The Nhamadan Talent OR Neural Sheathing

Marshal Law (c) Mills/O’Neill
The natives of Nhamada are a proud but primitive race, which Foundation anthropologists believe are ancient humanites. Fierce warriors, perhaps bred for some long forgotten war, they organise in tribes and compete in an arcane system of inter-tribal sports and challenges. Foundation scientists have identified a unique response to trauma in the Nhamadan physiology which has become known as the Nhamadan Talent. 

My long standing gaming friend, Andy, who plays Salem, the Humanite with a hardened epidermis in my Coriolis campaign, sent me an idea for a new Humanite talent. What he actually said, in a text, was:

“Just another quick thing, Old bean. I have thought of a talent for humanites – when injured the Humanitie gets a bonus blast of strength or speed due to the nerve impulse boost, just like good old Marshal Law.”

Now, given our international audience, I should clarify that we are not talking about government by the military, or Marshall Law, the character from Tekken. Instead we are talking about the ultraviolent San Francisco cop charged with hunting down rogue superheroes, created by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill and first published by Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint. Anyhow, he can’t feel pain, though to be honest I can’t recall if getting hurts actually increases his strength. 

It’s a great idea and, given that the Forbidden Lands Kickstarter campaign had just started, and that, surely, that game would include some sort of berserker talent, I wanted to explore how it might turn out in Coriolis. So the first thing I asked Andy was whether he thought the increase would take effect with HP damage, or only after a critical hit. He said “I think it has to be crits or otherwise it would be too powerful . In some ways it is a kind of Berserker talent I suppose.” Great minds think alike. 

Although …

I spent some time looking at the critical hit route. It’s attractive, especially down out the lower end of the table. Your berserker gets their nose blooded, is knocked back for a round or two, but then comes back harder and/or faster. That works for crits up to about 42 on the table (page 96), but higher than that you are into injuries with the potential to immobilise. Yes the talent could have special rules for how critical injuries are dealt with, but that starts getting messy.

So what about hit points? How many hit points do you have to take before the talent is triggered? When it is triggered, do the increased strength or agility increase the number of hit points you can take? I toyed with ratios – very two hit points taken being worth one point you could add to your strength, agility or, I thought, maybe to your initiative. If it was two for one and strength and agility max out at five each, then you don’t get into a loop of damage you take enabling you to take more damage. Such a loop could work, but only if there were consequences after the fight.

But I was still nagged by the feeling that there was just a little too much paperwork involved in keeping track of hit points, strength and agility and current initiative. And the effect was too linear. Cinematically, all the best berserkers look beaten, then they lift their head with fire in their eyes, and you think “uh oh, now I’ve made him angry.”

And THAT made me think that there was a simpler solution. “They look beaten” – the talent comes into effect when they are Broken! Now, my first though was to use the hit points twice. The first time the PC hits zero HP, they don’t actually become broken, but rather get a ‘second wind’ returning to full hit points and adding one to strength/agility and initiative. The effect remains until the fight is over, or until they hit zero HP a second time. 

But again, there’s an accounting problem. How should a player use their HP track twice? Putting one check on each box the first time, and then turning that into a cross the second time? Maybe, but then I had a better idea. The berserker rage should be a mental effect. 

So, I presented The Nhamadan Talent on the show:

A character with this talent can elect to assign physical damage to Mind Points instead. Any stress damage is also taken from mind points as usual. At zero mind points, instead of a Breakdown the character Rages. The character can still take any actions that involve dice, but for the duration of the rage increase both Strength and Agility to five, and deduct the number of points required to do so from Empathy first and then Wits (neither can drop below one). The character current initiative increases by one also. From this point on, damage is deducted from Hit Points as usual. The rage lasts for six hours, or until the character is Broken, knocked unconscious by a critical injury, or treated with Command or Medicurgy as for breakdown. As for Breakdown – upon recovery roll one die and if the result is one, reduce MP permanently by one point. 

Dave thought it was too powerful, and I admit I forgot to write that this talent can only be used once per session. He also said it should cost a Darkness point. Though I think it’s dark enough already, I don’t have a problem with it being part of the Darkness point economy. But then he had a brilliant idea. I mentioned that Andy , having read the talent, really wanted it and I queried whether a Humanite could buy extra humanite talents. He said it could be an aftermarket bio-sculpt which would cost, not just XP, but also b5,000 (or something). He also suggested it might be a tiered talent like we discussed in episode three, Fixing the Gearhead

Som how about this? 5xp and b5,000 gets you Neural Sheathing, tier one.  This gets you the ability to assign hit point damage to mind points. An extra 5xp gets you the Nhamadan rage effect.  What do you think?

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