Friday, February 20, 2015

The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem Kickstarter and Interview

There's a new adventure module being Kickstarted that fans of Lamentations of the Flame Princess (and other OSR games) should look into: The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem by Red Moon Medicine Show. The 24-page module is already written and (with backing) will sport artwork and cartography (with keyed locations). The setting seems to fall into the weird-fantasy/Gothic variety and you can check out the background story on the Kickstarter page.

At the time of this writing, the project has just shy of two weeks left and is on the verge of funding. Which, for adventure modules, is quite good. It's easy to see why it's doing well in a quick run-down of the Kickstarter page (as I like to do): the video is interesting -- the information it does present is all visual and gives a glimpse of what you (or your party) may be in for; key information is bold and easy to notice -- it's easy to skim the page and learn everything quickly; the funding goal is very reasonable; and there are a good spread of pledge levels -- including some that are very easy to get in on. Also, the image that the title is on is pretty sweet.

As an added bonus I had the chance to ask Clint Krause (of Red Moon Medicine Show) some questions about The Stygian Garden and its Kickstarter:

Dorkland!: This is at least your second Kickstarter. What did you learn from the first project that you've applied to this one?

Clint Krause: When we did the Kickstarter for Don’t Walk in Winter Wood, there was still a lot of creative work to be done once the project had funded. For example, we added a bunch of scenarios and other stuff as stretch goals. I found that I had a very hard time working creatively under the pressure of a fully funded campaign. My normal writing process is very slow and plodding with lots of tinkering and revision and re-imagining. The pressure created by our success made it very difficult to write that extra stuff. It came out okay (actually, one of those bonus scenarios has become my favorite scenario for the game), but I definitely learned a lesson. When we do a Kickstarter now, it’s important to me that all of the major creative work is done and all that remains is finishing work. It’s much less stressful that way.

DL!: This Kickstarter project is a little different from most in that the bulk of the material is already finished (sans art and maps) and there are no stretch goals. Why go this route? What are the benefits for you and for the backers?

CK: This ties into the previous question, but the idea is that this is essentially just a pre-order for the book. By now, everybody who uses Kickstarter has probably been burned by some unscrupulous creator and I don’t want that to ever happen with our projects. I want to deliver and do it in a timely way. Delays are inevitable, but it helps tremendously if the lion’s share of the work is already done.

We didn’t do stretch goals for this project because we didn’t need them. Kickstarter is a very flexible tool and there’s no need for every single project to be a big fucking cash grab. It can also be a very focused in-and-out sort of thing. That’s what we’re going for.

DL!: Are the print copies going to be print-on-demand or from a print run and why that choice, for you, over the other?

CK: The print copies will be POD through Lightning Source/OBS. We’re doing fulfillment ourselves though (even though it’s more expensive that way). Cas and I have learned that we really like doing fulfillment on our projects. It lets us add a personal touch to the packages and make sure that our backers get a premium experience. After the backer copies are all distributed, the book will become available POD on drivethrurpg/rpgnow.

Right now POD works best for us on most projects. We don’t generally have the volume of sales that would justify large print runs. If I were to do a run of something, it would be because I wanted to do something specific with the physical book that I could not do through POD.

DL!: What are some of the inspirations that went into the adventure module?

CK: I was inspired to get into OSR publishing by The Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine by Logan Knight and Deep Carbon Observatory by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess. After reading those, I felt like I could really have some fun with a project like this.

The Stygian Garden was inspired by a bunch of different things. My first thought was that it would be cool to do something like an underground version of the Winchester Mystery House. I was also thinking of Bothwell Lodge near Sedalia, Missouri, which I visited many times as a kid. 

I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection between extreme wealth and fringe spirituality. There’s this great quote from the architect Robert Stacy-Judd. He said "architecture consists of frozen symbols, which can be thawed into a palatable language where measures and motifs are words and sentences."  When those frozen symbols are inspired by an eccentric viewpoint on the supernatural, the resulting “words and sentences” often tell an interesting, unnerving story.

The module also owes a debt to classics like X2 Castle Amber and House of Strahd. The song Unforgiven II by Metallica provided some imagery. The films As Above, So Below and The Taking of Deborah Logan were fresh on my mind at the time.

DL!: The adventure is for OSR titles of all natures, but you specifically mention Lamentations of the Flame Princess. How does this adventure fit with what Lamentations is about?

