Showing posts with label Marvel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marvel. Show all posts

Monday, August 07, 2017

What COULD Happen If Disney Stopped Publishing Marvel Comics?

There is an interesting article on (of all places) a site focused on Disney and Disney-related theme parks that asks the question Will Disney Stop Publishing Marvel Comic Books? We all know that one of the basic rules of journalism is that if your headline asks a yes/no question, the answer is typically no.

The thing is that this headline asks a pretty valid question that once would have been a resounding "no," but with the state of the comics market, and the fact that Marvel Comics has been bleeding readers for a while now, I don't know that it is that simple of a question any more. Neither Marvel Comics nor DC Comics are the powerhouses of the comics market that they were 30 or 40 years ago. In fact, the comics market itself has never really recovered from the market's speculator-lead bust of the 90s. Sales of DC Comics are up from what they were a few years ago (thanks mostly to the bump in sales that came about due to the Rebirth initiative that the company started about a year ago), but across the industry the sales numbers are no where near sustainable in the long term.

People have a number of reasons why they aren't buying comics like they used to. The quality isn't what it was. The stories are rehashes. Long-term readers don't recognize the characters in the comics anymore. There is a cycle of events that interrupt the various ongoing books, stalling out their stories. Buying comics on a monthly basis is expensive.

Some of these reasons are probably more valid than others, but regardless of the underlying reasons, people don't read comics like they used to read them. The direct comics market is also increasingly fragile for a number of reasons: many comics retailers aren't the best of business people (having gotten into the business because of their love of comics), declining sales means declining capital, and declining capital means that it is more difficult for retailers to diversify their product base or weather the storm of declining sales. Many comics stores are only just now recovering from the industry implosion of the 90s, and it wouldn't take a lot to cause them to teeter over the brink. Would they be able to bounce back again?

Regardless of the comic buying patterns of many of us comic fans, the comic market lives and dies by the selling power of the Big Two: Marvel Comics and DC Comics. If Disney were to decide that Marvel is a more profitable brand if it focuses on movies and merchandising, there would be an immense and sudden vacuum that would lead to another bust within the comics market. I don't think that another company would fill the vacuum left by Marvel. Image Comics, IDW Publishing and Boom! all publish some good books, but they don't scratch that super-hero itch that the Big Two does.

It is this lack of genre diversity that would be one of the factors that would lead to this bust. By putting so much of a market reliance onto just one genre of storytelling, the industry makes it more difficult to course correct by having other publishers step into the void left by a publisher leaving it. By relying heavily upon one genre, they create their own long term troubles. The collapse of the comics market would hurt the livelihood of a lot of people -- from creatives to distributors to retailers. It isn't an outcome that I would want to see.

If it came to pass that Disney decided to pull the plug on Marvel Comics publishing comics on a monthly basis it would decimate the industry. Even companies like DC Comics, with the deep pockets of Warner backing them, would have problems, because of the impact that it would have on the direct market. Too many eggs have been put into one basket of distribution and sales, just like they have been put into the one basket of genre. This isn't something that I would want to see happen, but I think that it is more becoming a possibility with each passing month.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Doctor Strange And The Shifting Marvel Movie Paradigm?

I think that (inadvertently) this article says more about the Marvel Comics formula back in the day, than it might say about the Marvel movies formula. This is actually something that I thought about while watching Doctor Strange, was how these characters had a similar arc from "asshole" to hero as a part of their journeys. Iron Man. Spider-Man. Dr. Strange. They all started as sort of jerks who had a life changing moment that put them onto the path of being heroes. Partially it is that Stan Lee Doctrine: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

So, yes, there is a bit of sameness to the characters of Tony Stark and Stephen Strange. That's not a coincidence with the characters that Stan Lee was crafting with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Does that need to change in the Marvel movies? Absolutely. I think that we saw Strange's transition from egotistical jerk to hero happen pretty quickly, in the course of this movie, while with Tony Stark, the journey is still going on. I don't think that the plot of Civil War would have happened if the heroes had stopped thinking about themselves for a minute and thought more about what was happening around them. Is Dr. Strange the start of a trend within the MCU to make heroes who are able to overcome their egos? The ego of heroes has been an integral part of the MCU so far (and you could probably argue that it is the same for Marvel Comics), so are we seeing a transition from that?

