Superheroes in Alternity: Sample Careers

Although any career path could conceivably lead a person to be a superhero, these sample careers are how the members of the Avengers started out. These all came from chapter 6 of the Player’s Handbook, but are modified to make them closer to the Avenger who had this career.

Combat Spec Careers

captain-americaSoldier

A member of the armed forces, a soldier can be an enlisted man or an officer. He is trained in hand-to-hand fighting, use of firearms, and is highly disciplined. He is usually not just a grunt, but an effective leader.

In addition to what is listed below, consider investing some points into Unarmed Attack and some Interaction specialty skills.

Signature Equipment: Assault rifle, battle jacket, rations, survival gear.

Skill Package: Athletics–throw 2; Armor Operation; Modern Ranged Weapons–rifle; Survival; Tactics–infantry. Cost: 30 points.

14a307adae90140f9b5fa8f47cbf7b6d0633100a_hqFree Agent Careers

Bounty Hunter

A bounty hunter tracks fugitives who have escaped justice and returns to them to the parties who are seeking them–provided those people pay the price.

The skills most relevant to a bounty hunter are tracking skills. It also helps if the hunter knows what his quarry is up to, so investing in Street Smarts is also helpful.

Signature Equipment: Bow & variety of arrows.

Skill Package: Primitive Ranged Weapons–bow; Stealth–shadow; Investigate–track; Interaction–interview. Cost: 31 skill points.

Spy

A spy has a very specific skillset, which she often puts up for the highest bidder. She can provide counterespionage or undertake assassination missions.

In addition to the skills below, you may wish to invest in Manipulation (for lockpicking) and Stealth (for sneaking around unnoticed and tracking targets).

Signature Equipment: Surveillance gear, pistol.

Skill Package: Athletics–climb; Unarmed Attack–power martial arts; Acrobatics–defensive martial arts; Modern Ranged Weapons–pistol; Interaction–interview, seduce 2. Cost: 39 skill points.

Tech Op Careers

Surgeon

A skilled medical doctor who consults and performs invasive surgeries as a specialty, a surgeon holds sway over life and death everyday for his patients. When salves, pills, and physical therapy fail, the surgeon steps in and with a few well-placed cuts can save the day by repairing things internally.

The superhero surgeon should consider adding combat skills, such as Unarmed Attack or Modern Ranged Weapons to round out his combat abilities.

Signature Equipment: Surgical kit, first aid kid.

Skill Package: Medical Science–medical knowledge; surgery 2; treatment 2. Cost: 25 points.

AoU_Iron_Man_Mk43_artInventor

The inventor is able to conceive of technical equipment, and build his designs from scratch. He is also versed in repairing all things mechnical.

Signature Equipment: Computer equipment, tool kit.

Skill Package: Knowledge–computer operation; Technical Science–invention 2, juryrig, repair, technical knowledge 2; Interaction–taunt 2. Cost: 29 points.

Pilot

If it has wings, the pilot can fly it.

In addition to the skills below, consider taking some System Operation specialty skills, or perhaps some Technical Science skills (like repair) in case things go wrong.

Signature Equipment: Jumpsuit, 9mm pistol.

Skill Package: Modern Ranged Weapons–pistol; Vehicle Operations–air vehicle, space vehicle; Knowledge–computer operation; Navigation–system astrogation; System Operation. Cost: 30 points.

Scientist

The scientist studies things, learns things, and knows things. It is the purpose of the scientist to be able to explain why things happen the way that they do, and if he doesn’t know he is able to find out through rigorous application of the scientific method.

Consider adding skills that would help with researching or cataloging, such as Investigate and any of its specialty skills.

Signature Equipment: Laptop computer.

Skill Package: Knowledge–computer operation, deduce; Life Science–genetics 2; Physical Science–astronomy, chemistry 2, physics 2. Cost: 32 skill points.

Building Superheroes in Alternity

Building superheroes in Alternity isn’t that different from building normal characters.

Alternity is one of the last “Old School Games” wherein advancement means very little. You gain no additional attacks, no additional hit points, damage dealt is constant between levels, and ability score increases aren’t automatic (they are, in fact, extremely costly and cannot surpass a species maximum). This means that if a level 1 character attacks a giant, slobbering monster with a sword, he will do the same damage that a level 25 hero will do to that monster. The 25th level hero, however, may have a higher likelihood of doing better damage because he has more ranks in a relevant skill.

