Thursday, 31 July 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy will probably amuse most people reading my blog on purpose.

Unless they’re looking for a nuanced portrayal of the Kree.

And yes, there’s a post-credits bit. As well as some really unexpected cameos. And an opening emotional grounding bit that doesn’t really work for me but you can’t have everything.

It’s absolutely Space Opera NOW! - a big day-glo explosion-heavy version to be exact. Star-Lord as token human is sort of required, even though everybody will be cheering for Rocket and he actually demonstrates the most genre savvy.

You could therefore totally run this with any knockabout action system which can build some superpowers in with the spaceship piloting and laser gunslinging.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Batman and Bat-Genre

Batman Week ends with a look at his entire run in terms of genre.

Batman stories are generally pretty grim and dark. (And sometimes GRIMDARK.) With some very notable exceptions - giant typewriters and trips to space and a certain 60s live-action TV series were deliberate attempts to lighten him up - he’s been pretty consistent ever since he stopped regularly killing criminals a few months in. These days when there is comedy in a Batman story, it is often about how grim and dark he is. He carries a certain Noirish sensibility with him.

This even applies when he crosses over. Even when visiting Metropolis he finds shadows to stand in. He fights crime, evil and insanity, in garbage-strewn alleys and boarded-up buildings. As Superman is about dreams of power and overcoming great odds, defined by hope from his origin onwards, Batman is about fighting back and taking a stand, defined by tragedy and loss.

Like most of my generation, I met Batman through a certain 60s live-action TV series, and this led to me picking up some of his comics. Unlike Spider-Man and the Hulk, where the main difference in tone between the 70s TV series and the comics was the much lower level of spectacle their budgets allowed, Batman was totally different from the series’ volunteer cop who wears a mask for no particular reason. The first Batman comic I got had him fighting Black Spider as he tried to slaughter a drugs cartel. It was pretty much entirely set around a port where no legal business was happening. At midnight. In the rain. Here was a guy who dressed as a bat to scare people.

So, how does this apply to gaming? Some games see players influencing the narrative around their characters as well as through them, and some have genre rules that can affect the setting. And some PCs just carry their genres wherever they go.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Batman and the Legend

Following on from observations about the Bat-Family, let’s look at the influence Batman has on the world around him.

First of all we have the likes of Nightwing and Batman Beyond - potential or actual legacy heroes.

Batman has more of these than average - he has trained various Robins and others to take his place when (not if) he dies, handed the role on the others, and when he went R.I.P. a few years back there were enough candidates for a Battle For The Cowl with more sides than Reign Of The Supermen before (a) the expected winner emerged and (b) the original inevitably came back.

Because the idea of Batman as a legend, the hero Gotham needs, is a powerful and interesting one. We know who Batman is, but if not for wanting to keep the original around he really could be replaced if he fell, and would be.

Ersatz superhero settings like RPGs often have built-in legacy heroes. The Superman, Batman and Captain America types are gone, and a new generation of inexperienced heroes have to take up the torch and in some cases the name. The first separately published adventure for Golden Heroes was actually called Legacy Of EAGLES and gave the PCs the chance to avenge a legendary team and inherit their base.

Would you want to create and play The New X? Might be interesting to try... either with an existing X you have to follow, or a made-up X to justify your characters.

(The closest I’ve personally come was a brief Marvel Superheroes game about a new X-Men team.)

And what other effects does he have on the setting? Some have blamed him in-character for encouraging the theatrical madmen he fights. He makes most of the Gotham police, reporters and other authorities look bad.

And he gives the people hope.

(Digression: the recent trilogy made a big point of how much more good a legend could do than one man. But as heir to the Wayne fortune, Bruce Wayne could do a lot of good. But a series about a crusading philanthropist paying for charities and encouraging urban redevelopment might not be very exciting.)

Would you feel more or less safe if you saw the Bat-Signal in the sky?

