Action: None • Range: Personal • Duration: Permanent • Cost: 2 points per rank
You can comprehend different sorts of communication. Each rank in this effect allows you to choose one of the following options:
You can either speak to or comprehend animals. You can ask questions and receive answers, although animals are not any more friendly or cooperative than normal. furthermore, wary and cunning animals are likely to be terse and evasive, while especially stupid ones make inane comments. If an animal is friendly toward you, it may do some favor or service for you. For 2 ranks you can both speak to and understand the “speech” of animals.
You can either speak or understand the language of any intelligent creature. You can speak only one language at a time, although you can comprehend multiple languages at once. This effect does not enable you to speak with creatures that don’t possess a language. For 2 ranks you can both speak and understand all languages. For 3 ranks anyone able to hear you can understand what you’re saying, regardless of language. Being able to also read any language you comprehend requires 1 additional rank.
You can communicate with electronic devices, making inquiries and understanding their replies. This requires two Comprehend ranks. Most are limited by their programming and peripherals in terms of what they “know,” and may not be able to answer some inquiries with anything other than an “unknown” or “not found.” At the GM’s discretion, you can use the Technology skill as an interaction skill when communicating with machines.
You can communicate with inanimate objects, granting them the ability to speak to you or simply “reading” impressions from them. This requires two Comprehend ranks. Objects only “know” about events directly affecting them or occurring in their immediate area. Gamemasters can apply the guidelines for Postcognition to this effect.
You can communicate with plants, both normal plants and plant creatures. This requires two Comprehend ranks. A plant’s sense of its surroundings is limited, so it won’t be able to give (or recognize) detailed descriptions or answer questions about events outside its immediate vicinity.
You can communicate with incorporeal and normally invisible and inaudible spirit beings, such as ghosts or certain extradimensional entities, depending on the context of the setting. Rank 1 essentially allows you to function as a “medium” of sorts, able to perceive spirits and relay what you see and hear. Rank 2 allows you to be clearly under-stood by denizens of the spirit world, as well. At the GM’s discretion, this effect may extend to undead creatures, demons, or other supernatural entities, depending on the setting.
- Type: You can only comprehend a broad type of subject (only elves, canines, avians, or sea creatures, for example). For an additional flaw, you can only comprehend a narrow type of subject (dogs, falcons, or dolphins, for example). Broad –1 cost per rank. Narrow –2 cost per rank.
Comprehend, the power to communicate. ...wait
Jokes aside Comprehend as an effect grants the power to communicate with something or someone you would not normally have the ability to. This power can range from useless to story breaking under the right circumstances to a way to ruin an entire type of gameplay forever if allowed. The effect is rather simple and straightforward this time, with little nuance to it's rules to play with. You pay a few points and you can go up to talk to plants, or dogs, or ask the villains computer what his search history looks like. At first glance this is a ...not entirely
useless fluff power as it also opens up a lot of options that normally wouldn't be there and probably weren't just seeds planted by the GM to make your point investment not seem so pointless. At least in most cases. It only really becomes a nuisance when either the GM forgets you have it when trying to hide information (the old classic of asking the victim who killed him) or the GM has to plan around this ability in such a way that makes the power feel worthless (The murder took place in a ghost free zone, the first one you've ever encountered!).
The Power is divided into several distinct options to choose from each with their pre-defined rank requirements and interpretations.
Animal: Requires 2 ranks to both speak to and understand animals, by RAW it's only purchased at 2 ranks rather than one rank for each. A 4 point investment normally to simply talk to animals as the power doesn't actually make the creatures any more receptive. The effect even recommends to the GM that they make most animals very unhelpful as well, either being too stupid or being entirely unwilling. This wouldn't have been so bad if the effect itself wasn't 4 points, the cost equivalent of turning invisible or seeing into the future or past. Just use Animal Empathy. Sure that sounds like a joke but it functions pretty much identically in most situations for a quarter of the price.
Animal as an option is fairly useful, one of the better picks actually. It's both ...moderately
functional and offers good fluff you can't get entirely through other cheaper options. Even Animal Empathy doesn't allow full communication between the PC and animal making it more limited in sharing or gathering information. You can somewhat reliably get otherwise hidden information from animals or convince them to do useful things for you if you're persuasive enough. It offers the GM some fairly believable leeway in that they can keep animals out of places with important secrets or have them not be able to give too much away for various reasons like a lack of understanding of complex things or being shooed away during investigations or otherwise falling prey to something related to their animal nature rendering them believably unhelpful.
