The Sentinel Comics RPG is focused mainly on theme and storytelling. Although there are combat abilities, "balance" isn't the focus of its design. As a result, it's quite possible to create a character who's frustratingly ineffective.
That may not be a priority for you. Maybe you have a specific concept in mind, or you're trying to duplicate a specific character from popular culture. Maybe your campaign consists almost entirely of role-playing and narration, and the dice and abilities don't matter very much. Maybe your campaign isn't about "winning" and "losing" but doing whatever feels appropriate and seeing where that takes you. If any of that applies to you, this guide isn't going to be of help to you. But if your idea of having a good time is feeling like every one of your actions is contributing to the party's success in every scene, you may find it helpful.
This guide is in two parts. The first part, aimed at everyone creating a new character, contains suggestions for what to bear in mind when choosing your powers, qualities, principles, and abilities so that you don't find yourself rolling d4's or taking basic actions all the time. The second part, aimed at optimizers, is an evaluation of what abilities, and thus which power sources and archetypes, will get you the most bang for your buck.
This is based on pre-release information shared by Greater Than Games. Specific are subject to change.
When following the character creation instructions, you'll first choose a background, a power source, an archetype, a background, and a retcon, in that order. This gets you:
- Background: A principle and usually 2 qualities
- Power Source: Usually 3 powers
- Archetype: A principle and usually 3 powers/qualities
- Personality: One custom quality at d8
- Retcon: Several options, but the ones that change your powers, qualities, or principles aren't ideal.
Don't feel like you have to be a slave to exactly that order of operations. Your choices have to be legal at each step but you can feel free to go back and forth and change your selections. Just make sure that if you make any changes to an earlier step, you make sure all your later choices are still legal. For instance, you can't make an ability from your power source key off a power you gained from your archetype. But if you choose Cursed as your power source and then Elemental Manipulator as your archetype, it's fine to go back and swap out one of your other Cursed abilities for Attunement.
Give Yourself Options
If your character concept is simple, it can be tempting to design a character who can be a bit of a one-trick pony. For instance, you might give a soldier a bunch of athletic power and physical qualities, or a scientist a bunch of intellectual powers and information qualities.
Resist this temptation! If your character over-specializes in a certain concept, you'll find yourself having lots of options in some situations (and probably just using the stats with the largest die over and over) and completely clueless in other situations.
Instead, look at the other options you have and think about ways your character could show some depth or versatility. Maybe your soldier is a natural leader (Presence, Leadership) or a wilderness survivor (Awareness, Alertness). Your scientist could have Gadgets that do any number of other things, and they could have a Mental or Social quality that reflects their personality. This will give them dice to lean on when they're outside their area of expertise.
For each of your qualities, look at your list of powers and make sure there's at least one power that has an obvious application. For instance, if you have Banter, and your powers are Strength, Fire, Flight, and Power Suit, it's going to be hard for you to come up with ways to make use of that quality. Not impossible, but making use of it on the fly in an unexpected situation won't be something that happens very often. Consider swapping those qualities out, or swapping a power to something that works more easily.
Then, do the same thing with your powers, making sure they each work easily with at least one of your qualities.
This is doubly important for your principles. For each of your principles, make sure you can imagine several scenarios where you might use that principle, in combination with at least one, preferably more than one, of your powers and qualities. If you can't, choose a different principle or change your powers and/or qualities. Remember, it's easier to imagine scenarios that might happen than it is to come up with something to do in an unexpected situation your character might be thrown into.
The same applies to your abilities. Each of your action abilities will have either a power or a quality you're required to use with it, but make sure you have an obvious quality (if it uses a power) or power (if it uses a quality) that you could easily pair with it without even thinking about it. If you have to think carefully about which dice you're going to use every time you use an ability, you may not end up getting full use of them, or at best you'll slow down the game when it comes to your turn. You don't have to use the same dice every time you use an ability, but it helps if you have a default combination you can fall back on without worrying about it.
Swiss Army Knives
Some powers, qualities, and principles are easy to use in a variety of contexts, and having them means you always have something to fall back on. Some examples:
Technological powers plus the Technology quality mean you could have a device for almost any situation, especially if you have the Gearhead principle.
Elemental/Energy powers are mostly destructive in their application, but Cold is especially useful because it also allows you to create or manipulate ice, and Electricity can work with electronics (though crudely). Creativity and Science are especially useful qualities here; they goes well with Materials powers, too.