Dr. Strange has been one of my favorites of the MCU so far. I rank it up there with Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier as the Marvel movies that I have most enjoyed.

I'm a fan of heroes being heroes (which some may wonder about in regards to my enjoying the recent Superman movies), and I would like to see the heroes of the Marvel movies transcend the cynicism that we get in comic movies a lot of the time. It is this heroism that appeals to people in the native form of super-heroes in comics.

Go see Doctor Strange, it is a well-made super-hero movie that has some pretty mind-bending special effects.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Gen Con Happened And I Met Jeff Grubb

It is Saturday of Gen Con, and tomorrow I go home. It was a busy con, and a weird con.

Zak won some ENnie awards for Red And Pleasant Land, and Contessa won one for best blog. Good goings for good people.

More importantly, however, I got to meet Jeff Grubb at the Monte Cook Games launch party for the Cypher System Core Rulebook. Jeff Grubb, as anyone who reads this blog really should know, was the creator of the original Marvel Super-Heroes RPG.

Now for me, there are really two seminal games for my gaming: Call of Cthulhu and Marvel Super-Heroes. These games showed me that there were things besides fantasy to gaming. I might not have continued on with my gaming if I hadn't have found these games.

Regardless, Marvel Super-Heroes has remained one of my favorite games. I still play the game periodically (in fact we played a game of it a few months ago), and still have fun with it. It is a fairly simple game, and it may not be the most modern of games, but I like it.

So, I walked up to Jeff Grub to introduce myself and a stream of nonsense that might have come forth from my mouth.

The long and short of all of this was that people should get over themselves and follow do things like talk to our idols, even if we sound stupid when we do it. If I hadn't have approached him I would have regretted it. Eventually (sort of) I calmed down enough to talk semi-coherently with him. It was pretty cool to get to talk with him. I'm not going to forget it.

This is what makes going to Gen Con so cool. It is always nice to be able to meet the person who helped give you so many hours of entertainment. It is also cool to be able to tell them this.

This is still posting from the phone, so excuse the ugliness.

More to come once I get home and rest up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Player-Defined Powers In Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG

One of the more forward thinking ideas of the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG from TSR was the idea of player/GM-defined powers and talents. Ostensibly an aid for adapting characters from the comics into the game, there's nothing saying that you can't have this as a regular option for your games, if you so desire.

We will be using the little known Revised Basic Rules as the basic for our upcoming Classic Marvel campaign, so any page references that I make will be to that book.

In the character creation section (pg. 47) there is a Power Categories Table that is used to determine the types of powers that your character can have. Instead of using that table, substitute this one instead:

Dice Roll
Power Category
Sensory Powers
Movement Powers
Matter Control Powers
Energy Control Powers
Body Control Powers
Ranged Attack Powers
Mental Powers
Body Alterations/Offense
Body Alterations/Defense

The change is fairly minor (adding one line at the end for Player-Defined Powers. The idea is that this is for the rare and exotic powers in your world, the ones that aren't as "generic" as some of the other powers may be. Obviously this will entail an added level of oversight because you will end up with players who want to create an "I DESTROY EVERYONE" power, or something similar.

One of the built-in controls for these player-defined powers is that fact that all powers in the Classic Marvel game have a ranking that controls what they can do. Even if you allow the I DESTROY EVERYONE power in a game, when the character's rank in it is only Good that will act as its own limitation on the power.

However, for those who want to think outside of the box, player-defined powers can help with that. Imagine wanting a character like Kay Challis, Crazy Jane of DC Comic's Doom Patrol revamp of the 80s. Mapping out 64 power sets would be a lot of work, and it would probably be beyond the scope of the Marvel game's character creation rules. She is, however, obviously a starting character. Really, we never see her entire power set demonstrated during the run of the comic...and we don't actually see many of the powers manifest in the beginning. Would a player-defined power be a way to go with this character? Maybe.

