Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mutants and Minmaxers, Part 2 - The Impenetrable Defense

Alex ran the first session of his MnM game last night.  Some issues were observed with the system.

The main mechanical issue that came up was the disparity between attack and defense.  In almost all cases given an optimized attacker of power level n and an optimized defender of the same level, the optimized attack will fail to penetrate the optimized defense.  Here's a rundown by type of save / defense:
  • AC - this one is the biggest offender, and here's why.  The optimized AC is 16+2*PL; 10 base +1 dodge +5 maximum human dexterity +PL in Base Defense Bonus +PL in Superhuman Dexterity, Superspeed, or other defensive superpower.  The optimized attack bonus under normal circumstances is 6+PL; 1 from Weapon Focus +5 maximum human strength of dexterity +PL in Base Attack Bonus.  Superhuman Dex, Superhuman Strength, and similar powers do not add to attack rolls; the only way I've found to provide another bonus to attack rolls of +PL is with Luck, and there are two problems with that route.  First, Luck is a hell of a lot more expensive than than +AC portion of SuperDex in terms of points, and can't be split similarly.  Second, Luck only adds to one roll per round, which means that if you have multiple attacks, you're only achieving parity (10+ to hit) with one of them.  As a result, the gap between optimized AC defense and optimized to-hit diverges, until by PL7 (where we are) an optimized attacker needs a 17+ to hit an optimized defender.  At PLs greater than or equal to 10, your only recourse becomes to spray Rapid Strike, TWF, or Autofire attacks and pray for a natural 20, or to hope you had the foresight and points to bring Mental or Area Effect powers to bypass AC (and that they haven't optimized those saves too).  It's also possible to get some circumstantial modifiers to attack, such as the charge bonus or point blank shot.  These are, however, small integer constant bonuses and will not save the attacker from the O(n) that he lags behind the defender.  What might, though, is rendering the defender flat-footed by means of Invisibility, sneaking, feint, or other means, thereby reducing his AC to 10+PL.  Looks like Matt had it figured out after all...  unless the opposition has Combat Senses, which an optimized defender might be presumed to have, in which case it nets you +6 to hit and doesn't solve the O(n) scaling issue.
  • Fortitude, Reflex, and Will are all symmetric cases, so I'll get them all in one go.  Here we don't have divergence, but we still have some stuff seriously wrong with the math.  The optimized NAD save bonus is +7+PL; +5 from normal human maximum ability score +2 from the appropriate Iron Will, Great Fortitude, or Lightning Reflexes +PL in superhuman bonuses from Amazing Saves, Mental Protection, or Superhuman Ability Scores.  The DC for an optimized offensive power is, unfortunately, only 10+PL; no ability scores are added here, and there are no feats which boost this, nor powers that I have yet found.  As a result, an optimized save will fail only by rolling a 2 or lower on a d20 against an 'optimized' attacker of the same power level.  Oh, and if it happens to be Will, then they probably also have Indomitable Will, which provides a second save the next round, driving the probability of an overall failure down to 1% rather than 10%.  So - cover your NADs, kids, and watch everything just bounce off of them.
  • Damage saves - Here the news is brightest for the attacker, actually.  The optimized damage save bonus is 7+PL (5 human ability scores +2 toughness +PL in Protection, Amazing Save, etc), while the DC for an optimized damage save is 20+PL (15 base +5 normal human strength +PL in Superstrength, Strike, Weapon, or whatever) for a melee or mighty ranged attack, or 15+PL for a normal ranged attack.  Further, bonus damage is much easier to come by than bonus damage defense, by means of Point Blank Shot, Power Attack, and Surprise Strike.  These numbers put an optimized damage defender in the 8+ to 13+ success range without circumstantial modifiers, with repeated failures generating damage save penalties eventually sufficient to put them under, unless they have stupid-high ranks in Regeneration.
So...  defense beats offense by a wide margin, except on damage saves.  I anticipate a Party Objection to this argument, though - "You can't possibly optimize all of your defenses and still pose a credible threat to the party, and someone in the party will have whatever save you're weakest against, right?"

Wrong.  Wrong for several reasons, even.

First - the structure of save in MnM means that in order to be effective, you have to punch through either AC and then a NAD or damage save, or Reflex and then a NAD or damage save if you're using area effects (which can be problematic when there are friendlies around), or Will and then a damage save if you're using Mental Assault.  Unless you're specifically configured during character generation to go after those last two, you're almost certainly up against AC every round, and you're losing by O(PL).

Second - the Party Optimality and Diversity Assumptions.  In one sample party observed last night, two out of six characters had BaB of only ~PL/2, rendering them ineffective against high-AC monsters (20+ to-hit).  Further, only one character in six possessed an area effect, and there were no Mental-trait attack powers available.  Even worse, our defenses are pretty terrible; it would not take anything even near an optimal offense to down most of us.  I think a couple of wide-area energy blasts would do the trick, honestly.

