Showing posts with label super-heroes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label super-heroes. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

All Time Comics: The Crime Destroyer Rises

Phrases like "revolutionary" and "redefining the genre" get thrown around a lot when reviewers talk about new comic lines coming out. There's a good chance that I will be using one or the other during the course of this review, too. All Time Comics is a new line of super-hero comics coming out from Fantagraphics Books, spearheaded by writer Josh Bayer.

Reading through the preview of this comic was like rereading the Marvel Comics of my youth. A big part of this feeling comes from the art of Herb Trimpe, which is just as vibrant and energetic as it was in the 1980s. But it is more than just nostalgia that makes me feel this way about the book.

Benjamin Marra's inking brings his dynamic style to the book's artwork. The two artists work creates a look for the book that manages to both be classic and ultramodern at the same time. The art of a comic is important in setting the tone for a book, and Trimpe and Marra create a tone that is dynamic and fast paced.

Crime Destroyer is a grindhouse super-hero comic, the exuberance and excitement of super-hero comics is combined with the grit and violence of grindhouse movies to create a unique sensibility. While this book is a throwback to classic Marvel comics it is no all ages, family friendly book either. It certainly isn't the equivalent of an R or X-rated movie by any means, but it bangs its head against the border between a "hard" PG-13 and an R-rated story. There is gore, blood and dismembered bodies scattered throughout the issue.

Like all good stories, Crime Destroyer is a reflection of its time. The is an overt racism to the villains that make them ideal protagonists to an African-American super-hero. This isn't done in a hamfisted manner, unlike with some more mainstream super-hero comics, but it is there, and discernible. I think this is a good thing, as the racism simmers to the top in our own world that people are reminded that it is representative of villainy. Despite the Germanic mythology motif of the villain, they managed to keep the bad guy of the story from being a literal Nazi. Considering the world that we live in, that might be a good thing.

Comics have been socially aware for a long time now, sometimes it seems like there is a segment of the fanbase that is actively trying to discourage that. I'm glad to see that Crime Destroyer is willing to buck that trend.

On Twitter I called the first two All Time Comics (Crime Destroyer and Bullwhip) the real World's Greatest Comic Magazines. There is an energy to them that has been lacking from a lot of Marvel Comics for a while now, Crime Destroyer brings a lot of excitement back to comics. Be sure to grab a copy from your local comic store.

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.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Super Crawl Classics: An Elevator Pitch

Michel Fiffe's COPRA.

Please Note: This is not an announcement of any sort or form, nor should it be construed as being indicative of any sort of game book coming from Goodman Games. It is entirely a flight of fancy. However, if any powers that be would be interested. You know where to find me.

Super Crawl Classics would be an adaptation of the rules used in the Dungeon Crawl Classics and upcoming Mutant Crawl Classics RPGs for super-hero role-playing. This is just a loose pitch, and it would undergo some serious work to make things fit best with the rules. There would likely have to be some changes to the paradigms of the rules used (Funnels, for example, wouldn't work well in making a super-hero game in my opinion).

There would be classes for different sorts of super-heroic archetypes, and there would probably be races as a separate thing built around some of the concepts often used within super-hero comics.

Super Crawl Classics wouldn't be a generic super-hero game. The idea isn't to make a universal system that would allow you to create and play any sort of comic book super-hero character. In fact, Super Crawl Classics would focus on weird heroes, making a super-hero game that has a vibe similar to the weird fantasy feel of Dungeon Crawl Classics. My elevator pitch of the concept of the game would be that it would be Fletcher Hanks meets Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol meets the early issues of Rob Liefeld's Youngblood. Add some hard men/women from Warren Ellis' comics for seasoning.

You can't not have the influences of Jack Kirby on Super Crawl Classics either. His ideas of ancient and new gods, ancient aliens seeding the cosmos with being of powers, and cosmic entities vying for superiority against the back backdrop of time and space is too important to ignore.

Thematically, Super Crawl Classics would draw upon the looseness and energy of the Golden Age of comics, with the surreality of Morrison's classic Doom Patrol run and Peter Milligan's incredible Shade The Changing Man reboot, and the insanity of Rob Liefeld's comics. Heroes and heroines would be raw and primal, powerhouses that change their worlds merely by existing in them, and the menaces that they face would be weird. These are people with great powers and abilities, who are saving the world, but they don't always have to like what they're doing, or who they're working with.

