Amorphs? Broken.

Alan keeps whining about how overpowered Sergeant Schlock would be in a game setting. I find this amusing.

Also? Problematic.

This is one of those things we need to solve, because while it’s totally okay to have some characters be tougher and more versatile than others, it’s a lot less okay to have a game in which everybody who did NOT play an amorph is bored.

I’m considering building a “there go the piano lessons” mechanic as an automatic weakness for amorphs.  During every combat when they take any sort of damage there is a non-zero chance of some skill being reduced, or some memory being lost.

(This happens to Schlock himself from time to time in the comic, but he has to soak up a lot of damage first. He has many, many ranks in “data management: redundancy.”)

19 thoughts on “Amorphs? Broken.”

  1. That could work, but the obvious solution to me would be to make armor for them ridiculously expensive on the market and difficult to make yourself, and high power incendiaries common and cheap. It may need both, though, now that I think about it…

  2. Sgt. Schlock is a unique combination of two original amorphs in addition to a clone or two in the wood pile. Perhaps a young non-recombinant amorph would have to specialize skill sets? Choose between gliding or chemical analysis, eat enemies or squeeze through tiny openings… Start em young and *small* with a slow growth rate and they’ll be self limiting by virtue of lack of mass to store the data necessary to store all those skills (or eat larger opponents) without blowing any story elements.

  3. One solution I came up with for overpowered races (specifically lycanthropes) is to give them a unique racial class that is balanced with the others. So a level 1 amorph/level 1 soldier would be comparable in power to a human level 2 soldier. I’d imagine mini-Schlock would be about level 1 or so, and normal Schlock is level 10 or higher. You could even make it so that it’s directly based on body mass, so that it can increase or decrease depending on damage and what they’ve been eating, but that would probably be a pain to keep track of.

    The fact that they can’t use any armor unless it is extremely specialized (and expensive) will also help a little with balance, but they’re so tough it won’t be perfect. On a similar note, eyes should be a piece of equipment they have to buy, not something they start with automatically.

  4. Another possible mechanic would be a random factor to his actions. Schlock is always awesome, but half the time it is woops awesome. So every time he takes an action there is a chance it will go wrong (slightly or horribly).

  5. I like what I’m seeing. Question about the amorphs starting small without enough mass – what keeps them from hitting up the food processor? Or the trash can? or just grinding and hunting rats? And getting enough mass?
    I think I like a combo of the eyes and there go the piano lessons.

  6. Alan tells me he’s already implemented something along the lines of “there go the piano lessons.” Other notes:

    1) Mass isn’t power. Amorphs learn how to “throw their weight around” just like any other creature does. An amorph who decides to eat until he/she/it has grown huge is sick and overweight.

    2) Eyes aren’t indestructible. As noted above, they’re rare and expensive. It’s a character drawback, definitely.

    3) Amorph chemical engineering is instinctive, but can be learned and improved upon. And Schlock? Yeah, he’s an epic-level character on that front.

    4) Character Balance isn’t sacrosanct, especially not when players are willing to role-play their amorphs (or whatever other uber-tough creatures we make available in the core book) in a way that keeps the game fun for everyone. That’s a can of worms for a different blog post, however.

    1. Of course character balance shouldn’t be sacrosanct. It removes all the fun. If you’re having trouble, though, I prefer buffing everyone else until they’re close enough, personally.

    2. Also, what level do amorphs need to be to pull off that that supersize trick from the original Schlocktoberfest? Is that a high level feat schlock inherited from his unusual creation?

  7. Schlock did mention that the hard part of that was assimilating all the mass fast enough for combat, so clearly it’s not easy.

  8. I guess the central question is how sim/nar you’re going. It sounds like at the moment, it’s pretty sim–which is fine in some ways, as the world itself is pretty gearhead, what with lots of plot points on technical developments, specific powers, etc.

    OTOH, there’s a lot of interesting design in Cortex+ and Fate — where the game is expressly set up such that a character like Bunni will have as much impact on the story as one like Schlock — as Schlock will, yes, spend a lot more time effectively beating stuff up, but Bunni will have a similar effect on the story (if very different in terms of chrome) giving orders, healing people, and figuring stuff out.

    Of course, some of this is that not all amorphs are Schlock–who as the title character, has a lot of cookies to go around with dominating the action (and a lot of experience to boot). But some is that if the core mechanic is focused on conflict resolution, rather than detailed space and time combats (even if those are there too), then any ability can have a similar effect on the action as long as you can justify it — the mechanics become more about sharing scenes and screen time equivalently (even if you have to imagine more of the world) rather than about simulating the world in extreme detail (even if this results in the more combat-centric characters dominating the action).

