Appendix N: Television Series

[Influences on the game.]

Television Series

Supernatural, Seasons 1-5 in particular. (A deeply personal story of a family of monster hunters. Reached its apex in Season 5. The subsequent seasons have been disappointing.)

Chuck. (Excellent series about a geek super spy, marred by a sucker-punch ending.)

Breaking Bad. (Part of the new Golden Age of Television. Movies have bigger budgets and bigger names, but few are as consistently compelling as this show.)

Firefly.

Revolution.

Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. (One of the best.)

The Walking Dead.

House, MD. (The biggest jerk in medicine, but so much fun to watch.)

Buy now at Amazon.
Support the site: Buy now at Amazon.com.

Cinematic Indulgences: A Sentient Pile of Poo

Schlock Mercenary, a webcomic written by Provo-ite Howard Taylor, is a comic space opera that satirizes the military, government, lawyers, intelligence agencies, boy bands, and… well, pretty much everything else under the sun(s) (ours and others). The protagonist is Sergeant Schlock, a “carbosilicate amorph”, who only accidentally resembles a sentient pile of poo.

Schlock serves with Tagon’s Toughs, a band of mercenaries who travel about in a starship taking very simple contracts and having them go wrong in very spectacular ways. At last reckoning, they provoked an intergalactic war with dark matter entities, overthrew a conspiracy that predated human history by 6 million years, and literally blew up the galaxy. (Well, caused it to be blown up.)

Of course, they also got paid. A lot. Like 5 times for one job a lot. This makes the mercs very happy. Their targets (and sometimes their employers), not so much.

A gag-a-day strip, it updates with a merciless, robotic frequency: once a day, like clockwork, since going “on-the-air” in 2000. It’s humor is as reliable. Take a couple of mottos from “The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries” (sort of a bible for the Toughs):

6. If violence wasn’t your last resort, you failed to resort to enough of it.
12. A soft answer turneth away wrath. Once wrath is looking the other way, shoot it in the head.
25. If the damage you do is covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, you didn’t do enough damage.

Yeah, it’s like that. Once a day. Every day. For 12 and 1/2 years, and counting.

There’s a free app for iOS and Android, which gives you access to the entire archives. (Also available on the web, for free. Stupid Movie Physics, are you paying attention?) It also allows you to bookmark favorite strips, keeps your place in case you commit an archive binge, and allows you to browse the Schlock forums, all in the same app.

One warning for would-be bingers: at first, the art is… well, pretty terrible. It continually improves, however, and has become quite nice in recent years. Start with a later story, is my advice, so you can see how good the strip is. (Like The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, one of the best of the (currently) 12 books.)

Only then go back and read from the beginning. It’s well worth the effort.

Healing & Resolve

Healing

A full day of rest allows a character to recover (not heal, but recover) a number of Wounds equal to their Endurance. It also allows them to heal one Moderate Injury (assuming they currently have no Wounds).

(Yes, you can have more than one of the same severity Injury at a time. You can have bruised ribs, a sprained ankle, and burned hands all at once, all of which are Moderate Injuries.)

An additional week of rest allows you to heal a Severe Injury. And a week of treatment (convalescing in a hospital, for example) allows you to heal a Critical Injury. (If the campaign world lacks the means of treating a specific kind of Critical Injury, the character will be injured permanently.)

After an hour’s rest, a character can spend a point of Resolve to gain a Wound recovery: they recover a number of Wounds equal to their Endurance. This represents them gritting their teeth, and fighting through the pain. They can do this once per day.

Analysis

What are the benefits of this approach? It streamlines the Damage Chart, making it much simpler to keep track of Damage and the penalties therefrom. It solves the “ablative hit points” problem, making Resolve into something more meaningful. It also makes spending a Resolve point on Wounds something significant: you recover a number of Wounds equal to your Endurance, not just 3.

It makes combat more risky, increasing the tension of fighting. But after combat is over, you can rest and recover. That’s a positive dynamic.

It also deals with the “shoot me in the head, I don’t care” problem that cropped up under Torg. After playing the game for a while, my players realized that they were nearly invincible, by the rules as written. They could be shot in the head, while handcuffed in front of an enemy, and survive. After that point, combat offered little challenge and no danger. A player literally told me “let him shoot me in the head, it doesn’t matter”. That’s a problem.

This rule allows for characters who recover quickly (quite cinematic), but who still have to fear being shot. Combat is (potentially) deadly, so players have to be canny, take cover, use tactics, and behave intelligently.

This also solves John’s “Why would you spend Action Points on anything but buying off damage?” question. Under these rules, you can’t. You can recover after a battle, but not during.

In all, it seems like a great approach. On to playtesting.