It would also draw heavily on the public domain characters of the Golden Age of comics for world building. There are are great concepts tucked away in the pages of comics from the 30s and 40s that never had copyrights or trademarks registered for them, and they can be the basis of the world within which your super-powered characters will seek out adventure.

Benjamin Marra sketchbook pages.
The art for Super Crawl Classics would be raw and powerful. I would want to get more "underground" super-hero comic artists like Benjamin Marra, Michel Fiffe and Tom Scioli to fill the book with the sort of vibrant and unusual art that fans of Dungeon Crawl Classics are already fan of. If Steve Ditko could somehow be convinced to do the endpapers for the book (drawing whatever super-heroic epics are exploding in that man's brain) that would be awesome as well. It would just be a matter of someone figuring out how to contact the man.

But, the important thing about Super Crawl Classics would be that, like with the Dungeon Crawl Classics book, the people picking up the game would know instantly that they aren't just picking up your typical super-hero role-playing game.

Obviously filling an RPG book with this sort of mind-exploding art wouldn't be cheap, which is why it would take a Kickstarter to raise this up to what it would need to be.

Now, it is a fact that I'm not a fan of the whole "Appendix N" concept, because I think that a lot of people take the books listed in them to the exclusion of the broader world of fantasy fiction. The bibliography of comics would have to be extensive and highlight some of the many strange comics and characters that have come out during the 75+ years of super-hero comics.

Tom Scioli's Super Powers backmatter for Young Animal
All in all, Super Crawl Classics would be about the dirty and dangerous, psychedelic and strange underbelly of super-hero comics. The characters would be big, modern day myths in a weird world of evil villains and strange menaces from beyond time and space. I think that the Dungeon Crawl Classics rule set would make for a good framework for this sort of game.

I would probably beef up the Luck ability into something akin to how the classic Marvel Super-Heroes RPG had Karma. Characters could earn Luck, in the same way that they earn XP, and that would go into a pool that starts out like the other abilities, but grows through heroic actions. Luck is something that super-heroes would need a lot of to survive and succeed as they go along.

A lot of the options for powers would come from the various classes (or races), but there would be some more universal powers and that characters could draw upon as well. You would have to have magic, because of the Doctors Fate and Strange. Characters would be powerful beings.

The ability score modifiers would have to be increased to handle the increased range. You would still use 3d6, but your character's ability scores would also be modified by class and race to beyond the capabilities of mere mortals.

This is just the pitch. Super Crawl Classics would be a game of goddesses and monsters, heroes and villains, all played out against the tableau of all of time and space. It would be a big, powerful game. Probably the most powerful of the * Crawl Classics RPGs. They've got fantasy with Dungeon Crawl Classics and the post-apocalypse with the upcoming Mutant Crawl Classics, and then this can be taken as bigger with the Super Crawl Classics RPG. Maybe we could get Becky Cloonan to draw the cover.

If you can make this happen, you know where to find me.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Going Back To Kali

Sure, everybody loves using ninjas in their super-hero campaigns, but what if you want something that is a little different?

Luckily John Ostrander gave us an interesting new option during his run on the Suicide Squad (which I have talked about before) by introducing the Thuggee assassin Ravan in the first arc of that book. He later went on to become a member of the team and added an interesting moral dimension to the team.

There may be historical issues with the existence of the Thuggee, but that rarely gets in the way of good gaming (or comics for that matter). What I liked about Ostrander's incorporation of the cult into the DC Universe was the idea that, while they ostensibly worshiped the dread goddess Kali, their worship was out of fear and the murders that they committed were sacrifices to her in order to forestall the end of the current age and the start of the Age of Chaos, the Kali-Yuga. Ravan's "catchphrase" was "A Thousand Years, O Kali," because each consecrated death to their goddess would stall the coming of the Kali-Yuga by another thousand years.

Ravan, one of these Thuggees, set himself up as a mercenary killer. This way he could not only forestall the coming of Kali, but he could become very rich and live a playboy lifestyle while doing it. No mindless abasement here. He saw himself (as the panel to the right says) as the first of a new Thuggee cult that was in touch with the modern world. He used technology in his kills, using it to augment the traditional tools like the garrote.