Languages: Requires 3 ranks, one each to speak, understand, and Read/Write in all languages. Technically cheaper than buying up ranks of language but practically it's about as expensive with very little benefit. Information about Languages is found in the Advantage section of the SRD and is rather eye opening. For one it outright admits that language barriers are something that would only ever come up if the GM deliberately wants to keep information from the group, making the power worthless as in that case the GM will likely come up with another gate as Language isn't really a thing comes up outside the rare MnM module. It tells the GM to just throw the owner of a language some pity for their purchase by giving them the occasional scene to show off they can speak another language which would never come up otherwise if you spent that point on something else.
A bit of a digression but this is something I feel is a general problem in MnM and one I rarely see anyone actually talk about, since when people do they just get called Min-Maxers or power gamers. The problem is that the game seems to charge a lot for fluff while still making powerful and general or even functionally identical abilities rather cheap and making it easy to compare the two in a cost/benefit analysis. Since the game is Effects based it is a valid argument to ask "Why can't I build it as this and describe it as that when the outcome of both is the same?" where the answer tends to be be "Because that's cheaper therefore you're a min-maxer!". In this case Languages, at least in small amounts, feel like they should really just be a given in some situations. It feels wrong to charge for very minor things that will likely never come up as really beneficial with out a lot of impractical set up. The latino hero shouldn't have to waste that extra point on the Spanish Language, Captain Sparkles shouldn't need to spend a point to constantly shed glitter, and Gross Out shouldn't be forced to shell out because you'd thought it'd be funny to say he can fart the alphabet.
The Language Comprehend power is admittedly more useful, being a collection of enough overly situational benefits to be somewhat commonly applicable, but not by enough to justify it's rather hefty Price Tag of 6 points. As a point of reference 6 points in the Language Advantage is 32 languages which given most people can't even name
more than a dozen that's incredible over kill.
there are some situations where having mastery of all languages would be useful. A "World Tour" sort of campaign would realistically necessitate multiple languages be spoken in order to communicate with the locals. However this sort of falls apart in a fictional setting, as in comics, cartoons, and really most media, language barriers are just ignored and forgotten for convenience. Apparently everyone on earth is fluent in english, or in a fantasy setting there's a common tongue that 99% of the population share. A universal Translator is also a useful sort of power in a Galactic/space travel game, but is often something that's also just handwaved as a mater of course, as either everyone already just has one installed in their space suit by default or the setting just follows the common sci-fi trope of aliens all knowing english even on random planets that have never been in contact with the rest of the universe.
One of the more useless selections, it requires a higher investment to get something that is often just given for free. It doesn't even offer the same sort of extras as the other Comprehend options, which let you influence things you probably wouldn't normally be able to interact with and gather information from unique sources. Where the rest expand your options, this one just unlocks something that was blocked just to force you to buy this power.
Machines: Requires 2 ranks to both understand and speak to machines. Like Animal RAW simply just lists as 2 ranks to both but doesn't state you can buy one rank rank for each. This is another option that can either be very powerful or uselessly redundant depending on the GM and setting. Obviously part of that depends on how common tech is, being much more useful in a scifi setting than a fantasy one, so we'll ignore angles like that to focus on more general applications. Machine communication is inherently limited by the Machine's ability to perceive the world and simple understanding. It can only really give information about what has been inputted to it, or in looser settings about the experience of it's peripherals like some amount of additional knowledge about who has been using it even if it may not have any equipment that would be able to have witnessed it. Technology is also noted to allow Technology checks instead of interaction skills to communicate if the GM allows it, likening the power to hacking.
Machines are distinct from Objects, though the book does not go into explaining the difference and just how simple a machine can be while still being under the umbrella of this power option. Presumably this effect is almost exclusively for Electronics and Computers however technically anything from simple levers and and any object with multiple moving parts could count. While it sounds cheesy to wonder if this power could let you talk to your scissors it's a bit less so to question if something like a Steam-punk robot without any electronic circuitry would be applicable. It's at the GM's discretion where the line falls, and depends on how the power is described. Some things are logical and obvious, others less so. In general it is often just notably complicated mechanical or electronic devices, more often than not it's just electronics and computers.
An interesting, if often overlooked, detail about the Machine option is that it doesn't actually specify how
you communicate with the target. Presumably you can only speak with them through a sense they can detect and "speak" with but given that other options don't require this sort of limitation you could also just ignore it here for the sake of fairness. What this means is that while the perception of how this effect usually works is likely similar to hacking, where you touch or plug into a device you could instead just talk to it like you would anything else with the other options. Likewise it means that you could also receive back the information you seek through some similar method, like a beep or such from a distance. This gives it an actual advantage over simply just purely using the Technology skill to hack the object in the more traditional method.