With apologies to Jay Z, you could name this power "I Have 64 Personalities And All Of Them Have Powers." Yes, there will be a little book keeping involved in this.

One thing that we can build into a player-defined power now is the idea of spending Karma, one of the game's character resources, for player-defined powers. While this is a common idea nowadays in systems like Fate or Icons, the idea wasn't as commonplace back when this system was created.

The idea being that, particularly with a power like that of Crazy Jane's Crazy-Janeness, having less defined up front costs you a little bit more when you go to actually utilize a power. This idea does fit in with the idea of "pay now or pay later" with the Karma system for the Classic Marvel game. As a GM, if someone in our campaign were to suggest creating this character using a player-defined power, this is a way that we could do it.

I would suggest an activation cost to the power. If you look back at the comics (which I did recently, when I got the Doom Patrol Omnibus for Christmas), you'll see that the character's powers are unreliable and can cut out at times. It would probably cost 10 or 20 Karma to activate the power. It is important to make the cost enough to have some weight (i.e. charging 1 or 5 points really isn't going to give much difficulty to the power), but not so much of a charge that the power becomes useless. The idea is to turn the power into a resource that has an impact on the play of the game. When the player uses Crazy Jane's powers, big stuff happens and bad guys can get taken out. You don't want to make this something that happens to easily, or that can't happen enough. An expenditure of 20 Karma can make a big deal, if it means that those 20 Karma cannot be used later in a game for influencing a dice roll.

Randomness can be your friend. Another option for making a power like that of Crazy Jane's would be to add a random element to it. Using powers that the character has previously used is no problem, and just has the activation cost, but when you go to use a new power you roll for it randomly. Once the power is rolled, it is fixed. This gives you 64 "slots" for Crazy Jane to fill up through play, and each time the player decides that it is time for a new personality with a new power to surface they roll on the Power Categories Table and roll through the sub-tables to determine the power. This roll uses the Power Categories Table from the book, however, because nesting player-defined powers could turn into a headache for everyone involved.

Yes, this does make for a bit of work on the part of the player who wanted this power for their character, but this extra work can be considered to be a part of the checks and balances of the system. Rolling on a couple of tables won't take up that much table time, and it gives an opportunity for group-wide fun as you get to mock the "Matter-Eater Lad" rolls.

Now, creating a character like Crazy Jane is obviously extreme, but it is always a possibility in a super-hero game. Super-hero games are often, by their nature, very gonzo and player-defined powers can feed into that gonzo-ness. You can also have less extreme versions of this power. My Matter-Eater Lad example in the previous paragraph could be a player-defined power. Write it like "Alien Physiology Allows Him To Eat And Digest Anything." The ranking for the power could determine how long it takes the character to digest things, or to chew them. It can be as simple as that.

Yes, Matter-Eater Lad was a real super-hero.

Another good use for player-defined powers can also be in the use of creating alien/extradimensional species. When alien species have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal beings, like a Kryptonian, you can turn those into a super-power. Does your Kryptonian have a low rank in their "nature"? Perhaps this means that there is some interspecies breeding in their past ("Oh, your grandmother was from Earth?") which means that the powers aren't quite as potent in your character. When doing this you have to predetermine what exactly the "power set" for the alien species would be. Are they tougher than usual? The power rank can be used as an armor against damage. Are they smarter than usual? Substitute the power rank for their Reason in certain situations. There are a lot of ways that you can use this as a power for your character, it just requires thinking creatively.

Player-defined Talents can be even simpler. There are always "talents" that characters can have that are outside of those listed. Computers, Technology and Media have changed dramatically since the Classic Marvel RPG was published. Now, talents like "Twitter Muck-Raker," "Blogger" and "Social Media Guru" are just as viable media talents as Journalist was in the original game. Try to not think of the list of talents available in the original game as the be all of what is available to your character. There are always skills and occupations that game designers won't think about when making a game.