Infinity Appendix N: Comics and Video Games

Comics
The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller. (Dark, brutal, and engrossing.)
Batman: Year One, Frank Miller.
Batman, The Long Halloween. (Follows after Year One, but not afraid to do its own thing. Visually and textually striking.)
X-Men, The Age of Apocalypse.
Astro City, Kurt Busiek. (Truly excellent. Well worth buying and reading.)

Video Games
Bioshock, Ken Levine. (A highly personal game. Evinces a deep understanding of the limits of human nature and ideology.)
Fallout 3 & New Vegas. (Nothing beats prowling the ruins of DC with a sniper rifle, picking off brutal Super Mutants from blocks away.)
Skyrim. (A new benchmark in open world gaming.)
Halo: Reach.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
Crackdown. (Prime superpunk setting.)
Left 4 Dead. (Killing zombies was never so fun as this.)
Gears of War 1, 2, & 3.
Just Cause 2. (Open world crack.)
Metro 2033. (Flawed, but compelling.)

[Updated with commentary.]

Resolve & Traits

Resolve (first introduced here) is a renamed Action Point mechanic. For the most part, the mechanics are the same. The concept and feel behind it is different.

Resolve reflects a character’s determination and drive. Spending a point of Resolve means you are utterly focused on the task at hand, exerting all your effort to try and succeed.

(“Don’t people do that all the time?” No. We don’t have the energy. Even in extreme circumstances, we can’t go all out on every task all the time.)

People who throw themselves into a task can accomplish something incredible. (John McClane, jumping off the roof.) Resolve allows them this chance, but only a limited number of times a session.

Spending a point of Resolve gives you a +3 to any Skill, Combat, or Characteristic Challenge. Spending a point of Resolve on the actions covered by a Distinction Trait gives you a +5 bonus, because Distinctions are (by definition) something the character is unusually gifted at.

Distinctions

Distinctions are a specific kind of Trait, one that is almost always beneficial. These represent innate talents (Violin Virtuoso, Born With a Gun In His Hand), inherent advantages (Voice Like an Angel, You Gotta Love ‘Im), unusual training (My Uncle Was a Wizard, The Necronomicon is in My Backpack), or anything else that gives the character an edge. Characters can have up to 3 Distinctions at character creation.

Each Distinction has one, and only one, area of applicability. Light Fingers, for example, could give a bonus to picking pockets with the prestidigitation skill, but not to palming a coin. The player chooses what benefit the Trait gives when they choose the Trait. (As always the GM has final say.)

Using the Trait costs a Resolve point. As noted above, this gives the character +5 on an affected Challenge.

[More on Resolve, next post.]

Infinity Action Heroes

Infinity player characters are action-movie heroes. They are the headliners, the leads, those who fight evil and kick its ass.

But what is a hero? Let’s look at Audie Murphy.

Audie Murphy

5’5”, 110 lb. Audie Murphy, from Kingston, Texas, enlisted in the US Army in  June 1942, at the age of 16. He’d previously been rejected by the Navy, the Marines, and the Army Paratroopers for being severely underweight. Even after enlisting, he had to fight to be allowed in combat (where, during the invasion of Sicily, he contracted malaria, a permanent condition).

After seeing action on the continent, he was field promoted to 2nd Lt. and given command of a platoon. Shot by a sniper, he was sent to the hospital. After convalescing he returned to his platoon, still wounded, and entered combat the next day.

During that battle his company came under fire from German troops, who killed or incapacitated 109 out of 128 soldiers in his unit. Fighting in below freezing temperature (14° F) and 24 inches of snow, the wounded Murphy sent the survivors to the rear, then attacked the Germans with his M1. Running out of ammo, he climbed aboard a burning M10 tank destroyer, and used its .50 cal to fight advancing German infantry (who shot and wounded Murphy).

While atop the burning vehicle, Murphy single-handedly fought off six German tanks and dozens of infantry, for almost an hour. 

During that hour, he kept up the battle with the German forces, calling in artillery strikes with a phone, and only stopped when German artillery cut his own phone line. Thereafter he organized a counter-attack and drove the Germans from the town, winning the engagement. For this action, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

During his two years of combat service, Murphy received 10 US citations for valor, plus two medals from the French and one from Belgium. He remains the most decorated US soldier of all time.

After the war, he became an actor, even portraying himself in an autobiographical movie. For the recreation of the described battle, Murphy was forced to tone down his real exploits, because the audience would find them unrealistic. He would go on to star in 44 movies (mostly Westerns) and die at the age of 46, in a plane crash.

Heroes

The exploits of action heroes are not necessarily unrealistic. Extraordinary individuals have done incredible things, and it’s those real life heroes who are the template for Infinity PC’s.

The stories of real heroes share many common elements, the most important of which is their sheer determination and drive. Heroes never quit. (This is equally true of both wartime and peacetime heroes. Those who would succeed must persevere.) In game terms, this drive is known as Resolve.

[More on Resolve, next post.]