Intellectual powers (except Presence) can help you do almost anything, because what problem doesn't involve thinking about something? The tricky part is having qualities appropriate to the situation.
A "Signature Weapon" could be a device that doesn't just kill people. It could be a magic sword, a modular cannon, or a cosmic artifact that has other capabilities. Make sure you communicate with your GM about what your signature weapon can and cannot do, so it isn't just an omnipotent Swiss army knife.
Some principles (Energy/Element, Fauna, Flora, Future, Gearhead, Science, Stealth, and Strength) apply basically any time you use the specific power or quality it describes. If you take one that's tied to a power, try to pick up as many different qualities as possible to use with it, or one or two qualities that apply pretty much all the time. The reverse is true if you pick up one tied to a quality.
(There are a couple of principles that are thematically connected to other powers or qualities, but their Overcomes don't boil down to "use this whenever you use this die.")
There's one principle that stands out here: Great Power. If you have several powers with a d10, it's a supremely versatile choice and doesn't require any thought at all. If you have just one d12 power, treat it like a single-power principle.
On the other hand, some powers are limited in when you can use them, because they work on something in the environment that may not be present or accessible. If you choose one of these, be aware that it's not always even going to be available, and make sure you have fallback options. These include Weather, all Materials except Transmutation (especially Toxic), Swimming, Animal Control, Suggestion, and Absorption.
This is also true of many qualities, especially Information and Social qualities. Sometimes you can use Social qualities on your teammates, but if you're doing that to solve problems, you have an unusual set of problems. And unless they apply to your own tools (notably Magical Lore and Technology), every Information quality except Science only applies in a context where your area of expertise happens to be either the problem or an available solution. Sometimes you can make it work anyway, but often you can't. That's not to say you shouldn't take these unless you know the campaign will make them applicable most of the time, but the more of these you have, the more other high-die qualities you'll want to have as well.
Principles are even more important to consider, since you only get two of them. A large number of principles only apply under specific conditions (e.g. Exorcism, Space, or Family) which may or may not be common in your campaign. Talk to your GM about these so you know if they're likely to be completely useless. Others can be broadly applicable but hard to use often (e.g. Destiny, History, Equality). In either case, try to choose at least one principle that's going to be useful more often than not.
Being the Best
So, just being generally useful isn't good enough for you? You want to crack this game wide open? Read on for tips about the best backgrounds, power sources, archetypes, personalities, abilities, and combinations thereof to give you the most bang for your buck. Bear in mind that you're deliberately putting character concept second here. You can still create interesting characters this way, but it'll be hard to make a specific concept while also min-maxing. You can, of course, take some advice from this section without optimizing whole hog.
Unlike other RPG's, SCRPG doesn't particularly encourage specialization. While you can construct a party this way (e.g. one single-target damage, one multi-target damage, one booster, one hinderer), it's often even more effective to branch out and take several really good abilities that do different things. That way, if your best abilities are multi-target attacks and you face one big bad villain, you might also have single-target attacks, boosts, hinders, or defense abilities you can switch to.
It probably goes without saying that you're going to want to use d10's and d12's as often as possible, but it's a little more complicated than that. The options that let you get d12's usually penalize you by giving you fewer or smaller dice. That means that you should only go for d12's when you have a very specific schtick that you can use nearly every time you roll. If you want versatility, go for d10's.
You pretty much never want to be rolling d6's--they're barely better than the default d4. However, d6 powers and qualities serve a useful purpose: gaining access to Red abilities. Several great Red abilities (listed below) don't require you to roll the die associated with the power or quality that gave you access to it. Try to save your d6's for these. But you only get to choose two or three Red abilities, so there's a limit on how much use you can get out of this.
Also remember to put as large a die as possible into either an Athletic power or a Mental quality, since those are used to calculate Health.
The most important thing you're looking for is abilities that provide the most value possible. The best abilities are the ones that:
- Let you affect more than two targets or affect a target more than two times
- Let you use a larger-than-normal die
- Are reactions that you can use round after round (although not more than one of these),
- Are constantly-useful innate abilities
- Are the ones that lend themselves to specific interactions.