CK: Well, first of all LotFP is the game I’m running on a regular basis. The module is taken directly from my campaign. I think LotFP is a wonderful articulation of the classic game. As a brand, LotFP has set a precedent for creepy, atmospheric, location-based modules. The Stygian Garden harkens back to James Raggi’s earlier modules like Death Frost Doom and Hammers of the God. There are still traditional fantasy elements (elves and dwarves and stuff), but they are set loose in an eerie, dangerous environment.  It ends up playing like a slow burn horror film.

DL!: There seems to be a horticultural theme (going by the background and, well, the name) in the adventure. Why is that? What kind of role does it play in the adventure, if any?

CK: Plant-based imagery is wonderful to work with. Plants are creepy in that they are so prevalent yet so alien and they eat us when we die. These things are tied deeply into our subconscious. The module also features a number of valuable and useful plants that can be recovered by crafty adventurers. This led my players to start their own unusual garden.

DL!: Lastly, if you were to stumble across a Stygian Rose -- what would you do with it?

CK: Cas told me I should have it studied and duplicated so it could benefit a lot of people, but I wouldn’t be that forward thinking. I would probably put it in a safe and keep it until someone close to me died. Then, at the funeral, I’d leap onto the coffin while shouting “wait for it! wait for it!” and shove the thing in the cadaver’s mouth. Hopefully, the stories about the rose are true and it’d be one hell of a magic trick.

We here at Dorkland! would like to thank Clint for taking the time to answer our questions and if you would like to know more about The Stygian Garden be sure to check out its Kickstarter (still running) and Red Moon Medicine Show's website.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Dynamite Comics Mega Post

There have been a lot of announcements this week coming from Dynamite Entertainment about upcoming comics. There's a lot of cool stuff coming, so let's do a quick breakdown.

Dynamite Entertainment is proud to announce the May 2015 launch of Swords of Sorrow, the genre-spanning crossover event featuring an all-star line-up of female authors, headlined by Gail Simone (Batgirl, Birds of Prey).  Debuting with a core Swords of Sorrow series by Simone, the crossover continues throughout May with tie-in titles including the Swords of Sorrow: Vampirella / Jennifer Blood miniseries written by Nancy A. Collins (Vampirella, Swamp Thing); the Swords of Sorrow: Chaos special by Mairghread Scott (Transformers: Windblade); and the Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade / Kato special by G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel) and Erica Schultz (M3). Subsequent months will debut related projects by additional female authors, including Leah Moore, Marguerite Bennett, Emma Beeby, and Mikki Kendall. The crossover event brings together Dynamite's wide roster of female characters, including the iconic Red Sonja, Dejah Thoris (of the popular Edgar Rice Burroughs' Warlord of Mars franchise), and Vampirella.

Gail Simone, who has been planning the project since her involvement was announced in July, says, "Here's the thing: I love pulp adventure, always have. But as male-dominated as comics have often been, the pulp adventure world seems to be even more so.  Most of the big name stars and creators are dudes, and that's fine, it's great. But it hit me... what if that wasn't the case? What if adventure pulps had also been written with female readers in mind, and awesome female characters in the spotlight? That's the scenario we are imagining, and it's just been a blast. The key players are Red Sonja, Vampirella, and Dejah Thoris, but it's such an epic-spanning, world-hopping event that we also have Kato, Jungle Girl, Lady Rawhide, Jennifer Blood, and so many more. It's the crossover I dreamed of when I was a kid, and now we get to make it happen."

Simone's core Swords of Sorrow story serves as the starting point for a new universe of pulp adventure. Illustrated by Sergio Davila (Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure), the series features the supernatural heroine Vampirella, Martian princess Dejah Thoris, crimson-tressed swordswoman Red Sonja, martial artist Kato (from filmmaker Kevin Smith's reboot of The Green Hornet), primal warrior Jungle Girl, and many more. Drawn from a dozen worlds and eras to face off against a legendary evil that threatens their homelands, Dynamite's fiercest females must overcome their differences to harness the power of mystical blades -- the eponymous Swords of Sorrow -- in final conflict.

Gail Simone also serves as the architect for all storylines tied into the event, providing direction to her personally selected team of writers. "We got the best writers around, gave them a fun combination of characters and just let them go wild," says Simone. "It's creators like G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Nancy A. Collins and more, with book titles like Vampirella vs. Jennifer Blood, Kato vs. Masquerade, and Red Sonja vs. Jungle Girl. More about these tag teams will be coming soon, but it's just a ridiculous amount of fun to set these characters against each other, and I'm very proud of the astounding team of writers, who I hand-picked from among the very best of new female adventure writers. There's never been a crossover event in comics like this, ever."