Unlike the ninja, there is no running around in their underwear and using of ancient, outdated weapons for this cult. Their mixture of the ancient and the modern makes them an interesting foil for high tech super-heroes, or espionage agents.

So, how do you do this in your campaign? You could easily just reskin whatever passes for a ninja in the existing writeups for the system you are playing and add the bits about "killing for a higher cause" to them. Bam. You have Thuggee. When I introduced them into my Marvel Super-Heroes campaign back in college, that was basically all that I did. I think that my writeup for Ravan was cribbed from the one for The Taskmaster, removing his powers. A Ravan-like enemy should be capable of going toe-to-toe with a Daredevil or Bronze Tiger, but should be outclassed by a Batman or Captain America. Throw in a half dozen generic Thuggee to round things out for the player characters.

When will you use these Thuggee in a campaign? Their "calling" makes them a little more complex than your typical smash and grab type of villain. You can even make the Thuggees in your campaign world into a sort of morally grey hero, after all they are trying to keep the destruction of the world at bay and stop millions from being killed when a mad death goddess incarnates in the world. Sure, their tool for doing this is to kill people, but sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make omelettes. These killers consider themselves to be holy warriors on a mission, and the super-heroes are at odds with that mission.

This can add an interesting moral dimension to a super-hero campaign, particularly if the Thuggees only target evil or criminal individuals for their sacred killings. If there was demonstrated proof that gods like Kali really existed in the world, would that make a hero's choice to stop a killer from killing a killer a more difficult one? It would certainly make it a more interesting choice. Super-heroes, particularly in role-playing games, tend to have a black and whiteness to their morality. The simple addition of a faction like this can spice a game up considerably.

Another way to introduce the Thuggee into the campaign (and this is what we did with our game back in college) is to have one of the heroes be a repentant former member of the cult. This gives an immediate "in" for the cult, and it juices up the backstory of the hero. Did they leave the cult before...or after making their first kill. Is the hero trying to make up for having killed...or are they trying to make up for the deaths that the cult is responsible for. Either choice adds interesting dimension, and motivation, to a character.

This can make a character who is like the Paul Kirk version of Manhunter from the 1970s revamp of the character. The hero is fighting a silent, shadowy war against the cult, which occasionally erupts into the streets of the city, or on some espionage mission, drawing the heroes into the action and giving the former Thuggee some allies for a time.

And if you would prefer to not integrate a real world religion or goddess into your games, then substitute a fiction god or goddess for Kali. Imagine a version of the Cthulhu Cult that isn't trying to raise their god from his watery grave in R'lyeh, but is instead trying to keep him from rising and destroying their world. Imagine a cult that sprung up out of the end of the novel Dracula (or any of the countless adaptations if you prefer) that is taking the blood of victims so that the Count will not once again rise and make his vampiric armies. A concept like this has a lot of applications to a number of different genres of gaming. The idea is that the deaths caused by this religion is supposed to serve a greater good, and by interfering with them the heroes may be dooming their own world.

Of course, it could all just be a lie and, no matter what the members of the religion believe, there is no actual god or goddess or future destruction that they are forestalling, and their murders don't make them any better than any other killer.

Regardless of how you use this concept in your games it will add an interesting morality to them. My only real recommendation would be that whatever variant of this cult that you use in your games, you make them NPCs and any PCs are former members of the group.

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.

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?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Constantine And Flash Pilots Leaked To The Internet

So, this week the pilot episodes for the upcoming The Flash and Constantine series were leaked to the internet. They are easy enough to find, if you are so inclined. This post is going to talk about these pilots, so if you don't want to know anything until they away now.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Extreme Earth Kickstarter

A new Iron Age of comics and dystopian-themed RPG campaign setting is on Kickstarter -- Extreme Earth, promising plenty of corruption, conflict and super powers. The campaign setting is being published by Fainting Goat Games in seven different rules systems -- BASH!, Bulletproof Blues, Fate Accelerated Edition, ICONS, Mutants and Masterminds, Savage Worlds, and SUPERS!

The setting of Extreme Earth is that of a contemporary Earth with some minor changes -- namely, less resources, more corruption, and the introduction of super powers. This all leads to plenty of conflict at every possible level of society and between every possible entity. The emerging supers are, of course, tools and weapons to be used in the growing conflicts.