Any of these player-defined parts to a character can have an impact upon both the viability of the character, and their impact upon a campaign. You really want to try to curtail characters that take too much of the spotlight away from other characters. GMs shouldn't just say no to an element that a player wants to add to a campaign through their powers, but everyone should talk it out in order to come to a player-defined power that does what the player wants without bending things for the rest of the group.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Here Comes The Twister -- Detail In Setting Up Your New Campaign

There is a fine line to walk when starting up a new campaign. You want to give the players the idea of the world to come, without overloading on the details in such a way that you don't take all of the potential fun out of the game. Much like with players who come up with overly detailed backstories for their characters that have more awesomenss than the combination of five action movies, putting too much detail into your campaign world before you play can kill the world just as dead.

With the new year, our group is starting a new game. This is all my fault, I didn't really have fun with the last game. At the heart of things, I am probably a bad gamer because I really don't like playing D&D. So, that means that we needed something that would be as much fun for me as the GM as it was for the players (hopefully). This means that we going to stretch back to a different kind of old school for our next game: classic Marvel Super-Heroes (the original TSR game).

We aren't playing in any version of the Marvel Universe, however. All new, all original, all fun. I am taking a page from +Ross Payton's excellent Fate-based Base Raiders RPG and wiping the slate clean on the setting. You know those big events that plague comics? The last time one of those things happened in our world almost all of the heroes and villains disappeared. Poof. I also like the idea of hidden bases of the disappeared heroes and villains being left behind as a spark for new generations of heroes and villains. A super-hero dungeon crawl RPG. Who would have thought? Even if you don't use Fate in your games, there is plenty of good stuff to find in Payton's game. It sparked the basic ideas for our game in my head, so it should be able to give you plenty of good ideas too. It is good to look beyond the same old when looking for inspirations.

The other inspiration would be +Zak Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land. Yes, the D&D supplement/setting. If you haven't heard about this yet, well...I don't know what to tell you. I've already talked about this a little bit in my previous post converting Smith's Alice class from that book into a new Marvel Super-Heroes origin called The Fool. I know that +solange simondsen, one of the players in our group, is already excited about the opportunity to play Alice as a super-hero. So many other fictional characters have become super-heroes or villains, so it is probably Alice's turn.

Unintentionally, both of these posts about our upcoming campaign have referenced Talking Heads songs in their titles. Hopefully I will remember that for future posts.

Now, you're probably wondering why I would be referencing tornadoes in the name of a post about a game set in a alternate version of Wonderland. As I have said over on G+, as much as I have been a fan of Carrol's Alice stories, I was always a much bigger fan of L. Frank Baum's Oz stuff. So, because of that I want to bring an Oz into our world. Much like Smith's Voivodja is a twisted version of Wonderland, our Oz will be twisted like taffy in a cyclone.

Where Voivodja is in the thrall of vampires, Oz finds itself under the domination of the witches. Whether you're a good witch or a bad one, ultimately the seductive pull of dark magic get to you and warp you in chaotic ways. No matter how much you think that you are using magic, it will ultimately use you instead. There are great shadows that reach across the worlds, a conflict that grinds everything beneath its heel.

These worlds were once much more innocent, even in their evils, but now the lights are a little less bright, and the shadows seem to be even heavier.

If you've never seen Susperia you should be ashamed of yourself. Luckily, someone has solved that on YouTube for you.

From the Susperia Wikipedia page:
Suspiria (Latin for "sighs") is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento, co-written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi, and co-produced by Claudio and Salvatore Argento. The film stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany. Later, she would realize that the academy is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of murders. The film also features Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosè, Alida Valli, Udo Kier, and Joan Bennett in her final film role. 

I like the classic Italian horror movies of the 70s because of the psychedelic, hallucinatory way in which they were made. I think that the tone of Satanic witchcraft would fit well into the outlines of the world that I am envisioning.

I really wanted to embed a link to Jess Franco's psychedelic vampire movie, Vampyros Lesbos, because I want to use that to inform my take on the vampires in our campaign. Based (very loosely) on the Bram Stoker short story "Dracula's Guest," this movie does for vampires what Suspiria does for witches. However, the one thing that sets Vampyros Lesbos apart really is the incredible soundtrack.

