Marvel Heroic - Dr. Manhattan's Precognition?

edited September 2012 in Story Games
Dang it, I'm stuck on my Watchmen '66 adaptation. Doctor Manhattan's power of precognition is throwing me for a loop. In the graphic novel, what happens is that Doctor Manhattan is experiencing his entire personal timeline simultaneously. Whatever he says about his future is true, because he's experiencing it now (if "now" means anything in this context).

I'm wondering how best to implement that in Marvel Heroic Role-Playing, which offers you a whole bunch of crazy options to work with. Here's one that I don't think I've seen, but in theory is legal:

When you're playing Doctor Manhattan, make a prediction about your future and spend 1 plot point. Assemble your die pool, and include Quantum Senses d10. If your prediction affects another character currently in the scene, that character may choose to oppose you. If you're just making a prediction in general, the Doom Pool provides opposition.

If you fail, your opponent can spend their effect die to inflict a Complication: Lost in Thought on you for free

If you succeed, reserve your effect die (write it down on an index card with your prediction). Step down the effect die to ask a Scene-Framing question consistent with your prediction if you are also in that scene. The Watcher may "interrupt" or cancel a question by spending an equal sized die from the Doom Pool; a player may do so by spending 1 plot point.


This isn't exactly how it works in the graphic novel, but the problem with an Asset or Complication is that these things are still fallible, whereas part of the deal here is that this stuff really does happen, and the surest way to handle that is by Framing right past it.

Here's how I envision this working:

Dr. Manhattan: "Captain Axis, I admire the micro-architecture of Kleinemunde and the research you've performed. But the project will fail: you'll die of a brain aneurysm three days before its completion. Let the hostages go." Guys, makin' a prediction here: Captain Axis dies of a brain aneurysm three days before the project's completion. That's, um, Solo d8 + God Exists, And He's American d8 + Quantum Senses d10. That's a total of 11, with a d8 effect die.

Watcher: Captain Axis sneers incredulously: "Aneurysm? I designed the Ubermenschen! Do you think I would ignore my own biological limits?" That's his Solo d8 + Master of the Master Race at d4 + Enhanced Stamina d8 + Medical Expert d8." Ugh, that's an 11 on my reaction. Ties go to you. So write down your prediction and give it a d8 effect.

(scene plays on, and eventually end.)

Watcher: Okay, new scene! Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias, you're meeting with J. Edgar Hoover to discuss , and--

Doctor Manhattan: Sorry, I feel like jumping the gun. Ozymandias, you're telling me how you were investigating the Kleinemunde Projekt and came across Captain Axis's body...? D8 down to d6.

Ozymandias: Eh, I don't feel like spending a point to fight you. "...And then I came to the heart of the project itself, and there sprawled his decomposing corpse, stretched out across the landscape, crushing microscopic buildings beneath it like Dionysis on a last, terminal carouse."

Doctor Manhattan: J. Edgar, you're telling me why you think it was an aneurysm. D6 down to d4.

Watcher: "We intercepted a Red wire saying as much. Their agent had sawn off Captain Axis's head and dissected it."

Doctor Manhattan: Which Red agent?

Watcher: Sorry, I'm spending d6 from the Doom Pool to cancel your foreknowledge.

(transition scene continues to play out)

I suspect this would be insanely too powerful in actual play, but I'm really curious about it. What am I missing?

Comments

  • edited September 2012
    I think you're missing that his precognition isn't really 'a superpower' as much as it is explicitly a literary device to allow Moore to play with time in ways that comics didn't at the time he wrote the original script.

    Personally, I'd just add it as a Distinction: 'Experiences/Perceives time differently'; he can take it as a d8 when it helps, a d4 when it distracts him. It's mostly used in the comics as flavor and to give him a sense of being really alien, of viewing the world from a really different perspective. He doesn't really actively deploy it as a 'superpower', it's mostly something that just happens to him.
  • edited September 2012
    Jim, I understand that, but I also think it's a rather dull approach in a system that is flexible enough let you get away with some pretty crazy shit.

    It's not merely that Dr. Manhattan perceives time differently: it's that he unfailingly knows his own future. Which is as tricky to implement in an RPG with player agency, as it is to pull off with the conventional storytelling techniques of a comic book.
  • edited September 2012
    Well, sure, but sometimes the best approach is to not try and stat out something that's so obviously inserted as a literary device and can really completely break the game if you don't get it right mechanically.

    To go a little further, I'd probably not let a PC be Dr. Manhattan. He's more of a fundamental force of the Universe than a character. The really juicy interpersonal stuff happens between the humans in that book; Manhattan is never really in any danger at any point, the real question is to what extent he'll retain his humanity long enough to actually help or if he'll check out completely.

    The other way to handle him without trying to shoehorn him into a bunch of street-level heroes is to have him as an Unlockable for the 'normal' characters; you can get his attention or interest long enough to get him to help you with whatever you're working on.

    Of course, if you're doing the 'early Minutemen' thing, when he was still wearing clothes, then you can just power him down and say that he hasn't unlocked that level of awareness yet. But if you retain that aspect of his power-set, then you run the risk of having the game be ABOUT him, as can happen with certain characters with either very high power levels or significantly altered perceptions, like Deadpool, the Sentry, or the Hulk if you don't tread very carefully.

