WRITTEN BY GREG STOLZE, (c) 2012.
Welcome to The Simple Path to Ultimate Power, a series of short tutorials on power building for the game Wild Talents. Previously: Flaws and Extras.
By this point in the tutorial, you should have a good grasp on the enhanced Hyperstats (versatile but common), Hyperskills (cheap but specialized) and some elements of miracle design (miscellaneous). You’ve got the idea of making powers cheaper with Flaws, or making them more effective with simple Extras.
But a few Flaws and Extras have traditionally been bigger stumbling blocks, and the point of this article is to let you use those with more confidence.
Lesson Four: Variable Effect, Duration and Augmentation
Most of the Extras and Flaws make minor changes to a power, like a tailor taking in a few inches on your pants. But a few of them change itsnature—like turning your business suit into a wetsuit. Augments turns a power into a meta-power, something that changes the world less than it changes the way you change the world. Variable Effect is the same, taking a power and making it hugely versatile. As for the suite of alterations led by Duration, they extend a power through time, instead of distance or intensity. Let’s start with those.
Time Extension: Duration, Endless, Permanent and Always On
Most powers happen once, then they’re done. You blast a guy with eye-beams and he gets hurt, instantly. You Hyperdodge that bullet (or fail to). But what if you want an ongoing power? You want your armor to be on all the time, or you want to change people to stone and have them stay that way. For that you need one of these expensive Extras, which you might cheapen with a Flaw.
Duration makes something last longer than an instant—until the end of a scene or until a fight finishes (or until you switch it off or restart it). It keeps using the same set from the activation roll, unless it’s an Augmenting or Interfering roll, in which case you add or subtract it every time. (Augment basically adds stuff, Interference removes.) If it’s a conditional power that only happens in certain circumstances, then you roll every time the necessary conditions occur, but then it ticks along until they cease.
Endless? You turn it on and it stays on until you turn it off, or until you get turned off. It stays up if you’re knocked out, but if you die (or run out of Willpower) it conks. Permanent stays changed no matter what, period. That’s the only differences between those Extras and Duration.
A lot of Useful powers that might seem to demand Duration are actual gray areas and maybe not worth it. Take “Breathe Underwater” for example. If you have 2HD in that, do you really need to have Duration so that you can stay under for hours? Or is it just that you get a 2×10 every breath you take undersea? I’d say the latter, but different GMs see it differently. As long as everyone agrees on when Duration is needed, you should all wind up on the same page, so ask. Generally, Duration et al really only come into play for powers that affect other people or big chunks of scenery.
Let’s take an off-the-wall example: An Attack power. It’s a Hungarian Death Curse and starts out costing 2/4/8 (that is, 2 for a normal die, 4 for a HD and 8 for WD). Permanent is a +4 Extra, cranking that cost to 6/12/24. I’m going to spend 24 points and get 2HD in it. What’s it do? Well, when I sic it on someone, they take 2S2K to the head, and then they take it again the next round (whatever else I opt to do) and so on and so forth until they die. Maybe they’re invulnerable and it just hovers around them doing nothing, but a thousand years from now after I’m dust, if something messes up that death-proofing, the cursegets them.
Always On? It’s a Flaw for Permanent powers. Can’t turn ‘em off. Hence the name. If you don’t have a Permanent power, don’t worry about it. If I put it on my Hungarian Death Curse, I can never retract it, even if I have a change of heart.
The Power That Alters Powers: Augment
Mostly, this adds dice to pools. That’s its mechanical function. But once you start letting it do that, you have to restrict it so that people don’t just buy 2WD in an Augmenting power and stick 2WD on every single pool they roll. (That would kinda break the game.) But if you want to be able to add more dice to a pool when certain conditions are met (much like Spray dice), Augment can do that. Or if you want to add certain extras to a pool when the situation’s right, it can do thatinstead.
Let’s start with what it doesn’t do. It can’t cross qualities. If you have something that Augments Attacks, you can’t use it to amp up a Defense power. If you want something broadly applicable, buy it with Attacks, Defends and Useful.
It doesn’t add dice and Extras. It can, however, add one or the other, and much of the confusion may arise from that. So let’s come up with an example power that shows how the two options function.