The price of all this conflict starts out at US$15 for a PDF (US$20 for PDFs of all seven systems -- a much better deal) and US$45 for the POD physical copy of one system. And a limited edition print copy, of a single system, can be had for US$75 (international shipping is an extra US$15 for both physical copies). There are extras at the higher tier levels, if you are so inclined, and they include goodies like getting pieces of art or having characters of your own creation implemented into future products.

Now we come to the 'critique' of the project page -- my favorite section. The video essentially summarizes the first couple of paragraphs of information on the page -- it is done well enough, though the video and audio quality can always be improved. If you would prefer to just read and not watch a video, you can skip it quite easily, otherwise it is nice to put on while checking out the pledge levels and such. The general layout of the page is good and there is detailed information -- including imagery -- of the rewards for the different pledge levels, so everything is pretty easy to understand. The information on the page for the project is just satisfactory enough to make me curious, but I would still like to see a bit more information on the setting and maybe an example or two just to get a feel for it all. As it stands I am curious but not quite assured to the point of dropping money on it -- very close, though. Speaking of money, the goal seems reasonable and they are already around the half-way point with some time to go. There are a few stretch goals listed, which is nice -- I don't like having too many out on the page before the project has funded. If they begin including some imagery for the stretch goals as they did with the pledge tiers (once the stretch goals are the next target), it would be beneficial. All in all, the folks behind Extreme Earth have run successful Kickstarter (and Indiegogo) projects before and it shows.

If you would like to know more about Extreme Earth be sure to check out its Kickstarter page

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.

Monday, February 17, 2014

More SuperFAE: Big Bang Comics

A favorite comic of mine for a long time was Big Bang Comics. A part of the independent comics boom of the 80s and 90s, Big Bang Comics grew out of Gary Carlson's Megaton comic. Carlson and partner Chris Ecker, were part of the Detroit scene that also brought us Caliber Comics and Kevin Siembieda of Palladium Games. While there were original characters like The Sphinx or Doctor Weird, many of the Big Bang Comics characters were homages to Golden and Silver Age comics characters like Batman or Superman. True, characters like Ultiman and Knight Watchman did have enough twists to them to make them into unique characters, it was easy to differentiate them from their inspirations.

Big Bang Comics ran for a while as a mini-series done in conjunction with Caliber Comics (where I first encountered the comic by finding it in a bagged set in a K-Mart), and then as a full color series published through Image Comics. The character of Knight Watchman first appeared in Carlson's Berzerker, a post apocalyptic comic published by Caliber Comics that (to me) bridged the universes of the Megaton comic with that of Big Bang Comics.

Today I needed to do something a little uplifting today, so I decided to revisit my SuperFAE rules hack for the Fate Accelerated and talk about some of the characters from Big Bang Comics, and how I would address them under these rules. The SuperFAE stuff is still a work in progress, so this post may contradict or add to what I had previously posted. In all cases, stick to the most current rules implementations, as they supersede previous writings.

In case you missed my first SuperFAE past, you can read it here.

Because of its freeform nature, SuperFAE fits well with the freeform nature of the comics. Not familiar with Big Bang Comics? Click here for more information about them.

Knight Watchman is Reid Randall, a fashion designer and wealthy owner of the family clothing business. Yes, that's right the "Batman" of the Big Bang Comics Universe is a fashion designer. While Reid was still in college, training to compete in the Olympics, mobsters attempted a hostile takeover of the family clothing business, killing his older brother Ted (who currently ran the family business) and Ted's wife with a car bomb.

Using his athletic prowess, and garment making skills, he fashioned himself a simple costume to hide his identity, allowing him to track down the gangsters who killed his brother. After finding and defeating the gangsters, he dressed them up in women's clothing and left them to be found by the police. Sadly, this did not become his M.O. for apprehending criminals after he decided to become a costumed hero.

Realizing that there were others in need of help, oppressed by crime, in his hometown of Midway City, Reid took the identity of Knight Watchman and became the Twilight Paladin of Midway City.

These would be the aspects that I would use for Knight Watchman in a game:

High Concept: Twilight Paladin of Midway City
Origin: Using His Training For The Good Of Those Around Him
Trouble: Must Keep His True Identity A Secret!

