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Cause versus Effect

Let's talk about the very awesome BASH!
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Sijo
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Cause versus Effect

Post by Sijo »

Since the earliest days of Super Hero Role Playing Games, the biggest question has always been: how best to emulate super-powers?

I've seen many such games over the years, and it seems to me that there are two main approaches to this. I call them "By Cause" and "By Effect."

The first refers to when powers are designed based on how they work in the comics (or cartoons, etc.) For example, a Fire Blast can be expected to do heat-based damage but require oxygen to burn.

While that makes sense, some people felt that it limited them to the designer's interpretation of specific powers. Players of superhero RPGs like to do two things: convert their favorite characters, or make their own totally original powers. So it's understandable why the Cause approach might be seen as limiting. In addition, back in the day, the only way to get these games was in print form, and that meant that page count had to be taken in consideration; why give room to two or more powers if their effects where essentially the same?

And thus came along a new approach, the "Effect" one. In this case, the "power" was just a description of an effect, and it was left to the player to decide how it worked and looked. Example: a "Ranged Attack" could be a Fire Blast or a Lightning Bolt, as long as the effect was the same (damage caused at range). These games often provide methods of customization to have further flexibility. BASH is an example of this kind.

So which approach is best? It's a matter of personal preference, of course, after all these are just games. Let's look at the Pros & Cons:

By Cause:
-Pros: Easier to create characters; just pick the provided powers that fit your vision eg. Fire powers for your fire-using hero.
-Cons: Not as flexible as the By Effect approach.

By Effect:
-Pros: Maximum freedom for building powers.
-Cons: May not be as intuitive for some people.

Personally, I like a middle point the best- specifically, ready-made powers as in the "Cause" approach with customization options also available. Fortunately, thanks to the Awesome Powers book series, BASH has been growing in that direction. :)
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Baelor
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Post by Baelor »

Personally, I prefer the option you refer to as Effect. I have found in play that everyone pretty much knows what a fire blast does - so much so that there is a sort of short hand in the game that players riff on the special effects of their powers to do things that make sense. Players who are more tentative rapidly come u to speed on this with a little exposure.

I don't really need a wide array of specific powers, like separate elemental blasts and other ranged attacks - again, because they are pretty well understood around the table. And if a player comes up with a novel way to "use" a power for a different purpose based on special effect, say like using fireblast to heat up a fire hydrant so that it pops and actually helps put out a nearby blaze, I am good with that. If necessary, a Hero Point or two (in BASH anyway) could be required, but I would rather award one personally - to encourage imaginative, active play.


I like Awesome Powers a lot, because it gives you concrete ways to model unusual powers not quite covered by the core rules. Powers that combine two powers, or take part from one and tack it on to another, or just use enhancements and limitations in imaginative ways that help me think about the game, and character creation in a new way.
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Sijo
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Post by Sijo »

My experience has been different: many of the early games made such a poor difference between powers that developing the Effect method became necessary (for example, no, a Fire Blast and a Lightning bolt are not the same, describing them as just Ranged Damage does not take in consideration circumstances that often come in play eg. lack of oxygen, conductors present etc.) Also, some Effect games have grown SO complex that creating a character often felt like a lot of work and the terms used could even get confusing (CHAMPIONS was an example of this.) While I agree that flexibility should be primary, speed of play is also important especially when creating a character.
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fairytalejedi
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Post by fairytalejedi »

Effects-based design really shines when you're using a grid map. It also makes point-buy systems better balanced. Similar "cause" powers that have slightly different effects baked in are not good for point-buy schemes.
With a good system come good adventures. - Gary Gygax
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Sijo
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Post by Sijo »

True, but a Cause-based system doesn't need to be point-based- that has its own problems, like min-maxing, bookkeeping etc. The GM could just allow the players to choose their powers from a list (up to a specific amount) and state they all start at the same power level (but with the option to increase or decrease it with enhancements and limitations, again within limits.)
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