Dynamite Entertainment, a leading publisher in the comics and graphic novel industry, is proud to announce that the all-new adventures featuring Will Eisner's legendary crimefighter Denny Colt, The Spirit, will be written by the award-winning comic creator Matt Wagner. Marking the beginning of a partnership between Dynamite and the Eisner Estate, the new series will celebrate seventy-five years of The Spirit, and its #1 launch issue will feature cover artwork from all-star illustrators Alex Ross, Eric Powell, and series writer Matt Wagner himself.

The Spirit stands among the most iconic and influential characters in the industry with a publishing history in newspapers and comic books lasting generations.  Many of the most accomplished creators in the field have carried the torch that Will Eisner set ablaze, including Darwyn Cooke, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, and Joe R. Lansdale, just to name a few. Matt Wagner, whose long career in comics has yielded a vast library of critically acclaimed titles, takes the reins on The Spirit for the very first time, ensuring that Eisner's creation endures as we enter its fourth quarter-century.

"I discovered The Spirit via the black-and-white, magazine-sized reprints of the mid-70s. It was the first time that I truly perceived sequential narrative as a legitimate art form, of the immense creative power of a comic-artist in his prime," says Wagner. "I can honestly say that seeing and experiencing The Spirit in my formative years ultimately led to my career as a comics author. It's such an immense thrill and a professional honor to have the chance to contribute to Will Eisner's legacy on the milestone 75th anniversary of his most influential and iconic character."

Matt Wagner is the accomplished creator of Grendel and Mage, a guiding creative force behind such mainstream blockbusters as Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity and Batman: The Monster Men, and no stranger to pulp noir, courtesy of his groundbreaking work on such Dynamite titles as The Shadow: Year One, Green Hornet: Year One, and Zorro. He recently set Hollywood abuzz with the launch of Django/Zorro, a comic book series co-written with influential filmmaker Quentin Tarantino that teams two Western icons in an official sequel to the hit film Django Unchained.

Dynamite Entertainment is proud to announce that Mark Waid, one of the comic book industry's most accomplished writers, will be scripting the upcoming Justice, Inc.: The Avenger series. Joined by Dynamite artist Ronilson Freire, Waid will expand the Justice, Inc. universe of pulp heroes that include Condé Nast's The Shadow and Doc Savage. The new series will debut with a #1 issue in June 2015 and focus on wealthy industrialist Richard Henry Benson, the tragic, relentless vigilante and master of disguise known as The Avenger.

In Justice, Inc.: The Avenger #1, Waid and Freire continue the adventures of Richard Henry Benson, a victim of a criminal attack that left his facial features forever deadened, gray in color and incapable of showing genuine emotion. And yet, the harsh stroke of fate gave him the ability to mold his face to match the appearance of anyone... a skill he could employ as the ultimate master of disguise. Driven to mete out retribution against those who would prey on the innocent, The Avenger finds himself on a collision course with a villain even more secretive, brutal, and unrelenting than himself: an Invisible Man.

Mark Waid's participation in the Avenger launch fulfills a longtime writing goal; he says, "Moreso than The Shadow, moreso than Doc Savage, the Avenger has always, always been my favorite pulp hero, and I've been aching to write this story since I was eleven years old. What a blast! Having the opportunity to dive into the psyche of a crimefighter as unique as Benson has been a lifelong dream -- I've been thinking about what his life and mind would be like ever since I read my first Avenger paperback back in the day. How does a man live his life when he has nothing to live for but justice? How does he navigate in a world of life and love and joy when his own features are frozen and stiff like putty, mirroring his cold, dead insides? There's so much here to unpack."

With over twenty-five years of experience in his field, Mark Waid has written a wider variety of well-known characters than any other American comics author, from Superman to the Justice League to Spider-Man to Archie and hundreds of others.  His award-winning graphic novel with artist Alex Ross, Kingdom Come, is one of the best-selling comics of all time. Waid has also written two well-received titles from Dynamite Entertainment, Mark Waid's The Green Hornet and Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult.