  9. Actually, the game is leaning toward NAR.

    For the non-jargon-adept — SIM is “simulation,” and NAR is “narrative.” We’ll be providing a simplified simulation as a framework for the development of a complex and engaging shared narrative.

    That said, all this depends on what the player group decides to do with their time.

    1. If you do go towards sim combat, remember that most plasma weaponry is basically a flamethrower (e.g. 2001-01-19) and amorphs die really quickly to fire. Power armor protects against most fire damage, but good luck getting amorph power armor. Problematic amorph? One order of plasma-fried amorph, coming right up!

  10. I’ve always felt that “racial balance” was something that was overly emphasized in a lot of RPGs mainly because it’s readily apparent that some races are just going to have vastly superior capabilities. If there are balance problems with amorphs, aren’t there also going to be similar balance problems with neophants (full manual dexterity along with prehensile nose, massive body size and ridiculous strength), vorwhed (same as neophants without the nose), fobott’r (4 arms means carrying twice as many guns and they wouldn’t have significant problems finding/modifying existing armor because they are very human-like), or Gatekeeper (basically uber-fobott’rs).

    The best solution that I’ve seen was taking care of it in character creation like how Shadowrun does it where you have to prioritize different aspects of your character or, if it’s point based, by paying out the nose for it an leaving yourself a lot less than someone who wants to play a “weaker” race. If you want to play an uber-race like Schlock, you “pay” for it. Humans, frellenti, gorillas, and uniocs (amongst others) would basically be balanced by having more points to spend elsewhere to make up for their lack of racial advantages. If it’s straight up randomly determined stats, you could just have a random race table where the better races are given smaller chances (e.g. rare races like amorphs require you roll an 18 on your 3d6 whereas humans are the 1011 and uniocs are 9, etc.)

    If you go point buy, one of the interesting benefits would be that, if you itemize the advantages of each species with a breakdown of cost or come up with an itemized list of advantages/disadvantages, players could come up with their own species (pending gamemaster approval, of course). As you have said yourself, the races thus far shown in the comic strip are but a tiny subset of the total sapient species in the galaxy so restricting players to just the ones seen in the comic strip is comparatively limiting, especially given your predilection towards adding new species all the time.

  11. Seems like the easy solution would be to make each of the various Amorph abilities their own ‘skill’, which the Amorph Sophont Template gives a bonus to. It would probably also be the only way to access those skills, unless you could get some sort of bionic/implant/etc to simulate them. If you wanted to reach Schlock level of ability, you’d obviously have to invest future points into further improving those skills. Leaving you with less points for things that other characters are better at (technology and social-skills being two examples of important skills Schlock lacks.)

  12. I think that the inability to effectively use armor, implants, and a wide variety of other things will weigh against an Amorph in combat situations.

    I also seem to remember that Schlock is somewhat atypical of his people in his gleefully violent approach to life. Most Amorphs probably don’t have any kind of training or background in weapons or combat.

    My worry about the ‘there go the piano lessons’ mechanic is that it’d be a lot of bookkeeping to track and also pretty harsh considering that you’ll always be in a fight naked and that you’ll also be very likely to be the primary target. A thousand pound hunk of angry nanogoo throwing itself at you will generally command your attention, after all.

  13. IIRC Amorphs basically evolved out of some kind of gelatinous silicate storage matrix created by an super ancient race.

    Assigning rules regarding skill and power development of Amorphs could (relating to storage mediums) require a multiplying factor of 16 to stabilize the next level of mass. With easy dice roll required for a smaller schlock to get bigger extending into impossible rolls for an already large schlock to increase mass. The advantage of a higher the character level might be a less impossible roll to increase mass. You might also incentivize smaller amorphs by decreasing the experience earned the larger the amorph gets. Other level incentives might be the amount of eyes that an amorph might be able to manage. Own all the eyes you want but you can only use so many at one time depending on level and mass. Normally one would measure mass in litres but there are other considerations like power to weight ratio that I cant work out because I dont know how much a litre of amorph weighs. A litre of water weighs about a kg as does a litre of jello so im gonna use kg’s.

    So my thinking is that a base level mini Private Amorph might be 16kg and able to operate one eye. Then the next scale up might be 32kg and be able to operate stereo vision and then 64kg with 2 eyes still. But then at 128kg and then 256kg you can operate 3 and 4 eyes respectively.

    Perhaps the next step beyond 256kg is 512kg and 1024kg respectively and you loose the ability to fit into armor which might be why Sgt Schlock normally maintains a consistent size.

