Author Topic: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday  (Read 3381 times)

James_Nostack

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[Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« on: May 01, 2015, 12:27:34 AM »
What I Hope to Do

FASERIP
Marvel Super Heroes, designed by Jeff Grubb, was published in 1984 by TSR.  I'm not a gaming historian, but I've heard it was the first licensed RPG, definitely the first licensed supers game.  An Advanced version of the game came out in 1986. 

In its Basic and Advanced versions, the game enjoyed a simply absurd amount of company support.  It's entirely possible that this exhaustive listing of characters and their abilities played a small part in Marvel's drive toward obsessive super-taxonomy during the mid-80's.

Although these roster books were comprehensive and very well done for what they were, and some of the supplements (like the Deluxe City, Ultimate Powers, and Realms of Magic) are also nifty, the "adventure modules" are almost uniformly shitty--as in, "I cannot believe I spent 10 seconds reading this" bad.  The only exception I've seen are the Future in Flames ones, which almost but not quite set up a sandboxy campaign framework.

The RPG is very briefly alluded to in an issue of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, in which some evil nerds, trying to deceive Spider-Man with a hoax villain, use the random character generator to get inspiration.

By 2015, this game spawned more than one retroclone.  Masks is a hybrid with some FATE-like elements and features classy art by Storn Cook.  Icons takes the game a bit further along the FATE road, but it's still recognizable.

It's late where I am, so I'm going to go to sleep, but I want to say a few things about the game's design, and about our game, in the near future.

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2015, 05:41:06 PM »
Excellent!

1. This game recaptured my interest in the mid-late 1990s when I realized via the (new) internet, how many people played it and how much cool stuff they'd put on-line. It was one of the first major challengers to the "dead games are gone" framework of thinking at the time.

2. I had acquired my copy from a friend in the mid-80s who dismissed it as silly, not "really" an RPG.

3. I played a great series of sessions with friends in the late 1990s, albeit with a few rules tweaks. I'll hunt down the Forge thread about it.

4. The magic set in the core rules - orange booklet, written as if narrated by Dr. Strange - was and is a high-water mark of RPG design.

Tell! Tell!

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2015, 08:50:35 PM »
Oh, and now I'm annoyed with myself for not putting all those supplements into my 'Verse list as one of the "units" of its development. I even recall a friend taking the Official Handbook and statting up all the characters with MSH descriptions based on the accounts therein, and telling me how official (read "true") it all was, as a Marvel reference using a Marvel-licensed game. His satisfaction at this task was intense and entirely foreign to me.

James_Nostack

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2015, 09:03:38 PM »
Our Crew and Social Context
We've been playing RPG's together for . . . 7 years?  Wow.  I know most of these guys pretty well, and in a few cases know their families.  We hang out occasionally even without a game.  The one problem we have with games is that we're all adults, with relationships, jobs, and occasionally newborns, which means it's not easy to get the exact same folks from session to session.  This rules out certain RPG's (With Great Power, Sorcerer) but isn't a problem for others.

Me and Josh are super hero addicts, united by our common love of the Thing, Hank Pym, and Stilt-Man.  (Josh hasn't reached rock bottom the way I have, but he's not too far above it.)  Adrian, Dan, Pete, and Ben read comics as kids, and have enjoyed most of the movies, but none of them are mainlining back issues of U.S. 1 off a filthy torrent site.

After debating the merits of various supers games, we gave Marvel Super Heroes a spin.  It's a game I owned since I was 9 years old, loved obsessively, but never got to play or run.

Now here is the thing: this started out as a casual pick-up game among friends, and I half-assed the GM'ing.  A really solid, good, committed supers game ought to have melodrama, tension, terrifying villains, and so on.  I... didn't quite deliver, at least not at first.  Ron's really solid Doctor Xaos Comics Madness blog kind of shook me out of my rut and made me work harder.  Anyway, I'm grateful that we've had fun so far, and look forward to seeing what happens when I grab the electric bass guitar, so to speak.

James_Nostack

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2015, 10:07:52 PM »
The Heroes
Josh and I realized that our ridiculous comics mania was actually an impediment to others playing with us: we're actually really cool with people re-interpreting established characters however they please, but apparently the other players still felt weirded out. 

