Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Things I Learned from Champions: The stories are spectacular

A classic trope: protagonist team meets
other protagonist team for
the first time, and fights!
All RPG adventures and campaigns have a chance at immortality -- living on in a story that gets told again and again when you and your friends get together. Supers RPGs are no different -- but the uniqueness is the genre, of course.
Sometimes it's heroes vs. heroes, sometimes it's heroes vs. villains, and sometimes it's the team hunted by the government or some corporate paramilitary group.

The complex interplay of individuals wielding powers and abilities far beyond those of mere mortals, overcoming normal and extraordinary challenges on a regular basis is part of the attraction of the genre. And there's a lovely shorthand that emerges with every group, a mixture of modern parlance and game system speak:
It was glorious! Alex Raven took five turns of an uncontrollable continuous autofire middle attack. On top of that, he was taking 15 missiles per round for four rounds because everyone else except for Silent Strike and Ayano were down. The Indestructible Man was taken out by one of [the Campaign's] old villains. I took the time to one shot him in the head while being riddled by missile fire. 

Silent Strike and Ayano moved the target out of range before Silent a Strike returned. The Crone did a Body Drain on one of the Black Eagle armor units to kill him on the next turn. Siphon was obliterated in the first salvo but was healed and came back to the fight. 

Oh, the armor units were hitting us from a quarter mike away.

Ah, the stories. They live in our memory for a long, long time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Source Files: LSH #285 - Night Never Falls on Nullport

This was my jumping on point for collecting the Legion of Super-Heroes (LSH). I'd encountered them before, in something known in the Philippines as National Bookstore reprints -- an interesting Philippine artifact that I'll tackle in another post.

I suppose it was time -- I was reading the comics of my classmates, began dabbling in Marvel & DC comics, and this cover jumped out at me.

Now, the Legion wasn't new to me. My Superman / Superboy fandom had brought me to various anthologies, compilations, and trivia books and had prepared me for most of the cast of this book.

However, the ongoing plotlines and the visually arresting cover and contents of this book really hooked me, and sustained my interest for many issues to come. This cover, in particular, promised action and the use of a rarely used superpower (even to this day) among super-heroes, along with some great space opera action (assaulting the bridge of a space ship)!

The story starts with a handful of members from the Legion of Super-Heroes (Shadow Lass, Mon-El, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, and Shrinking Violet), sent to Nullport -- a key spaceship drydock of the United Planets -- to pick up their Legion starcruisers.

After some expository captions, dialogue, and good-natured ribbing between the teammates, there is an accident. A starcruiser undergoing work suddenly begins to topple -- Mon-El manages to save the workers, but Colossal Boy (as seen to the right) misjudges the effect of reduced gravity on Nullport, and is unable to prevent damage to the afflicted ship.

RPG Comments: This is a great little scene, allowing a GM to establish the setting and situation, and the initial goal of the team, while immediately bringing the overall conflict into play right away with a related inciting incident.

In FATE (and FATE-like systems), this would be an incident where Colossal Boy's player gets a FATE point for his failure. In more physics-emulation systems, the low gravity effect would be reflected as a penalty to an attempt, especially during the initial acclimatization period.

MEANWHILE, on Orando:

This cut to Karate Kid and Princess Projectra on Orando -- a world considered incredibly backwater by the United Planets (a sword & sorcery world in a science fiction setting) -- may seem a bit odd.

While it does help to establish for new readers the breadth and variety of worlds in the the United Planets and the overall setting, it really just sets up a plotline that gets resolved in a later issue.

Of additional note is the artwork of Pat Broderick, who seems to be quite fond of this 'stop-motion' effect used to show the sudden collapse of Orando's reigning monarch. He used it several times earlier to depict Colossal Boy shrinking to normal size, Star Boy performing some acrobatics, and Colossal Boy growing to giant-size once more. I also liked much of his panel-to-panel storytelling in this issue.

This was also part of the appeal of the LSH comic book. While one team was doing some thing in one corner of the United Planets, others were doing other things elsewhere, some were back at base, others were back at home -- lots of interesting locations and mostly interesting plot threads, back in the days before decompressed storytelling became popular in comics.

RPG Comments: You may consider this as an approach for troupe-style play in a supers RPG. This scene could've been run by a different GM, using all the same players + the GM for the main storyline, allowing everyone a chance to play and a chance to run. I believe some similar ideas were broached in the ICONS Team-Up sourcebook.

