Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lazy Supers Post: X-Men / New Teen Titans Team-Up?

If well-written, I'd watch this as an animated show. Because nostalgia.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Things I Learned From Champions: Sometimes you just want to fight

It's no secret that the RPG hobby had its roots in wargaming. While, in the intervening years there've been great strides through gaming advice and gaming mechanics to help stimulate the story side of RPGs, there's also been some denigration of the combat aspect of RPGs across all genres.

This is different from people who critique combat systems in games (too long, too short, too complicated, too simple), as these types of concerns also appeared -- and continue to appear -- in board games and war games. No, these comments concerning combat as an activity itself in RPGs seem to be arguing that any games that require combat are somehow a lesser, inferior type of RPG play.

To them I say: sometimes, you just wanna fight. For the tactical challenge, for the stress release, for the curiosity, and for the incidental geekery that would erupt in the process.

And choosing a superheroic RPG -- a genre that tends toward that activity in the popular titles, that tends toward rewarding highly anticipated throw downs between individuals and teams, that tends to manage to avoid permanently killing most characters despite the frequency of these altercations -- is one of the places you're likely to see it happen.

But who would you fight? In our old games, there were several favorites types of opposition for an all-combat gaming session.

Other Players' Player Characters


Yes. I approve.
This came up occasionally in our games -- sometimes with a player wanting to test their new build against another PC to: a) see if their build was as effective as they wanted; b) prove that their build was as kick-ass as they claimed; c) find out how long they could last against a highly-experienced combat monster.

We could rationalize them as stunts for charity, as those unmentioned run-ins between heroes that lead up to misunderstandings, or some other flimsy excuse.

For us, it was often fun, even for the spectators, and allowed for kibbitzing and advice that sometimes came in useful in actual games.

And in our youth, a lot of these battles 'really happened' in our canon, leading to a few unfortunate deaths of PCs -- like the one-shot death of Shaka Jesus. Don't ask.

These are different from the incidents when a player brings in a character despite the warnings of other players that they would "-- kill that abomination the second my character encounters it in play." Tragic. Well, not really.

A super-villain team

We're fighting who? I'm out.
Ah, a classic dust-up. Super-hero team vs. super-villain team! Who gets knocked down or out? Who goes the distance until the decisive end? What interesting tactical decisions and match ups take place?

This is of greatest interest to me, because of (1) the roleplaying dynamic sometimes at odds with the tactical dynamic (just like in comics); and (2) the spectacular teamwork that sometimes takes place when everyone is on the same page.

There's actually quite a bit of variety in this kind of clash:
  • an "arena" set up, meaning that both teams are kind of in an open space and arrive at the same time to the battle;
  • the PCs don't even know where all the villains are and have to proceed cautiously (or sneakily) to triumph;
  • the villains are fewer in number than the heroic team (less headache for the GM), but are greater in power level on a per character basis;
  • the villains are greater in number than the heroes, but are lower in power level on a per-character basis;
  • the villains are all agents, usually greater in number, more fragile, but with surprising combinations of gadgets, tactics and teamwork that have wiped the smug smile off of some complacent super-heroes;
  • and so on.

A super-hero team


We're fighting who?
I said: I'm out.
In my old group, there was seldom any thrill in going up against another super-heroic team in the same universe. If, however, you were talking about a team from the DC or Marvel Universe, it was a different story. You wanted to see how you'd handle them (and how you'd ultimately be taken out).

To this day, I remember one of our early clashes with some members of the X-men (Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Rogue, de-powered mohawk-wearing Storm, and Colossus). We were outnumbered: my character was an armored martial artist, my teammate was a sharpshooter with a pair of laser pistols. We did quite well, with me running interference on the physical characters while my partner took out Nightcrawler (who could lay us out in two phases with his No Normal Defense multi-teleport stun attack) and Cyclops (the other ranged attack guy). Then Rogue grabbed me and pulled me out of position, while Colossus got a lucky punch in on my partner and laid him out cold.

Great fun, great stories.

And you can geek out about what you should've done, and how the super-heroes should really be built in the system.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Things I Learned From Champions: Exactly the Character You Want

I never paid much attention to this phrase before, especially in the heyday of my Champions years. It just seemed to be a given -- if you wanted to be build the character you wanted in your head, you used the HERO System.

