Strong, Ultra, and Your Game

By | December 16, 2017

Today’s advice comes from some recent great questions in the Google+ Community from Omari Brooks:

What’s the best way to introduce and use Strong and Ultra Attack / Defense into play?

Strong and Ultra Attack / Defense are not intended to be a natural progression that all games should have. They are listed in the Superhuman Boosts section, which forces Guide approval for their introduction, for exactly that reason.

For example, a sword-and-sorcery game with characters in no armor or normal armor probably doesn’t need Strong or Ultra Defense on characters. In that style of game, Strong Defense would most likely represent a stone wall or the like, and Strong Attack would be a magical star-sword that could cut through stone. Alternately, in a sci-fi game, Strong Defense could represent the armor of a Humvee, Space Marine or Mech, while Ultra Defense could represent the relative indestructability of a Superman, Space Battleship Yamato, or SDF-1.

In general, introduce Strong/Ultra Attack/Defense when it feels right for the fiction of your game (when fighting a tank, a monster that bullets bounce off of, etc) and not just so that players/enemies have something to spend Boost Points on.

Introducing weapons that have Strong/Ultra Attack before the Protagonists have encountered Strong/Ultra Defense doesn’t upset the balance of your game in any way, as Strong/Ultra Attack don’t deal extra Harm – they only penetrate the corresponding Defense. Introducing Strong/Ultra Attack/Defense simultaneously may feel a bit gimmicky to players. The real danger of introducing Strong/Ultra in this fashion is that the Players may begin thinking that this is the natural and expected progression of their own characters. That can start an arms race between the Protagonists and NPCs because it’s only natural for players to try and optimize their characters to face any threat.

Introducing Strong/Ultra Defense first is a good way to bring the concept into the game and generate tension for the Protagonists. Players will have no way to fight such a target, because they will only have normal weapons at that point and cannot penetrate the defense. This is intended to make players/Protagonists feel scared – they’re facing something more powerful than they are, something they can’t hurt. That should be terrifying and make them want to run away or regroup. After all, not every encounter is intended to be winnable in a game of Forthright.

But if you want to introduce the improved Defense first and not have the Protagonists run, give them an alternate means to defeat the well-Defended enemy / vehicle. Perhaps a tank has shown up, and it’s going to cross a bridge – the Protagonists can try and take out the bridge. Maybe the Strong Defense Mech is attacking them near a junkyard – perhaps they can lure it into the car-crusher in the junkyard, or under the magnetic crane.

Alternately, you could apply a Soft Spot (pg. 177) to a non-Multihazard enemy. That would allow the Protagonists to penetrate the Defenses with a Dropped Fight Check. Having a Soft Spot, though, is entirely up to the Guide and whether it’s appropriate for the enemy. If they’re fighting Superman with guns, for instance, a Soft Spot would be inappropriate. If they’re fighting a Terminator, though, it would make some degree of sense.

To use Strong/Ultra attack sparingly, you might also allow the creation or purchase of limited-use Strong/Ultra Attack weapons (see Crafting, pg. 125-126). That can help give Teams that don’t tend to think about how to use their environment a more direct route to success.

A lot of this advice comes down to “how to I make sure this doesn’t take over my game and NPCs can still be a threat?” But it’s not necessarily wrong for a game to make them part of the natural progression of characters, if the power level of the game is such that it’s appropriate. For example, if the Protagonists want to or are expected to fight hordes of enemies without being in particular danger (think Starship Troopers), a single Protagonist in a Strong Defense power armor could hand an entire medieval army its behind … eventually.

The introduction of Strong/Ultra will either make the Protagonists feel invincible or very weak, depending on how you introduce it. Keep this in mind to leave the players feeling the emotion you want them feeling.