Noteworthy, common abilities include:
- Use a large die or a combination of dice: These are the most effective abilities at achieving a single task, notably attacking a villain or a large lieutenant, or achieving Overcomes without racking up twists. Sever Link, Grasping Vines, Natural Weapon, Flurry of Fists, Power Strike, Load, Exploding Ammo, Ricochet, Imbue with Element, Offensive Strike, Damage Spike, Banish, Powerful Blast, Astral Projection, Telepathic Whammy, Gimmick, Surprise Shift, Analyze Weakness, Helpful Invention, Probability Insight
- Attack any number of targets: These are critical for dealing with minions, especially multiple minion groups, and helpful for small-die lieutenants. Dangerous Explosion, Non-Stop Assault (also Hinders), Blinding Strike (ditto), Danger Zone, Live Dangerously, Energy Jaunt, Field of Energy, Run Down
- Boost or Hinder any number of targets: Fantastic at making your teammates better or your enemies worse. Can work to effectively augment attacks by hindering minion or lieutenant saves. Area Alteration (uses your Max die), Modification Wave, Mass Modification, Costly Strength (Boost only, uses Max+Mid but hinders yourself with Min), Strange Enhancement (ditto), Alien Boost (ditto), Mass Adjust, Speedy Analysis (boost only but uses Max)
- Boost all Attack or Overcome actions until your next turn: As above, but both more restrictive and potentially more efficient. Galvanize, Aerial Surveillance, Psychic Coordination
- Create a persistent boost: A boost that lasts for an entire scene, when applied early, will help you do everything better. Expanded Mind (which uses your Max die and adds an attack), Power from Beyond (ditto), Always Be Prepared (which adds an attack), Growth, Personal Upgrade, Draw Power, Onboard Upgrade, Attune, Sniper Aim, Self-Improvement, Psychic Analysis, Power Up, Helpful Invention
- Attack and ignore penalties, defense and reactions: Many villains have nasty reactions and large defense values that this will bypass. Be careful with the penalties, though, as a penalty not applied is also not expended. Use these too often and when you do try to do something else, you'll fail badly. Precise Shot, Precise Hit, Precise Strike, Unstoppable Charge
- React to when you are attacked: Free actions that either improve your survivability or retaliate, as long as you're drawing attacks. Reactive Field, Tactical Analysis, Halt, A Plan for Everything, Combat Stance, Untouchable, Smoke Bombs, Barrel Roll, Illusionary Double
- Help your allies outside of your turn: Other free actions, easier to trigger. Misdirection, Mystic Redirection, Magical Shield, Reach through Veil, Procognitive Alteration, Postcognitive Undestanding, Not Quite Right
- Reroll: Don't underestimate the power of getting a second try to roll well. Unstable Reaction, Recalculating..., Twist Reality, Psychic Insight, Surprise Results, Analyze Probabilities
- Universally useful innates: Innates that don't have uncommon conditions are always good to have. Unflagging, Punishment, Damage Reduction, Charged Up, Created Form, Intentionality, Double-Edged Luck, Resilience, Damage Resistant, Armored, Metal Skin
- Protect or heal yourself from self-damage: These are for specific combos, but those combos are powerful, usually dealing a lot of damage. Immunity, Techno-Absorb, Created Immunity, Attunement, Cosmic Ray Absorption, Energy Immunity, Energy Alignment
Abilities to be avoided are:
- "Perform (specific action). Also perform (specific other action) with your Min die." You'll see variants of this ability a lot, and while it's better than the specific basic action, it's not by much. If you really want to do this, you can take a Risky Action to do it with a minor twist using any combination of actions you want, and not spend an ability slot on it. It's a poor choice as a Green ability and a horrible choice as a Yellow one.
- "Perform (specific action). Then remove a penalty on yourself or Recover using your Min die." This is okay at removing persistent penalties, but those don't happen often and it only applies to yourself. It's useless at removing normal penalties since they'll be used up on the roll itself. The healing is miniscule, and healing is a mixed blessing unless you're already solidly in Red. This usually appears as a Yellow ability, and there are nearly always better choices.
You're mostly looking at die sizes here, but bear the principles in mind as well, so try to pick a background that gets you access to a principle you want. Most give you a d10 and a d8 for its qualities, but there's a lot of variety in what dice you get for the powers that you assign to your power source options.
Noteworthy backgrounds include:
- Upper Class (10, d8, d8 powers, but the hard-to-use Responsibility principles)
- Academic (One of three backgrounds that gets you a d12 quality, and no d6's, but one fewer power die)
- Tragic (Two d10 powers)
- Retired (Two d10 qualities and the only background with a d12 power)
- Medical (An extra d6 quality and slightly better power spread than the standard power spread of d10,d8,d6)
- Interstellar (A d12 quality)
- Created (A d12 quality and two d10 powers!)
