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52 Pick Up

EPISODE 4: MetaHuman

by Gareth-Michael Skarka
February 29, 2001

Four of Spades


EPISODE 4: MetaHuman

This week's game is an exploration into the Live Action style of play.   Now, LARPs have exploded over the past decade, largely driven by the success of White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade, and its numerous imitators.  The US LARP scene is almost entirely dominated by Vampire players, some playing the official game, and many playing unpublished games of similar (and in some cases larcenous) theme.  Other genres of Live Action play have also proliferated (standard Fantasy being one, although more popular outside of the US than within its borders), and it's gotten to the point where, if a standard RPG is released and becomes popular, you can be sure than a Live Action game, either official or unauthorized, will appear on the scene within months.

One genre that has not seen any Live Action attention, at least that I'm aware of (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that of the superhero.   Games like Champions have been a gamer favorite for decades, and yet there has been no LARPing of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

I'll admit---part of this game comes from my desire to see how the LARP community would handle costuming for events such as this.  :)


For MetaHuman, super-powered characters are defined by only 3 statistics: Strength, Speed and Toughness.  Intelligence and other mental facilities are dependent upon the abilities of the player, except in the case of special powers (see below).  These statistics are rated like alphabetical academic grading:  F(0), D(1), C(2), B(3), A(4).

All characters default to C (average) in all statistics.  Two grade promotions are given, to be spent where the players wish.  Two stats can be raised to B, or one stat may be raised to A, depending upon the desires of the player.  Players may also choose to demote statistics from C to D (below average) to spend those levels elsewhere.  Keep in mind, however, that below average scores can harm your chances for success, and failing grades are not possible for PCs.  (An F means that there is no use of that statistic allowed...especially problematic when the F is in Toughness, for example).

All characters also have 4 Health points.

Let's face it, though, what really defines characters in this genre are their powers.

Determination of powers is going to be something that must be done by the player and a gamemaster.  There are no hard-and-fast generic methods to generate these powers randomly.  This is something that should be done circumspectly, keeping in mind the considerations of the desired power level of the individual game,   Some examples follow:

Strength:   Rated D through A, as additional levels.
Toughness: Rated D through A, as additional levels.
Speed:  Rated D through A, as additional levels.
Flight:  The ability to move at altitude (displayed to other players by raising your arms above your head)...while flying, player is only able to be hit by ranged attacks, or by physical attacks from fellow fliers.
Energy Attack:  Rated D through A.  A ranged, line of sight attack comprised of some form of energy.
Weapon:  Rated D through A.  Ranged or physical attack from a personal weapon.
Force Field:  A defensive screen (the player crosses her arms in an X in front of her).  Rated D through A.
Shield:  A defensive object.  Rated D through A.
Etc. etc.

These powers can be extrapolated from the details presented in any comic book, or existing superhero RPG product.  The only things that a GM and player needs to keep in mind are the scaling structure (A, B, C, etc.), and perhaps some thought of how the action can be telegraphed physically to other players.

The main mechanic of MetaHuman is an old holdover from childhood.  No, not rock-paper-scissor.   For this game, we'll use odds/evens.  For each contest between players, one character is appointed to be odds, the other evens.  Hands behind the back, count of three, reveal either one finger or two.  Total the number of fingers shown.  If it's odds, one point for the odds player...and so on.  The Gamemaster will decide the number of points needed to resolve a contest.  Simple contests can be handled with a single throw, more crucial contests might require best of 5 or best of 7, and so on.

Combat is where things slow down a bit.   Obviously, we don't want players actually going around decking each other with haymakers, so we need to abstract combat somewhat.   Whenever a combat situation comes up, a gamemaster will need to be present.  The combatants decide what they're going to be doing.  The gamemaster then counts down from three, and then says "PANEL ONE."  When this is said, the players freeze in the appropriate pose for their intended combat action, chosen from the chart below:

Action                                Pose
Physical Attack                    A walloping haymaker punch pose.
Physical Defense                Both hands held up in front of you, palms outward
Weapon attack                    Brandishing prop (note: usual common sense rules for this sort of thing apply)
Power , attack                      Appropriate Power pose.
Power, defense                    Appropriate Power pose.

Others can be developed as necessary.  Characters with higher speeds than their opponents then have the option, if they so desire, of changing their action based upon what the opponent is doing.

The GM looks around at the poses, and determines who is attacking, who is defending, etc.   Then levels are compared--a ranked attack (whether power or Strength) is negated by a ranked defense of equal or greater value.  Lesser value defenses only reduce the level of the attack (for example, an A level attack faced with a C level defense lets 2 ranks through, reducing the attack from an A to a C).

Then, after all defense effects are determined, all attacks are resolved.  The attacks are made by order of Speed, with faster characters attacking before slower characters,  These are done through even/odd throws, best of 3.  If the attacker wins the throw, then the attack succeeds (note: that it is possible to have simultaneous successful attacks, when combatants with the same speed choose to attack as their action).  You then compare the level of the attack to the target's Toughness.  Any attacks over a lesser value than the Toughness score are shrugged off.  Any attacks that are of the same or higher level do 1 level of damage for each equal or greater rank level.  Plus, each damage level also knocks the victim back 10 feet.

This is repeated for the next panel, and so forth.   When a player takes all 4 of their Health points in damage, they are knocked unconscious  (come on....nobody ever dies in comics, unless they're supposed to).   All damage, by the way, is healed once the combat is over.

Not incredibly detailed....but then again, neither are most comic books.  Like I said at the outset--this column is an excuse for me to air some of my stranger ideas....and you've gotta admit, this one is pretty strange.    Would make for a colorful convention event though, wouldn't it?   I can't imagine that hotel guests would react any better to gamers in spandex and capes then they do to gamers in trenchcoats and fangs.   It would be fun to see, though, don'tcha think?  :)

4 down, 48 to go.

See ya in 7.

Gareth-Michael Skarka

Gareth-Michael Skarka is the Operations Manager for Synister Creative Systems.  He has written and edited for games including Star Trek, Deadlands Hell on Earth, and GURPS.  He is the designer of several RPG systems, including UnderWorld and Hong Kong Action Theatre!. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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Reshuffled: 52 Pick Up, edited by Chris Czerniak

52 Pick Up original run, by Gareth-Michael Skarka

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