What this means for superheroes is that the better use of your skill points is to improve your superpowers.

Follow the steps for hero creation found in chapter 2 of the Player’s Handbook, modified as follows:

Step 1: Develop a Hero Concept

The best use of the Alternity rules is to pick something that your character is known for and channel all of your skill points into maxing those things out. That means if you’re a superhero, max your powers out to the 12 rank as quickly as you can. Obviously, a superhero should be able to do other things, but you need not worry so much about mundane skills. Wise starting stats (especially reasonable Dexterity and Intelligence scores) will give a playable hero.

defines

Let the power define your hero. Everything else can be handled with the proper starting packages defined below. How often will your hero need to fire a gun or fly a plane? Not often enough to warrant buying more than 1-2 ranks in either of those skills. Max out the superpower!

Step 2: Choose a Species

Refer to the species on pp. 20-30 of the Player’s Handbook, unless the Gamemaster is using a different set of options.

Step 3: Choose a Career

Clark Kent is a reporter. Hal Jordan, a test pilot. Natasha Romanov, a spy. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are both billionaire dilettantes. Steve Rogers is a soldier. Dr. Stephen Strange, a surgeon.

Your hero’s secret identity has a day job. Picking a good one will give you all of the skills you will ever need, allowing you to put the rest of the skill points you earn into improving the superpowers.

Check here for careers based upon the Avengers.

Step 4: Pick a Profession

Select a profession that logically matches the hero’s day job. Refer to pp. 30-32 of the Player’s Handbook. The Gamemaster may also allow the hero to be an Adept, detailed on pp. 6-7 of Beyond Science.

Step 5: Assign Ability Scores

Follow the directions on p. 32-34 of the Player’s Handbook. If the Gamemaster allows mutations or cybertech, refer to chapters 14 or 15 in the Player’s Handbook respectively to equip your hero.

Step 6: Purchase Skills

Skills are less important in a superhero campaign, because the superpowers should define the hero and form the backbone of all of his actions. Therefore, selecting a good starting career package means you’ll never have to put points into improving what you began with.

Unarmed Attack–brawl or power martial arts and at least 2 ranks of a specialty skill in Modern Ranged Weapons are key to a hero’s survival in the tough, high crime urban environments that we find our superheroes. Therefore, even if the starting career package doesn’t include those skills, consider putting a few points into them.

Refer to Chapter 4 in the Player’s Handbook for a complete list of skills.

Step 7: Select Perks & Flaws

Refer to the perks and flaws detailed in chapter 5 of the Player’s Handbook. Consider checking Chapter 1 of Beyond Science for additional perks or flaws that could improve your hero’s use of FX.

Step 8: Choose Attributes

Refer to chapter 7 of the Player’s Handbook for ideas on how to play your hero.

Step 9: Complete the Hero Sheet

Refer to pp. 38-41 for directions on completing the hero sheet.

Avengers: Alternity Wars

capt_marvelWith the fervor surrounding superhero movies thanks to the recent releases of Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, I thought I’d use it as an excuse to revisit my first (and still one of my favorite) role-playing game system, Alternity.

The twin jewels of the Alternity game design was modularity and setting-independence. Alternity was a ruleset first, not a setting so you could create any sort of place you could imagine. It had rules for environments and hazards related to the environment. It had rules for creating distant planets. It had tables to generate random star systems.

The rules were modular as well. If you set your game on earth, you could ignore all the rules for extreme environments. If you built a Victorian-era steampunk game, then you could ignore the rules for modern firearms and bulletproof vests, as well as the chapter on computers. If you didn’t want mutants or cybernetic enhancements in your campaign, then you could ignore those rules as well.

beyond_scienceThe modular design also made it possible to rewrite rules as necessary. The final chapters of the Player’s Handbook and Gamemaster’s Guide gave rules for psionics, cybernetics, and what the game called “FX,” or “special effects.” Things that were beyond the ken of ordinary science. The FX rules got rewritten by Sean K. Reynolds as part of the Dark Matter campaign setting, then later released as a stand-alone guide book called Beyond Science: A Guide to FX.