So, I decided this would be a homebrew world with zero barriers to entry.  Honestly I tend to dislike homebrew super-worlds because they all tend to look alike, but in this case that's probably an advantage.  I figure we start small, and as the players develop an interest in the setting we branch out from there, just like Jack & Stan did it in Fantastic Four back in the day.

Marvel Super Heroes allows three modes of character creation: taking a pre-made Marvel character, modeling a character based on a concept, or random die rolls.  We've got a little bit of all three in our game.


As an example of a (re-skinned) Marvel character, Josh plays the GREEN MANTIS, who is essentially Shang-Chi's character sheet plus a wall-crawling motorcycle.  The Green Mantis is a legacy hero going back generations; the current version is Nicky Munroe, a private eye who, in trying to solve the murder of the previous Green Mantis, traces the dude back to his origin at the Mantis Temple and is invited to train there until he too is a master martial artist.  Munroe has a complicated love/hate relationship with the Pantaglione mob family; he's sweet on Candace Pantaglione, the dame who's currently running the family.

Josh typically plays the Green Mantis as a street-savvy lunkhead who's good at punching and doing guitar-solo-style motorcycle stunts.  Though the least "super" of the bunch, he's more popular than the others.  No one realizes that he's a "substitute" Green Mantis.


John, who I accidentally omitted from the players above, plays the STARSPANNER, an alien techno-messiah evaluating Earth for rapturous inclusion in the greater galactic society.  The Starspanner is an example of a concept-driven character.  He/she/it is a local representative of the Starspanner Guild, a group of engineers specializing in constructing artificial wormhole networks.  Because FTL travel runs the risk of violating causality and thus wrecking the universe, the starspanners are also lawmen who must ensure that Cause Precedes Effect, or (if you like) Choices Have Consequences.

The Starspanner is basically a 4-Dimensional being interacting with our 3-Dimemsional spacetime, and thus has x-ray vision, phasing, and gravity manipulation.  He/she/it also has access to a cosmic-level engineering database, but almost no money to fund construction on Earth.

John has played Starspanner as a shy, naive, turtle, usually phasing to avoid engaging with any foes. (I don't know John very well--he's a very recent addition to the larger New York Red Box group, which we're a subset of.)


Characters don't get much more random than SEA-BORG, created with the Ultimate Powers Book (warning: extremely addictive char-gen nonsense; results should be subject to some GM restraint).  Pete rolled up a guy, and was like, "I guess I'm playing underwater robocop."  Sea-Borg is your usual "I'm a hideous, clinically depressed freak" character, but also an ardent environmentalist motivated to stop pollution and clean up the earth's oceans.  (Pete can be relied upon to shoe-horn this motivation into whatever we're doing.)  Sea-Borg has an amphibious cyborg body, along with the Accumulation Drive, which--according to the Ultimate Powers Book (MC2: Collection) is a really strange power:
Quote
The hero can cause any desired material to collect in a specific location. This material must already be present and diffused throughout the hero's vicinity, whether in the air, water, soil, or scattered across the
ground. The Collection area has a radius [of 6 miles for Sea-Borg]. Collected material instantly teleports to
the designated Collection site.
Pete's used this power mainly to summon globs of tar, tear gas, water, and in one memorable occasion, Chinese dumplings.  Sea-Borg is immensely powerful physically; he's also Dr. Doom-level smart; but he's a psychological wreck.


Until he moved away, Adrian played the CHRONONAUT, a randomly rolled scientist who can distort the time-stream (but not travel through time per se (usually)).  This gives him a danger sense, super speed, and barrage-of-fists powers.  Adrian was initially really pumped about playing a super-genius, except literally every other character (except the rather ordinary Green Mantis) is smarter than his guy, because Marvel Super Heroes is pretty generous in giving out brains.  So you've got this guy who's constantly trying to prove himself, and talk down the achievements of the alien super-engineer and the guy who invented his own cyborg body and a quantum-molecular-scanner-teleporter device.


Dan plays AEROSOLO, the Chlorofluoro-Champion, a corporate research scientist who developed the ability to generate and control enormous amounts of CFC's, which works for flight, deflecting objects, telekinesis, and so on.  Aerosolo is a loudmouth show-off, but we haven't seen much of him due to Dan's schedule.