"Since striking up our great partnership with Condé Nast a few years back, the team here at Dynamite has looked forward to the day that The Avenger would have his own series," says Nick Barrucci, CEO and Publisher of Dynamite Entertainment. "We've been waiting for quite some time for the perfect writer to helm the project, and Mark Waid IS that perfect writer. He has a profound appreciation for the character, his history, and the genre of pulp adventure. Retailers will take heart that we've placed one of the most innovative, marquee writers on the project, and fans will surely be awestruck by the twists and turns in each and every Waid-penned issue of Justice Inc.: The Avenger."

Justice, Inc.: The Avenger #1 will be released with a number of cover options for fans to enjoy, illustrated by many of the comic industry's most recognizable artists. The first issue will feature variant editions by Alex Ross (Kingdom Come), Walter Simonson (The Mighty Thor), Francesco Francavilla (Afterlife with Archie), Marc Laming (All-New Invaders), and Barry Kitson (The Amazing Spider-Man).

The Avenger originally debuted in September 1939 as the lead character in an eponymous pulp magazine, published by Street and Smith Publications. Writer Paul Ernst is credited with creating many of the earliest Avenger tales (published under the house writer pseudonym "Kenneth Robeson"), blending the qualities of contemporary pulp heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow, as well as his own creations that included Seekay, The Wraith, Dick Bullitt, Old Stone Face, the Gray Marauder, and Karlu the Mystic. The Avenger appeared in numerous prose novels, radio programs, and comic books throughout the decades, most recently in Dynamite Entertainment's 2014 revival of the Justice, Inc. series written by acclaimed author Michael Uslan and illustrated by Giovanni Timpano.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hellboy "Right Hand Of Doom" Red Ale From Rogue Ales

To celebrate the 21st anniversary of Mike Mignola's creation Hellboy (published by Dark Horse Comics), Rogue Ales has announced that they will be doing a Right Hand Of Doom Red Ale featuring the character on packaging art.

The Right Hand of Doom Red Ale will be available after February 23rd, 2015.

“When Dark Horse Comics published the first Hellboy story 21 years ago, I never thought there’d be a Hellboy beer,” said Mignola. “But I really can’t imagine a better time for Rogue to introduce the Right Hand of Doom beer. If Hellboy was real I guess he’d finally be able to buy me a beer.”

Hellboy has appeared in graphic novels and comic books, prose novels, two animated features, two live action films, toy lines and all manner of merchandise,,” said Mike Richardson, President of Dark Horse. “Rogue Ales approached us with the idea of creating a heavy-handed, supernatural red ale and we loved the idea of two independent, Portland based companies coming together to create something new that would be both fun for fans and worthy of the Mike Mignola’s creative legacy.”

“This beer is dedicated to the B.P.R.D.,” said Brett Joyce, President of Rogue Ales. “Right Hand Of Doom is brewed with all the same passion and intensity that Mike Mignola and Dark Horse have brought to Hellboy for the past 21 years.”

Do I know what it tastes like? Unfortunately, no. Maybe someone involved will see this and offer up some samples, but unless that happens I won't know any more about the quality than the rest of you until after February 23rd. Of course I've never actually had any of the adult beverages offered by the people at Rogue, so this might be the time to check things out.

Character Templates In The Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG

Over the years I have run a lot of games with the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG. I've been writing more about the game lately here on the blog because it is what we are currently using for our weekly campaign.

I love fantasy comics and magical super-heroes, more than I like fantasy novels to be completely honest. Give me Warlord or Stalker or Amethyst or Dr. Weird any day. One of my goals is to eventually write a magical super-heroes/urban fantasy RPG using the 4C retroclone rules for the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG. I have talked to a couple of publishers, but so far nothing has materialized in getting this game made. No day, though. I have faith that someone else who loves super-hero comics and RPGs as much as I do will see the utility in this game.

I'm not really interested in a copy of the existing Marvel game because, well, we already have that. In my mind we don't need an exactly clone of the game, but using it as a foundation to build upon to create the game that I want to play works for me.

One thing that I never liked in play of the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes game over all of these years is how it handled things like alien species, monster types and all of those similar things that tend to get short shift in the game. Yes, there are "sample" members of some of the alien species, but they tend to create generic characters. In my piece about player-defined powers, I talk a little bit about using those to simulate alien/weird creature types, but they may not be for everyone.

Klarion The Witch Boy from DC Comics' New 52.

This leaves adding a bit more complexity to the rules, as they stand, and adding a step where a player can pick a template for their character. If "balance" is a concern for you, you may want to have a player give up a power roll for their character in exchange for a template. Mechanically, I think that these templates are going to work in a similar manner to how I want to expand character Origins in the game as well. Both of these I see as taking an inspiration from *World playbooks, but without being directly mechanically influenced by them. If that makes sense.