It should probably go without saying that neither or these videos are work safe.

None of this is sounding like your standard super-hero game, is it? That's intentional. Magic and the supernatural have been part of comic book super-heroes since the beginning. In fact, historically, the first costumed hero was Siegel and Shuster's Doctor Occult (breaking from trenchcoat to ritual garb just a couple of months before Superman would debut). With the heroes and villains gone, this means that older, darker menaces are rising up again. The old safeguards have deteriorated with the disappearance of all the heroes and the veils between the dimensions have thinned. The tornadoes which once abducted children from Earth have been popping up again and the vampires from Voivodja have been slowly sliding into our world, with their intrigues and wars.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

This Ain't No Fooling Around -- An RPL Fool In Classic Marvel Super-Heroes

If you haven't heard of Red & Pleasant Land by +Zak Smith at this point, I will be a bit surprised. Then I will point you towards the interview that I did with Zak for Bleeding Cool.

A Red & Pleasant Land is an adventure/campaign/setting supplement for pretty much any edition of D&D ever. It is a rich and intriguing setting (a more in depth review will come along later) that treads new ground in gaming and moves thoughts about what you can do in a game setting at right angles to what is ordinary and accepted. The link at the top of this paragraph takes you to RPGNow and the PDF of the book.

Our group is listed among the playtesters for the book, so we saw a very early version of some of the material. We had fun with it and the strangeness of the world.

But, what if you aren't playing a D&D game? What if you still want to use this material with your game, when that game is (for example) the Classic Marvel Super-Heroes game that TSR published back in the 80s? Well, in that case you do what gamers always do...make some stuff up.

We're not going to jump immediately into the world of RPL. That would be silly, and besides then the players would be expecting what would happen. And a GM has to mix thing up when their players are cheating bastards who read the game books in advance in order to game a benefit during play.

In the book, there is a new character class called The Alice (the illustration for the class from the book and linked above used Connie, a member of Zak's home group). In the book they also call it The Alistair or The Fool, for those who would prefer non-gendered or male-gendered versions. The class itself remains the same. For our Marvel game, I'm coming up with a new Origin called The Fool. If you've never played the classic Marvel game there is a link above to a website that hosts a lot of material for it, including the long out of print rules. Origins in the game are sort of like archetypes, and they help guide the character creation rules of the game.

Converting between two games that have substantially different mechanical approaches, not to mention very different rules systems, can be tricky. Really, the best thing to do is to go for the intent of the original in the new system. Trying to make an exact conversion will lead to madness.

Much like with all super-heroes, The Fool doesn't seek out adventure as much as the universe throws it at them. Some call them "weirdness magnets," because strange things happen when they are around, things that the so-called "normal" super-heroes never have to deal with. Where other heroes deal with bank robbers and world conquerors, The Fool finds themselves dealing with parasite realities and hungry realities. Some say that there is a Doom that follows The Fool where they Patrol.

Those who embody The Fool get a +1CS bonus to their Intuition and Psyche, because of their stubbornness and fierce independence. They know what is going on around them, and are watching carefully what is unfolding around them, even if it doesn't look like they are watching.

The Fool is often the chosen of fate, and as such can often draw its attention in stressful situations. During these times, make a Psyche FEAT roll, the result of which determines how they get to roll on the Exasperation table on pg. 31 of Red & Pleasant Land. On a White FEAT, the GM rolls a d4 on the Exasperation table. On a Green FEAT, the GM rolls a d6 on the Exasperation table. On a Yellow FEAT, the GM rolls a d8 on the Exasperation table. On a Red FEAT, the GM rolls a d12.

The results of the Exasperation table in the book are fairly generic, so converting them to the Marvel game's rules should be fairly easy. I'm not going to quote the table, or convert it here...mostly because I want you to get the book or PDF for yourself. Honestly, it is worth your money. I plan on just doing conversions on the fly.

In the book, this ability is used once per game hour, but I think for the Marvel game I will make it into a once per session ability instead.

