Developing the Amorph

So Howard has blogged recently about the difficulties about amorphs as a player option. Some of you might ask, what are amorphs?

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That. And since Schlock is really the defining (and title character) of the series, it’s hard to have a game with out the amorphs. So we’ve spent a lot of time dissecting, talking about and working on amorphs.

Let’s list some of the powers our favorite amorph displays as a benefit of being an amorph? (These are based upon my reread of the comics and talking with Howard).

  • Schlock is virtually indestructible in physical combat
  • He seems pretty resistant to physical projectile weapons
  • He can eat pretty much anything and live off of it.
  • He’s effectively immune to disease, radiation, nanobots, and more.
  • He can glide because he can alter his shape.
  • He can store all manner of things inside himself, which may or may not be detectable.
  • He can store his memories throughout his body.
  • He can be killed and regrown from the tiniest bit of himself.
  • He can generate multiple limbs.
  • He can have multiple eyes (if he gets extras)
  • His biology is effectively unique, poorly understood, and hard to exploit.
  • He can hear heartbeats, smell unique scents that individuals secrete, and track them via taste.  Also every part of his surface area is tasting (ugh).
  • Oh. He survived the vacuum of space as a frozen blob.

There’s probably more, but those are the obvious ones.

Let’s go over his weaknesses.

  • It’s possible he loses his eyes and replacing them is expensive.
  • Um…he can’t wear armor easily obtained armor. It has to be custom built.

So. Stack that up against a human.

Wow, right? And Howard wonders why I have a hard time balancing them.

Well the other night, we had the first playtest of the new amorph rules, and it went really well!

Some highlights.

The “there go the piano lesson” rules worked really well. They were simple, easy to use, and fast to implement.

The armor/weapon/damage restrictions amorphs enjoy/suffer from, were all used, and worked well, but did require a bit more bookkeeping. Gonna have to work out a way to keep that down.  (I loathe bookkeeping in the middle of a game).

The player who played the amorph, really went out of his way to force the amorph into tough situations so we could put a stress test on how the rules work.

The multiple limbs thing didn’t really affect game play as much due to the unique initiative system we’ve developed.
Amorphs are an interesting sophont with a lot of potential. They’re certainly going to be exciting to see players react to the sheer difference of such a species.

On a related note, I’ve now added “amorph eyes” to the equipment cost list…

16 thoughts on “Developing the Amorph”

  1. To quote Doctor Bunnigus, “Schlock is far more alien than ninety-nine percent of the sapient life you’ll ever meet.”

  2. If you want to combat an amorph, I’d recommend either flame or explosives. Directed plasma weaponry seems to be fairly standard in the schlockiverse, and it’s one of the few things that Schlock is actually vulnerable to. The trade-off here is that non-amorphs can get plasma-resistant armor; getting such armor for an amorph would be expensive and cut down on the amorph’s other racial benefits. I’d imagine any high-lethality campaign involving an amorph player including frequent almost-death-regeneration cycles.

    In terms of party dynamics, I’d probably play an amorph as a utility rogue kind of character. Tons of space to fit useful items (by swallowing), and tons of interesting uses for his other racials. In a less-than-lethal setting, your amorph actually becomes your best survivor – gas, rubber bullets, goo guns, and neural disrupters can all be shrugged off due to his unique physiology.

    Also, remember to test your grapple rules in case an amorph wants to eat something that doesn’t want to be eaten, or wants to subdue someone by globbing itself all over the target.

  3. Well, there are other balancing issues to consider rather than just combat weaknesses.

    – He’s socially awkward, at best.
    — At worst, someone may well get eaten.
    — This means that a great deal of effort has to be expended to control his actions… without letting him know you’re controlling him.
    — He is also difficult to motivate to do certain tasks… or will throw himself headlong into them.

    – There are other things that he hasn’t been exposed to that may hurt him. Magnetic fields? Electrical shock? Liquid mercury? Vibrations from a particular brand of sonic toothbrush?
    — You’d have to coordinate with Howard over that, of course.