James_Nostack

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2015, 10:18:08 PM »
Oh, silly me


A player, I forget his name b/c it was 6+ months ago and he only came by once, ran the MONKEY KING, who's an established anti-hero in our world, filling the "Namor" role of the formidable dickhead.  True to form, the Monkey King is a lot more interested in personal rivalries than saving the world.


A girl I was dating played the NEON NINJA for one session.  Dr. Solomon is a late-night psychiatrist, but is also a ninja who can vanish in bright lights, blind people with flares of light, and clobber you with "glow-chucks." 

James_Nostack

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2015, 10:57:57 PM »
You guys all fight bears in the first session of every RPG, right, just to have a baseline for combat?  That's a thing gamers do, right?  Good, I'm glad it's not just our table.

(This started a few years ago with Pendragon, which features a bear-hunt as its intro adventure.  Our incompetent knights had a devil of a time with this thing, getting hopelessly lost in the woods; getting stuck in the antechamber of a castle because we weren't famous; trying to officiate some fairy wedding, etc.  Since then, we've fought bears as super heroes in Marvel Heroic, Mythic Iceland, Breaking the Ice, Bushido, and Dungeons & Dragons 5e, in which I ran four 15th level characters in epic battle against 20 bears, and a Stone Giantess Crazy Cat Lady, who instead of cats threw bears.)

Thus, to no one's surprise, the debut super villain was...

COMMANDER KODIAK
Andrew MacArthur is a super villain whose technological armor enables him to mind-control bears - and also, to transform humans into bears, who can then be mind-controlled. His armor grants him super human strength and protection from bullets (and bees). The illustration features his shoulder-mounted bear-virus projectors.

Commander Kodiak claims to believe that the greatest humans of legend, from King Arthur, whose name derives from the Welsh word for bear, to Beowulf, literally bee-wolf, a kenning for bear, were actually mystical bear-kings.  And of course the Viking berserks, most fearsome of the ancient foemen, were bear-warriors.  This allegedly includes historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. His worship of the bear-spirit inspires him to commit crimes whereby bears can once more rule over men, and thereby usher in a millennial Age of Ursus.

He was foiled by the Green Mantis and the Chrononaut in Super Saturday #1: "When Calls the Kodiak!", and hasn't been seen since.

What the players haven't realized yet is that Commander Kodiak's bizarre delusions are a result of coming into contact with an extra-terrestrial artifact (which links this game to the RPG Zero and the Burning Wheel hack Under a Serpent Sun), and some of the other super villains are actually trying to heal and/or exploit Commander Kodiak's fragile psyche.

More characters in a bit.



Marshall Burns

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2015, 10:58:54 AM »
These characters are amazing. My favorite bit: "So you've got this guy who's constantly trying to prove himself, and talk down the achievements of the alien super-engineer and the guy who invented his own cyborg body and a quantum-molecular-scanner-teleporter device."

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2015, 02:00:26 PM »
Wonderfully deranged, and thankfully free of the over-serious "get - it right - from the argh start!" problem.

Talk some system to me baby, you know I love it. (/Barry White)

James_Nostack

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2015, 09:30:15 PM »
Systems, Sub-Systems, Super-Systems
First things first: this game was written by Spider-Man.  I know some people think it's gimmicky, but screw you.  It's extremely kid-friendly, and these were the first set of RPG rules I read all the way through.  The explanations are lucid and helpful.  Between this game and the Mentzer D&D rules, TSR really nailed the teaching-text aspect of RPG presentation.


See that chart?  Along the top, various ranks, from Feeble (borderline subhuman) through Unearthly (limits of human comprehension).  People are rated in various categories along that chart.  When you try to do something, roll percentiles and look down the appropriate column.  Green, marginal success; yellow, solid success; red, spectacular success.  (This could be converted into "yes, but" "yes" and "yes and" in improv terms quite easily.)  Depending on the fictional context, you might have to shift over a few columns to the left or right to reflect hindrances or favorable circumstances.

The game's main reward system is Karma Points, which you earn by performing heroic deeds.  Foiling an arsonist is worth 20 Karma; getting defeated in public will set you back 30 Karma; finding time to get together with friends is worth 5 Karma. 