- Military, Former Villain, and Blank Slate (Slightly better than the standard power spread)
Backgrounds to avoid include:
- Struggling (lots of dice but all d8's and d6's)
- Adventurer, Criminal, and Exile (all d8 powers)
- Otherworldly (Slightly worse than the standard power spread)
Your power source is the toughest choice you need to make, since it determines most of your yellow abilities, possibly a green ability, and the dice you'll use for your archetype that can go to either powers or qualities. The following is a list of all Power Sources and my ranking of each.
- Accident (4/5): Area Alteration is a powerful choice that lets you either boost or hinder (chosen when you choose the ability) any number of nearby targets, using your max die, which is pretty great. You may even want to take it twice, once for boosts and once for hinders. Reflexive Burst can be pretty random, but if you can finagle things to get consistent use out of it, it's a free mass attack, nothing to sneeze at. Inflict is awful. The green Reactions are niche. Immunity is noteworthy because it negates damage entirely rather than reducing it to zero, so if (and only if) you pick up other abilities that deal irreducible damage to yourself, it's better than the abilities that turn damage into healing instead. You get only a d12 and a d6 for your Archetype, so you'd better be prepared to specialize.
- Training (3/5): Always Be Prepared lets you get a persistent boost, plus attack afterwards, which is an excellent ability even though you'll only use it once per scene (unless an enemy cancels the boost). Reactive Field is free damage. Flowing Fight, like every mass attack that requires you to use a different boost on each target, is bad--if you have enough boosts to make it worthwhile, you'd be utterly devastating if you used a straight-up mass attack. Instead of a green ability, you get a d8 quality, which is a terrible trade-off.
- Genetic (1/5): Just poor all around. Except for Rally, there are plenty of other choices that do what this does but better. Rally is a solid mass heal for a green ability, although if you're finding yourself needing to use mass heals frequently, you're in a pretty odd campaign.
- Experimentation (1/5): Misdirection is nice, and has the odd characteristic of being better the worse the die you put into it is. Unflagging is handy, making it so you rarely have to put up with being hindered. Nothing here will define a build but the options are nice to have... except that all the dice it gives you are d8's, so your Archetype choices will be crippled.
- Mystical (3/5): Sever Link is nice, especially if you have niche principles--an almost unconditional max-die Overcome plus a free boost is something you'll use frequently. A mass boost/hinder is a potent option as well. Mystic Redirection is a powerful protective option, as long as you have lots of health or self-healing. You don't get a green ability, but you get a d10 quality instead, which isn't bad.
- Nature (2/5): A powerful attack, but you have to boost the enemy, so use with caution--best to use on a minion or to try to one-shot a lieutenant. The minion is decent, it's average for what a minion-maker gets as a green ability but gets the "autonomous" perk for free. The boost is weaker than it seems--it only works when you finish off a minion, which is more probable the smaller its die. The max die green abilities are solid but there are better ways to get them.
- Relic (3/5): Other than the always-useful free Defens, the yellow abilities are mediocre (although Harvest Life Force can be made better if you pick up an ability from an Archetype that would let this heal you instead). Punishment can be entertaining for an offensive build. You get two d10's for dice, which is a nice little perk. A solid choice if you expect to lean on your archetype abilities all the time.
- Powered Suit (2/5): All about risk. You can make a max-die attack and hit two other targets besides, but you could hurt yourself or incur a twist. You can get a gigantic boost when you take damage from a specific element (the damage becomes a bonus, not just a boost), but only if you're willing to get hurt a lot--you could make one heck of a kamikaze build if you really wanted to but that's probably not the best plan. The innates are nice but not build-defining. Gets d10, d6, d6 for dice, not the best spread.
- Radiation (2/5): Meh. Gets the powerful "take 1 damage to reroll" ability, but at yellow. Has a green mass attack but you could hit an ally with it (actually strong if you have a teammate who wants to get hit). Probably not the best way to go about whatever build you have in mind.
- Tech Upgrades (1/5): Self-boosting when attacked is nice, though not as nice as defending. The one reason to take Tech Upgrades is to combo with self-damaging abilities from other sources, and there are other ways to do that.
- Supernatural (4/5): The abilities are all strong, if not overwhelming--mass healing, mass hindering or boosting (which covers yourself), a persistent self-boost, and a Reaction Defend that works on any ally regardless of their status and moves them besides. No Green ability. But the real gem is the dice--two d10's, plus a free d10 to put in any power not on your list. Supernatural is thus one of only two power sources that lets you choose literally any power, including "Invented Power" (although your specific choice still needs GM approval).