    – He has only been exposed to hostile nanos once.
    — The response was ‘spit out the infected portion of himself’.
    — There were not that many of them, and they were designed primarily for humanoid hosts.
    — They weren’t even particularly hostile, just systemic in a way he didn’t like.

    – Explosives do a number on him. While he won’t be killed, being splattered does appear to be on his ‘do not like’ list.
    — While splattered, he is extremely vulnerable.

    – He eats almost constantly, in large amounts. This implies a very active metabolism. He’s going to be expensive to keep fed.
    — Make sure Genuine Imitation Ovalkwik is in the purchase list.

    – His biology is effectively unique, poorly understood, and almost impossible to medically treat, even with advanced nanotech.
    — His only option for healing seems to be ‘scrape him together, toss him food, hope for the best’.

    – While he can sneak through pipes and drop upon foes from above, he is generally as subtle as a train wreck.

    1. But how many of those are traits based on Schlock and his personality? That’s the big catch about that. Not to mention in a game about mercenaries, combat will be a primary conflict.

    2. – He eats almost constantly, in large amounts. This implies a very active metabolism.

      That’s probably where’d I’d go with it. Borrow from V:TM. Seriously. Give him a pool of “Blood^H^H^H^H^H Ovalqwik Points” Each special ability costs a set number to manifest.

      1. Yeah, in fact, you could also do a couple of feat/discipline/power trees as well. There would be some base amorph powers, obviously, but things like multiple limbs and ridiculous digestion might have to get bought up (representing the practice it takes to keep track of all those fiddly opposable thumbs, or the trick of chemically breaking down non-organic matter).

        And of course, it’s not really an Ovalqwik pool, any organic matter would do, OQ qould just be the best option. And if you’re out of OQ points you go dormant.

  4. Balancing such a character in a combat-heavy game is going to be difficult, yes. I made a few suggestions on how to approach the balancing process in the Aug 5 post, but it bears repeating that it’s a better approach to bring “lesser” species up to par with the advantageous one, rather than attempting to nerf or find more weaknesses for the strong one. That way it’s fun for everybody (nobody will complain that the amorph gets all the fun, and the amorph’s player won’t feel that they’ve been given a gimped Schlock).

    In the case of this game setting, you need to give some sort of point or rating value to all the amorph’s advantages and just give more free points to non-amorphs to possibly bring them up to par in terms of equipment (ex. power armor/tanks) or skills.

    1. Just point the explody plasma bit at the amorph and let go. Deliberately point out to your DMs that Amorphs are very strong low level and rather weak at higher level combat- flamethrowers and bombs that wouldn’t phase power armor will splatter or even completely destroy an Amorph. Playing to counter an Amorph is ridiculously easy – grab any plasma weapon, set it to wide spread, and flame the room. If you’re wearing power armor, the Amorph will die well before you’ll die, even if you’re standing in the room while you’re flaming it.

      There’s actually a comic where Schlock turns his plasma gun into a rocket engine, which is what I’m thinking of here. Any bit of Schlock that would have gotten a bit too far in the wrong direction would have died, and darn near instantly. Basically the Amorph cooks like an egg: the organic parts would degrade faster than any nanotech could repair them.

  5. There’s something else. Amorphs look like poo. And they leave behind lots of trace unless they’re careful. So, the question is, do they smell?

  6. It occurs to me that if amorphs weren’t as resistant to disease/poison/etc., the ‘poorly understood physiology’ would be a drawback as well as a benefit. Just like amorphs are naturally tough but can’t easily wear armor like more vulnerable beings can, if an amorph’s medical problem can’t be solved by their regeneration (plus food to power it), a doctor will need to spend a lot more time on figuring out where to start.