For his other aspects, being that Knight Watchman is a fairly black and white character, in terms of morality, I would probably use Must Do The Right Thing! and Square-Jawed Hero. Those give him a certain Silver Age charm, without hamstringing the character at the same time.

For Knight Watchman's approaches I would do this:

Fighting +3
Agility +4
Strength +0
Endurance +1
Reason +3
Intuition +2
Psyche +1

While Knight Watchman is a fighter, he is also a thinking super-hero. Some may think that the +0 for the Strength approach isn't going to be enough, but rather than thinking of it as Mediocre (like the +0 ranking in Fate) I prefer to think of it as being human normal. A good way around this would be to give the character a stunt that would let them give damage with their Agility, instead of their strength:

Because I am a trained Olympic athlete, I can use my Agility to attack and damage people when I spend a Fate Point.

Ultiman is the Ultimate Human Being, and as former astronaut Christopher Kelly is the stand in for Superman in the Big Bang Comics universe. When Kelly was an astronaut on one of the Gemini space missions, his rocket was struck by a mysterious meteor. The radioactive rock bathed Kelly in its strange rays, making him faster, stronger, invulnerable to most harm, and able to fly. The radioactive energies supercharged his cells, turning him into a superhuman power battery.

Later in his career, this would turn on Kelly, as his energies dwindled and he looked for ways to reclaim his glories as America's foremost super-hero.

Concept: America's Super-Hero
Origin: Changed By A Radioactive Meteor Into The Ultimate Human Being
Trouble: Living Battery Of Supercharged Power

The nice thing about the trouble is that it can be Invoked or Compelled to represent Kelly's powers when they start to ebb, as well as when they are at peak capacity. This was, after all, how we first saw Ultiman, later in his life, when he appeared in Megaton Comics.

Fighting +3
Agility +2
Strength +4
Endurance +3
Reason +0
Intuition +1
Psyche +1

While super-powerful physically, Kelly is mostly unchanged mentally by the radiation that gave him his superpowers. When his powers are at his peak, I would give the following Power Stunt:

Because I am supercharged with energies, I can have a +2 to one of my approaches, when I spend a Fate Point.

The nice thing about the Fate Point economy is that it can be used to represent things like a super-hero whose powers ebb and flow. Without a Fate Point, Ultiman is just his "normal" self. While all of this is good for representing a Silver Age version of the character, if you want a modern version of the character just fill out his aspects with Must Find More Energy! or Hungry For That Recharge to simulate the fact that the radioactive energies in Kelly's cells is dwindling. Powerful electrical charges, or other intense energy discharges can also power up Kelly, for situations when Ultiman needs to be even more ultimate.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for the Big Bang Comics universe, but it gives you two characters that can be used as examples for creating your own SuperFAE characters. I know that there's interest in more posts about the SuperFAE rules, and this is trying to fulfill that. If you also want to see me talk more about the Big Bang Comics characters, let me know and I can do that too.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Bulletproof Blues Second Edition Kickstarter

If there's one thing I truly love about doing Kickstarter articles for Dorkland it's the moments when I look over a Kickstarter and think, "Ooh, that's a good idea!" Well, the Bulletproof Blues Second Edition Kickstarter gave me one of those moments. Which I'll touch on at the end of this article (if you are thinking about creating a Kickstarter in the future, you might want to check that out).

First up, as usual, is a brief overview of the product -- Bulletproof Blues, a supers RPG by Brandon Blackmoor. There are a few things to know: the game is 'rules light', it takes place in the Kalos Universe (of Kalos Comics), and the first edition rules are free under the creative commons. So, any questions you might have rules-wise or setting-wise should be found within the game's actual rules. At least the first edition version of them. This Kickstarter, however, is for the second edition which is looking to expand upon the rules and create an even better book -- while still offering the rules up for creative commons. So your support would not only net you a copy of the rules (with any improvements made via the Kickstarter) but should also get more material out into the wilds -- for all to enjoy (or remove some excuses your players might have for not getting a copy of the rules, either/or).

That (somehow) leads us to: what can you get for your money?

For $5 you can get a copy of the first edition PDF (with some additional goodies). To get the second edition PDF will cost your $10 ($25 to also get the extra material PDFs unlocked in the Kickstarter). And a print edition will cost $45 (plus all the previous goodies). So, if you are fine with PDFs you can get in on this one at a reasonable price-point.