Back on Nullport: I really enjoyed this one-off alien with an interesting personality who was in charge of running Nullport. H'hrnath, a horse-headed creature with hands, hooves, and tentacles, with a very strong concern over costs and profit.

It really drove home the alien, far-future setting of the LSH, in a pretty matter-of-fact way.

RPG Comments: This scene shows a way that a GM can establish an interesting-- but not that insurmountable -- obstacle, to PC investigations. H'hrnath is a foil, a person of authority who isn't necessarily a power-mad control freak, but has legitimate reasons not to let well-meaning, unknown quantities (the Legionnaires) investigate supposed sabotage taking place at Nullport.

It's also a great opportunity to drop clues or setting-building exposition in a non-boring way (through a colorful, opinionated character), letting the PCs pick up on any interesting tidbits that may catch their attention.

With the Legionnaires finally allowed to investigate, after another 'accident' on Nullport, the heroes get to use their powers to investigate (it's not all about combat, folks!) and get to the causes of the sabotage once and for all.

Mon-El gets to use his microscopic vision to keep track of Violet's progress in the circuitry. While there are communication devices, it's nice to have this kind of investigative teamwork between super-powered individuals. Especially with Mon-El being the heavy hitter that he is, normally trading blows with the toughest creatures in the galaxy.
Shrinking Violet discovers, after some exploration of the circuitry, the source of the remote controlled accidents on Nullport, and vaporizes it -- presumably with some handy equipment from the local authorities.

But this is a temporary solution to a specific problem. Having identified that the culprits must be the Khunds, and that Nullport is a target due to its strategic importance to the military capability of the United Planets on this border, the Legionnaires struggle to come up with a way to prevent this type of thing (or something worse) from happening in the short to medium term.

Star Boy -- at home with a costume sporting a plunging neckline (Legionnaires don't care about your 21st Century fashion sense!) -- carefully explores their options, finally coming to the conclusion that there must be a nearby base or ship controlling the devices that they can knock out of commission.

RPG  Comments: This is where the comic book for me really shifted away from mere superheroics, into a sort of space opera procedural with superpowers. And it really reminds me of players sitting around, strategizing about how to resolve a situation with finality -- beyond merely barreling through obstacle after obstacle.

And a good thing he does, too.

Because, like any good Klingo -- Khunds, the espionage / sabotage team near Nullport has just decided to launch an all out attack. And that team is located on the flagship of a fleet of Khund ships!

What a Khundish thing to do -- death for failure, even if it's your son. Very brutal (and wasteful) warrior culture that is unlike anything we've ever seen before in Science Fiction (ahem). They also clearly disdain hiding from their opponents, as evidenced by the bright red and yellow military uniforms, and the green hue of their flagship. Ah, what the heck, they're great villains.

The look of the Khunds changes after this issue, by the way, when Keith Giffen takes over as artist for the Legion of Super-Heroes.

This was a great little bit for me, Mon-El using his superstrength to hurl a giant-sized Colossal Boy at the Khund flagship. Colossal Boy wreaking havoc from inside the ship. And Mon-El and Star Boy generally disabling the various ships of the fleet with their respective powers.

How'd Mon-El find the fleet? Telescopic vision, man! Yeah, in a procedural type of show or comic, folks with the powers of Superman are pretty handy to have around, even if you discount the sheer firepower at their disposal. It just goes to show that, sometimes, non-combat abilities are just as useful as combat abilities.

Speaking of non-combat abilities, Shadow Lass uses hers on a pretty large scale -- enveloping the entirety of Nullport in shadow stuff! This will allow the Legionnaires to essentially move Nullport to a different location while the Khund fleet is otherwise preoccupied. It's not a permanent solution, but it'll buy some time, we assume, for the United Planets to ready a better plan to defend this oh-so-vulnerable drydock.

I always loved team stories like this, where everyone has a chance to shine -- or at least perform one critical action relevant to the resolution of the plot.

As a kid, I didn't think that much about Shady's rather racy attire. Super-heroines all had pretty tight outfits, like many of their male counterparts. In Legion of Super-Heroes comics, I was more perturbed by Cosmic Boy's famous black bustier outfit. But that all changed when I grew into my teens, of course.

Star Boy increases the mass of Nullport to allow it to generate its own gravity! Wasn't sure about the science of this, but gleefully accepted this as a kid because of how superheroic teamwork resolved a key problem in the story. And it wasn't even combat related! By this time, of course, they'd incapacitated the Khund fleet and had turned their attentions to fixing the Nullport problem.

