May 19th, 2013

Champions design assistance, anyone?

My Champions players have come up with some excellent concepts, but they're not skilled character designers. And we're hitting smack against two different barriers I don't know how to scale.

We've run one extended adventure, light on combat and keeping things a little vague, but the players definitely want the characters nailed down and I don't blame them. It's a mystic-themed adventure in the standard 5th Ed Champions universe, and in Champions mystic characters tend to get built with VPPs that are heavily special-effect-limited (as all VPPs need to be). All three have "more to it" than just "I do magic", which is great.

But it's really damn hard to run a game where characters have VPPs but the players don't feel comfortable with the character design process, because a VPP always means you're redesigning your character on the fly.

They're all willing to be menu-based - the character is at any point restricted to "only choose from these powers" because they have to go research and experiment and invent in order to build new powers. But this still means a ton of work up front to give them decent menus.

Meanwhile, even if I could nail down these concepts, there's a separate problem.

The character concepts don't generally wind up being "standard PC" power levels - they're ordinary humans with magic. And the concepts aren't really designed for combat -- two of the three, anyway. And I like them having to dodge around fights because fights are dangerous. Except that it makes the players feel useless when there's an actual combat -- so maybe what's happening is that we are falling into the same trap we always fall into when I try to do mystic-themed Champions.

One is a cybermage - carries a smartphone, writes magic spells on it, typically with subtle electronics-based effects. She can control computers and electronic devices, and can supernaturally gather tons of information from the internet. The second is based off Harry Dresden's apprentice Molly: invisibility, mental illusion/control powers, and "hermetic" magic. The third is a Native American "druid" - she shapeshifts into animal forms and controls/summons nature spirits.

Designing adventures that all three can be useful in is a huge challenge. Designing fights that they can all be useful in is an even bigger nightmare. If there's no computers involved, the first is almost useless, but if the opponents rely on electronics, they tend simply to fall apart. If the opponents don't have both mental defense and invisibility detection, the second is nearly invulnerable. The third can one-punch anything that can't one-punch the other two.

I have gotten myself into what feels like a deep concept hole, and I don't know really what to do. All three characters are wildly unbalanced, in that they're all way too effective within their own regime and too useless outside of it. This makes them extremely hard to challenge properly (that is, oppose with someone roughly *equal* in power), as the challenges for each are very different, and tend either to uninvolve the other two or else be trivially solveable by one of the other two.

I have some stories I want to tell. I can fold them into the Champions setting easily - there are tendrils in their backstories into several of the groups in that universe, and I have a ton of ideas I want to pursue.

But - I dunno - this lack of balance is really difficult and I don't know how to solve it. But maybe a skilled third party, who can throw together Champions characters really well and provide us with an actual team that works, based on these concepts, could help me with it.

I'm almost tempted to chuck Champions and declare that they're a Virtual Adept, a Hermetic, and a Dreamspeaker, and run World of Darkness instead - that's how desperate I am. They're *great* concepts. Good backstories, interesting powers. But it's virtually impossible, near as I can tell, to put them together using Champions mechanics.

But first things first. They're expecting me to write up their characters - which I've done, but they're complaining that the designs aren't fleshed out because they don't know what they can and can't do with their VPPs. I feel like if we had really good character write-ups with clear definitions of capabilities, it would make things a bit clearer. (Yet I might still have the adventure design problem.)

I suspect I am just plain doomed.