    As written, it hands a LOT of narrative control over to ONE player, and forces the others to spend in order to cancel it. It's got th potential to saddle you with a co-Watcher if it's not used REALLY sparingly. I'd not allow it in my game as written.
  • Well, sure, but sometimes the best approach is to not try and stat out something that's so obviously inserted as a literary device and can really completely break the game if you don't get it right mechanically.
    That's the thing, right? It's why I'm posting. I'm committed to using Dr. Manhattan as a potential PC (in the mid-60's period) though I do like the Unlockable idea too.
    To go a little further, I'd probably not let a PC be Dr. Manhattan. He's more of a fundamental force of the Universe than a character.
    I don't know about that. Of all the characters in the book, he may have the most clearly defined, almost classical, character arc. (Amusingly, his "redemption" doesn't actually accomplish anything, but that's another matter.) And for all the talk of his inhumanity and detachment - which he himself believes - he's nevertheless badly emotionally wounded. Heck, the whole of Chapter IV could be seen as one of those "spotlight scenes" designed to reduce Trauma as described in the rules.
    It's got th potential to saddle you with a co-Watcher if it's not used REALLY sparingly. I'd not allow it in my game as written.
    I'm not sure I've hit on the best solution! But I do think that having Doctor Manhattan at the table should feel a little bit like having a Co-Watcher. The question is how to implement that in a way that respects agency and doesn't completely fuck up whatever's been prepped for the night...
  • Dice are clearly the wrong tool for the job. The question is not "does Dr. Manhattan see your future?" or "is the prediction correct?" The question is "what does Dr. Manhattan see for your future?" And "what do you do with that knowledge?" If there's a randomizer involved, it needs to be more like an oracle: you roll/draw Tarot cards/whatever to see what Dr. Manhattan sees, not if he sees.

    If I did need it to be a conflict, I'd steal Ganakagok's whole structure: draw a Tarot card or consult an oracle, then make your roll. On a success, you interpret the omens in a positive way for you/the PCs. On a failure, the GM interprets the omens in the most negative way possible.

    I'd also be looking at how other games like Archipelago or Montsegur or Durance use prediction of the future to shape play. (Before you say it: Durance's Oaths are totaly predictions, just worded in reverse.)
  • Might I suggest that y'all decide if Dr. M has a "PC-like positioning" in the game at all; then you can figure out if it's a dice or Oracle or co-Watcher effect.

    Put another way: can he FAIL to predict, or predict vaguely (recall that he couldn't "see past" Ozy's quantum machinations!); can he PLAY towards an agenda, or is he more like an obstacle/enabler to/for other's agendas? Can he be played by a player with the same points of contact as, say, The Comedian?

    [I'm inclined to say, "no"--he's a Force in the universe, not a character. If the Marvel "GM" is The Watcher, I'd say Dr. M is an uber-Watcher, given his godlike powers AND a complete view of his own timeline (The Watcher can see all, but only in the moment; and has no godlike powers that I can recall--err, wait: didn't he bitch-slap Galatctus once? OK, maybe Dr. M is co-Watcher...). All I see from my vast experience with marvel (*ahem* half a session) he's an NPC and a deus ex machina, whether a player plays the NPC or the Watcher does.]
  • Perhaps you should just rename the GM role "Dr. Manhattan" and be done with it.
  • edited September 2012
    Might I suggest that y'all decide if Dr. M has a "PC-like positioning" in the game at all; then you can figure out if it's a dice or Oracle or co-Watcher effect.

    Put another way: can he FAIL to predict, or predict vaguely (recall that he couldn't "see past" Ozy's quantum machinations!);
    Yeah, this seems like a critical question: ideally, players should roll when there's a chance that their character can fail and suffer some kind of consequence.

    So what's the deal for this particular game? Are you looking for a Dr. Manhattan who always knows exactly what will happen and cannot be wrong, or for something else?
  • In the proposed rules described in the OP, the consequence of failure is that Doctor Manhattan suffers a Complication: Lost in Thought which impedes the next action he takes, or which can be made persistent across an entire scene through the usual means. Since his pool is relatively shallow - 3 dice unless he can fold in plot points or a relevant specialty - going against a deep Doom Pool is risky (Dr. M has some SFX that deepen the Doom Pool), and opposing another character in an area where they're strong is also a bad idea. Note that characters can be incapacitated by Complications that go beyond d12 in scope, just as if it were stress.
  • Sorry, I guess that I didn't really answer your initial question because I got sidetracked into analyzing the story instead of your query, and I may have misread exactly what your question was.

    You aren't missing anything. It'd be insanely too powerful in play.
  • It's been a while since I've read the comics, but, does Dr Manhattan actually control the future? If he calls for a future vision, just play out the scene. If the game gets to that future scene, you already know what happened.
  • A few things that might help:
    -Dr. Manhattan knows the future as long as it's in somewhere he's present. Not that he couldn't be watching the news and learning Captain Axis died, or being present at the moment of his death. However it means the character will be there in the future.
    -He doesn´t care about much things. He´s struggling to mantain a bond with a humanity he´s no longer part of. So he may know that something will happen and yet won't tell or do anything about it. Like when he let the Comedian kill a girl in Vietnam. I'd say that his perception of time isn't something he´s in control of, but something he spills out when he´s asked about and fails a, say "humanity roll" or whatever may replace it in your system.
  • edited September 2012
    Yeah, I wouldn't put it in the mechanics at all, because it actually never has any impact whatsoever on who gets their goals and who doesn't. That's what MHR's system tells you - who gets their goals.
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