‘Wild Talents’: Building Powerhound in ‘Grim War’

In the Wild Talents setting Grim War by Greg Stolze and Ken Hite, superpowered mutants rub shoulders and trade energy blasts with spirit-summoning sorcerers. One of the mutants is Audrey “Powerhound” O’Niel, a licensed public protector with the power to absorb dangerous energy (kinetic or otherwise) and repurpose it to energy blasts or superhuman strength.

In Grim War the characters’ stats, skills and powers are listed and described but not their Wild Talents character point costs. Instead each is given a “Circle” rating for easy comparisons. Powerhound is Circle 2, which is equivalent to 200 to 299 character points.

Jeff K on the Cult of ORE mailing list was curious about the costs of Powerhound’s abilities and how to structure them in the very flexible Wild Talents rules. Powerhound is Greg’s character, but I’ll take a stab at reverse-engineering her abilities and their costs.

Stats and Skills

Powerhound’s stat and skill costs are straightforward. Her stats are all human adult average (2 in each), which costs 60 points. And she has a bunch of low-key “cop basic training” skills that add up to 36 points. That’s 96 points for stats and skills.


Powerhound gets more interesting in her superpowers — her miracles. Her key power is Energy Absorption, and she has a bunch of spinoff powers that are fueled by it.

Energy Absorption 8hd

This power supplies Heavy Armor, more or less. Every level of Energy Absorption acts like a layer of Heavy Armor for one impact, gunshot or bolt of fire. However, for each round it defends her, the HAR drops by one and she gains an Energy Token. If she voids herself of tokens, her Absorption gives her better Armor again.

EXAMPLE: Audrey has no tokens and is walking by a grocery store just as it gets robbed. Cursing the luck (she doesn’t have her costume either) she jumps in front of the getaway car. It hasn’t had time to get up a lot of speed, so it’s only 5K, plus 2S to every location. Right now she’s at HAR 8, and she takes no damage. However, she takes an Energy Token and her HAR drops to 7. 

The next round, the robber jumps out of the car, frothing at the mouth and calling her terrible, foul names. He also shoots her with a shotgun and rolls two hits, each at width 2. Since she has HAR 7, none of them do any damage. The pellets touch her skin, lose their force, and tinkle to the ground. She now has two tokens and her HAR is 6.

It’s like Audrey has a battery that can hold eight charges. Each time she gets hit, a charge gets filled, and her ability to hold energy decreases. The more energy she’s holding, the less it takes to overwhelm her.

Or, think of it simply as “Tokens + HAR = 8” and any time one goes up, the other goes down. Wondering how she gets rid of tokens? Read on.

Breaking It Down

This power is Heavy Armor with some side effects, so we start with Heavy Armor out of the Wild Talents rulebook.

Heavy Armor (6)
Power Qualities: Defends
Defends Quality: 6 points per die
—Defends: +2
—Extras on Defends:  Endless, +3; Interference, +3.
—Flaws on Defends: Armored Defense, –2.
—Power Capacities on Defends: Self.

Heavy Armor straight out of Wild Talents costs 6 points per die, or 12 points per hard die, which would mean 96 points for Powerhound’s 8 hard dice.

But Powerhound’s version works a little differently. Every time it works, it goes down by one level — one hard die — and she gains an “Energy Token.” Energy Tokens are a new thing made up just for Powerhound. She can spend them to fuel her other powers, which we’ll get to in a minute. When she spends an Energy Token, her Heavy Armor goes back up.

Wild Talents is flexible. Its rules for building powers can be as simple or as complex as you want. We could, say, set up “Generate Energy Tokens” as a new Useful quality with a lot of bells and whistles. But really, all it does is limit her Heavy Armor. So we’ll call it a new, custom Flaw on Heavy Armor’s Defends quality.

Energy Absorption goes down by one die every time it works; but Powerhound can regain those dice by using other powers. You know what this reminds me of? The “Depleted” Flaw in the Wild Talents rulebook.

The “Depleted” Flaw says you can use a power once for every die that the power has, then you have to spend a round recharging or reloading it, and you have a number of charges or reloads also equal to the dice pool. So with eight dice or eight hard dice you have eight charges of eight uses each. When you run out of charges or reloads, you must jump through some hoops to get them back — return to base for more ammo, charge up for an hour or two at a wall socket, bask in the rays of Earth’s yellow sun overnight, whatever. As written, Depleted is a –1 Flaw, which means it reduces the power quality’s cost by 1 per die (or 2 per hard die, or 4 per wiggle die).

Energy Absorption’s Flaw, which I’ll call “Generates Energy Tokens,” is worse than Depleted in that the dice pool goes down each time it’s used until it’s recharged, and recharging may take more than a single round. To recharge it, Powerhound has to use other powers that require Energy Tokens. But it’s better than Depleted in that there’s no limit to the number of recharges. So let’s call that a wash and stick with –1 for its value as a Flaw.

And you know what? That means we’re done with Energy Absorption. It’s just Heavy Armor plus that new “Generates Energy Tokens” Flaw.

Energy Absorption (5)
Power Qualities: Defends
Defends Quality: 5 points
—Defends: +2
—Extras on Defends:  Endless, +3; Interference, +3.
—Flaws on Defends: Armored Defense, –2; Generates Energy Tokens, –1.
—Power Capacities on Defends: Self.

Powerhound’s Energy Absorption at 8hd costs 80 points.

Now let’s look at those side powers that are fueled by Energy Tokens.

Surge of Strength 4d: By Spending an Energy Token, Audrey can add four points to her Body score, for one roll. If she wants to do something hella strong again, she has to spend another token.

