This is a technical article for the DC Heroes RPG.
Environment alteration rules appeared in the second edition of DC Heroes, back in 1989. That was fairly novel back in 1989, and the rule was a bit obscure.
Long-time players usually remembers the example that came with it, though – where the player of Hawkman is fighting in a laboratory and pays Hero Points to grab a conveniently-placed beaker of acid to defend himself.
The following is a rather straightforward expansion of these rules. The subject does not, I think, lend itself to fiddly crunch, since it is essentially a way to help handle narrative collaboration between the GM and the players.
Generally, the philosophy behind DCH seems to be that a/ the system should not get in the way and b/ tables are cool, so I’ll keep short and presented as a table one has to refer to during the game. 😛
This material assumes that your DCH crew is proficient with the hardest part of the game — balancing the HP inflow and outflow. If your players are spending too much or too little, fix that problem first before introducing new possibilities ! Not doing so is likely to just worsen the issue.
The Environment Alteration table
|Inevitable||Perfect sense||Quite credible||Kinda improbable||Rather unlikely||Pushing it hard||Come on!|
|Very minor (1 AP)||0||0||0||1||3||5||7||10||13||17||21|
|Minor (2-3 APs)||0||1||3||5||7||10||13||17||21||26||31|
|Signi-ficant (4-5 APs)||3||5||7||10||13||17||21||26||31||37||43|
|Major (6-7 APs)||5||7||10||13||17||21||26||31||37||43||50|
|Game-changer (8+ APs)||10||13||17||21||26||31||37||43||50||57||65|
The columns express the Degree of Suspension of Disbelief for the event under consideration. For instance, finding a conveniently-placed beaker of acid in a generic lab is Quite Credible. Having a big impact onto a Manhattan street expose a gas main is Rather Unlikely. Finding a large bottle of ink at the Marvel Bullpen in the 1970s would make Perfect Sense.
The suspension of disbelief depends on the small-g genre of the story. If you are having an Old West story set in the style of the 1950s, having the Cavalry come and save the day is very easy on the suspension of disbelief.
If you are playing in a early 1980s “urban wasteland” thriller genre, having the cops come in and save the day is very much against genre convention and would thus wreck the suspension of disbelief.
The rows express how useful to the players the events being considered would be. ”Cosmetic” creates no advantage whatsoever – an example would be a flight of doves taking off in slow motion around the hero. A “Game-changer” event is not quite an automatic “I win” button, but could dramatically turn around a desperate situation.
Some AP values are suggested (for instance, how many APs of Acid are we talking about when it comes to that famous acid beaker ?) to help, but should be treated with some flexibility.
APs of Radio Communication (“Could we say the Public Address system had been accidentally left on during the whole scene ?”) are not the same as APs of Continuum Control ! (“Can my character just happen to stumble upon a Reality Restructurer in the broom closet ?”)
The capital-G Genre acts as Column Shifts on these tables – the more grim and gritty the Genre is, the harder it is going to have convenient events happen. For instance, using the Genres in the rules book:
- The Real Genre is +1CS (determine the Suspension of Disbelief normally, then shift one Column to the right when determining how many HPs it will cost)
- The Humor Genre is -1CS (shift to the left)
- One further Column is provided on each side for those custom Genres that may require it (frex the Brutally Real Genre used as an example in Blood of Heroes: Special Edition).
Note that a few characters have Schticks (such as My Playground, My Rules) lowering the cost of some Altering the Environment stunts. A handful of characters also have Schticks that earn them a very small number of HPs when they do something specific, and this and Altering the Environment can synergise.
Finally, note that the Columns have been kept generic, perhaps even a bit fuzzy, given the enormous diversity of possible events that they have to cover. It might be best to think of them as the reaction a majority of the audience would have if such an event occured in a comic book or movie.
It is expected that the players will want to defend the credibility of their proposed Alteration of the Environment – since this can be fun this is considered a feature. If the discussions are not fun and not taking place in good faith, you probably do not want to use Altering the Environment rules in the first place.
Using these more formalised, more visible options will likely encourage players to find lateral solutions rather than relying on brute force HP spending, and to keep them as much in genre as possible.
It might result in a slowdown in Character Advancement. This is because he spending in HPs is likely to be a bit higher – even taking into account the slightly higher number of victories and avoidance of intensive HP-spending situations the extended Altering the Environment rules bring.
This is not necessarily the bad thing, unless the campaign depicts protagonists who are supposed to be actively improving and developing (for instance because they are young, or because their powers are just emerging).
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Helper(s): Hawkman and the beaker of acid