And what a solution by Pre-Crisis Mon-El! Moving the entire drydock to a different location using flight and strength alone.

Again, a non-combat use of superpowers.

For their efforts, the Legionnaires get a fantastic reward.

The miserly H'hrnath gives them five Mark 494 starcruisers for the price of one + a trade in on their old ship!

The Legionnaires muse about him and his heart of gold, talk about their patron R.J. Brande, and generally establish threads for future stories.

But on Orando, all is not well. The King has died, and Projectra stands to inherit the throne of Orando!

RPG Comments: This would make a great resolution to a well-played adventure. A generous reward, a friendly (but perhaps not so generous in the future) ally on a drydock, and some brownie points with the United Planets for resolving a stick situation. Something to keep in mind for any future adventures!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Source Files: The Legion of Superheroes

I began comic book collecting in earnest slightly before the start of that classic Legion of Superheroes storyline known as The Great Darkness Saga.

Since my current interests run along Science Fiction and Super-heroic lines, reviewing the source material around this era should make for some good inspiration and ruminations about gaming in the genres where the two intersect.

I'd like to point out that, while the Legion did take on the occasional 'cosmic' opponent, they also handled quite a number of other challenges, criminal gangs, political maneuverings, alien races, new discoveries, and so on. It wasn't quite in the 'cosmic' adventuring space; it really was an intersection of the super-heroic genre with traditional Science Fiction tropes.

And, perhaps along the way, I can point out some of the existing gaming material out there that can be tweaked or mined (and perhaps were inspired by) this sadly absent team in the modern DC Universe.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Quick-bits 2: More Supers RPG news

I forgot about this in my last post, and it was even mentioned on the Hero Games message boards!

It's like adding a new channel to your feed list. The more you write about it, the more you see. Here are some other little bits of Supers RPG news you may be interested in.

Extreme Earth: A Dystopian Superhero Setting (Kickstarter)

Extreme Earth is, as cited in its title, a dystopian superhero setting. Drink in the colored art and the the write-ups on their kickstarter page, but pay attention to this little bit:

EXTREME EARTH: A Dystopian Superhero Setting - the book!
The EXTREME EARTH campaign setting is written by Joe Bardales with artwork and original concept by Jon Gibbons. There are seven different books for seven different RPG supers systems: the latest versions of BASH!, Bulletproof Blues, Fate Accelerated Edition, ICONS, Mutants and Masterminds, Savage Worlds, and SUPERS! We have assembled a team of conversion experts to make sure each of these different rules systems is properly tailored to fit the EXTREME EARTH setting.

Aha! Multiple game systems! Excellent! Wait -- no HERO? *gasp*

Wait, wait, in the updates:
However, as a way of saying thank you to all of you who supported this Kickstarter, we are going to give free PDF copies of the Cold Steel Wardens and Champions/HERO versions of EXTREME EARTH when they finally become available to anyone who backs the current Kickstarter at the CITIZEN OF EXTREME EARTH level or higher as a bonus.

No print version, but a PDF version. Still pretty cool, especially if you've made the jump to digital like I have.

Settings of the Fainting Goat

I'm intrigued by the potential story of the fainting goat, but I have to say that I like two of their settings for the ICONS RPG: Welcome to Stark City and The Great Game.

Stark City is something I'm going to review in the upcoming weeks as a setting for superheroic gaming in the ICONS ruleset. It reads really well, and sparks lots of campaign ideas.

I've always been interested supers settings, and signature supers cities in particular are always a challenge to flesh out. Perhaps one day I'll be able to put together my fictional RPG supers universe stitching together all the fictional cities in RPGs across the world.

Wait, let's not spin off more work for ourselves. Here's a blurb from the product listing itself:
Stark City is ... both a source of inspiration and a home for all of those diverse ICONS adventures to comfortably take place, a framework to tie them together, and a springboard for your imagination. From the streets of the downtown Silver District to the ultra-modern Telsa Industrial Park, from the wealthy Platinum Coast to the seedy dives of Geartown, you’ll find endless opportunities for taking the ideas found in this book and transforming them into stories of your own, because Stark City is ultimately about your heroes and their stories, an additional player to add to the ensemble cast of your ICONS game. 

