‘Better Angels’ Questions Answered

Better-Angels-cover-v4-front-612pxOver on RPG.net Greg Stolze hosted a Q&A thread about Better Angels. Here’s a selection of questions and Greg’s answers all in one easy location.

APN: What does Better Angels do better, or different, than other Supers/Horror games?

Most superhero games focus on the physical aspect of the powers — at least, WT and a bunch of others sure do. Horror games are far more likely to track a character’s internal state — WOD, UA, COC all do that with some kind of madness/sanity mechanic. But BETTER ANGELS is based on my Film Noir game A Dirty World. In ADW and BA, you don’t have hit points — you take damage directly on your ability to get stuff done.

The character sheet has ‘good stuff’ like courage and generosity and nurture on one side, and ‘bad stuff’ like corruption and cruelty and deceit on the other. How well you tell a lie depends on how high your deceit score is in that scene. But all those traits are in play, all the time. If someone takes an action that makes it harder for you to lie (like presenting counter evidence, say) they can lower your deceit score. Zilching it out doesn’t make you truthful, but it makes it very hard for you to lie WELL, just like kicking someone’s knowledge score down low doesn’t make them ignorant… just unable to apply their knowledge right then.

Often times, when one trait gets lowered, an opposite trait gets raised. If you reduce someone’s honesty, their deceit often gets stronger. So there’s a motive for the humans to put their bad stuff on the line. If it gets hit, it may improve their good stuff. It’s like this: You mess with the wrong woman, she punches you in the gonads, and suddenly it’s a lot easier to resist the temptation to be lecherous. In game terms, she just shifted a point from Corruption to Purity.

So what this really does differently is ask “Who do you want to be and why?” Or, in some cases, “Who have you ended up being, and how did THAT happen?” Because a lot of times, you’re going to be tempted to beef up the ugly side of your character sheet. That’s the side, after all, that fuels the cool demon superpowers.

: Would it be possible to basically run this as Leverage, with the group a bunch of supervillains who take down bad guys in illegal, morally ambiguous ways? Because I might just be able to sell my current group on that.

100% yes. Demons aren’t always very sophisticated, and many don’t care whether you’re killing serial rapists or a bus full of innocent grannies. They just want bodies piled high and deep. Volume, volume, volume!

Lorrraine: How does Better Angels limit, guide, or direct the kind of bad things that a person playing someone’s demon can do? It strikes me as the sort of thing that could easily go very badly.

Yeah, I put a LOT of thought into that. The demons can OFFER a lot, but they need cooperation. Here’s basically how it works.

1) If the human side has the upper hand in the ongoing virtue/vice contest, the demon can’t even tell what’s going on unless explicitly invited, either by name or by the use of a power. (The demon can’t deny the human the use of standard powers, but does become active as soon as a power is used.) If the demon has the upper hand, it can spy, but cannot talk to its human unless ‘switched on’ by power use or request. So you can’t even talk to your host in character as the demon unless permitted, but using powers is automatically permission to talk.

2) Demons can’t talk to anyone but their host, generally. If you totally hulk out, the demon might get a few ranty lines out while you’re rampaging, but that’s handled as fluff, not crunch.

3) There are SOME powers (the big “only for special occasions” powers) that the demon controls. (They’re called ‘Aspects’ and are not subtle.) The mortal half has to ask for Aspects to come on, and the demon can always say “Don’t feel like it.” Moreover, the demon can turn these on without the human’s permission, but it’s risky on a couple levels: It’s likely to weaken the demon if he does it unasked, AND it’s REALLY likely to alienate the mortal. But sometimes you just gotta burst into flames while he’s hugging his mom, otherwise what’s being a demon for?

The book also contains a fair amount of advice on how to negotiate the PvP nature of the whole thing.

Asen_G: Just how much can you adapt the game to different settings, like running a game that’s not set in the modern day?

I don’t think it has to be modern day at all. The rules for building fiendishly clever devices (your basic death rays, freeze rays, incontinence rays) suggest that even the demons know the things they build aren’t REALLY technology. Some make it look techy to make it easier for the mortal to accept, or because they’re afraid of looking out of touch. Others think “A curséd tapestry was good enough to assassinate Pope Urban III, it should be good enough for YOU!” and just own up to it all being demon magic.

Running SF might be tricky, but it’s doable. Like I said, the setting is far from rigid.

Ch-3-cBetterAngelsBetter-Angels-Ch-3-04Danny_K: Can it handle lower-level supers? Is it important for the PC’s to have the explicit demonic imagery, or is it just flavor, and you could have the demons favor weird/bizarre/obsessive imagery instead?

A low level super in BA would be one who chooses not to use his powers very often, or who is conflicted enough that his powers… kinda suck. Strong demon = strong mojo. Keep your Screwtape starved and you’re not going to be able to rely on your magical wackness as often. Also note that a lot of the powers are general and can have specific descriptions painted on. Did that argument fail because I foresaw your approach, or because I read your mind, or simply because I’m so charismatic you can’t bring yourself to disagree? Could be described any of those ways and still work as “Ineffable Defense.”

Similarly, though the game uses demonic imagery throughout, there’s discussion of how to redo it with Gray aliens or Mythos-like unknowable intelligences.

Broblawsky0: in the section on devilish creativity (page 66), it says that you can “pay 1 generosity today, wait a week until you build it up again”. How is waiting a week supposed to help? Unless I misread the rules, the only way to increase a virtuous Tactic is slide dots off of its opposite, either by being attacked, by repenting, or through long-term personal growth.

(KreenWarrior interjected: I assume it means ‘wait until you’ve raised it again, which could be a day, a week, whatever.”)

KreenWarrior has the right of it: You can pay for devilish creativity in installments, it doesn’t have to be in one lump sum.

Broblawsky0: Can Miscellaneous Misfortunes work in reverse? In other words, can somehow increasing your physical resources just flat-out increase your Generosity? Can stealing confidential research data increase your Knowledge? That would make a certain amount of sense, and it’d provide players with a way to increase Virtuous Tactics without sinning, then repenting.

You could certainly negotiate something like that with your GM, but by and large it’s ONLY repentance that gets those improvements… that’s definitely a change from ADW where there were instant scene-by-scene powerups for the good stuff too (though they’re much harder). I thought having it like that would keep things happening and maintain the rivalry, since the human can only thrive to the demon’s detriment.

vitruvian: I’m having a hard time seeing how the angelic code of conduct allows for maintaining a secret identity. Help?

The human half of the pair can break the code all s/he wants when the angel isn’t active, and angels don’t spy on their hosts unless powers are in use.

pacalypse: I’m slowly making my way through the game, and I’m really liking it… but I do have a quick question. It seems that the way character creation is set up, it might be problematic to bring new players in if you’re running an ongoing game. Are there any suggestions in the book for bringing in new players and if not do you have any suggestions on how to handle this? especially concerning matching up demons and mortals for the new player(s).

It wasn’t really covered in the book, but I reckon the easy way to do it would be to have one player give his Screwtape to the new guy, and then generate the new guy’s Screwtape (and do the other character generation stuff). It’s not ideal, but a certain amount of Screwtape swapping is bound to happen when people get sick or can’t attend, or when end-games remove humans or demons.

What questions do you have about Better Angels?