Marvel Universe Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The TV series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets a comic... set in the main comics Marvel Universe and introducing Marvel Universe versions of the characters, not their existing Marvel Cinematic Universe versions.

Okay, you have my interest.

(It increases our chances of getting figures, to follow the newly revealed MCU Agents Coulson and Hill figures.)

It’s also a great way to avoid continuity issues with a spinoff for an ongoing series.

What would change from dropping your core cast, almost as-is, into a Slightly Different Universe, perhaps using a different system?

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Batman, Gordon, Allies and Friends

Outside of Alfred and the Bat-family, Batman doesn’t have many allies in Gotham. One key ally is Jim Gordon, who is sometimes the questgiver with the Bat-signal, sometimes the one honest cop who has to hunt Batman down, and sometimes a detective story character in his own right, complete with a family member or two of his own, one of whom might be important in some continuities.

For a crimefighter, a friend on the police force can be vital to get clues and avoid being shot by SWAT teams.

Someone with medical training to patch up your injuries with no questions asked is pretty useful too. Dr. Leslie Thompkins is less prominent than Gordon (she wasn’t around in 1966, so she missed out on day-glo TV stardom) but she also acts as a moral compass and sounding board for whether he’s gone off the deep end.

Tech support is provided by Lucius Fox, among other people. Those wonderful toys don’t come from Forbidden Planet in-universe, after all...

Crimefighters often have petty criminal contacts to shake down for information. Batman uses disguises to fill this role himself.

A plucky reporter could be handy as well. Batman never really got one of these as Superman and Lois Lane had that covered already, but Vicki Vale pops up now and then...

What else do your PCs need regularly? Who do they talk to about their adventures, seek advice from, sometimes bring along? Which contacts are strictly business, and which are friends? How do they react when someone who helps them needs help in turn? (Don’t do this too often, especially with “bought and paid for” NPCs like Allies and Contacts in The World Of Darkness - something a player has spent resources on shouldn’t be more trouble than it’s worth.)

The main difference is one side gets One True Way supporters.

Total railroading in RPGs means that the GM doesn’t care what the players do, it doesn’t matter at all.

So does total sandboxing.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The huge action scene on the poster of your game

And as a break from Batman, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is a mere nine months away, and here’s the concept art poster showing the kind of trouble our heroes are going to be in.

I often make posters for games I want to pitch, but they’re generally more abstract as I’m not much of one for painting, and of course they can’t generally show the main characters as the players have yet to create them...

But if you could, what kind of image would a big adventure suggest? What would be the poster for the movie, or the advert for the episode, or the cover of the comic?

Or the reverse, have you seen an image that made you want to include that scene in a game?

For The Watch House I might go with the horde of regenerating vampires from season four, the dragon from season six, or DEATH from season seven...

Batman, Bat-Family and the Justice League

Batman is the big draw in the DC Universe with he and his associated characters claiming ten of the starting New 52 comics (Superman second with just four) and currently sitting at fourteen, including a weekly series, and two more on the way. Note that this is him and his associated characters - the Robins, Batgirl, Batwoman, Batwing spun off from Batman Inc., Catwoman, Harley Quinn. With the exception of the villain books (and the forthcoming teen mystery series Gotham Academy) they’re at least peripherally members of the “Bat-family” - sidekicks, counterparts and associates.

Would you want to play something like that? A central PC and associates rather than a disparate team of diverse origin and equal power? They can be compelling characters in their own right, but how they relate to the “star” PC is always a factor.

Some characters naturally attach and interconnect - a Vampire Slayer and a Watcher, for example, and even then one isn’t essential to the other. I most often see this in licensed settings where that model’s already been established. For example, the option to play a vampire and retinue of ghouls has been suggested in Vampire but I’ve never seen anyone do it, indeed I’ve only seen a single PC Kindred and PC ghoul together on a few occasions. Sometimes playing the sidekick is interesting, but I wouldn’t want to have that status by default. 