This idea is still under consideration, so some concepts may change. Basically, I want to find the sweet spot of adding more useful detail to characters without adding more complexity to them. The simplicity of the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG is one of the things that attracted me to it, and I don't want to lose that.

Medusa Template
Once, when the world was in the sway of the wilder forms of magic, medusae were much more commonplace. They were beautiful women with serpentine hair whose gaze could turn the toughest of adventurers to stone. Glyphs and wards scribed into eyewear could create protective coverings, so that they could interact with others without fear of turning others into stone. A studious, and often solitary lot, they would drift into the study of magic or other scholarly pursuits. Their longer than human lifespans would mean that they could be a repository of mundane or arcane knowledge.

While some medusae are urban creatures (these also tending to be more social of creatures than their sisters), many more prefer the solitary existence of far away forests or mountains. This solitary existence comes from the misunderstanding that their uncontrollable powers were more hostile than they actually were.

Some say that the molted skin of the snakes that make up the "hair" of a medusae can be "read" by those who understand the language of the snakes and that they contain strange, unknown magics.

Bonuses: A medusa character gets a +1 CS to their Reason and Intuition.

Talents:  A medusa character gets the bonus talents of Chronicler of Magic and Occultist (see the Realms of Magic supplement for more information on these talents).

Turn To Stone: One look from a medusa can turn any living creature to stone. The creature must make a Red Endurance FEAT roll to avoid being turned to stone. Anyone who successfully avoids being turned to stone by a medusa is thereafter immune to being turned to stone by any medusae! This effect is permanent, except for various tranformative magics and powers that can reverse the effect.

Long-Lived: While not completely immortal, medusae do have much longer lifespans than humans. They can live to be 200-300 years of age, keeping their youthful appearance and beauty for the entirety of their lifespan.

Elven Template
Some say that the Vanir and the Elves of the Nine Worlds are similar races, while others put the Vanir over the Elves, using the fact that Freyr of the Vanir was lord of the Elvish realm of Alfheim. Most of this is argued by those Elves still remaining and the few surviving Vanir. Most Elves found in the world today, however, are in fact Half Elves who are the result of generations of interbreeding with humans.

Those of Elvish decent are faster and more hardy than their human brethren and, like many supernatural creatures they have very long lives (often living to 150-200 years).  Elves share a common background with the many Fae and fairy races scattered throughout the universes. They are creatures of magic who are able to use magic in ways that humans cannot imagine. They also are known to be interested in combining the secrets of magic and technology into new, and often terrible, things like weapons or mystically-powered automatons. Where Dwarves excel at the crafting of magic into objects and weapons, Elves make staggering and often unimaginable advances in magic and technology.

Elves can also be powerful warriors of magic, using their advanced, magic-powered devices to fight where warriors are needed in the never-ending wars of the various magical factions throughout time and space.

Bonuses: Elves receive a +1CS to their Fighting and Endurance.

Talents: All Elvish characters get the Engineering and Occultist talents for free.

Long-Lived: Elves, even those whose ancestors have intermingled their blood with humans are longer lived than most humans. One average, an Elven character will live to be about 200 years of age and retain their capabilities until the end.

Magical Crafting: Elves are drawn to scientific or technological pursuits, and as part of their supernatural nature, integrate them with their powers of magic. So-called "technomagic" is not unusual, but few are able to blend the two as effortlessly and powerfully as Elves. They can imbue any magical spells or powers that they posses into technological devices or advanced weapons with a Yellow or better Intuition FEAT roll. They prefer to create their own devices rather than magically imbue existing creations of others, but will sometimes do so if the challenge is great enough, or there is enough money given to them.

Those are two sample of how you could use templates to add variety and verisimilitude to your Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG characters. Creating new templates should be fairly easy to do for an experienced GM or player. I am still thinking about how these should work in character creation, and how they complicate characters, so things may be subject to change at any point. For now, this is what we have to work with.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sometimes Super-Hero RPGs Don't Have To Be About The Superpowers

Two of my favorite comic runs are John Ostrander's Suicide Squad and Kieth Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' Justice League books from the late 80s/early 90s. Both of these spun out of one of DC Comics' post-Crisis on Infinite Earths events called Legends. Legends was a pretty cool mini-series written by Ostrander and with art by John Byrne that dealt with one of Darkseid's many plots to conquer the Earth (this time by attacking the "legends" of Earth's super-heroic guardians in order to soften them up for his attack).