- Artificial Being (3/5): With only one Active ability, you'll be leaning on your Archetype a lot. Recalculating... and Multiple Assault are usually Green abilities, but better late than never. Both Green abilities are solid. But the main draw is Created Immunity, to use for a self-damaging build, and for that purpose this is an incredible choice.
- Cursed (5/5): Costly Strength is one of the best abilities in the game--a huge boost for all your allies; even with the self-hinder you'll be handing out +4's more often than not. And it combos with Extremes, since if you roll a 1 you'll be hindering yourself for 0. You can also take Attunement to combo with self-damaging abilities. You also get a d12 to use for your archetype, though you only get two dice instead of three and the other is a d6--double-edged indeed.
- Alien (3/5): Alien Boost is the same as Costly Strength, and the other yellow abilities are nice, too (a versatile mass heal and a Reaction Defend). However, instead of a green ability, you get to upgrade a d6 to a d8 or gain a d6 power, which is a poor trade. Worse, you get only d8's for archetype dice.
- Genius (4/5): Expanded Mind is a fantastic ability--a Max die persistent boost is great by itself, plus you get a free attack. A Plan for Everything will go a long way towards keeping you alive and give you free boosts as well. Overwhelming Vision can be two attacks against the same target, great for whittling down lieutenants or shedding penalties, or it can heal you. Your compensation for losing your Green ability is a d10 quality, which is a decent trade. What keeps Genius from being a 5/5 is that you also get d6's instead of d8's for your archetype, and you have a very limited power selection, more restrictive than any other power source.
- Cosmos (3/5): A mass hinder/boost that can affect yourself is never bad. Encourage... eh, I'd rather have Galvanize, but it's not horrible. Instead of a green ability, you can mess with your die values; this is pretty great if you can downgrade a d8 and upgrade a d8 or a d10. A good choice for a self-damaging build, a mediocre choice for anything else.
- Extradimensional (2/5): Meh. Like Cursed, it gets a d12 and a d6 for archetype dice, but unlike Cursed it has no Inherent abilities. Every ability it gets is matched or surpassed by abilities other power sources or archetypes get, except Bizarre Strike (and unlike Cursed, it has no inherent way to mitigate the penalty).
- Unknown (3/5): Strange Enhancement is Cursed Strength again, which is great, but nothing else here is so good. Brainstorm is okay if you must attack. Volatile Creations makes no sense unless you're a Minion-Maker, because the game doesn't generally involve "destroying" bonuses or penalties, and there aren't really any "other creations" supported by the rules. Instead of a Green ability, you get a d8 quality, which is again a bad trade-off. This is a fair choice if you really like Strange Enhancement and want 3 dice for your archetype.
- Higher Power (2/5): Mass attacks are nice, especially when you add a hinder, but when they also hinder you with the Max, not so much. Retaliating to specific energy/element damage is generally worse than healing from it. Attack + ghetto Galvanize isn't horrible but isn't great. You do get the very nice Twist Reality, though (and the handy Resilience, which you should only take if your archetype also gives you a reaction you'll use every round).
- The Multiverse (3/5): Power from Beyond is a persistent boost with Max plus a free attack, which is great. Respond in Kind is just okay--it only works at close range and is only potent if you got hit for a lot. Dread Pallor is a mass hinder, but (mostly) with Min, not great for a Yellow, although the fact that it uses two dice is handy for eating up penalties on yourself and still dishing them out in kind. Reality Scorned is a Max and a Mid, which isn't bad against a big target, even though the damage is mediocre. Instead of a Green abiltiy you get a d6 Power, which isn't a great trade, although since it can be any Power, it can be good for snagging any Innate Red ability you like.
You don't need to worry about dice this time, but your ability choices are even more important. You also get a principle from your archetype, so that may influence your decision. Once again, I'll list and rank them all.
- Speedster (5/5): You like mass damage? Have mass damage! As a Green ability, you can attack all enemies with your min and hinder them with your mid--that's a lot of dice you get to apply. And as a Yellow ability, you can do the reverse, which is even better. Do this twice in between enemy turns and you'll take out most if not all of the minions in a scene (since their saves will be penalized). Or you can boost with the Max die as a Green ability and really juice up your attack--plus you might get a free attack if you're lucky. You can also do a mass boost with the Max die. Or, against one big foe, attack with the Max and take a chance on doubles--either hope you get them and attack for more, or attack everything and hope you don't. Every choice is a great one. You could easily make an entire team of Speedsters and it could be incredibly effective.
