The long and winding road from Density Control - a S.M.A.S.H. design blog

Published on 3 June 2024 at 14:50

With the revised edition of S.M.A.S.H. coming soon, I thought I'd spend a bit of time making a development blog to talk a bit about some of the new mechanics in the game and explore the design process. At the moment, I've got ideas for three posts, of which this will be the first, but more ideas may hit me in the days to come.

So... Density Control?

As we've played more and more of S.M.A.S.H. we've had more ideas for new power moves that we might need to add. As a general rule, whenever we come up with an idea, we always start with "does the system already handle this?". When it came to thinking about density control - like the powers of Shadowcat and Vision, we realised that we could cover some of the things that this power could achieve, but not all of it. 

An obvious existing power move that did cover it's uses was the various different ways in which a character can gain immunity to physical damage, but we also realised that it should also probably cover some different condition immunities, such as Entangled, and immunity to being pushed around. As a result we established that we should add it in. The next steps were to think about how it should feel, which archetypes should have access to it and in what way, and what it should actually do.

What does it do?

When we started to build this power, we thought that the natural archetype to have this power as its home would be Shapeshifter. The starting point, therefore, was to create them a power called Density Control.


Shapeshifter power moves are usually suites of different, flexible bonuses, often overlapping with other power moves, limited only by global parameters. This meant that we could include things that we had already included in other power moves without worrying about it. However, as their powers are all XPP cost, the core of the power needed to be a flexible bonus that allowed you to spend those PP on different effects. We settled on it providing both a DEF bonus, and a range of different condition immunities. We were then also able to include other binary features as upgrades, such as the ability to fly, to ignore being moved by others' powers, and immunity to physical damage. With this we felt we had a nice suite of effects that represented mechanically what density control could do for a hero.

After we had the basics down for Shapeshifter, we moved on to other archetypes to think about how they would handle density control effects...


Whilst density control doesn't obviously fit with the Blaster archetype, their Energy Form power does perhaps represent a form that might include some form of density control effects. They had access to Harm immunity as an upgrade to Energy Form, so we switched this to a more general condition immunity power and added in some more choices of conditions to become immune to. 


Whilst bricks are perhaps the best archetype when it comes to dealing with conditions and already have access to physical damage immunity, they could do with some immunity to being pushed around, especially as a late-in-the-round push can really knacker up a brick's turn. As a result we added a new Unmoveable upgrade to both Hulking Size and Invulnerability.


For controllers it was fairly simple - we just provided them with the ability to make their thralls immune to conditions with a new upgrade.


As one of two "little bit of everything" archetype, and a highly thematic archetype, we needed to give them their own Density Control power move. We had a big discussion about whether we should have one power for increased density and one for reduced density, but quickly realised that a lot of what you might allow the power to do was largely the same for both: immunity to being moved could be either because you are so insubstantial you can't be held on to, or that you are to heavy to move. The effects that only seemed to fit with one or the other aspect of the power were put on upgrades. The Every-Hero also didn't want to have as many overlapping effects, so some of those effects that can be accessed by other powers (like physical damage immunity) were also included as upgrades.

Martial Artist

We felt that Density control itself didn't really fit with Martial Artist, and they already had their own way to deal with the conditions that was appropriate to them, so we skipped them over.


As the other "little bit of everything" archetype, Mimics needed their own way to copy this effect, but we had already given them a fairly large overhaul to simplify and balance their power moves, so we simply game them a new X-costed power called Condition Immunity so that they can but up the different condition immunities they needed to duplicate


Finally, Speedster was, initially, one that we also felt this wasn't appropriate for. But on examination, we realised that their Phase Shift ability was already an attempt at a pseudo density decrease power. As such we added an upgrade that gave them some condition immunity on top.

Well, if we can do that...

As we were designing the original Shapeshifter power, we realised that we could expand out the options for condition immunities in general within the game. This would allow us to make the very bland condition immunity powers for Mimics and Controllers, but also to allow characters to develop a wider range of condition immunities. 

We already had a a number or archetypes with immunity to Harm, so it was a simple job to consider how we might add in new condition immunities to existing effects. Environmental Adaptation was the obvious choice in Shapeshifter, and between it and their new Density Control power, we were able to cover the full range of negative conditions. This then led us to go back to the other environmental immunity type powers and upgrades and tweak them a little to add in some additional conditions. We didn't want them to be as powerful as Shapeshifters, so they didn't always get the full suite. However, we also needed to therefore add in a new global limit for Shapeshifters, so that they can only gain immunity to a number of different conditions equal to their POW.

A New Condition

As part of this process, we were also able to relook at our conditions. As a result, we replaced Prone with a more general "Slammed", whilst also tweaking its mechanic to make it a bit more fun. A number of power moves also had an effect that dealt additional damage at the start of each turn, often called "lingering". We decided it would be both tidier, and would provide some more interesting options, if these effects were all rolled up into a condition effect. Hence this design process looking into Density Control also gave us a whole new condition and allowed us to expand out options across all of the archetypes.

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