Links for reference in this post:
So, Daniel recently reposted his thoughts in response to my Bandwidth idea from December last year, and it’s gotten some interest stirred up on Twitter and his blog. Daniel’s 5×5 notion is solid, but it also cleaves close to the kind of design he prefers: interesting word-game mechanics which build towards the collaborative creation of a story. My angle is usually much more inhabit-a-character oriented and as such Dan’s designs — while good! — aren’t always in the pocket for me in terms of the designs I personally want to play. 
As a designer, I’m more interested in creating interesting dynamics of choice and tension through the numerical operation of the game mechanics, and THEN fitting theme and story to that. Bandwidth comes from the other direction, however, by saying “here’s some general themestuff and a setting concept” and then looking for system pieces that fit that. So as I back-of-the-brain tinker with this concept, I discard a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit the mechanical motifs that I find interesting. It’s a process of finding the Venn overlap between my system preferences and the setting conceit. At present, here’s what’s left after that vigorous flensing.
So here are words and phrases from the theme (radio broadcast superpowers) which I find interesting and which I think can be tied into system:
- 5×5 – Strength and Clarity
Here’s how I’d systemize these concepts for something interesting-to-me.
Tuners (or Receivers), the folks who gain powers by listening to the right signals, list the various signals they can pick up on their character sheets. They’ll rate these in terms of maximums — how much signal power they can handle (Strength) and how clear of a signal they can manage to achieve (Clarity) with their natural equipment. Strength will correspond to the magnitude of the effect the power can have, while clarity will correspond to how finely controlled that power can be utilized. Maybe the system will value clarity more than strength, if there’s a point-buy gig going on here, making it cost, say, 3 points per point of clarity but only 2 points per point of strength. 
Six sided dice, maybe as few as two (and definitely no fewer) get rolled when resolving an action. The goal is to get two numbers, each equal to or less than the strength & clarity numbers the character has for that signal, hopefully exactly equal so the character performs at peak ability. (Stay with me here.)
The player rolls the d6es and allocates two numbers from the results, one to strength, one to clarity. The more clarity (beneath or at your maximum), the more control you can exercise over the effect, the more delicate, the more complex. The more strength (beneath or at your maximum), the more power output you can achieve, covering a wider area, a more potent hit, etc.
If you can’t allocate a number that’s less than or equal to your target strength, that creates distortion, like what happens when you try to play something too loud through speakers that can’t handle it. In the game, distortion is a measure of unintended side-effects — extra bits of power that spew out the sides of your ability, increasing the level of (unintended/undesired) property damage and bystander casualty for example, or changing the nature of your power (it doesn’t sound the same!) in this instance.
If you can’t allocate a number that’s less than or equal your target clarity, that creates static; static builds up over time and (perhaps) reduces the number of dice you can subsequently roll, until you get a chance to squelch it. In play this may feel a bit like hit points: if you can’t roll at least 2 dice because of the static penalties you’ve accumulated, you aren’t receiving any signals. You’re jammed.
Even when generating static or distortion, generally your character successfully does something — assume that your power operates at its max level in something you can’t allocate, it just has some nasty side-effects, so long as you’re not allocating a 6. If you can only allocate a six to something, that should be a significant screw-up.
Let’s talk a few scenarios.
I’m playing a Human Torch type dude, someone who can dial in a lot of pyrokinetic power (Strength 4) and is at least middling good at mastering it (Clarity 3). Let’s say the default number of dice I might be rolling at the moment is 4 d6es (the number rolled needs to be examined but the idea isn’t far enough along yet to be sure of the ideal quantity).
Case 1: I roll 6, 5, 4, 2. I need to allocate that 2 to my Clarity, and that 4 to my Strength, to get close to ideal: I don’t have my ideal level of finesse with how I use the power this time around, but I am able to dish it out at my maximum power level (4). So maybe this is a quick-from-the-hip burst of flame tossed at my target: it burns what it should burn, but it’s not as selective or well-targeted as it could be . Or maybe I could decide I’m willing to take a burst of static in order to get the higher clarity result, allocate the 4 to my Clarity (it’s over my 3, so I get a 3 clarity result) and the 2 to my Strength (I didn’t need that much power in order to pull off the effect I’m going for).
Case 2: I roll 6, 5, 5, 3. I go for 3 clarity, and 5 strength, over my 4, which gets me some distortion. Bam! I fry the target, but (distortion) I fry it a little too good and a fire begins to spread. Or maybe instead (distortion) I throw my flames at the target but it comes out as more light than heat — I overload its optic sensors, but I don’t do lasting structural damage.
Case 3: I roll 6, 5, 5, 4. I can’t allocate any proper number to my clarity, but the 4 hits the target for my strength, so I put that there (I don’t want any distortion). This does mean I end up with one or more points of static (do I have to allocate a 5, and subtract my 3 clarity rating, to take 2 static? or do I just call this a burst of static and make a single tick mark?), which will reduce my subsequent die pool. But I get a clarity 3 effect and maximum power, and grit my teeth through the painful static.
Case 4: After taking some static I end up rolling only 2 dice. I get a 6, 3, and now the pain really sets in. First off, I have to allocate a 6, and if it’s clarity then there’s a complete lack of control, a true miss; if it’s strength, then I simply have no juice, a straight up fizzle. Where I put the six matters more than color, though. If it’s strength, then I’m looking at distortion, pure distortion as my power runs away with itself and does something really unintended. If it’s clarity, then I take static again, which would take my die pool down to 1 die — removing me from the fight as I get jammed. It’s likely I’ll choose the distortion, but what if my Aunt Mae is in the crowd?
So that’s the rough draft start of the direction I’d take the idea into system. It likely has some deep flaws to it, but it’s a start, and the dice allocation and shrinking pool elements mean I get the effects I’m looking for in a design: tension as the pool shrinks due to static , and interesting choices as the player decides how to allocate his numbers.
 Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s something interesting in the word-game ideas that Dan has, but I also find myself squinting a bit when a sentence like “I kill you” is easier to build than “I kill your dog”. Yes, I’m oversimplifying his ideas here, but hopefully you get my point. [back]
 So, the Hulk’s superstrength signal might be high strength, low clarity — not a lot of control but a hell of a lot of power. Dazzler’s lightshow ability might be low strength, high clarity — a lot of finesse in using the power, but not a ton of punch. Magneto would be a classic 5×5 guy, tons of power and a lot of deliberate versatility in its use. [back]
 I’m imagining the existence of tables for both Strength and Clarity that give examples of what a use at levels 1 through 5 of each might look like. Today, I’m handwaving it a bit. Bear with me. [back]
 “Interference” is probably a term I’d use to describe static that’s inflicted upon you by others. Maybe that points at a “contested roll” situation where the strengths and clarities generated are compared to one another as you try your Superstrength signal against my Forcefield one. Other axises may exist on the character sheet as well for each signal, such as a Bandwidth rating that suggests how broadly your power can be applied — Telekinesis being potentially much broader than Heat Vision, thus being a greater bandwidth power. That kind of thing. [back]