- Shadow (1/5): A Green and a Yellow Reaction Defend, which are effectively mutually exclusive. Untouchable is probably the better of the two--it's Green and adds an attack, though it uses a smaller die--but the other Yellow ability is terrible. The other Green abilities can be useful in the right situation but aren't likely to do a lot of good most of the time. You can turtle reasonably well but these abilities are of little help completing a scene before the tracker runs out.
- Physical Powerhouse (5/5): Everything here is good. Damage Resistant requires no explanation, and it's the good version that covers both physical and energy damage, plus you might as well take it as your Yellow ability. Max die Green attacks are always handy. Healing yourself when you defeat a minion would be a solid choice on any other ability list, but it's outclassed here (especially since it can't use the same power as your other choices). But the class acts here are Galvanize--which boosts the two most important actions for up to two whole rounds if you time it right--and Frontline Fighting, which can control the actions of any enemy. Normally "choose one of the Green abilities as a Yellow" is worse than getting an actual Yellow, but these are so good that it's perfectly fine.
- Marksman (3/5): A Max+Min persistent boost as Green is amazing, though only if there's one specific target you want to take down; great against a big bad, less great otherwise. Ignoring penalties, Defend, and Reactions is huge against some villains, but dealing only Mid for damage makes it less helpful--plus you can have an interesting interaction where you keep racking up penalties and never using them up, which means that when you finally use a more powerful ability, it'll fail spectacularly. Two boosts using Max and Mid can be very good; give them to an ally with a mass attack to take out lots of minions right out of the gate. Exploding Ammo is iffy; the main reason to get a big die on Overcomes is to avoid having to take twists, and using this just introduces another way to get twists randomly (possibly two of them!). But Ricochet is, if you're lucky, one of the strongest Yellow attacks in the game. Ultimately, Marksman makes for competent support but inconsistent offense.
- Blaster (2/5): A collection of ho-hum abilities. A Green mass attack, but with Min. An attack that ignores penalties, Defend, and Reactions, but with Mid. A good mass Yellow attack, but it deals a lot of irreducible damage to yourself. The best thing here is a Max die attack with a conditional Mid boost as a rider. Nothing here is worth writing home about compared to the alternatives.
- Close Quarters Combatant (1/5): Four choices from a single list, most of which are of the bad Mid+Min variety, or even Min+Min. Only three are okay: one Max die attack, one Mid attack that ignores Defend and Reactions, and Throw Minion (which is good at wasting minions' boosts, although it's more fun than it is practical). Nothing here is good.
- Armored (1/5): You always get the very nice physical+energy damage reduction, but that's about it. Once again you can get the Mid attack that ignores penalties, Defend, and Reactions. An absolutely terrible retaliation attack. And three Mid+Min abilities, although at least one of them is healing, which is hard to come by. You don't get a Yellow at all; instead you can choose a different power to calculate your Health, which can be a nice perk, but if you're min-maxing it's nothing you couldn't manage another way.
- Flyer (4/5): Galvanize by another name is a great ability to start off with. Barrel Roll's usefulness depends on flavor: if you can hover, like a helicopter or a hummingbird, and are always in the air, this is a huge amount of damage reduction, but if you fly like a plane or a falcon and are on the ground a lot, it's less good. You have a couple of options for rolling your Min die and affecting multiple targets, and an attack that lets you tank a bit for a round can be useful. The one thing Flyer lacks is a really good Yellow ability, but all of its Greens are solid choices.
- Elemental Manipulator (4/5): All those power sources I mentioned that would combo well with a self-damaging build? This is what you're looking for. External Combustion is huge if hurting yourself is actually a good thing (and strictly superior to Backlash). The other Greens are pretty bad (why are you using a Green when you're in Red?), and hopefully you took the equivalent of Energy Alignment from a power source, but Damage Spike and Live Dangerously are crazy good. If you have to take Energy Alignment here, this archetype isn't nearly as attractive, and if you don't take it at all it's flat-out awful.
- Robot/Cyborg (1/5): There's a persistent self-boost at Green. Metal Skin is the bad version of damage reduction, only working against physical damage. Living Arsenal is never going to be better than a Max die attack unless you're the luckiest roller in the world. The rest is all bad, especially since you have to take one of these as a Yellow.