Karma Points can be spent 1:1 to add to your percentile roll.  So, on a really critical roll, where you need a red result and a zillion horrible circumstances have thrown you down into the Feeble column, you can still spend 100 Karma to nail the roll no matter how unlucky you are.

Karma Chameleon
Although enormous quantities of Karma Points can be spent to buy new super powers or improve your attributes, that's usually not an economical choice: it's generally cheaper and more effective to just influence your rolls on an as-needed basis.  You don't need to be as strong as Thor: you just need to get red results as often as Thor.  It's a subtle distinction, but important.

From this viewpoint, your character's attributes are mostly important as a "gear" on a bike or automobile.  Captain America has an extremely impressive Amazing rank in Fighting.  He doesn't need to spend Karma very often to hit someone.  In contrast, the Invisible Woman has a more commonplace Good rank in Fighting: if she wants to perform at Captain America's level, she's going to have to burn through Karma much more often. 

Using up your Karma means you'll have to earn more of it quickly, so you'll either have to foil many crimes (and likely spend some Karma to do so, though hopefully you still "profit") or chill out with your family to earn Karma relatively risk-free.

Note that if you stare at the Karma reward list, a deliciously silly moral calculus emerges.  If you knowingly allow a murder to occur (-15 Karma) because you're on a really fantastic date (+20 Karma) you still have a net +5 Karma profit and come out ahead morally.  I can see what they're trying to do here--you have to balance your heroic activities with human obligations, and no hero will strike the exact same balance. 

But it's also a little cut-and-dried: there's an objectively "correct" answer under this system.  It also depends, in part, on the GM constantly trying to screw you with Hobson's choices. 

Sub-Systems
The basic game includes rules for vehicles, inventing new gadgets, accumulating money and fame, social interaction, and criminal trials. 

Ron is right: the magic system in this version of the game is perfect for the genre.  Here is the core: "The player simply tells the Judge what he wants to do, and makes a green, yellow, or red Psyche feat.  Especially easy, don't you think?"  In other words, if you know magic, you can turn the Statue of Liberty into pudding, travel back in time, edit people's memories, and so on.  Naturally, these things might require very difficult rolls, and your willpower may not be enough to affect things on the scale you want, and there's a bit more to these rules, but it's effectively "you can kind of do anything," which matches the source material perfectly.  (I find it works a bit better if you restrict a character's magic to a particular concept/theme/tradition, otherwise you end up with magicians who can only be differentiated by their respective Psyche ranks.)

If the magic rules are great, the rules for invention are kind of screwy, in part because you need money to afford inventions, and the underlying money system is a bit screwy.  Both are partially fixed in the Advanced Set, though not as elegantly as I might wish.

The Advanced Game
A few years later, TSR produced the Advanced version of the rules.  My theory on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is that Gygax & Co. took a perfectly workable simple game, and said, "This rule could be tweaked a bit to make it better... And this rule... And this rule..." and in isolation, all of those changes were quite nice, but in the aggregate it mutated into something very cumbersome.  Same with Advanced Marvel Super Heroes: any individual change is sensible and interesting, but when you put it all together, it starts getting complicated.  (Much less so than AD&D, though.)

The really important changes in the Advanced set are revising the monetary system to work a lot like a super power, and introducing rules for Contacts, that is, people who would be happy to do your character a favor.  Both of these are big improvements over the Basic game.

I happen to like the random char-gen in the Advanced Set, the build-your-own-headquarters section, and the defensive moves in combat, but these mostly are a matter of taste.  I find the vehicle rules and revised movement rules to be kind of a drag.

The other big change in the Advanced game is the notion of "intensities" for certain types of rolls.  Building a teleportation machine, for example, is a Monstrous feat of Reason, and thus just barely possible for Mister Fantastic, and completely impossible for Tony Stark or the Mad Thinker.  (Conversely, Mister Fantastic doesn't even have to roll in order to repair a household appliance.)  This is one of those things that's a nice touch, except it starts getting applied to every-damn-thing.  (Night is Typical-intensity darkness; a surface coated in oil is Remarkably slippery, and so on.)