One of the things that made these comics interesting to me was the fact that they focused as much on the characters of the books as they did super-powers, sometimes the focus was even more on the characters.

This is good because on of the things that tabletop RPGs do well is to focus on the player characters and their interactions. For many gamers, whether with new or old school approaches to gaming, this is why they tell stories around their characters. For fans of these kinds of games, it makes comics like these excellent models for their games/campaigns.

One of my longest running Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG campaigns was influenced by these two books, mostly because they were what I was reading each month as I GMed the campaign. Roleplaying was important to these campaigns, and while we would have elaborate knock-down, drag out fights in the games the players also spent a lot of time talking and developing their characters. Relationships happened. Characters married NPCs. Characters died as players left the group, or decided they wanted new characters. It was interesting because, when we started the campaign, most of the people had never played the game, so I asked them what they wanted for a character and modeled it for them in the rules, or game them a character from my notebooks and they ran with it. One of the cornerstone characters of our campaign, a stereotypical conservative super-hero named Real American, was based off of the character of Golden Boy from the Wildcards novels. The player (who was not all that conservative in real life came up with someone who was a play on conservative super-heroes like Guy Gardener) took the bones of the character and molded a new personality and motivations for the character and made it his own.

One of the ongoing protagonists in our campaign was the super-terrorist group The Jihad from the Suicide Squad comic. After one of the players spent a Christmas missionary trip to Haiti (weirdly during the Haitian Revolution in the 90s), I added a Haitian character to the group patterned after the New Warrior named Night Thrasher. In fact, that player's character was a semi-generic "ninja" who split from the Kali Cult that the Jihad member Ravan belonged to.  Grey Mist tried to turn his training into something for good.

However, this post isn't about how to appropriate characters and tropes from comic books and to use them in your super-hero games. That could probably be a post all on its own.

Honestly, you have to have the "right group" of players if you want a game that is going to focus on characterization and interpersonal relationships. Not wanting to do this isn't a bad thing, but it isn't going to be what ever group is interested in doing (or even capable of doing). You have to be upfont about wanting to run this sort of game, so that players do not have the expectations that this campaign will be more "standard." There is a certain type of player who wants to fight everything all the time, and while they may have a place in some others they can be a detriment.

Now, obviously, you can play this sort of game with any type of roleplaying game, if that is what you want to do. We did it for years with the Marvel Super-Heroes game, so it can be done. Again, though, not everyone is going to want to use a game and "never touch the dice for sessions." They are going to want some sort of mechanical basis for these sorts of interactions. For that, I suggest going with their preferred game to handle these sorts of things mechanically.

For me, running this sort of game could easily be handled by the Fate Accelerated rules without any sort of alteration to the rules. Remember, we're talking about super-heroes "without the super-powers," so a game with a laundry list of powers and abilities could be detrimental to what we want to do. Plus, Fate Accelerated has a number of free options available for grabbing the rules to the game.

One of the first things that you have to come up with, for this kind of game, is a strong theme. For the Teen Titans you could say that the theme is "Teens coping with their powers and difficulties by joining together and helping each other." For the Suicide Squad it could be "Misfits and criminals looking for redemption." The theme for the Justice League of the time could be "B-List Heroes Looking For Recognition." You could probably come up with a couple of variants on these themes, or different ones all together, from each of these comic's stories. The idea is to figure out which sort of story that you want to tell.

Next, once the theme is decided, the players need to decide how they want their characters to fit into this theme, and what sorts of personalities that they want for their characters. Using Fate Accelerated was our guide, we can come up with aspects for Suicide Squad stalwart character Deadshot like this:

High Concept: He Never Misses His Shot...
Trouble: ...Except When He Loves A Woman

I don't think you're often going to see two interrelated aspects like this very often in a Fate character. It fits for the characters, at least as how it was interpreted back in the 80s, and they both work. I like how they sound like a tagline from a movie poster. Some GMs might want you to make these into one aspect, but I think that would be too specific of an aspect, personally. You could change the trouble aspect into something more social like "...Except When He Wants To Fit In" instead. I like the idea of the tough as nails character who knows that he has that flaw when it comes to women/relationships. It makes for a very noirish type of character. Can that trouble be flipped to "...Except When He Loves A Man"? Of course! Play your game how you want to play it.

