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Journey to the Center of the Earth

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  • Journey to the Center of the Earth

    Any players in the Return to Paragon City campaign, please don't read this.

    Background: Last year, I ran a four-color series in Paragon City. The players enjoyed it and got attached to the city and characters, but wanted a more serious tone. Thus, the new campaign will still have super-science elements (laser guns, jetpacks, people gaining powers from mutagenic substances, etc...) and the heroes still have classic elements (comic-like costumes, heroic names, secret identities), but more consequences for moral choices and darker villains than the typical Saturday morning cartoon mad scientist.

    One player design a character who uses a variety of trick darts (similar to Green Arrow) and can become intangible.

    Question: There is a session I am designing where the players are very likely to end up in a structure which is high in the air. The player who can become intangible is still likely to phase through to escape. The height will be obvious from inside the structure: if the player phases out and falls, it would be a deliberate, well-informed decision to do so.

    This brings up an odd issue which I couldn't find in the rules: What do you do when someone uses insubstantial 4 while falling?

    Initially, it seemed simple, but the more I thought about it, the more issues seemed to arise. Most fixes I can come up with would have odd implications for the physics of my world.

    Model One: The player who falls several hundred feet and phases into the ground will maintain momentum, shooting towards earth's core. This, in turn, raises two sub-models, one where the player stays at earth's core due to gravity and another where the player's momentum is only influenced when they were solid, thus causing them to exit earth's core on the other side and "fall" up into space.
    > This probably makes the most sense in respect to physics, but really can't be what I use in game, since it would essentially be an instant-kill for the player or the campaign jumping the shark (the group making a trip to a subterranean realm to reunite with the player would be out of genre for a more serious campaign).

    Model Two: Phasing automatically gives one rank of flight or safefall. This would seem like more of an obvious rules patch than anything else. I tend to not give players powers that they didn't pay for. Granted, if someone has speed 15 and toughness 3, moving at 64,000 mph should logically hurt them and mechanically doesn't, giving some room to argue that powers have built-in prerequisite powers which are rarely mentioned. Still, giving safefall as a bonus to insubstantial makes an already slightly over-powered trait even more value.

    Model Three: Phasing somehow interacts differently with the ground. In comics, people who phase still walk around. Presumably this is the act of pushing of the ground to generate momentum. It looks fairly normal in comics, although I don't have a good method to explain it aside from convenience for the writers. This model would mean that the insubstantial player would hit the ground and take normal fall damage as if they were corporeal.
    > This feels like it would be something else the players would find as weird. Phased people walking on the ground seems normal, but falling onto the pavement and being hurt would seem more like Wile E. Coyote than a superhero.

    Model Four: The player must turn solid to "catch" themselves mid-flight. This would be a model where the player would make a roll (awareness, or possibly insight; maybe even initiative) to become corporeal at the right time when they fall. After the roll, different results would be:
    > Success: the player turns solid before reaching the ground, taking the fall damage normally
    > First degree failure: The player is conveniently late in turning solid, resulting in them turning solid beneath the street, but in the sewer. Take fall damage normally and have to leave the sewer to return to battle. Circumstance penalty to interactions due to bad sewage smell.
    > Second degree failure: the player is rather late, turning solid while their ankles are in the sewer floor. They take damage based on the rules for teleporting into objects and are immobile until the remove their feet from the floor. The player keeps the circumstance penalty to interactions due to bad sewage smell.
    > Third degree failure: The player is really late, turning solid when they are up to their chest in the sewer floor. They take damage based on the rules for teleporting into objects and are immobile and vulnerable, and impaired until freeing themselves from the floor. The player keeps the circumstance penalty to interactions due to bad sewage smell.
    > Fourth degree failure: The player is completely underground when they turn solid. They take damage based on the rules for teleporting into objects and are immobile and vulnerable, and impaired until freeing themselves from the ground. The player must make fortitude checks against suffocation until they are free.
    > This model may work the best, but it is still rather punishing.

    Model Five: Gravity stops when someone phases. The player floats in the air, unable to move until they turn solid and fall normally when they do so.
    > This makes some sense, but brings up some of the same problems as model three: if someone insubstantial doesn't move when they should fall, how do they move when they want to walk? It would seem to impose an immobile flaw on the insubstantial power, which doesn't seem very good.

    Are there any more thoughts on how to handle an insubstantial player falling?

  • #2
    Two seems like the simplest (aka fewest headaches) answer to me.

    Three and Five, you are overthinking. Friction is not needed to walk when you are out of phase. Why? genre-physics.


    • #3
      Le Million in My Hero Academia has a phasing power and when he starts to solidify inside the ground (or any other solid object), the interaction between his power and the object repels him. When he's underground, it pushes him to the surface (and fast). "Pushed back up out of whatever you're in" is just as valid an answer as "You fuse with the object and are maimed or killed" for superhero stories.

      Alternately, the hero could just use a hero point or clever solutions to avoid falling all the way to the ground.

      Also alternately, the villain might put the hero in a trap that will hurt a teammate if he phases out of it... something as simple as a scale or balance-based trigger that'd set something off in another hero's cell if the phasing hero's cell was suddenly empty. Not to keep him from phasing, but to make it a more interesting escape.