After the too early death of our original Annihilation campaign, Rob decided to start a new cosmic-themed campaign with new characters. Apparently, I have a thing for Nextwave members, since my character choice this time was Machine Man, AKA X-51/Aaron Stack. Machine Man was on my short list for the original Annihilation game but was dropped when Rob suggested that I play a female character in a Marvel game for once.

Much like Tabitha, Machine Man has a peculiar Power setup – one power set and piles of relatively small power dice. The real focus of his datafile is the combination of the SFXs Constructs and Multipower, and the Limit Exhausted (called Swiss-Army Fingers, Multitasking and Needs a Recharge in this particular Datafile). Figuring out how to maximize these isn’t intuitive, but can be highly rewarding once their potential is realized.

This exact SFX/Limit combination is less common than the “One Power Die in One Power Set” that’s seen in Tabitha’s Datafile. The only other character with it is Iceman, found in Civil War: X-Men. These shared traits make some sense. Both characters depend on frequently manipulating items to gain advantages in combat; the surrounding environment in the case of Iceman and his own body in the case of Machine Man. Shut down that ability and they’re in serious trouble. Most of the advice discussed for Machine Man can be applied to Iceman as well.

Machine Man: Assets

A d12 Asset can pretty much be anything.

At the start of an action scene, Machine Man’s highest die in a roll is always going to be a d10. The rest of his dice are going to be limited in size; his specialties are only at Expert (d8) and Multipower will typically only generate either 2d8 (assuming Strength + Durability, if the GM allows that) or 2d6 and d4 (Strength + Durability + one of Speed, Reflexes, Stamina or Stretching).

Machine Man should almost always be using Multipower. I’ve taken to calling this particular style of playing “Rolling Low and Wide”; rolling lots of relatively low sided dice. Getting the most out of Machine Man requires thinking in this mindset; he doesn’t need a high total on two dice because he can get a high total with a bunch of little dice and a stack of plot points. I’d also recommend splitting his Specialty die from d8 to 2d6 to make the pool even bigger, unless that d8 needed for an extra effect die.

This strategy leaves Machine Man incredibly dependent on a d10 Affiliation die early in combat. I’ve been using my first 5XP to switch the Affiliation on characters to d10 Team; Team is the Affiliation most likely to come up in a game. With Constructs giving a +1 bonus, this d10 should be used in the first round of combat to set up a d12 Asset. If the player has a spare plot point sitting around (and they should, since Machine Man will have full powers and the limit Exhausted), they should spend that to make the Asset sticky. Machine Man should always have an Asset up and running. If he doesn’t, use the next turn to set one up. It’s the character’s primary route to getting big dice.

The surplus of d6 and d8 powers aren’t really that useful with Multipower. What they are useful for is potential Plot Points through Exhausted. What does one do with these Plot Points? Inflate the Final Total and buy all the Opportunities. Step up an Asset. Buy a Resource. Buy a Stunt. If all those are covered, turn shut down powers back on. The resulting large die pool means there’s a higher chance of rolling 1s, but that means more plot points to spend.

The best part of this is the potential plot points reset every transition scene! Exhausted is a “cheap” shut-down-for-PP Limit when compared to similar ones such as Gear and Uncontrollable, which are slightly hard to reset. Exhausted just requires taking part in a transition scene to restore lost powers, where Machine Man can insult teammates and gain some XP through his Milestones.

In a narrative sense, this combination of powers and SFX means that Machine Man is going to do damage as the result of lots of little attacks that also have a good chance of going wide and causing collateral damage. This feels about right for Machine Man circa Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., which is what the Datafile is trying to capture. If the Datafile’s bio is taken word-for-word, then it covers up until the end of the Machine Man story in the 2008-2009 run of Marvel Comics Presents. A player will either need to spend XP or rebuild parts of the Datafile to reflect the character from other points in Marvel canon.

Machine Man: Upgrade

Unfortunately, the base Datafile is melee-combat orientated. Getting to this point is going to require a small mountain of XP

For example, the Datafile doesn’t reflect the weapons upgrade that the character gets during his time with Operation: Lightning Storm in Ms Marvel. So, if a player wanted the Machine Man who appeared in Marvel Zombies, they should invest XP into Mimic. To quote the Core book on Mimic: “It may also be used to represent a hero who has no fixed powers but instead spontaneously creates them as the need arises” and that sounds decent for reflecting a walking armory.

The upgrade in the 2012-2013 Red She-Hulk run would additionally require at least d8 Flight instead of d6 and a Vehicle Specialty in Expert. Constructs, on the other hand, would mechanically cover most of Machine Man’s ability to manipulate nearby technology. It also wouldn’t hurt to pick up a power die in Machine Influence.

For the version of the character in the late 1990s comic  X-51: The Machine Man, one could probably plunder Omega Sentinel’s Datafile for a playable version of Sentinel tech and the Sentinel Milestone.

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