In Play
Works pretty well.  I'm using the Basic Rules + certain rules from the Advanced set (Contacts, Resources/Inventing, Defensive Tactics, and a few others).  I've also hacked the game a bit to include simple rules for minions, and because Body Armor is extremely powerful in this game, I unilaterally halved its effectiveness--if, under the normal rules, your Body Armor soaks 50 points of damage, it now only soaks 25.  All of this seems to work out pretty well in practice.

The Karma system works pretty well, though I generally have not used it to foist difficult choices on players (yet).  I'll probably move toward that over time.  We don't always have enough time to do downtime scenes with romantic interests, friends, and jobs, but I hope to get to that soon.


James_Nostack

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2015, 09:47:49 PM »

Like every good super hero comic, we steal from Borges--particularly "Tlon, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius."  The PAPER TIGER is a super hero foil to the player characters.  Until they arrived in New York, Paper Tiger was the kick-ass awesome super human in town--basically, New York's only super hero.  The Paper Tiger is a human/fiction hybrid, a half-imaginary character from the Fictionverse (a/k/a Collective Unconsciousness dimension). 

The Paper Tiger's super powers use the aforementioned Basic magic system, where all effects have to do with her meta-fictional status.  So: plot armor, skim-ahead precognition, investigation montage, face-imitation, wild coincidence powers, and so on. If it's on TvTropes, she can do it.

Except, instead of her magic being fueled by her willpower, it runs off her Popularity score.  Thus, the player characters and their accomplishments represent a direct challenge to her power source.  Whenever she crosses paths with the players, she has to be an obnoxious gloryhound, stealing credit for everything they do. 

They hate her.  It's great.

Ron Edwards

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2015, 02:17:44 PM »
This stuff is great. You're gettin' into PoMo just far enough to be fun.

I have little to add to your discussion of the system except that I found their adjectives/gradation to be the most sensible and usable list I've seen in gaming rules. For some reason, I have a terrible time deciding between difficulty/description categories in FUDGE (and therefore probably with FATE too), but it was always a breeze in this game.

I'll have to hunt a bit to find my old Forge posting about playing it.

James_Nostack

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Re: [Marvel FASERIP] Super Saturday
« Reply #12 on: May 12, 2015, 05:54:05 PM »
EMOTIONAL RANGE
To me super heroes represent joie d'vivre, whether inflected as Golden Age folk heroes, Silver Age acid trippers, Bronze Age role models, Dark Age fascist pervs, or Modern transmedia trademark-fodder.  If you cannot jump to your feet, shouting and pumping your fist when reading a super hero story, either you are in a wheel chair or the creators didn't do their job.  Comics ought to make you feel glad to be alive, just a little bit.

One of the more curious aspects of really good superhero work is how emotionally inebriated it is.  Every feeling is a feeling!!!  It's this dwarf-star dense stew of maudlin melodrama; hysterical in the clinical sense of the term.  Is the end of the world a metaphorical commentary on the hero's newborn child?  Is the child just a plot device to add a splash of pathos to the end of the world?  It's weird and schizophrenic and exultant and despairing and determined all at the same time.

In the game, I'm aiming for something slightly in between The Venture Brothers and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, maybe less crass than the first but less precious than the second.  The idea being that super heroics is pretty fucking awesome, but also surprisingly sad at unexpected moments.

So far, bits of this have come in from the players' side, but mainly as half-jokes like Sea-Borg's clinical depression and Chrononaut's professional envy.  I'm slowly introducing it on the GM's side by dropping hints of a generation of broken super heroes, ruined, crushed, and mangled by PROFESSOR PHOBOS.  Ideally as we see more of the heroes' day-to-day lives, there will be juicy bits--not to stab and destroy, but to build up genuine human interest in, and then whack with Ye Olde Wheel of Fortuna, either prompting storylines about Spider-Man saving Aunt May with a radioactive isotope, or a character knowing she has to make it home alive because otherwise what happens to the non-profit that gives a job to so many people?  (I'm hoping to build this stuff the way families are built in Pendragon, namely through these random rolls and projective personality readings thereof, so that over time a family does appear to emerge, with a wacky story all of its own, to be exploited or ignored in play as needed.)