Friday, October 14, 2016

Hacking the Black Hack using Zak's FASERIP System the Cypher Way -- Some Initial Thoughts

Readers know that I have long been a fan of Superhero role playing games. There was a time when I could claim to "own every Superhero RPG in print," but those days have long past. I still own a very large selection of Superhero RPGs that ranges from Superhero 2044 to DC Heroes to The Super Hack, but there are so many Superhero games out there that it is hard to keep up. I've read all of the games I own and have played most of them, but there are a few that stand out as able to withstand the test of time. Among those games that I return to again and again is the Classic Marvel Superheroes Roleplaying Game which uses the FASERIP system. The system isn't perfect, but it is very flexible, has quite a few "genius moments," and is great for getting people gaming quickly. It's a system that I want to use, but I want to use in a modified form and I've recently come across three resources that have inspired me in what I think will be a fruitful direction.

The first of those resources was +Zak Sabbath 's Character Generation Guide for his "Everything is Terrible" FASERIP campaign. In that post, Zak proposes a d20 based mechanic intended to replace the Universal Table that so many of us have used but which fewer of us have memorized. The Universal Table tells players what they need to roll to get a basic success (green), a substantial success (yellow), and a critical success (red). The division of success into different categories is one of the "genius" moments of the game, but needing to look at the chart to see if you've hit the next color (for those who haven't memorized the chart) can distract from game play.

Zak's proposal takes the categories on the chart and assigns them a Target Number. Players roll 3 Twenty-Sided Die against that target number. If only one die is a success, it's a Green result, two successes means Yellow, and three means a Red result. I recommend that you look at Zak's post for a detailed breakdown of the Target Numbers and his thoughts on the topic. They are worth your time. 

I took some time to do a quick breakdown of the basic probabilities of Zak's system in order to compare them to traditional FASERIP probabilities.

Looking at the basic Universal Table, you can see that a person with a "Shift 0" ability in something still has a 35% chance of achieving a Green result. When it comes to lifting weights, this works very well when one includes the "Intensities" rules from Advanced and Revised Marvel. In a fight, this means that a person with Fighting of Shift 0 still has a 35% chance of hitting his/her opponent. This somewhat high level of success seems to match with the heroic nature of Supers gaming. The same person has only a 6% chance of some level of improved success.

Looking at a table showing the probabilities resulting from his 3d20 system, we see some interesting results. The first is that Shift 0 really sucks. The second is that at the higher end, the probability of getting a Red result are close to those of the traditional FASERIP system. There are some notable differences at the low and mid-ranges, particularly with regard to Green results. In traditional FASERIP, a character with a Remarkable Fighting score has a 30% chance of a Green result and has a 44.36% chance in Zak's system. Scores lower than Good characters are less frequently successful under Zak's system and above Good they have are more frequently successful. I'm fine with that. It makes the "Street Level" heroes more impressive than they are under the regular system (when facing thugs) and the distinction between tiers continues.

To see how nicely Zak's quick Hack simulates the old FASERIP system, while requiring significantly less memorization, I compared the White results from FASERIP with those of ZakHak.

As you can see, the first four Shifts have a lower probability of success under ZakHak, you have a slightly higher probability of success from Excellent to Shift X, and the final two columns are essentially the same [Note: the percentage above is the percentage of 'failure' so higher numerical values equate to lower levels of success.]

I think Zak's system is intuitive and works and I'm likely to use a modified of it as I move toward adapting The Black Hack to the Superhero genre. There are a couple of previous attempts at Black Hat Supers (The Super Hack and The Powers Hack), but neither of those rules sets are as complete as I would like for a rules set intended for campaign use. What I want to do is take a the "roll under" system from The Black Hack as the base (this is as easy as taking the complement of Zak's value in a base 20 system) in order to have higher stats mean better results and have stats and results be the same number. I'm also contemplating adding the "roll x or y and add an interesting effect" rule from the Cypher System to the superhero game. The x or y will be yellow or red FEATS and they will allow the automatic use of some reality bending Power Stunt. I might event do a straight up mix of Cypher's 1 - 10 difficulty range and "pool expenditure" system, since I think that would mix with FASERIP's Karma system nicely.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be flushing out a full system but I will be using ZakHak as the base of whatever system I end up with.
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