  7. I can’t see where to look at the system’s rules/mechanics, but from the articles and comments on the matter so far I’d say that TgtPL isn’t quite enough to balance Amorphs. I would expect that given the concept of the race, a loss or division of mass should result in a reduction in mental faculties until said mass can be regenerated/recombined. Depending on how stats work maybe it’s a simple [brain stat] divided by X situation, maybe it’s a “roll against X” difficulty modifier for most attempts to perform an action while affected. From my vague remembrance of Shlock-in-a-Cup he was a lot more easily distracted and forgetful so it makes both mechanical and canonical sense.

    Splattering an Amorph across the playing field would keep it somewhat neutralized, and could be done a number of ways including explosives and more exotic weapons (a microwave/laser weapon which superheats a pinpoint area of your choice, causing it to expand violently perhaps?).

  8. Hmm. They’re jumped up rogue nano. What could ruin nanotechnology?
    Electricity might be one. From tasers to electro lasers to superconducting loops used as grenades there are options.
    A bunch of oxidizers could do as well. Some of them may even be usable without a hazmat suit.
    High pressure water can do the trick.
    IIRC GURPS has postulated a jumped up version of an Airzooka. If something like that exists (and can be rigged into a reduced recoil version) it might be useful against an amorph.
    Then there is gravy. Mmm. Gravy. Any sort of crude gravy weaponry will jack up an amorph.
    And the Bradicor probably know ways to roll up an amorph without thinking about it too hard.

  9. We know from the Schlock origin story that he’s an especially well developed/powerful amorph. It’s possible that he uses amorph special ability more fluidly/frequently because of his special nature.

    Perhaps a fatigue or energy based mechanic would work: if using an amorph special ability drained energy or had some easy to measure cool down?

    Or maybe these suggestions don’t make sense in light of your current implementation. Either way, good luck, I can’t wait to see the final product!

  10. Using MTG as a base, amorphs remind me of creatures that can sacrifice themselves in order to bring a number of 1/1 tokens into play. Depending on how your game mechanics work, that might be a useful way of thinking about the sergeant. Also, maybe you could implement some kind of rule like the following – player can combine any two bits o’ amorph per turn – to better model this particular racial trait.

    You should also implement “separate baggies” as an anti-amorph tactic.

  11. “While he can sneak through pipes and drop upon foes from above, he is generally as subtle as a train wreck.”

    “And they leave behind lots of trace unless they’re careful”

    I see big bonuses to enemy spot and tracking.

  12. One possibility would be to have amorph abilities scale at a similar rate to the equipment amorphs can’t use. Schlock is better than a human, but he’s probably not better than a human in power armor.

    He’s also very scalable. If you take away his eyes, consider fast movement, some of his resistances, super enhanced senses, and gliding to be ‘schlock skills’ that are attained at higher levels, you could reduce the first level amorph to be a small, physically weak character that can’t see. Of course, the first level amorph is still quite hardy, can hide things inside it’s body, and has a degree of ‘blindsense’ that enables it to detect nearby things through vibrations.

    As the party levels up, the get access to things like fullerened armor, that make them immune to bullets, give them superhuman strength, and let them fly.

    Schlock can’t use that, but balance can be maintained by upgrading your small schlock into a medium schlock. Players could choose more ‘schlock skills’, which let them do things like getting bigger and stronger, learning to consume hostile nanobots, learning to glide, and so on. This trend of getting physically stronger while everyone else gets better equipment could continue up to the point where equipment starts to get so good that schlock skills can’t really make up for it, at which point schlock armor becomes a thing.

    Humans can also get implants and blood nannies, so schlock needs to power up in parallel to that. He may be better than an ordinary human, but is he better than a Doythaban?

    Lastly, schlock points could extend beyond what schlock can do in the comic, to make amorphs more specializable. Maybe some amorphs learn to change their coloring and blend in that way. Maybe some can shape themselves with sufficient skill to look like other sophonts, but aren’t as good in combat. Maybe some amorphs can weaponize their digestive systems in a way that lets them melt holes in starships or in power armor. All of these could be special ‘schlock skills’ that an amorph player can gain as they level up, in lieu of fancy flying armor and nanobots that let them spit explosives.

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