Keep in mind: if you were looking for industry news, this was in the time of BBSes and FLGSes and -- if you somehow got internet access -- Usenet Newsgroups. And, of course gaming magazines like Dragon and White Dwarf and Shadis and so on. So, I didn't really get a huge reaffirmation on this phrase from anywhere beyond the SF Bay Area gamers (the birthplace of the game); I just assumed it was both (a) a given in the industry; and (b) probably a local view, not necessarily held beyond Northern California.

But having encountered the phrase on the HERO boards (of course, the choir preaching to the choir), and on some blogs, and more recently on podcasts I listen to like (Gamer's Tavern, and -- of course -- Play On Target), I began to wonder about what the phrase meant then -- and what it might mean now.

A Reaction Against Character Classes

D&D was (and, in a way, still is) the 1000 pound Gorilla in the RPG industry. And it handled character creation with character classes with a very rigid progression of abilities tied to levels. So, on one level, the phrase might have been a comment on the freedom from class/level-based progression.

And yet, there were skill-based and point-based game systems out there (Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System and Steve Jackson Games's GURPS, for example), so it surely wasn't just that.

Building Character Is Its Own Reward

One of the great innovations of the Hero System ruleset, as spearheaded by Champions was the following concept: Game Effects Cost Points, Special Effects Are Free.

This freed players from looking for a super-exhaustive list of powers and allowed them to focus on the effect(s) of said powers: what do they do in game terms? And then they could move forward to model those powers with the champions power rules.

Now, a discussion on the many facets of this simple concept (like clever power builds, and rampant SFX abuse) warrants another post, but as to how it ties into the phrase: the many combinations of base powers, advantages, limitations, and power frameworks have allowed many character concepts to be realized (within a certain set of points) that in most other game systems of the time were unattainable without GM permission.

Some have even commented that this is, in a way, a mini-game within the overall game. And some of my old (non-Champions-playing) gaming buddies used to say that building a character was the most fun you'd have playing the game -- a disparaging statement that still hints at the inherent fun in this activity.

Also, there was a thrill in figuring out how complicated builds (like Firestorm's ability to combine from two separate beings) and complicated special effects (the ability of Nick Fury to call in a sniper shot from a nearby building on demand), even if you knew that, ultimately, the GM wouldn't allow it.

Player & GM Buy-In

In the early incarnations of Champions and the Hero System, the concept of Hostile GMs & Hostile Players meeting in the RPG arena was a reality and rules lawyering was a common practice. In, a hobby and a genre that is all about ensuring your abilities, having a way to guarantee that a power works exactly as a player defines it (and not as the GM might interpret it) was a delight -- especially with the argument: "hey, I built it this way and I paid my point and you accepted the build."

With Champions, you could build a power that would be legal within the rules, but would be up to the GM to approve or disapprove for their campaign. The difference here is subtle -- instead of can I have this? submitting a constructed power becomes will you allow this?

Naturally, this required a certain amount of system mastery on both ends. But the tinkerers tended to have this already anyway.

I Paid For It, It's Mine

Once the GM accepts, then the player's character gets the approval to the game effect paid for within the rules. Sometimes more, rarely less, depending on the GM's tastes.

What this means is that if the GM constantly vetoes your use of the power as defined, or nerfs it or changes it to your character's detriment, you're within your 'player's rights' to say: "well, why the heck did I pay points for this if you won't let me use it as built?"

If your power only has a special effect, for example, of being a power ring -- but you didn't take on the limitation of Focus (meaning that when it's taken away from you, you don't have your powers), then that power doesn't get taken away from you.

This kind of thing is big in a genre where players don't want to suddenly gain limitations or complications or disadvantages that they didn't accept discounts or extra points for.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Five Doctors - Comparing Attributes

Now that we have the stats for the first five Doctors in Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space, we can do what we did to other officially recognized RPGs based on licensed settings: compare their stats!

I've decided to do that exercise purely based on their Attributes and Skills, excluding their special traits and gadgets usually on their person. I'll also do it on a per-attribute (and then later, per-skill) basis, just to see what patterns or insights come up. Most of it won't be a surprise to long-time fans of the series, but perhaps there are some eyebrow-raisers hidden. Let's see!

Awareness: The Doctor's Awareness is set at 4 all throughout his incarnations. This places his awareness above human average, but below an exceptional level of awareness (wherein intuition is rarely wrong). He's certainly not at the human maximum (which is 6). This may seem surprising, given the current portrayals of The Doctor, but each of these older Doctors had personality quirks that -- it could be argued -- dampened their innate awareness. Still, one might argue for a higher value here for all of them.