- Sorcerer (5/5): Great stuff here! Two Max die greens, one of which has a random rider. A handy Green mass attack. But the real prize is Field of Energy, which is one of the few attacks that can deal Mid damage to any number of targets with no catch.
- Psychic (5/5): So many choices, and most of them amazing! You get Galvanize. You get a reroll. You get a persistent self-boost that isn't exclusive. You get reactions that can throw out free Boosts or Hinders, or Defend yourself. You can create persistent, non-exclusive hinders. You can Overcome with Max+Min with no downside. And you get to pick two of these great Yellows! What's not to love?
- Transporter (1/5): There's a mass attack with Min. You can force an opponent to reroll a good attack, but you take 1 more damage so it could wind up being worse for you. You can tank a bit for a round. The rest is bad. It's all mediocre at best and you don't even get a real Yellow.
- Minion-Maker (N/A): This one's a niche archetype that's hard to evaluate. You aren't making a Minion-Maker to optimize, you're making a Minion-Maker because you want to make some Minions. That said, you get a very nice green persistent non-exclusive boost, which you give to allies (but not yourself). Everything else is minion-specific and can't be compared to other archetypes. Optimizing Minion-Maker could be a whole guide all by itself. I will mention that Construction Focus is usually worse than Summoned Allies, not just because 5 d6 minions is usually better than one d8 minion and one d10 minion (and boosts only make the difference more extreme), but because Minion Formation, Swarm Combat, and to a lesser extent Upgrade Minion and Sacrifice are better with more small minions than fewer big ones.
- Wild Card (5/5): Normally I wouldn't grant a 5/5 for one ability, but Break the 4th is just that good. Uncheck a checked off collection as a Reaction? You could use that to choose the result of one die every time you roll. You could use it to ignore minor twists, which means you could use a Red ability every round. Or you could use it to basically write the whole darn story yourself. If that gets nerfed, or you have zero collections, Wild Card is still fairly good: Surprise Results is very good, Gimmick is all right, Danger! is good but risky (though you can always try a reroll), and Imitation and Turn the Tables can be conditionally valuable.
- Form-Changer (2/5): There are a lot of solid Green "use your Max die" abilities and one great Yellow ability here, but you can't just use them. You have to switch to the form that has it, first, and that takes an action. About the most effective thing you could do is switch to Towering Form at the earliest opportunity, but that basically makes you a Speedster with fewer options but better dice. This archetype is mostly about being thematic.
- Gadgeteer (4/5): You can hand out persistent+exclusive boosts to your allies, which they'll appreciate, or you can cripple strong enemies with persistent+exclusive hinders. You can reroll for 1 Health to help those mods count. Or, if your opponent does the same, you can Turn the Tables on it, which can make it the equivalent of a +6 or +8 mod. Snap Decision is a bizarrely complex ability: you give yourself a large bonus and then promptly use it up--why not just attack with a larger die? And Helpful Analysis will get you killed in a hurry, so use it judiciously if at all.
- Reality Shaper (3/5): Not Quite Right is weak by itself but combos nicely with abilities that care whether you roll doubles--which Reality Shapers can also take. Or you can hand out persistent penalties, or control the turn order. However, note that all the Yellow abilties are Reactions, and while they're okay, you can only use one, and they're all either niche or risky.
- Divided (0/5): You're just not taking Divided if you're optimizing. Having a civilian form is strictly inferior to just being in your powered form all the time.
- Modular (1/5): Modular is weird. It's pretty terrible in Green, since you have to waste an action to switch modes and none of the abilities you get are good (except Improvement, but see below). In Yellow, you can switch modes for free if you're willing to destroy a bonus you made (bye bye, Improvement), but none of the abilities you get are great except Analysis. The Red abilities are pretty good but only one is notably better than other Red abilities you might get: Destroyer. Since Destroyer modifies basic attacks, it's super powerful with other Red abilities that can grant or modify basic attacks, such as Inspiring Totem, Mutable Form, or an ally with Lead By Example. If you lead with Improvement Mode, then switch to Analysis Mode, you can be a pretty good Overcome engine, but there are other ways to go about that (Psychic, for instance).
There are a lot of Red abilities, too many to evaluate individually. Here are some standouts, though:
- Paragon Feat/Canny Awareness: A Max+Min Overcome combined with a mass Boost/Hinder is about as efficient as you can get. A great way to wrap up a challenge quickly.
- Push Your Limits: You have to worry about burning yourself out, but combined with valuable Reactions it's well worth it. Defend Reactions are a great choice, as you'll almost always come out ahead. Otherwise, if you're planning on spamming Reactions, you may want to find a way to heal. A good use of a d6 power.