Finally, the bit mentioned in the opening paragraph -- that "Ooh" moment I had when first checking out this Kickstarter.

If you look at the funding point you'll see that it is fairly low -- just $1,500. Certainly, this isn't the biggest, most expensive RPG product around, but it is still doing something that I feel is very smart -- improving itself bit-by-bit instead of trying to fund everything at once. The base goal is to improve the art of the sample characters in the book. The next goal after that is for new cover art and so on. Using these smaller goals will allow them to fund (and as of this writing it's very close) almost assuredly -- meaning even if they don't garner many stretch goals, the book can still be improved to some degree. For smaller RPG developers I think that it is very important to get every bit of funding you can muster to create the best possible product. I am fairly certain I have seen this method used before, but still, it's something to seriously consider if you are looking to launch a Kickstarter.

Like always, if you want more information on Bulletproof Blues Second Edition, check out its Kickstarter page or Kalos Comics' website

Sunday, December 08, 2013

J.J. Armes: The Original Real Life Super-Hero?

Over at the website Klint Finley has put together an interesting history for J.J. Armes. Who is J.J. Armes?
The first real-life superhero may have been J. J. Armes, a private detective who has been active in El Paso since 1958. His super power? A gun implanted in one of his prosthetic hook that he could fire with his biceps — without using his other hook.
Forget Phoenix Jones, J.J. Armes was doing this back in the 70s and he even had his own line of toys.

I had a J.J. Armes action figure as a kid. Did I realize that this was based on a real person? Hell no! He had hooks for hands, for crying out loud! How cool was that?

Real life is always going to be stranger than fiction, and I think that the Life and Times of J.J. Armes demonstrates that. This also demonstrates how real life can inspire your role-playing games. I can't think of a better NPC for a modern espionage or military game. Just look at this quote from the Wikipedia page:
In 1958, after briefly working as an actor in California and returning to El Paso, Armes started his private investigative agency, The Investigators. In 1978, he launched The Investigators Security Force. Designed as a mobile patrol and security service, this branch of the organization served the community for a number of years until the patrol division was discontinued. Today, The Investigators Security Force specializes in domestic government contracts and industrial security management abroad.
How is that not readily made for a campaign? Why aren't you stating out J.J. Armes in your favorite RPG right now?

h/t to Bleeding Cool for the piece that reminded me about J.J. Armes.

Friday, June 21, 2013

4C Space: Angels in the Architecture

Super-hero comics are filled with divine, infernal, celestial and extradimensional beings. It isn't unusual for a god or demi-god to join a team of super-heroes in any of the comic book universes. In this 4C Space post I talk about a group of celestial beings wandering the universe following a divine plan, and sometimes seeking vengeance in the name of their Lord.

By the way, if you aren't familiar with the 4C rules, check out the page that I made for them here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Origins For Your 4C Space Games

4C Space Origins
Origins in 4C tell you how the character became someone extraordinary. It is a combination of their background and how they became a hero. The Origin also gives you, as the player, some hooks into how to play the character. These Origins have come from science fiction comics, novels and movies. Each character has one Origin, which can be determined randomly or, depending on the style of the campaign being played, picked for a character. This post isn’t intended to be comprehensive, just to give you the ideas with which to start your own 4C Space games. And if you haven't checked them out yet, be sure to check out the 4C System rules page.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Review: Valiant's XO Manowar #1

I thought about doing a comparison to this issue and the first XO-Manowar #1 from the 90s, and then I decided that would not only be silly but it would probably be unfair to the creative teams of both books. About a week ago, I received a PDF of the first issue of XO-Manowar from the new Valiant Comics. You've probably read about this book on the various comic media site. The book has has massive preorders that (while nowhere near as big as the first first issue) are still pretty staggering for the comic book market of today. There may be some minor spoilers, so tread carefully.

Is this book worth those big preorders? Well, I can't really comment on that but what I can say is that this is an excellent comic that is well worth the cover price of admission.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

In Review: Marvel's Defenders #1

I will admit that I'm not a Marvel fanboy. This is the first Marvel comic that I have bought since Agents of Atlas was cancelled. Mostly it's a taste issue...the currently in vogue style of storytelling at the House of Ideas isn't what I am interested in when reading a comic book.