Coordination: Given the age of the 1st Doctor, I'd argue for a below average rating here. The 2nd Doctor is certainly in the 3 to 4 range to my mind, and the 'Intergalactic Man of Mystery' feel of the 3rd Doctor certainly places him at 5. The 4th and 5th Doctors are also men of action, but not to the almost James Bond-ish levels of the 3rd Doctor.

Ingenuity: Well, this is interesting. As a measure of intelligence, as well as "general knowledge and practical experience", this attribute would certainly rank the Doctor at beyond the human maximum (6) most certainly. What's of note is that the 5th Doctor garnered a jump to a value of 8 -- perhaps as a measure of increased experience after those four prior lifetimes of adventure?

Presence: The Doctor is certainly always above average in terms of force of personality. I like that the 3rd and 4th Doctors are reflected as being individuals who can "charm or boss their way through almost anything", with the 5th Doctor as a return to the former levels (given his drop in self-assuredness, no doubt).

Resolve: As an attribute reflecting willpower and determination, I agree whole-heartedly with the first three Doctors having the human maximum rating. I'm not so sure about the 4th, though it could be argued that his tendency to go off on tangents could be interpreted as a lack of focus (he's still better than 'above average', but not at the peak of human ability). I can understand the 5th's rating here, given his occasional self-doubt.

Strength: This has the most variance, and tells a great story. The 1st Doctor's advanced age was, certainly, well-reflected in this near-crippling value rank. The 2nd Doctor, rejuvenated but not at human average, makes sense, but I'd have put him at average. The 3rd Doctor, with his man of action status, certainly figures at above average but not at strongman levels. And the 4th & 5th certainly struck me as being average as well -- the 5th Doctor's fondness for cricket certainly is better reflected in coordination rather than here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Armchair Reviews: DWAITAS -- The Fifth Doctor Sourcebook

With the release of the Fifth Doctor's Sourcebook for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG, we have the opportunity to run our own version of the classic episode The Five Doctors, for gaming groups that have really wanted to all play not just Time Lords, but The Doctor!

Again, like the other sourcebooks in the series, this one provides the predictable crunch (new traits, character sheets for the Doctor / Companions / acquaintances / enemies) and fluff (series and episode synposes), and provides some thematic explorations and comparisons to the episodes and themes from prior incarnations.

Of note are the plot motifs that keep repeating in this season: betrayals, surrogate parenthood, (relatively) large adventuring groups in the TARDIS, and so on.

By this fifth book, it's great to compare the growth of the Doctor and the selection of Companions throughout his career. I also noticed how often the Master figured into this season's adventures.

For a hard-core canon fan, there are many adventure seeds suggested that deal with inconsistencies or contradictions found in the season as compared to prior episodes or seasons. That alone may be enough to start an entire campaign. Clara's Commandos, anyone? She can't save the Doctor all alone, you know...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Things I Learned From Champions: Sometimes the JLA is busy

"Elminster? He's --
busy at the moment."
One of the most common issues I used to hear about the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, was about the preponderance of high-powered heroes. As in: Why worry about the Zhents, when Elmister will take care of them? Why worry about the Drow, when Drizzt will take care of them? And so on.

I never really had those same issues with the setting or those characters, though it's likely due to the fact that I came to Faerun only after I'd gone through Champions.

Let me explain.

Champions: not everyone can be Superman

It's rare for superheroic campaigns (especially the older point-based ones) to start at the Justice League level (and I'm talking Superman / Batman / Wonder Woman power levels). It's also rare for superheroic campaigns wherein the PCs are the only metahuman heroes in the world.

That means you tend to accept that there's at least one hero (or more) who are more powerful out there in the world (though you may out-shine them in your particular area of expertise).

Perhaps the things they're dealing with are far more earth-shattering than what you're working on. Or perhaps dealing with street thugs just isn't going to call the attention of Doctor Fate or Doctor Strange.

As for teams -- well, they can be in another country, on another planet, in another universe, or have been disbanded for one reason or another!

Champions: this is my city / turf

 In comics, it's also common for a kind of recognized turf for heroes. Batman's city is Gotham, Superman's city is Metropolis. While they do operate on a worldwide basis, there's a precedent for the city's hero (or hero team) as being the primary defenders.

At the same time, look at all the Marvel Super-Heroes based in New York (who only encounter one another in brief cross-overs or as part of team books). Somehow, there's an accepted rationale that allows them to do their own thing without rubbing elbows all the time.

So, while there may be other heroes -- big-time heroes even -- they're not top dog in your neck of the woods, and in your area -- you matter.