Use one or two of the aspects remaining to talk about the character's powers, and then fill out the rest of the character's personality. With our de-emphasis on powers, we don't need to sweat a detailed writeup of what Deadshot can do. We already know that he "Never Misses His Shot.." I would use an aspect like "His Battle Armor Is His Weapon To Kill And To Keep People At A Distance." This should be easy to invoke when a combat situation does come up, and it can easily be compelled during other times. While cliched, Deadshot is certainly an archetype for the "Checkered Past" aspect, and "Can't Take The Shot Against Batman" could round out his aspects.

I enjoy this sort of a game, but it isn't going to be for everyone. The important thing to remember when adapting your favorite comic stories to gaming is to look deeper than the surface of the stories that you are enjoying. While the flashy powers are there, and available, in the games, they don't always have to be the focus of your game. There are some really good games that are all about building and using powers. However, this is why variety in available games and playstyles is important to gaming. Ultimately what is important is that each and every group find the system and approach to gaming that works best for them and gets their game on.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Why I Love Superhero RPGs

Comic books have always been my thing. I got into them before I could even read. When I was still a toddler, my parents owned a couple of convenience stores, and they had those wonderful, mythical spinner racks in them. The draw of the brightly colored comics was too much for my young mind, and I was hooked. Even before I could read them.

I really don't know what the first comics that I "read" were, but from vague childish memories I am pretty sure that The Avengers was on that list, most likely (due to my age) something during the Roy Thomas years.

Within a few years, I was going full tilt into comics. The 70s were a great time to get into comics. Marvel was doing some of the best work of their history with creators like Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Neal Adams and Jim Starlin among so many others. I do think that DC Comics came along and stole a lot of the thunder of Marvel in the 80s and 90s, with more cutting edge storytelling, but that is a matter of opinion.

I love comics. I love all sorts of comics. I love mainstream super-hero stuff. I love alt comix. I love the indie books (stuff from the I love the foreign stuff. France has had some great SF comics over the years. 2000 AD and/or Pat Mills have revolutionized the British comics scene. If you have an interest in a genre or type of storytelling, there is probably a comic for it. And that is an awesome thing.

This is where I have always fallen a little out of step with other gamers, I'm just not as big of a fan of fantasy or SF stuff as I have been of comics. Luckily there's always been a strong fantasy tradition in comics (whether any number of Conan comics or quirkier fare like Stalker from Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko), so I've had that to keep me afloat, but I have never really had much of an interest in fantasy literature outside of a couple of authors. I tried some of the "Appendix N" writers with mixed success.

Then in 1985, I stopped playing D&D. It has just never really engaged me in the way that other games have since. Although at the time, if it hadn't been for the original Marvel Super-Heroes game and Call of Cthulhu, I may have stopped gaming altogether.

The Marvel game not only appealed to my being a fan of comics (even though by the time the game came out I had switched my allegiance to DC Comics), but it had that breathtaking simplicity that people talk about when they wax nostalgic over the early editions of D&D. Yes, there were other super-hero RPGs, but the only other that was as fun for me would have been the British Golden Heroes, put out by Games Workshop in the later 80s. The sensibility of that game was so in sync with the British comics of the time, and the American comics that they would later inspire, that the game was really ahead of its time.

There was also the college fling with Palladium's Heroes Unlimited, a game that I also have enjoyed over the years, but only when I need that "class and level" scratch itched.

Why is it that I keep coming back to the Marvel RPG? I think that it hits that personal sweet spot of simplicity and robustness. The game's underlying mechanics look back to an earlier era where a more freeform and imaginative route was encouraged, in that time before people thought that something not addressed directly by the rules of a game meant that the game couldn't do that thing. But mostly, I like the fact that comics, and super-hero comics more specifically, are about just about anything: science fiction, romance, adventure fiction, mythology, horror, magic, intrigue, espionage. All of these things are in super-hero comics, and all of those things can and should be in super-hero RPGs. A good super-hero RPG can be about anything, and for me that is what the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG is. A good super-hero RPG that can do anything.

I'm not going to lie and say that it is a perfect RPG. There's no such animal. What it is, however, is something that is nearly perfect for me. It has flexibility and variety. It holds up fairly well at the high and low ends of the power spectrum for super-heroes. Most super-hero RPGs, I think, hold up better at the higher end of things than the "street level," but there are work arounds for a game like this, and that is why I like it. It has a good framework that I can hack into the game that I want at the table. That is really all that I can ask out of an RPG.

