Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Batman Points

So let's say you have a villain in your game who you want to be threatening, not because of their physical power (or not just that) but because of their genius intellect and general outwittery. Someone like Batman or Adrian Veidt; or like an ancient scheming dragon or a vicious robber baron. You know the type I'm talking about.
So one way you could create a villain who's super-prepared and ready for anything the PCs can come up with is just to write lots of preparations in advance. "The dragon's lair is booby-trapped here and here; the dragon will always cast dispel illusion on his servants when they enter his sanctum;" etc. until you think you have prepared for everything the PCs might try. But this will take a lot of time and effort.

An alternative that I've been thinking about is to give your villain a number of 'Batman Points' (or whatever else you want to call them.) Basically, by spending a Batman Point, you can retroactively state that the villain has predicted the PCs' plans and engaged some sort of countermeasure. Whatever they've come up with, he's already come up with an answer to it; he's just that good.

There are a few limitations on this ability:
  1. The villain can't acquire new abilities, items or resources out of nowhere; all he can do is guess what his enemies are trying to do. So if the PCs are scrying him to learn his evil plans, then you can spend a Batman Point to say "Well too bad, he writes his diary in a code that only he can read." But you can't say "Well too bad, he has an Amulet of Anti-Scrying." (Unless, of course, he is super rich and there's a shop in his city that sells Amulets of Anti-Scrying.)
  2.  The villain doesn't gain any knowledge beyond what he already had; he just has a hunch. So in the previous example, he wouldn't suddenly be aware that the PCs are trying to scry him - he just has a vague idea that his enemies might try to scry him, so he's taking precautions against it.
  3. The villain's counter can't be overly specific or unbelievable. If the PCs are hiding in a bush beside the road to ambush him, you can say "He orders his guards to investigate each bush in advance" but you can't say "He orders his guards to go straight to the bush you're hiding in and stick their spears into it."
  4. The DM has a limited amount of time (let's say one minute) to think of a counter; if you can't, then the Batman Point can't be spent.
How many Batman Points should a villain have? It's hard to say without testing it, but I'd guess not very many. Even a supreme chessmaster like Veidt would probably only have 3-4 Batman Points. And they would regenerate slowly, if at all.
The advantage of this rule would be that you can get that "Oh fuck!" moment like you get in fiction where the heroes realise just how smart their opponent is (in this case, the villain is much smarter than the dungeonmaster who plays him!) It would encourage the PCs to come up with more plans to wear down the enemy's supply of Batman Points, or else to come up with really tight and clever plans so that the DM can't use the Batman Points.

The disadvantage of this rule would be that it might just make the players feel like you've given yourself a license to screw them over, or that their first few gambits don't really matter because they're just used to burn through the Batman Points. (But if their gambits are too lazy, then of course you can choose not to spend a Batman Point and just counter them normally.) I'm not sure how you would communicate this mechanic to the players. You would probably need to explain it before the villain appears, or it would feel unfair. But it's a pretty obscure subsystem that will probably only crop up once or twice in a campaign, so will anyone even remember the rule by the time you get around to using it?

To be clear, I've never actually tested this rule, so I'm not recommending it so much as just putting it out there as a possibility.

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