    So far as I’ve seen Sgt Schlock normally maintains a very consistant mass. Silicon is quite dense and schlock has no organs or circulatory system.

    His abilities might relate to his size. Such as how strong his appendages are and how much weight he can carry inside himself. Also perhaps there is a minimum and maximum size is required to use armor creating a sweet spot preventing house sized wrecking balls from ruining game balance.

    Another size limitation might be reaction speed. In a network if all the nodes maintain constant activity on a fixed network-backbone and you double the number of nodes you WILL absolutely induce latency. Perhaps Amorphs arent all the size of battleplates because Amorph bio-sili-chemistry has the equivalent of a fixed data-backbone and too many nodes would prevent a reasonable reaction/response time effecting reaction speed. This would also be the reason why the ancients constructed large numbers of small amorphs to store data rather than small numbers of large amorphs. That or perhaps the large number of amorphs is more related to the idea behind RAID storage.

    Sgt Schlock has never to my recollection made himself smaller. He’s only ever been injured and then recovered mass or increased mass in advance of an impending injury.

    Just off the top of my head.

  14. Schlock is probably one of the more inter-racially adept Amorphs, and he’s still basically a petulant child with a big gun (but he’s our petulant child with a big gun so that’s okay). Basic Schlock (back in the early comics) was dangerous, but it’s clear part of that was the big gun, and he’s levelled up since via experience, combat training and, particularly, learning parku-urbatsu (sp?). And from what we saw of their home-planet, Amorphs are basically a low-tech hunter-gatherer species with very limited exposure to technology. An introductory level Amorph may not have the gun, the training, the experience, or the inter-racial adeptness – for a creature without a foot, Schlock still has a remarkable ability to stick his in his mouth up to the knee.

    So if fully skilled Amorphs are overpowered, then maybe limit start-level Amorph characters with limited skills compared to others and with a distraction mechanic, effectively a built-in ‘Ooh, shiny!’ that they have to earn out.

  15. Without knowing the precise game mechanics, my suggestions are limited in scope, but there are three ways I would approach this (depending on what those game mechanics are, precisely):

    1) Balance the Numbers — Even a non-epic amorph has multiple advantages that make them more powerful than most species. You can throw in weaknesses, but even if he’s vulnerable to sunlight, running water, and wooden stakes, the vampire among the humans still has the advantage. Many games have this, and if you have a game where the focus is on the numbers (like most ultratech settings), then the only way to balance this is by making sure the numbers correspond in the right ways. One of the main objectives of this game is “AND THEN KILL THEM,” which translates to me as being very combat centric. So if you have an amorph in the group, you need to find a way to make the numbers even in most scenarios. If the amorph is going around with a plasma cannon, the rest of the group has artillery and power armor. If the amorph gets power armor, the rest of the PCs get gravtanks. From a metagame perspective, if your game is based on buying attributes and resources with things like character points (ex. GURPS), then if it takes 1000 points to “build” an amorph, and only 200 to build a human, then the humans get 800 more points to buy said power armor and tanks at the start of the game. If it’s based on levels or ranks, then if there’s a rank 1 amorph in the party, it’s only legal if the humans start at rank 5 (or whatever).

    2) Make Easy Trumps Available — This option is meant for systems that are quick and chaotic, where a battle can be decided on only a few dice rolls and the results have a degree of finality without having to hash armor numbers or life points (ex. unharmed, injured, dead). In such a system, amorphs will be balanced with easy access to things that can deal with amorphs. Sure, Schlock can eat you and is stronger, tougher, and faster, but if it’s easy to get a plasma beam array and vaporize him, then it’s not an issue. If one awesome piece of gear or advantage can be dealt with by the availability of another particular piece of gear or specific application of force, then the game can be a round-robin of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock, and amorphs like Sclock are just another cog in the wheel or this-trumps-that.

    3) Accept That They’re Broken — This can only be a decent option if you have a drama-based or story-based game system, like FATE, where being a combat monster makes you lose out and limits your interaction in other situations. If your game system is like this, then even an epic amorph like Schlock is fine. Because for every firefight he dominates, there will be many many other scenes where he has to be in the sidelines because there are political negotiations, intrigue, tactics and social interactions that he has no skill in.

    To summarize, I wouldn’t try to nitpick the amorph and balance the game around that species. They’re incredibly rare, and trying to balance a game perfectly around a rare species (that everyone wants to play) will get you some lame system like d20 Star Wars (which tries to pretend that a level 1 Smuggler is as attractive to play as a level 1 Jedi Consular).

    1. Somewhat Rare maybe but not super rare schlock ran into 3 amorph bagage handlers on the way to the barsoom circus.

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