As for uses of this power, there's many but nearly all of them are simply just using this power to facilitate hacking in some form or another. Talking to a device to get the info from it or make it stop working for example. Communicating with a central computer to get into the camera's and recording devices. Disabling kill bots with logic bombs or other exploits in their AI. You could use this as a substitute for Technology skill by "hacking" with just interaction skills and doing things like bluffing the robots or disguising your voice to get into the voice recognition locked room but that is awfully specific.
Overall one of the best options for Communication. It does have the weakness of having a lot of overlap with the Hacking skill but offers it's own advantages if one uses it creatively. It also unfortunately overlaps a bit too much with Objects, making it seem a bit more like a limited subset of it though Objects as an option is rather broad. It's niche, but useful most of the time.
Objects: Uniquely you can only really Understand objects without being able to speak to them. I assume this is because the thought process was that objects would not be able to follow any orders or act on their own and the Machine option would handle objects capable of actions. The option however still requires 2 ranks of investment. The use is described as either them speaking to you or you simply just "reading" them to get the information. They are only aware of events that involve them (in other actions they have been used for and actions that have been done to them) as well as events that occurred in their immediate vicinity.
Objects is a very broad category that could and often does overlap and supersede both Machine and Plant communication. It is also one of the more powerful and game-breaking powers, instantly capable of making an entire style of play impossible in a way that's very hard to counter. With the ability to gather information from any object about all events that happened in a given area, or near it if the object is portable, Object Comprehension is just Post-Cognition by another name. The book even admits as much, saying to treat it similar to the Post Cog sense. In any campaign that requires gathering information this power becomes very overpowered, with the only limiting factor being the need to be at the location or have access to an object at the location. Unlike with other comprehend options, when it comes to countering this there's no easy solution. You can't really remove all objects from an area since the area itself could just be considered another object to interact with (I ask the floor who killed the guy for example.) There's some workarounds, moving evidence, disguised purps, but it over complicates things and can strain SoD for this to happen with any frequency unless the PC's power is known.
While the power makes a nightmare out of planning investigations, as a single instance of failure to account for countering the ability causes the whole mystery collapse, the power is really only good for investigations. It exclusively gathers information and nothing else, so those taking this power are often those looking to make some sort of supernatural investigator of some kind. For those who aren't, it could lead to issues, especially if another player is the investigator as it this power can quickly invalidate them. The power is best given an inherit limit, similar to Variable, as it can easily become too good at what it does if left too open ended.
Like with Machine, while the common image of Object Comprehension would normally be done with physical interaction there's nothing that prevents the user from simply treating it like normal communication and just simply holding a seemingly one-sided conversation with some random item. It doesn't go into detail as to what an object can do, again it's likely the designers seemed to split up Objects between normal Objects that cannot ever act in Objects and any Construct that can take actions as Machines, but if the GM allows it simple machines could possibly be capable of activating themselves or altering their functionality. Though I suppose this is against RAW as the description of the power indicates that Object Comprehension is strictly one way. This could be a good way to supplement the power if the GM plans on limiting it's intelligence gathering potential in some way, using the power to set up traps or sabotage non-electronic devices like telling lock to not open or convincing a toaster to burn secret messages into bread to communicate in secret.
Plants: Another 2 rank requirement, it allows you to talk to plants. Like the previous option Plants are only aware of things in their immediate vicinity though is appears to have a more limited ability to perceive the world for no real reason. The language here is a little different from Object as it implies the plants can communicate back, answering questions and such though this hardly leads to much additional benefit.
Plant Comprehension is probably the least useful effect option of the list. Plants are immobile, not common enough in the more traditional urban setting to make up for it, and can't really do much if asked. It comes off as a much more limited version of the Object option but for the same cost. The only real way to make up for it is to cheese what Plants may be able to do, such as giving the plant the ability act in some way which is something best left to other powers since in most situations this would equate to making it attack in some form like doing tangling vines or releasing poison spores.
Spirits: It has 2 ranks, but unlike other options this one does explicitly point out that you can buy them separately instead of packaging them together. The language used in the book can be a bit confusing, but in effect it's the similar to the others. One option lets you "understand" spirits and the other lets them understand you. From the way it's portrayed it functions a bit differently even if the outcome is the same, as the "Understand" option works by letting the user simply perceive spirits but the spirits apparently are unaware of them while the second allows them to directly talk to the spirits allowing them to perceive the user. The book is rather vague and unhelpful in clarifying what this actually entails, using even more confusing wording such as referring to the ability to understand spirits as being a medium which would normally still just be someone who can do both or is possessed by the spirit to let it communicate through them.