It is true that this game gave my friends and I hours and hours of enjoyment back in college. Everything from random, stupid fights to intricate intercharacter interactions. The rules didn't always support what we wanted to do, but they didn't get in the way of them either. And that, for me, is the point behind an RPG.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Welcome To Mashup Culture

I've been seeing people in my social media "circles" talking about an Isosine mashup over the last few days. I wanted to welcome you to the wonderful world of mashup culture. For those of you new to the "scene," I thought that I would make a few introductions to some of the producers who have been doing cool stuff over the years. Some of the things that I am about to share are going to be cool, others are going to be weird and a lot of them are going to be both.

The simple question to start with is "What is a mashup?"

The simple answer is that it is an acapella from one song (the vocal track) mixed with the instrumental track from another song. Of course it gets complicated quickly from there. A lot of mashups take components from a lot of different places and weaves them into something new and interesting.

My first exposure to mashups came from an article in a music magazine years ago, back in the early 2000s, when I read about a producer known as the Freelance Hellraiser spliced the vocal track from Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" with the instrumental track from "Hard To Explain" by The Strokes. It was, at the time, mind blowing. The song itself came out in 2001, but it was a year or two before I would hear it myself.

In a world with DJs Earworm and Schmolli, this almost seems quaint now, but at the time it changed my perspective on music. Ask some of my friends, they'll tell you what a pain in the ass that I was about them.

This wasn't really the first mashup. This was just the first that a lot of people heard. People like the Evolution Control Committee were doing mindblowing audio collages that sometimes had social commentary worked into the remix. Their "Rocked By Rape" mix took soundbites from then CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather to show the exploitative and sensationalistic nature of the evening news.

For me, mashups were the music of science fiction, and the remixers were creating cyberpunk audioscapes for our world of tomorrow. Plus they had a good beat and you could dance to them.

That was then. What about now? The rest of this post is going to feature links to some places around the internet where you can find what I think are some of the best mashups around. They aren't in any particular order and I am sure that I am going to leave something out, so I will probably re-edit this periodically. If you think I should add something to this post, please leave a comment with a link to a site.

One of the things that I love most about mashups is that the community is international, and you get to see some cultural perspectives that you might not normally get to see and you can re-hear music that was once familiar from those new perspectives.

For me, the best starting point is the Bootie Blog. Bootie started as an event at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco, and has since spread around the world.  I actually DJed in the Second Life Bootie club a few years ago, and had my music and our dancing avatars streamed into the real life club. Yeah, it was before anyone really showed up, but we didn't care. Those of you in Seattle, be sure to check out the Bootie event there. Their site does a (sort of) monthly list of some of the best mashups out, and they compile a yearly "Best of" as well. You can also find holiday music and an archive of the Dean Grey American Edit mashup album floating around the site as well.

Mash-Up Your Bootz comes from Berlin.

Check out their "Best of" for 2014:

The Bootie Blog and Mash-Up Your Bootz are probably two of the best places to keep current on who is doing what in the mashup scene. They are both also very good for finding links to the producers who are doing these things. Once you head down this rabbit hole, you may not come back.

Another favorite of mine, a collaboration from a few years ago, is the Mashed In Plastic project. Why do I like Mashed In Plastic? Each song on the compilation used music and samples from David Lynch movies (or television shows in the case of Twin Peaks). I love the freakish creativity of this project.

Party Ben is a DJ and remixer based out of San Francisco. His music is very danceable and very fun. His mixes sound simple but they have a complexity to them that is lurking just below the surface.

The DJs From Mars are DJs from Italy who create some really creative multi-source mashups (meaning that they tend to do more than a simple acapella from one song plus an instrumental from another song types of mixes).

Loo & Placido are a remix team from France. Their mashups are a bit trippy, and they seem to enjoy the more chaotic elements of this style of music.

The Hood Internet bases most of their work on hip hop music, mixing them with a lot of indie and alternative stuff to come up with weird new sounds.

One of the best multi-source mashers would be DJ Lobsterdust (outside of DJ Earworm, but there's a link to him at the top of this post). Act quickly (at the time of this post) and you can get a massive .zip of his work from 2004 to 2014.

Last, but not least, is Alan Black. I like him because his work is weird. It isn't going to be for everyone, but SF fans may like his work themed around Inception and Star Wars.

There is enough music linked in this post to give you hours and hours of listening. Check them out and enjoy.