The rewritten rules saw the FX functioning closer to ordinary skills, with a broad skill tied to a core ability and specialty skills with a much more narrow application. The old way had the player design her own specialty skill without a broad skill, and then estimate the cost based on a table considering several factors. It could make learning a single spell or having a single superpower cost as much as 20 skill points.

The new rules allowed for more versatile characters, but there was still typically a steep, steep cost to build a character. The initial skill points depend on a character’s Intelligence score, and average Intelligence leads to 35-55 skill points. Superpower broad skills cost 9 points, and each specialty skill costs between 2-4 points for the first level. That means that you could spend 11-14 points for a single superpower, which in some cases could be half of your allotment of starting skill points.

With superheroes on everyone’s mind, this month I will lay out a way for fans of the vintage Alternity RPG to create a superhero campaign. The Alternity Personalities column will feature my version of the Incredibles. At the end, you should have in your hands a playable campaign.

Stay tuned!

How Self-Delusion Lead to an Alien Invasion

I love a good villain.

I remember being disappointed that Loki was going to be the villain in The Avengers.  I was hoping for a more famous villain.  However, that was before I watched Thor and realized that Loki is badass.

In fact, I think that Loki is my new all-time favorite villain.

In How to Write for Comics, Loki’s co-creator Stan Lee noted that all supervillains must have a motive.  It isn’t enough for him to plant a giant bomb under the city “because I’m a supervillain!”  He has to have a reason to destroy the planet or subjugate it.  Loki, Lee recalls, has one of the basest motivations for his grandiose schemes of destruction.

Loki’s plans are on a grand scale.  He aims to destroy his father’s enemies, his true parentage, using the focused energy of the bifrost in Thor.  In The Avengers, he offers the Tesseract to Thanos for rule of the entire earth.  Subjugation and genocide are implied in his rule.

But why does he want to do these things?  Because he wants his father to see him as the superior heir.  That’s right: simple sibling rivalry is the motivation to obliterate a city in The Avengers.  While most brothers destroy treasured toys to sate their sibling rivalry, Loki blows up cities, kills 80 people in two days, and becomes a wanted war criminal — all to impress Odin!

And the worst part?  Odin states that he loves Loki as his own son; no need for the bloodletting and invasion of earth.  Or the genocide of the Frost Giants.  Loki’s murderous scheming is for nothing because Odin already thinks of him as Thor’s equal.

Why does Loki keep killing humans, genociding Frost Giants, and turning powerful superweapons over to death-obsessed demons when he’s been told that his father loves him as the equal he is trying to appear to be? Simple: powerful denial.  And writer Joss Whedon crafts three scenes in The Avengers to show this.

The first scene has Loki speaking to The Other through the scepter.  The Other tells Loki that his “ambition is small, and born of childish need.”  The Other hits pretty close to home here, since sibling rivalry is an extremely childish motive.  But Loki presses on.

The second scene is where Loki forces a crowd of people to kneel before him.  He says that, in the end, humans will always kneel.  A lone man rises, and says, “Not to men like you.”  Loki says there are no men like him.  Then the old man hits Loki with the terrible truth: “There are always men like you.”  As much as Loki thinks he’s unique, there are always despots who crave the subjugation of people.  Loki isn’t special, and this man has the gumption to say so.  Loki decides to kill this man, mainly for speaking the truth Loki denies.

The final scene is with Agent Coulson.  Coulson tells Loki, “You’re going to lose, you know.  It’s in your nature.”  What is Loki’s disadvantage?  “You lack conviction.”  Loki’s only true motive is to look better than Thor.  Beyond that, he doesn’t care.  He has nothing bigger or better to stand up for.  He only seeks to prove himself, but he doesn’t even need to do that.

Three times Loki is told something harshly true of himself and his motivations.  Three times Loki presses forward without accepting it.  Loki lives in a very powerful state of denial about who he is, and it is this denial that fuels his supervillain status.  Were he to accept that truth that he thinks small and has a childish need to prove himself, then deal with this reality, he could be a force for good.  Instead, he ignores the facts and rationalizes the obvious in service of the preconceived notion he must prove to Odin his the superior choice for Asgard’s throne.