Showing posts with label Supers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Supers. Show all posts

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Fate Of Airboy

This was originally inspired by a post by Mark Ellis on Facebook, talking about his interest in revitalizing the Hillman Comics aviator characters. I'm a fan of aviator pulps like G-8, and the Eclipse Comics relaunch of Airboy in the 80s introduced me to that family of characters. What Mark's post sparked in me was the idea to build an RPG, or at the very least a game that I can run for friends, around the public domain characters like Airboy, but in an updated format.

I love the pulps, but running a game in a historical era isn't always my thing. I'm not much of a stickler for the details, which can bother some who are playing in a historical game. This is why the idea of pulling the characters into the present appealed to me.

The other thing is that, frankly, games that spend a lot of time with the characters engaged in air combat in their airplanes can be boring. Breaking everything down to a series of dice rolls is kind of boring for me. This presents the second challenge with this property…how do I pay homage to the fact that these characters were aviators, without making everything about airplanes? I've been rewatching the TV show Burn Notice on Netflix recently, so an idea popped into my head.

My first thought to update these characters was to turn them into private security/military contractors. The characters would be part of a military security corporation like Blackwater USA, which would give them slightly more freedom than a strictly military campaign would have. Then, the story of Burn Notice swept in. What if David Nelson (the real name of the Airboy character) was a "burned" former military contractor? All of the equipment that he developed (including his signature airplane "Birdie") would be in the hands of his former employer (most likely the company he founded), the Air Fighters, and any security clearances that he had would be gone. You turn David Nelson into a Michael Westen type of character who 1) wants back what he believes is his life and 2) still wants to help people.

The characters in the campaign would be the people that Nelson has gathered around him on various "missions," that he feels that he can trust. That would be the player characters. Someone could play the part of Nelson, or it could be an NPC run by the GM. If the latter, you would, of course, have to resist the temptation to have him do all the cool stuff and leave the PCs to watch what he's doing.

I think that it could make for an interesting game.

The "keeping the aviator angle to things" could be as easy as having Nelson develop a new kind of drone technology, perhaps one with a highly developed AI that make the drones into the equivalent of his Alfred or Doctor Watson. If Nelson has trust issues, due to his being "burned," it could be that computer intelligences created by him would be the only "people" that he would be willing to trust for a long time.

Here is a write-up of David (Airboy) Nelson in a Fate Accelerated hack that I have been working on. I made my version of the character into more of a tech person, he created his plane instead of inheriting it, because I think it makes the character stronger and more "modern." He isn't a comic book super scientist, but he knows his way around avionics and aircraft technologies. He obviously knows a bit about computers (since he probably created the AI software himself), so he could probably be a bit of a hacker as well.

David "Airboy" Nelson
High Concept: I Can Trust The Technology That I Can Create
Trouble: Don't Call Me Airboy
Other Aspects: Military Background, Not The Person I Used To Be
Approaches: Careful +2, Clever +3, Flashy +0, Forceful +1, Quick +1, Sneaky +2
PowersCreature Summoning (Flying Drones, named Birdie Two through Four). Basic Creature Summoning, Tough Little Thing, Menagerie.*

I didn't give Nelson any stunts yet, but they would likely give him an edge in military or technical matters.

Nelson wants to be left alone mostly, but not as much as he wants his old life back. He doesn't really want the life of the military contractor, or technology think tank, back, but he wants it to be known that he really didn't do what cost him that old life. He's trying to find out what exactly that "thing" is, and how he can fix it. Nelson's approach to people tends to be like his approach to technology: tinker with the machines until you find out what isn't working right, then once you know you can fix it or you can bypass it. He's realized that a big part of why he joined the military in the first place was because he wanted to help people, so over the last few years he has started doing that again on a smaller scale. A couple of his old friends from the Air Fighters still keep in touch, on the QT.

*The powers rules that I am working on are a hack of the Venture City SRD, so if you have a copy of it, you can eyeball what I did in this write-up until I have something official. If you like Fate and super-heroes, this is something that is good to have anyway.

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.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Dorkland Interview -- The Supervillain Handbook

A little while back I had a short article on Fainting Goat Games' The Super Villain Handbook -- a book for the Icons RPG -- and its Facebook page where you can see loads of material and give feedback directly to the developers. Today I bring you an interview I had with Jason Tondro of Fainting Goat Games about The Super Villain Handbook and its future.


Dorkland!: What kind of feedback are you looking for and why?

Jason Tondro: People can contribute to the book in many ways. Sometimes this is simple: I can always use more examples of a particular archetype. For example, as I write this, I just posted the "Power Corrupted" archetype. Now, obvious examples include Phoenix and Parallax. But maybe there are other great examples I've not thought of, but which you have.

Also, I like to start each entry with a good quote from the comics. So in this case, I had a lot of great Dark Phoenix quotes to pick from. But sometimes these quotes are harder to find, and fans have their own favorites. That's a great help to me.

Many contributors have helped by reminding me of stories common to a given archetype. At the heart of this book, we are asking "What stories do we tell with these villains?" So when a reader chimes in with a great story which we have seen in the comics, or a new one which a GM would find helpful, that's gold.

DL: Why a Facebook group?

JT: Because I'm an academic as well as a comic nerd, I have a lot of academics and comic nerds on my friends list. I knew that, if I posted these archetypes on FB, some very smart people would respond. And they have! I have a built-in audience of People Smarter Than Me.  It's worked perfectly.

DL: Why place your villains in the public domain?