The Great Game is something different. Still a setting, it's for galactic & space-based superheroic gaming. I really love the homages to various seminal characters and organizations in comic books, and the twists are very interesting in pulling together various elements of the settings into a cohesive whole. Take a peek:
  • A mad god searches for a dark ritual that will give him the means to destroy the universe.
  • A corrupt space-police organization enslaves civilized worlds to enrich itself.
  • An empire of sentient machines is exterminating any biological life in its path.
  • Pirates prey upon the space-ways with impunity

Worth a look? You betcha.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Quick-Bits: Supers RPG news

I've not had time to write a lot about RPGs, what with all the deadlines and work, but here are a few items of RPG news related to super-heroes that are top of mind right now:

The Worlds In Peril RPG on Kickstarter

I learned about this from Google+, but the concept intrigues me: a supers RPG based on the *World engine, the system behind Apocalypse World and Dungeon World RPGs.

Not been able to play either one, but Worlds In Peril would definitely get me to try it out. From reading these RPGs (the finished versions of Apocalypse World and Dungeon World, and the in-editing version of Worlds in Peril), the idea of creating a PC in broad archetypeal strokes, and then refining and discovering more about them and the world during play intrigues me.

The fact that this is *World entry is in the super-heroic genre is enough to make me want to jump in!

Here's part of their marketing copy:

Worlds in Peril combines descriptive, creative and flexible powers with a narrative structure that encourages players to take control of their stories and build worlds together. Powered by the Apocalypse World system (2d6+ modifier), Worlds in Peril is a standalone RPG that will produce compelling super hero action in any world with little-to-no preparation. Play to find out what happens, be the hero you want to be!

There are a few days left (3 at the time of this writing), so if this is your kind of jam -- take a shot at this one!

Bulletproof Blues -- Successful Kickstart!

What's that you say? Bulletproof Blues is already an RPG; why was there a (successful) kickstart of this? Well, this is the 2nd Edition you see. They can improve all sorts of stuff on this RPG! Here listen to them:

"Bulletproof Blues is a rules-light, setting-dark superhero RPG. The game is getting new art and an updated layout. All of the art and text has been, and will be, released under a Creative Commons license."

Sounds good -- I look forward to the release of the second edition! Art looks good, and I'm digging the rules I've read so far. Waiting to get to the powers to fully grok things.

Invulnerable Super Hero RPG: Vigilante Edition

Yet another supers RPG? This one came out in April and caught my eye with its art and my interest in many things super-heroic related.

I'll admit to being a collector (not ultra-obsessive, just mildly so) for many supers RPG systems, because there are so very many subgenres of the super-hero genre, and I'm always down for using a specific system to effect a particular feel or mood due to the mechanics and the super-heroic color of the writing and the art.

Here's their spiel:

Invulnerable's simple, flexible system lets you create a super hero with a wide array of exciting Powers and Power Enhancements, quickly and easily. Purchase Levels in a Power and pick some Enhancements, and you're good to go! If you want more fine-tuned control, tweak every gadget and mutation with Power Modifiers.

Being a super hero is more than punching tanks and laser-blasting alien invaders, though. Invulnerable encourages roleplaying with its Motivations and Central Contradictions. What does your hero believe in? And what storytelling tension does this character bring to the table? Make the call!

Invulnerable supports every power level, from street-level crimefighters up to interstellar paragons, and includes a complete setting, Earth-Omega, with its own heroes, villains, and mooks to face. This new edition brings new Talent Focuses and Power Enhancements, revamps Power Modifiers, refines the damage system, streamlines combat, and has tons of new internal art.

Sounds like something for you? Pick it up at DriveThruRPG!

Valiant Universe: The Roleplaying Game

You heard that right.

The Valiant Universe RPG.

No way? Yes way!

Well, there's only a quickstart rule download available now, but the full RPG is slated for release in July of 2014. Check out all their related offerings on DriveThruRPG:

The edge between superhero and villain has never been sharper. In the Valiant Universe RPG, players will immerse themselves in a dark and gritty world where every mission and every battle has deadly consequences. Whether playing X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Shadowman or even the all-powerful Toyo Harada—or any of dozens of characters—Valiant’s most fearless heroes will unite for the first time in a roleplaying game, allowing you to join their stories and create new ones!

Whether you’re a longtime fan or brand new to the Valiant Universe, this is the only source you’ll need to bring Valiant’s leading characters to life in a fantastic superheroes setting!

I tell you -- with all this, plus the Marvel films, plus the 75 year celebrations of various super-heroes, it's a great time for the Super-heroic RPG!