bob "Who?" Greenwade and Steven "I should know better" Long, I hate your product more than any other book ever released for any system ever, and that includes that World of Darkness splatbook "Gypsies" that gave a real-world ethnic group superpowers.

By the way, I was just as confused by the name Bob Greenwade (who the hell is that?), until I did a google search and discovered this book is his only published RPG work except for some Haymaker! fanzine articles. On his personal page on Haymaker! he's humbly self described as having a "genius-level IQ," which considering "The Ultimate Vehicle," I *really* doubt. The worse a game designer, the greater and more insane tendency to make extravagant claims about themselves. Remember when the creator of SenZar said he could punch ten times in a second and had a nothing short of superhuman weightlifting bench?

(Note: Pardon the lateness of this review, which didn't come on a Tuesday.)

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