Third - the "You can't possibly be optimal in all your defenses and still have any offense" assumption.  Well, have I got news for you.  A PL n character appears to have 15 power points per PL.  Let's consider PL7, which is where we are in Alex's game, with 105 points.  Ability scores - Str 3, Dex 20, Con 20, Int 3, Wis 20, Cha 3 costs us a total of 9 points, leaving us with 96.  We definitely want BaB and BdB 7, which will cost us 35 points in total, leaving 61.  Now for defensive powers - Superhuman Constitution with flaws Device, no environmental bonus, and no recovery bonus, comes to a total of 1 point per rank, for 7 points total, leaving 54.  We can do the same thing with Superhuman Dexterity, garnering just the bonuses to AC and Reflex as a device for 1 point per rank, 7 points total, 47 remaining.  Will is a bit trickier, since we can't really put it together with anything else; I'm partial to Mental Protection as a device at rank 7, for 40 points remaining.  Combat Senses 7 leaves us with 33, while Devices of Great Fortitude, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, and Indomitable Will leave us 29.  Dodge for 2 put us at 27, and at this point we've basically achieved 'perfect' numerical defense.

Now, what can we do with 27 points of offense?  First, the feats - Point Blank, Precise, and Rapid Shot with Multishot as a device (muzzle brake / recoil suppressor / 40k-style suspensor harness) puts us at 20 points.  Energy Blast with Device and Autofire at rank 7 runs us 14 points, so we have six left.  Then, using the Stunt rules on page 95, we take Snare, Paralysis, and Stun as stunts for this weapon.  The interesting points about those three powers are that 1) they're all instantaneous duration and all ranged, which means you choose one of your four modes and autofire with it, and 2) they each target a different save - Snare is reflex, Paralysis is will, and Stun is fortitude.

Further, this build scales across PLs above 7 safely.  Each level, with your 15 points, you put 5 into BaB and BdB, 1 into each of SuperCon, SuperDex, Mental Protection, Combat Senses, and 2 into your weapon.  You then have 4 points left over to go spend on other ridiculous bullshit.

So, that's a pretty decent build with optimized defenses and an offense revolving around "guess their weak saves, then spam autofire until you roll 20s".  It still has issues dealing with Illusion, though.  To cover that gap, take Mute as a flaw and use those 10 PP on one rank of Regeneration for the off chance that someone manages to injure you, Assessment, True Seeing, See Invisibility, and...  I dunno, Attack Focus, Improved Initiative, or something else nice.  Disintegration as an stunt on your gun, maybe.  Let's go with Darkvision.  If you're feeling really, really dirty, pick up another combat-irrelevant flaw like Disturbing and spend all of those points on immunities to things like suffocation, pressure, aging, fatigue, and critical hits.  Congratulations, you have created a terrifying, unstoppable killer robot.  The only things he is afraid of are area-effect Disintegration and opponents of about twice his power level.  Not even death, because he prays for release from the ridiculousness of this goddamn system.

This guy looks like he has Str 3, right?

So, final numbers:
PL7.  Defense 30 (10+1 dodge +5 dex +7 base +7 superhuman), flat-footed 24 (10 +7 base +7 combat senses).  FRW and Damage saves +14 each.  Init +5.
To-hit at range +12 or 10/10 or 8/8/8 or 6/6/6/6, applying either Damage save DC 22 or one of the other saves at DC17.

By the way, have I told you about my next character?
Or, for that matter, how much I'm starting to hate point buy systems?


  1. That's not entirely true: when the book talks about power stunts, it says you can add two to your DC in certain circumstances. That's a whole two points! Which may or may not apply!

    Tim actually suggested that the setting might work just as well in the Mage system. Between the actual game session last night and this numbers post, I think I'd much prefer a system shift.


    1. Ooh, that's actually pretty good. Nice find.

      And yeah, I was thinking a White Wolf system might do this nicely, too. Considered Trav, but it doesn't handle superpowers well. I think WW released a sci-fi system at one point, but it's hard to find these days...

  2. Out of curiosity, which version of MnM are you playing? 2nd Ed doesn't work like that. Your limits are tightly related to PL regardless of where the bonuses come from. And you can buy attack bonus directly (2 points per +1, up to PL unless you make tradeoffs with your damage). Defense is capped at +Pl, again, unless you trade off with your Toughness save.

    1. Yeah, this was 1e. We found it in the bargain bin of our FLGS and figured we'd give it a shot. More fools we :P

  3. Even in M+M 1e the PL limit applies to TOTAL bonus, not EACH power. Check out "Stacking Power Bonuses" in the shaded box at the top of page 58.
    Overall, I think M+M 1e is overlooked and underestimated by most supers gamers. The system is easy to learn, versatile, and can be modified without breaking, great for a one-shot or pick-up game. It's worth looking for the errata file on Green Ronin's site.

    1. This analysis was for 1e, and took the power stacking limits into account. Page 58 states that "A character cannot gain a bonus from super-powers to any one attribute greater than his or her power level." The problem, then is that there are a bunch of non-super (hence stacking) bonuses which apply to defenses (ability scores, Iron Will-type feats) which stack because they are not superpower bonuses, and for which there is no equivalent in offense. Likewise the problem with the AC defense is that you can get a superpower bonus of +PL which simply cannot be efficiently matched by a superpower bonus to hit of +PL because there are no +hit powers except Luck. This means that both AC and saves outstrip offense, even with the power stacking rule in effect. Hell, if you remove that the problem only gets worse, because there are multiple defensive powers and the lack of offensive bonus capabilities doesn't change. Maybe this terrible skew towards defense is part of the genre, but we personally had no fun with long, grindy combats where we couldn't hit anything, and then once we did manage a lucky hit we still couldn't punch through saves.