Today, it’s time to talk about one of my favorite subjects: Published Adventures and supplements. Everybody give me a woo-hoo! Well, not really. If you’re saying woo-hoo by the time I’m done with this, either you share my opinion, or you’re saying “Thank God it’s over.”
In the old days of writing superhero game supplements, it was assumed that there was going to be a certain level of game balance. Everything floated within certain specific ranges, and kept to those ranges. The numbers were looked at in adventures and organizational supplements as “What if someone reads this? They’ll probably design characters very much like these.”
Then the early nineties came, and all that changed. Characters aren’t design models anymore. They just take up space on paper and do what they do. I have a big problem with that, as far as superhero games are concerned. I will offer a solution to the problem, of course, but it doesn’t come without a minor price.
Wizards and Pathfinder often statblock creatures that have very little relevance to the adventure as a whole, even though the likelihood of fighting the NPC is somewhat less than the chance that the Moon will crash into the Earth, ending all life. Champions is just as guilty. Proper use of some of the villains in Volume One, Master Villains of the three villain books will destroy characters even if they have seven or eight hundred points. That’s a character’s entire starting value in experience points, or close to it.
In the old days, adventures used to be models. They were designed with game balance firmly in mind. These days, many published adventures and supplements just publish a sheet that doesn’t seem to be balanced with anything else in the supplement. This troubles me. When I design an adventure or setting, I assume that the players will want to fight their adversaries and beat them up at some point.
Only now, often that means that the expectation of fighting characters is grossly undermined by the reality of running the combat. Some of the master villains in the latest Champions book literally seem like they’re never meant to be encountered.
I now offer some solutions to the problem:
1) The GM can randomly change the stats of NPC’s to fit the game. This is annoying. Why did I pay for a supplement in the first place if I have to edit everything as soon as I take it home? I might as well have done everything myself. While a little rewriting should always take place to make it fit into the GM’s world, this is going too far.
2) Adventures and Supplements should be models for how characters are designed. Perhaps a few pregenerated characters should be included with each one to demonstrate how characters should be created. While I’m not necessarily a fan of pregens, this might help game designers as a whole see how the adventures are meant to be balanced. (Kudos to Paizo here for constantly publishing their iconic characters at the appropriate level in every adventure.)
3) Fairness needs to be taken into account more often. I keep thinking “What are these games that I’m not seeing where this is balanced, and/or works?” And the answer is, I don’t know. I can’t see them. This is why people don’t playtest anymore. They assume that the adventure or supplement will be heavily edited by the GM after purchase.
4) When I go to gaming conventions, most games that I play are close to, or very much like my own in terms of how the numbers in Hero System are handled. And of course, I think “Hey, this is universally accepted. Why aren’t the published supplements more like this?”
So why isn’t this ethic replicated with published material? That’s a question I can’t answer easily.