That said, I have been a huge fan of the Defenders since I was a kid. I found The Defenders not long after I discovered The Avengers. For me, the appeal of The Defenders has always been that they are the weird and creepy super-heroes, tucked off in a dark corner of the Marvel Universe. This feeling is the foundation on which this incarnation of The Defenders is built. I'm pretty sure that the last book written by Matt Fraction that I read was his run on Iron Fist (who is a character in this book as well). This issue, to me, had a similar tone to those issues, more than just because Iron Fist is a member of this new version of the team. I liked that feel in Iron Fist, and so far I like that feel here in The Defenders.

The Defenders rolls out of the story of Marvel's latest big event, Fear Itself, but so far I have found that reading that event is not necessary for this book. This first story, The Defenders are brought together by The Hulk to deal with a menace from that book that he is responsible for. "Imagine all of my rage...and power and strength and hate -- imagine it taking a shape," is how The Hulk describes this menace to The Silver Surfer.

The portrayals of The Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange are probably most likely to be sticking points for some long-time Marvel fans. The Silver Surfer is shown at his most alien in this issue. I like that. It is nice to see a comic book alien being portrayed as being, well, alien for a change. This isn't just some guy in silver body paint, this is an inhuman, near-cosmic entity that just does not see the world in the same way, or interact with it in the same way, as his more human companions.

While I (surprisingly to myself) liked the new take on Doctor Strange, I'm not sure that everyone is going to like Hipster Doctor Strange. Hipster you say? When asked about his choice of reading material at one point Doctor Strange responds with "It is something very old and rather frightening I'm afraid. I don't think you'd know it." Yes, Doctor Strange read that old book before everyone else, and probably has a copy of it on vinyl as well. The good Doctor is also introduced in a post-coital scene that has been talked about in a negative manner in a few blogs already. Really, it didn't bother me all that much. Back in the day, Doctor Strange was always shown as one of the more sexual of super-heroes, with he and Clea in states of undress and seemingly interrupted during sex more than once in a comic. So, Doctor Strange having a hook-up, or using his "spooky old conjurer" status (as Namor calls it at one point) to try to pick up women is not really all that big of a stretch to me.

I have to add that I like the way that Fraction approaches the unnaturalness of Doctor Strange in this book, as well as his approach to magic. In some pre-publication publicity, Fraction mentioned that he wanted to give Doctor Strange a sort of William S. Burroughs quality in his "been there, done that" approach to the weirdness of the world. So far, I think it is successful.

The story is nothing spectacular, just your standard "let's get the band together" first issue for a team book. Geoff Johns should look at this story as an example of how to actually get all of the characters on the cover together and into the book. There is a lot of Marvel Universe esoterica in this issue, particularly the stuff with Wondagore Mountain. There isn't a lengthy exposition on it's history in the Marvel Universe, which could be good or bad. I think most comics these days assume that the reader will have more than a passing knowledge of continuity and that there aren't going to be many uninitiated readers picking up a book as there might have once been. There is just enough explanation to justify the story.

I think that, all in all, this was a fairly successful first issue that made me want to pick up the second issue when it comes out. I would have liked a bit more of an introduction to the new Red She-Hulk. If I didn't already know about the character it wouldn't have been obvious that she was long time Hulk supporting character Betty Ross. Also, neither Namor or The Silver Surfer were given much introduction as it was assumed by the writer that these characters would be known to readers already. This is probably the most negative that I had about the issue: do a better job of introducing the main characters. I really think that this issues (particularly being a number one) could have used a few more pages of story to get the cast introduced.

This leads me directly to my main negative. There's too many damn advertisements in this issue. Eight pages were given over to ads for other Marvel books (mostly X-Men books) and I think that half of those could have been cut to give a couple of more pages of background on the characters.

However, for me, the positives outweigh the negatives and I enjoyed this book. I will definitely pick up number two and hope that this book finds enough of a readership to keep it on the stands in this rough comics market. The Defenders has been, at best, always a fringe title and I hope this version finds its way.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Four Color: Free and On RPGNow

Philip Reed's Four Color (4C) System is done and ready for the public!

This complete in 34 pages role-playing system is all that you need to launch your own adventures in super-hero universes. An emulator for an old MARVELous game, the new material and old material are all compatible and can be used in each game system.