Fate's Champion
The Fool is chosen by Fate to lead the life of strangeness and adventure that they lead. Because of this relationship to the Cosmic Forces of Destiny, twice per game session you can take an advantage with rolls made. To take advantage you roll twice for the die roll attempted and take the higher of the two results. However because Fate is stepping in more directly, you cannot spend Karma on these rolls. Likewise, once per session you can cause someone acting against the character to take a disadvantage on a roll. This means that (typically) the GM will roll twice and take the lower of the two rolls as the result. Like with taking an advantage, Karma cannot be spent on this roll.

Rather than the standard powers in the Marvel game, use the D100 Level Up Table from Red & Pleasant Land instead. Change ability score increases to ability increases of the relevant equivalent ability in the Marvel game. Dexterity increases can be either Fighting or Agility increases, with the approval of the GM. If you should need a rank for the power, use the standard random rank tables. If you're playing the Advanced version of the game, The Fool rolls on the same table as Altered Humans.

Starting characters get two rolls on this table and can purchase further rolls for 500 Karma. That seems a reasonable number for now, but once we get to use this Origin in actual play we will see how that shakes out and change it appropriately. One of the things that I have always liked about the Classic Marvel game is that when you use your character's Karma you have to weigh present benefits against future advances. That is a very super-hero-y sort of thing in my mind.

Those are the basics for creating a Fool in a Marvel Super-Heroes game. There will probably be more to come once we start with play. Any questions or comments can be asked on G+ or Twitter.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Examining With Great Power: Grim Realism

For those who may not know, With Great Power was a column in Polyhedron magazine that explore campaign and rule variants for the original Marvel Super-Heroes game published by TSR. Rarely longer than a page or two, these articles looked at different ways to play the game, alternate rules, or something in between.

This particular column, written by then line developer Dale Donovan, talks about making the game more grim and gritty. This was actually a common complaint of the game among players at the time. The era not long after the Marvel Super-Heroes game originally came out saw a darkening of comic book super-heroes, and their stories. Frank Miller's classic Daredevil run for Marvel Comics was one of the inspirations for this article.

The rules are pretty simple, and mostly boil down to retasking already existing rules (which is the best way to do variants).

This is what the article suggested that you change to the Karma rules in the role-playing game:

Continue to use Karma as described in the rules. This will, in most cases, keep the level of mortality about the same as in other Marvel campaigns, if that is what you wish. Good role playing though, especially in a grim setting, will sometimes result in a hero giving up his Karma to kill a particularly dastardly foe. In the Born Again story line in the Daredevil comic a few years back, the Kingpin of Crime methodically destroys Matt Murdock's life after he discovers that Murdock is Daredevil. If Daredevil had been a PC hero in my campaign, I probably wouldn't have objected if Daredevil had killed Kingpin in retaliation, especially if the PC Daredevil was role played as mentally unhinged as the comic's Daredevil was.

Use the villain Karma rules (page 20, Advanced Set Judge's Book) regarding killing the underlings of "master criminals." PCs would lose 30 Karma points for each henchman, underling, or goon working for the main villain who is killed, instead of all their Karma. After all, the thugs aren't important; it's stopping the villain that's the goal. And, if some goons get in your way, too bad—they probably deserved it anyway. All other normal Karma rules apply, though exceptions, like the Daredevil example above, would still be possible.

Play the PCs as outright villains. Again, this is not recommended, as it's not in the heroic tradition of the comics or the game, but I can see where it might be fun to play your favorite Marvel villain and trash the Avengers or the X-Men. Use all the villain rules in the Advanced Set Judge's Book, pages 19-21. These rules are intended to help the GM run his NPC villains, but you can easily apply them to PCs as well. This means that PCs would gain Karma for committing crimes, beating up heroes, putting those defeated heroes
in deathtraps, etc.

I know that there are still a number of people playing the original Marvel Super-Heroes Roleplaying Game around the world, games still pop up on Google+ from time to time, so these variants may be useful to players/GMs in those games. They can also be useful for players of the 4C RPG as well.

You can download a PDF version of the article here.