That’s a hyperstat, which ordinarily costs 4 points per die. But she has to spend an Energy Token to do it. Let’s call that an instance of the “If/Then” Flaw, which is Wild Talents’ catch-all Flaw for “something has to happen or be in place for this power to work.” Typically it’s worth –1 point per die unless the “something” is really, really rare. Powerhound gets Energy Tokens by getting hit by attacks, and since she’s a licensed public protector in a world full of superpowered mutant criminals, that’s not hard to do. So –1 it is.

That means Surge of Strength costs Powerhound 3 points per die, or 12 points total. Done.

Harm (Electricity) 6d: To use this power, she needs to spend an Energy Token. (See how this works?)  This power is Touch Only, but it has the Electrocution extra.

“Harm” is your basic attack power in Wild Talents. All it has is one Power Quality (Attacks), and that quality has one Power Capacity (either mass or range). Extras and Flaws (like Electrocution and Touch Only) affect those things and the cost. Powerhound adds another Flaw, “If/Then: Costs an Energy Token, –1.” So let’s break it down.

Harm (Electricity) 6d
Power Qualities: Attacks
Attacks Quality: 1 per die (actually zero but the minimum is 1)
—Attacks: +2
—Extras on Attacks: Electrocution, +1
—Flaws on Attacks: Touch Only, –2; If/Then: Costs an Energy Token, –1
—Power Capacities on Attacks: Touch

Interestingly, as written this brings the cost down to zero points per die, which is not allowed in Wild Talents. The minimum is 1. So we can actually add another +1 Extra — since it’s electricity, I would add “Daze,” which will rattle the target for a few rounds. Wish I’d caught that when we were editing the book!

Total cost for Harm (Electricity) at 6d is 6 points.

(By the way, in the Wild Talents rulebook it’s “Electrocuting” and in Grim War it’s “Electrocution.” We knew what he meant, right?)

Harm (Heat) 7d: Turning captured energy into heat seems more efficient for her. Perhaps it’s some kind of entropy thing. However it works, her scald ray (as she calls it) costs an Energy Token to each use, but it has the Burn extra.

Same situation, slightly different Extras and Flaws.

Harm (Heat) 7d
Power Qualities: Attacks
Attacks Quality: 3 per die
—Attacks: +2
—Extras on Attacks: Burn, +2
—Flaws on Attacks: If/Then: Costs an Energy Token, –1
—Power Capacities on Attacks: Range

Power Hound’s Harm (Heat) at 7d costs 21 points.

Harm (Laser) 6d: Yep. Lasers. Often she shoots  ’em out of her eyes, too, though hands are just as good. The laser beam costs a token to use and has Spray 1 as an extra.

You know where we’re going with this.

Harm (Lasers) 6d
Power Qualities: Attacks
Attacks Quality: 2 per die
—Attacks: +2
—Extras on Attacks: Spray, +1
—Flaws on Attacks: If/Then: Costs an Energy Token, –1
—Power Capacities on Attacks: Range

Powerhound’s Harm (Lasers) at 6d costs 12 points.

So let’s sum it all up:

  • Energy Absorption 8hd: 80 points
  • Surge of Strength 4d: 12 points
  • Harm (Electricity) 6d: 6 points
  • Harm (Heat) 7d: 21 points
  • Harm (Laser) 6d: 12 points

That’s 131 points for Powerhound’s miracles. That plus 96 points for her stats and skills equals 227 points, plus a few points for her Archetype (being a mutant, which allows her to have superpowers) puts her at the low end of the Second Circle of Grim War.

The Variable Effect Option

When you see a bunch of different versions of essentially the same power, like Powerhound’s three Harms, it may be tempting to lump those all together in a single umbrella power using the “Variable Effect” Extra. No matter how many times we tell people to use Variable Effect sparingly — it’s not easy to master — they always go straight to it. So let’s see how it would work for Powerhound.

It would be something like this:

Harm (Heat) 7d
Power Qualities: Attacks
Attacks Quality: 7 per die
—Attacks: 2 points
—Attacks Extras: Burn, +2; Variable Effects, +4
—Attacks Flaws: If/Then: Blasting Someone Always Costs an Energy Token, –1.
—Attacks Capacities: Range

That’s 49 points for 7d.

By default that’s a 7d ranged Burn attack (equivalent to the Heat version of her Harm power). Using Variable Effect, she could take an action to reconfigure the power — for instance, saying it’s electricity instead of heat, changing Burn (+2) to Electricity (+1) plus Daze (+1), taking Touch Only (–2), and taking some other +2 Extra to balance out the points on the Electricity version; maybe a damage bonus. Or she could reconfigure it for lasers: change Burn to two instances of Spray (+2).

By phrasing the If/Then as “always costs an Energy Token,” we’re saying that you can’t dump that Flaw during play by replacing it with a different Flaw, which you usually can do with a Variable Effect power.

Note that I didn’t add a Flaw on Variable Effects to restrict it to Energy Control attacks like burn, lasers, and electricity. That’s because Powerhound’s Archetype already restricts her to “energy control” powers. She couldn’t use this Variable Effects power to create a version of Harm that’s based on diseases or telepathic mind-crunching. Since the Flaw wouldn’t restrict her, it’s not worth points.

So for an additional 10 points Powerhound could use a Variable Effect attack power and change it to different kinds of energy blasts on the fly, taking a round to change it up. But as written, she has only the three kinds of blast and she doesn’t have to spend a round changing one to the other, and she saves 10 points.

Want to see more about Powerhound and her world? Order and download Grim War here.