An NPC mentor is different, of course - they might bring the PCs together and be the questgiver, but as NPCs they naturally fade into the background. A PC mentor is always there... and one who is an active team leader as well could double the issue of spotlight hogging.

It’s something I’d consider... but only with certain players in the leading role, just like I wouldn’t assign the Captain’s chair randomly in Star Trek. It also suggests group character generation... which is often a good idea but does not work for everyone. In this case, player 2 might have to create a character who could conceivably work with player 1 and fit their style as well, and that puts player 1 in a powerful position.

The other mentioned option is a team of otherwise unconnected characters. This is more normal, and is the case in just about every superhero game I’ve played in, with some limitations (which one player will usually fall outside, deliberately or accidentally) in some cases. 

Somewhere in the middle, we have not-exactly-fan-favourites The Outsiders, a bunch of otherwise unconnected characters who work together with Batman as their mentor and sometime-absentee leader because... uh... is that the time I must be going. None of them count as Bat-family characters (except Katana taking the place of Robin in the recent Beware The Batman animated series, with her mystical origin nearly entirely dropped) so they don’t owe anything to Batman in style or name, just work with/for him. This is the usual way to deal with a more powerful “leader” PC (like a Vampire Slayer with a bunch of Scoobies) - it loses the branding but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Batman, The Joker, Archenemies

Batman has a rogue’s gallery heavy on the Dick Tracy style weirdoes, more of them to be confined to an asylum than a prison when he catches them. #1 is of course the Joker, Chaotic Evil to Batman’s Lawful Good. A great crook, a world-class murderer, and unfortunately a pretty bad comedian.

I’ve written bits here and there about building a recurring villain before, and noted that much of it is down to player reactions. Popularity will always be a factor. There’s character hate and then there’s player hate - if you get that, retire the character, at least for a while.

Like Batman himself, the Joker has risen and fallen in power, danger and Weird Level from a guy with a skin condition to a possibly-immortal avatar of chaos depending on the needs of the story. Apparently the Gotham TV series will have a different potential future Joker in every episode - which seems like a joke that will wear thin pretty quickly, but points to his mutability.

His motivation shifts around as much too, although flat-out killing Batman is rarely the issue. That’s a key part of his longevity - he plays by the same no-killing-the-enemy rule Batman sticks to, except in the most grimdark variations, despite racking up an impressive bodycount of anyone and everyone else.

And of course, he has a great shtick. Clowns Are Scary is one of the classics. (I just Googled Clowns Are and it suggested Scary first.) And as Tim Burton noted in 1989, ironic considering the hero dresses up as a bat to try and scare people.

So where does this leave us? A variety of stories the villain can be used on, playing by the same rules to prevent complaints about unkillability, and a shtick. Sounds easy... but there are plenty of unsuccessful villains that prove it takes luck too.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Batman, Gotham, and Bad Cities

Following on from Batman Day, what else does this 75-year legend have to offer gaming?

It seems sensible to start with Gotham, the city that defines him, so much so that the show about adolescent Bruce Wayne coming soon is to be named after it...

Batman was originally based in New York, then moved to a fictional city to take more artistic liberties and “because we wanted anybody in any city to identify with it” as its creator Bill Finger explained. It was officially mapped in 1999, and the cartographer Elliot Brown explained that creating a fictional city “is about allowing the writers to have their freedom”.

Over the intervening decades Gotham has become a Bad City, an urban hellhole teeming with crime and corruption and scary architecture. Batman editor Denny O’Neil described it as like “eight million people living in a Gothic cathedral”.

Like Lankhmar, Ankh-MorporkPort Blacksand, Mos Eisley, 1980s pop culture New York and almost everywhere in the classic World Of Darkness, it’s the perfect place to get in trouble. It was designed so that Batman always has something to do when he goes on patrol.

Gangsters, street gangs, crooked cops, civil unrest, alligators in the sewers, an insane asylum with a staggeringly bad security record - every issue with city living and every bad urban legend can happen here.