This power is “Time Fracture” and it’s Useful (+2) with Augments (+4). It also has four layers of Go First (+4), so it costs 10 per die, 20 per HD and 40 per WD. Great! But what does it do? It lets the guy who has it warp time, so that he can reduce the time it takes him (or someone else) to do something. (As a Useful power, it has a free Capacity, and he picks Range.) There are now two ways to use this power. I buy 7d in it for 70 points.
Option #1 is to use the Extras but roll the smaller of the two pools—the Time Fracture pool, or whatever Useful pool is getting augmented by its Extras. So if I’m rolling Body+Athletics to get through that porthole out of the sinking sub, and my Body+Athletics pool is 5d, I can roll 5d and have Go First 4 as an Extra, improving the timing of the set (if I get one). Same thing if I want to react faster in traffic with Drive, or finish that research paper a little quicker with Academics.
Option #2 is to use the dice and discard the Extras. That means I just stack 7d onto the rest of the pool I’m using. With the Athletics example, that puts my pool at a saucy 12d, which means I can do two multiple actions and keep up to three sets while still rolling 10d. Might be the better choice.
You can take an A,D,U Augment power and no Extras for something to heap dice on just about anything you want to do, but it’s expensive. Or you can take 2WD in an A,D,U Augment power with loads of Extras and use it either way, but that’s even more expensive. Augment is expensive, frankly.
The Swiss Army Knife: Variable Effect
This basically means you have the power to manifest new powers. Holy cow, why would anyone take anything else!?! Well, because there are conditions, and it costs. It costs you plenty.
But if you have the points to spread around, Variable Effect is what you use for power mimics, hugely versatile (or ill defined) abilities, and stuff where you can transform into new shapes.
Let’s start with the Qualities, A D & U. If you don’t have all of them in your Variable Effect power, you can’t mimic Stats, and you can’t mimic powers that would require the Quality you lack. If your Variable Effect power only Attacks, you can only ever make it destroy stuff, regardless of whether you’re doing it with fire, ice or bolts of pure ill-will. If your Variable Effect only Defends, it only stops harm, never inflicts it and never gets you to the church on time.
You can have a Variable Effect power that does stuff on its own andduplicates or emulates. Let’s take someone who changes shape, for example. There are plenty of times when all you want to do is change so that you look like a dude when the line for the Ladies Room is too long, or when you want to fit into that ballgown or escape from those handcuffs. Those are all shape change uses that don’t employ Variable Effect. If you change into an eagle and really want to fly, though, you need Variable Effect to emulate the Useful power of flying. If you want to change into a gorilla and be stronger, you need Variable Effect to amp up your Body.
How do these emulations work? You simply reassign dice from your power to stand in for the new power. (It only works for one roll, unless you have Variable Effect and Duration. Ooh, that’s gonna cost you.) Let’s assume I have “Physical Transformation,” an A,D,U power with Variable effect and Duration on all those Qualities. Brace yourself. Each Quality is +2 points, so a total of +6 for all three. Variable is +4per Quality, so +12 to put it on Attacking and Defending and Useful. Likewise, Duration is +2 per Quality. Another +6 points. Physical Transformation costs 24 points per die. If I have 240 points to spend, I can get 10d in it. That’s a lot, but let’s look at what I can do.
Stab someone like the T-1000 by transforming my hands into metallic spikes? Sure. I have the Attacks qualities. I roll 10d and do Width in Shock and Killing. Not a Variable Effect.
I want to warp my flesh out of the way of a machete-wielding maniac? Roll 10d and form Gobble Dice. Not Variable.
I want to change into a dolphin? Now we’re using Variable Effect. I roll and, with a set, I can take some of my ten dice and reassign them. I get my set and reassign 4d to Body (mostly for breath-holding) and 6d to Hyperswimming so I can move through the water at 80 yards per round. But while I’m in dolphin shape, I can’t warp my flesh defensively or stab like the T-1000, because my powers are all occupied being a dolphin.
There! The dreaded hard extras have been taken apart and, I hope, explained. Are they great? I think so. But are they so unbalancing that they make every other option for powers pointlessly weak? Hell no.
Next time: Mixed Qualities.