- Summoned Allies: Absolutely bonkers. Unless your opponent has a mass attack and goes before you can, an instant army is always good. Boosts apply, as always, so that army can be as large as your teammates can help you create. For extra insanity, apply a mass Boost to the minions as well! Another neat trick is to combine the Elemental/Energy variant with Improved Immunity or similar abilities and have the minions attack you. Or create Hinder minions and let loose with a Finishing Blow.
- Give Time: You can hand out extra turns. Use on your most effective ally, though you'll need to watch their health.
- Reliable Aptitude: Rerolling your Min die for free every time you roll will improve your effectiveness radically. Just use it for a Power/Quality that your best abilities are based on.
- Field of Hazards: A fat mass Hinder with no range limits will help you in any fight. And you could get a free mass attack as well!
- Impossible Knowledge: Penalties? What penalties? Especially spiffy if you have an ability that hinders yourself. Another great choice for a d6 power.
- Unload: A huge mass attack, though the risk is non-negligible when you're in Red. Combine with die-adjustment or self-healing abilities to play it safe.
- Endurance Fighting: Use with mass attacks and watch your enemies struggle to keep up. Works with all powers and qualities, so you can unlock this with a d6.
- Inspiring Totem: Any basic action any time you take any ability action. Throw in a basic Attack when you use a powerful single-target attack like Powerful Strike, Take Down, or Unerring Strike to wear down villains in a hurry. Or if you're lucky, check off two Overcome boxes in a single action (note that Principles are ability actions, not basic actions). You can use a d6 to unlock this.
Most of what a Personality does is determine your Status dice. Most Personalities are either d6/d8/d10, d10/d8/d6, or d8/d8/d8. Note that in timed scenes, you'll be in Yellow or Red most of the time, but in untimed, noncombat scenes you'll be in Green most of the time. I'd personally rather be at my best when the chips are down than when there's no particular pressure, so I like d6/d8/d10 best (plus your Red status die contributes to your Health). If your campaign is of the relaxed variety where combat is rare and not particularly challenging, d10/d8/d6 might be better--but in that case, why are you reading an optimization guide?
As for the other personalities: Impulsive isn't usually worth it, you're hurting all your rolls in exchange for improving some of your rolls. Mischievous is only decent if you have no Athletic Powers or Mental Qualities at all. Take Nurturing or Naive if you plan to take a lot of damage and get into Red quickly--a risky but potentially powerful strategy.
Your Personality is when you assign your invented d8 quality. Now's your chance to look at all your powers and abilities and make sure they all can be used easily with the qualities you already gave. If not, invent a new one that can be. It'll be a d8, but that's better than a d4.
Most of the Retcon options are there for if you either did your character creation by the seat of your pants and want to tweak something, or you wanted to create a very specific character concept and couldn't quite do it within the rules. We're assuming neither is true if you've been optimizing the whole way. The two good ones are increasing your Red die size or adding an extra Red ability. You almost always want the Red ability, they're all great, and more options is generally better than a slightly larger die and a couple of Health points. Only take the larger die if you literally have everything you want already.
I won't get into specific ability interactions, we'd be here all day, but here are combinations of Background, Power Source, and Archetype that go well together.
- Tech Upgrades, Artificial Being, Cursed, or Cosmos + Elemental Manipulator: This lets you unleash a powerful attack and heal yourself at the same time. Artificial Being and Cursed even let you choose Element/Energy types you didn't choose as a Power initially, so you can take it for the Elemental Manipulator archetype. Accident + Blaster is a strong alternative: Blaster deals itself irreducible damage, but Accident can get immunity to it anyway.
- Tragic + Supernatural: Tragic gets you an Ideals Principle, which Principle of Great Power is, and two d10's for powers. Supernatural gets you up to three more d10's. This basically lets you use your Principle for any Overcome you care to make, no questions asked, and a broad selection of powers to boot.
- Academic, Interstellar, Created, or Retired + Accident, Cursed, or Extradimensional: I hear you like big dice! Choose a power and a quality you can use together to explain the thing you plan do be doing all the time. You should avoid archetypes that make you choose different powers to use with each of your abilities, namely Blaster, Armored, Sorcerer, and Transporter.
I hope you enjoyed all that and found it useful. Feedback and suggestions are gratefully appreciated. I'll take another look at all this when the finished product comes out.