This can tip over into absurdity when placed in a modern integrated setting (I would say it does in The Dark Knight Rises when the government fails to intervene with Bane’s reign of terror for six months after one attempt) but in smaller doses it can be very effective. I wouldn’t want to visit as a tourist (despite its many excellent galleries and museums) but I would as an adventurer.

Many settings have a city (or in space opera style SF an entire planet!) like this. And if the PCs don’t have to live there, they will probably end up visiting it at some point as part of a quest.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Batman Day - And Week

A celebration of Batman for his 75th anniversary, coming some months after the actual 75th anniversary, just to confuse matters. (And surely it should be Batman Night?)

But for me, it will be BATMAN WEEK.

Since his first appearance in 1939 he’s been through a lot of variations and adaptations and there’s always space for more - since I wrote that he was on the big screen this year as a terrible boyfriend made of Lego.

He even got his own roleplaying game! A cutdown version of Mayfair’s DC Heroes, a system designed to have Jimmy Olsen and Superman playable together by having stats rise exponentially from the human average of 2 to the human maximum of 4 to Superman being able to move planets with Strength 50, which gets really grainy and odd at the human-plus-a-power-or-two level Batman usually works in.

I will say I liked the introductory adventure, though - the Joker puts Batman on trial for apparently accidentally killing an innocent bystander in one of their fights.

Batman is, like Wolverine in the Marvel universe, an archetype for a “lone wolf” character who keeps working with partners and teams - which is one key bit that players of lone wolf PCs often miss in their keenness to be the solitary hero at the table while four other players are also sitting there.

He’s got the classic angry orphan background too. DARKNESS! NO PARENTS! Replace criminals with orcs and you have approximately 40% of fantasy PCs, especially those played by players who don’t want social ties.

There are Batman expies in pretty much every superhero universe including RPG settings, and quite a few other settings as well. Westeros has Darkstar for the style, and arguably Arya for the development. And Batman is something of a Zorro expy with a chunk of movie serial The Bat himself.

Does your game have one, and is it one of the PCs?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Face Off makeup/costume/monsters

This show has been running for six semi-annual series so far, and has given us lots of cool practical monsters. Some Buffyish, Whovian, some Star-Wars-y, some horrible. And those are just one set of picks, other sites have them all. Go find uses for them!

Discarded concepts for the use of

Will Ferrell plans to remake Manimal. Yes, Manimal.

I imagine a fairly comedic version, where our hero turns into animals at inconvenient times with little control. Something a bit Night Of The Museum perhaps.

I suggested this years ago (as a result of a dare on RPGnet) to be played semi-straight in an Angel kind of way. (One correction made since - Stan Winston Studios to do the practical effects, and give them more than three hours for each!) If you can do a fairly serious urban fantasy series of Teen Wolf, why not?

Got any other series setups lying around spare?

Recurring legendary heroes

Sky’s Sinbad TV series has appeared on their free channel Pick. Nice location work and monster effects, especially the water elemental. Not sure it needed quite as much explanation for Sinbad having to go adventuring. Hoping for a sword fight with a skeleton in a later episode.

Sinbad is a hero about whom a number of stories are told (like Arthur, as seen in Merlin which this show is built to emulate, or Hercules, who already had a show in the 90s) so a natural for series. A swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery hero with a pedigree going from the Arabian Nights to the Ray Harryhausen films.

Does your setting have them? Can we play them?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Apollo 11 45 years on

Remember the anniversary of the Apollo landing and consider what we are capable of.

(Could we please go back to the moon in my lifetime?)

Friday, 11 July 2014

Passing this on: RPG writer Steve Creech is seeking help with his medical bills (and giving PDFs to backers).

Casting Identify may not be required.

I'm not sure, but something tells me this piece of treasure may be cursed.

Going to The Cabin In The Woods

A refresher because, years later, people in horror movies still go there!