JT: So, this was an idea which grew out of another decision. The SVH is not a "setting book", but when you're making villains, it often helps to place those characters together in a setting. In addition, there are several villain archetypes which totally depend on a hero. For example, an Evil Twin villain makes no sense if the reader doesn't know the hero whom the villain is the Evil Twin of.

So I knew I'd have to make some setting decisions. And while I was thinking about it, I considered using public domain heroes for the setting. Like, what if our Evil Twin was based off of Amazing Man or Airman or someone like that.

That led to the idea that, hey, if the heroes are all public domain, why don't we make the whole setting public domain too? And Mike Lafferty, our publisher, totally stepped up to that challenge and said, sure, yes. Not only will our characters be public domain, the art depicting them will be too. And this became the unifying theme of the setting, which we are calling the Youniverse, because everything in it belongs to you.

This has the additional benefit of introducing public domain characters like Dracula and Sherlock Holmes into the setting, and it's hard to go wrong with those two guys.

DL: What are some of the sources of inspiration behind your villains? Anything that stands out in particular?

JT: I'm really making a conscious effort on this project to make our artists partners in the creative process. One of the things I've learned about myself is that, while I'm very confident in my ability to write an engaging, compelling villain, I'm not always as good at the visual design of that villain. Sometimes I get a good idea, but often I end up falling back on "he's a guy in a trench coat" or something. And there's a place for the Trenchcoat Brigade, but a little goes a long way, and let's face it, those characters are boring to draw. Artists cry at the missed opportunity.

So this time, as we approach the villains, I'm giving the artist first crack. Not all the time. Sometimes I have a specific character in mind and I'm sure he or she is perfect. But if I don't have anything in mind, I let the artist do what he or she does best: visual design. And so Jacob Blackmon, who has done a lot of our art so far, comes to me with an image and maybe a name, and I take that and create the backstory and specifics. My job is to make that visual concept dramatically compelling. And because these artists are really good at what they do, that part of my job is very easy!

DL: Why 40 villain archtypes? Will we see more in the future? From reader feedback?

JT: It's possible. I had to stop somewhere. Archetypes are by their nature kind of fluid. Other writers would have organized this book very differently. But I felt I had something to say about each of the archetypes in this book, and that was the most important factor. There are other archetypes I am not including, but I wasn't always sure I had that much to say about them. Some archetypes are included inside others. For example, if I'm talking about Psycho villains like the Joker, who in modern stories are murderous and lethal, there's a related archetype which is still crazy, but in a more harmless way. He's goofy and comical, rather than psychotic. I call these guys Lunatics. And I didn't give them a separate entry, because I wasn't sure I had much to say about them which I couldn't say in the Psycho entry, which is where they now appear.

With 40 archetypes, the Deluxe Edition of this book is already going to be at least 160 pages. That's a big undertaking. I'm very satisfied with it's scale.

DL: Lastly, will the Super Villain Handbook make its way to a crowd-funding platform in the near future? What are the plans for its release?

JT: Mike can answer this more definitively than I, but yes, we are Kickstarter-bound. Anyone who contributes to the KS will get the Starter Edition immediately. That will detail all 40 archetypes -- how they work in comics, what their common traits and stories are -- and will have 40 stat blocks for Icons. When the KS concludes, we will move on the Deluxe Edition, which will add 40 fully developed NPC villains who are part of the Youniverse, each with art. And that will double the size of the book, at least.

I hope that helps, and thank you so much for your interest in the SVH! Join us on our FB page or at Fainting Goat.


We here at Dorkland! would like to thank Jason for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him and Fainting Goat Games the best of luck with their future crowd-funding (which, as of this post, may not be far away).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Mapping The Multiverse

Maybe it is because I received a copy of the newly revised edition of the Supers! role-playing game in the mail today. Maybe it is because of the fact that Comic Con International: San Diego is going on and I am jealous of all of the comic-related news coming out of there.

I don't make a secret that I am a fan of Grant Morrison's work. I loved his Doom Patrol and Justice League runs more than is probably legal in a number of states. Moreso even than Warren Ellis and his Stormwatch/Authority run, I think that Morrison redefined the super-hero team book during his JLA run. So, today, at Comic Con, on the Multiversity panel (for Morrison's upcoming mini-series redefining the DC Comics Multiverse) they revealed maps of the Multiverse, according to Morrison's story.

What do these maps make me want to do? They make me want to run a super-hero game that runs across worlds and planes of existence. Something that kicks some major ass. On the panel Morrison said:
"It has a concordance of every earth, with who lives there and which superhero teams are there.  There is a big story there too with Kamandi and Batman,” Morrison added.  It will literally define each of the 52 universes explicitly while showing what is going on in each one.  It was inspired by an old issue of Jack Kirby‘s Kamandi where Kirby drew a map of the western hemisphere to show what has been happening in different places. 
 How can this be bad?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Super Villain Handbook

There is a new supplementary book in the works for supers system ICONS -- The Super Villain Handbook (tentative) by Fainting Goat Games. The book is still in development and Fainting Goat Games are actively seeking feedback on the material over at the book's Facebook group. There you can find all sorts of information and preview material.

The Super Villain Handbook will feature 40 different super villain archetypes. Depending on the version of the book (standard or deluxe) the archetypes will also feature either just a general stat block or fully developed villain, art and all. One good side to these villains is that they will be apart of the public domain. While The Super Villain Handbook is being written for Steve Kenson's ICONS, there may be a version for the Supers! RPG as well.

So, once again, if you would like to know more, see more, and provide feedback to the developers be sure to check out their Facebook group.