From the context clues we can sort of piece together the general limits of the power. Spirits seem to not truly be aware of the normal world, why is not really answered. Are they in a different plane and you're listening in on their whispers or seeing fleeting glimpses of them in the afterlife? Are they restless spirits that just normally don't pay attention to the real world? Are they Fae who don't really just don't comprehend humans and language? Depending on how this power is interpreted and what it applies to, and how the thing it works on functions some or all of this power can be rendered pointless as part of it is given. Spirits could just ghosts floating about and perfectly capable of understanding and perceiving the real world and just incapable of talking to people due to being permanently concealed(if even that). On the opposite side of the spectrum it could be poltergeists that are perfectly capable of broadcasting their message but don't or maybe just won't
listen to those without a rank of comprehend spirits.
Spirits is potentially one of the most generally useful comprehend options. Granting access to undetectable, unblockable spies or useful minions. However in practice this doesn't often happen as the more often then not the more capable and independent a spirit is the less the Comprehend ability is needed. If the type of "Spirit" is treated as broad, like the book says a GM could allow, more options open up to allow the ability to communicate and potentially disarm offensive threats such as undead and demons but this is rather niche.
Comprehend, What can be done?
There's many little tricks to how to use Comprehend, however most of them are very dependent to how the GM interprets the power and more so how the target is allowed to react. Convincing the target to help you is always a fun one, and probably the most straight-forward. Getting the favor of an animal, hacking a computer/robot to do something at a specific trigger, convincing objects to perform or not to perform a task, asking a ghost to gather information for you.
Often the power is treated as a means to an end instead of a roleplay tool, something this can easily facilitate. A GM can use the power to feed information to players without needing them to ask, which could be a good gateway if they are having trouble with PC's breaking mysteries by simply preventing most troublesome active uses while still feeding useful information passively so the power doesn't feel too useless. They quite literally heard a bit of important gossip from a little birdy. It could also be used to sprinkle a little flavor into descriptions, Object Comprehension letting the user know the villains' knife has been used to kill hundreds of people to make them look deadlier for example.
Inanimate objects can be allowed to act in some manner that normally wouldn't be possible. Doors locking themselves on command, plants quickly growing fruit out of season if asked, convincing a target's phone to always dial you into all it's user's calls. In extreme cases it could make the inanimate object effectively a construct, uplifting them and doing things like bringing a toy soldier to life so it can watch and guard a door, or having a tree raise roots to trip enemies.
These things can be given their own personalities, fleshing them out a bit. They don't need to be full characters in their own right but creative interpretation of the concept can be a fun way to add spice to a seemingly dull power like this. Hearing from loyal pets and hearing how some objects view being used to perform their intended purpose, or even just going full "Brave Little Toaster".
Still a lot of this is reaching, and for most GM's it's unlikely to be bothered with. Shut down for what it allows or what it requires of them.
Comprehend, What's so Bad About It?
The power comes across as fairly half baked and made without much care. The point costs aren't really balanced to the power's usefulness even internally. The options aren't really fleshed out. The way ranks are handled is rather baffling, with all the options requiring 2 ranks for some reason. But probably the worst of all is a problem that crops up in a few other effects.
Comprehend isn't open ended. Oh sure you can add descriptors to how you communicate with things, or creatively interpret what certain things belong to which categories, but in the end there's only a limited number of categories of things you can communicate with and no given option to add to it. It tries to leave the categories open ended enough that you could fit everything into one of them but in the end kind of fails. Even if it succeeded one would have to ask why bother with the predefined categories?
A sad fact is that the more useful the ability to communicate with something would be the less likely the PCs are to need to invest in the power as the GM will likely handwave away the issue. If ghosts are a major part of the universe then the more likely it is that they can just inherently speak with the PCs and be spoken back to. If you're going to be going around the world or galaxy, all the PCs will either have a universal translator just given to them or else everyone just speaks English. If there's a sapient robot or computer then odds are it is capable of listening and talking back on a PA system or has a screen and key board that you can use.
Overall, the power seems pointless. Sure it fits a specific niche but not really in a way that really adds anything new enough to deserve to be it's own power. It feels like it could have been an option that could have just been rolled into the Sense effect. One point to Comprehend something, a second to have the ability to communicate back.
Comprehend, how it can be improved?
If I had to redesign the power, and couldn't just roll it into Sense, I'd probably remove the predefined categories. They all function similarly as is, where they cost 2 ranks, one presumably lets you understand and the other lets you be understood. The pricing would also be changed.
It'd be 1pp per rank for a relatively broad version of each of the earlier categories. Like terrestrial creatures, covering most if not all animals above ground. Comprehend Electronics, Comprehend Ghosts, Comprehend Fae, Comprehend mundane languages and such would fall under the category. There'd be an extra to make it more broad for an extra point per rank. There'd be 2 ranks, one to understand and another to be understood.
In the end it's just be a simplification of what's already there, removing the needlessly added predefined categories and their weird limitations.