Rule zero: DON’T.

I considered a one-shot for The World Of Darkness about a scary house in the middle of nowhere (designed to test Breaking Points for the PCs) and worked on the assumption that I would have to start with the PCs already inside and the door locked behind them.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Delirium - a one-shot

The pilot for the apparently-not-ordered series based on a YA book series is viewable online. This seems more sensible than just burying things.

Anyway, Delirium is another single-issue SF setting, a dystopia where “love is a deadly disease” and is chemically switched off. A bit like Equilibrium with less absurd martial arts, and less threatening puppies. Another setting you can imagine the Doctor or Kirk stopping in one story. And being YA, it features a rebellious young hero (played by Emma Roberts) doing exactly what she’s supposed not to.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Montenegro, or Latveria?

MightyGodKing goes back after a long break to his amusing series about reviewing national anthems. And bring up this doozy:

Montenegro. Did anybody tell them that if you write your anthem in a minor key it sounds like a villain’s musical theme? No? Somebody should tell them that.

Assuming you have no players from Montenegro or its near neighbours, this is a gift to any GM looking for a suitable cue.

Scottish Superheroes

For comparison, an RPGnet thread once led to me creating a particularly Scottish superhero team, which looked like this. A just-happen-to-be-from-Scotland group would have been quite different.

Region-specific superheroes

Superhero Girl Vs. Canadian-ness. From True Patriot, the original Canadian superhero anthology, some with all new characters and some with familiar ones, a mix of national types like the Red Ensign, those inspired by local mythology, and those like Superhero Girl who happen to be from Canada. It’s a good mix, and could make a fun setting.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Urban Fantasy Angels

Today is Rose Bailey’s birthday! Happy birthday!

And on RPGnet, she wants urban fantasy angels. “I've always been fascinated by angels, and particularly their interactions with the modern world. They're strange creatures, always glorious, sometimes sad.”

See my entry below, for... Angel. Coming up with limits on her ability was the most interesting part.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

An idea from Twitter

SFX horror news columnist Penny Dreadful mused the following: I'm not especially girly but I often dream of pretty clothes and jewellery and make up. Symbolism? Or embarrassing subconscious materialism?

And I responded: And somewhere a woman out shopping for shoes remembers a dream of writing a horror news column. You must NEVER meet.

So... two very different people sharing the other’s memories in dreams? How did they connect like this, and what would happen if they met?

Chicago By Night 3 (if the cover was a video)


50s Beat Superheroes

Started with this RPGnet thread about the relative lack of superheroes and their comics in the 1950s, the thought occurred to me of styling the OP’s suggested outsider heroes like the Beats and Beatniks.

Late night coffee houses, jazz soundtrack and all. While Adventures Of Superman runs on TV, a group of outlaw cool heroes fight atomic monsters in back alleys and aliens invading dead-end towns.

If witches can do it, why not superheroes?

Thursday, 3 July 2014

D&D Basic Rules now available

The Free To Play version goes live. Four classes, four races, twenty levels. No monsters as of this writing, which seems to be the main part missing from an intro game.

I really appreciate this part about gender and orientation.

The credits include the following: Additional consultation provided by Jeff Grubb, Kenneth Hite, Kevin Kulp, Robin Laws, S. John Ross, the RPGPundit, Vincent Venturella, and Zak S. Well, I know why The RPG Pundit got named in Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space, and it was kind of a funny story. I wonder if this is the case here...

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

WWII Superheroes

For Canada Day, The Red Ensign, a patriotic WWII superhero. From True Patriot, an anthology of Canadian superhero stories, featuring flag-bearers, ancient myths, and Superhero Girl vs. Canadian-ness.

WWII superheroes like Captain America stand out a bit from other Golden Age characters, being more tied to a specific era. And of course fighting Nazi supervillains and weird science and sometimes entire armies. Cap being a man out of time defines him in his modern adventures.

And most players will happily take the chance to punch some Nazis.