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Title: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 18, 2006, 10:26:09 AM
Apologies in advance if this is posted in the wrong forum. I'm still beginning to wrap my brain around the theory discussed here.

In Chapter Five: Role-playing Design and Coherence (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/6/) of GNS and Other Matters of Role-playing Theory, Champions is listed as being "coherent Simulationist design", as well as an "indigestible mix", specifically w/r/t 4th edition. I'm not sure if the former refers to 3rd edition (which seems to be the one favored by Mr. Edwards), hence the contradiction.

I guess I'm curious as to a Forge assessment of HERO's current incarnation, 5th ed. revised. I'm also interested in assessments of the current edition of Mutants & Masterminds.

In a larger sense, I ask in order to get a better idea how to assess a given system from a Big Model/GNS perspective, hopefully with an aim towards aplication of theory in my own play.

I'd post some actual play from my HERO group, but I honestly don't feel conversant enough with terminology and theory as yet. (Though I can muster some descriptions should discussion demand it.) Still, I wanted to ask about the systems above.

Thanks!


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Judd on April 18, 2006, 10:29:59 AM
Welcome to the Forge, Buzz.

You just made your first post to the Forge and as of that moment, you are the Forge as much as anyone here.

What do you think of Champions and M&M?

Forget GNS, I post in the AP forum all of the time and nary a G, N or S spoken.

Tell me what your thoughts on these games and how they work at your table.

Please.

And welcome.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 18, 2006, 11:12:25 AM
Hello,

Um, I actually encourage your interest in the various Creative Agendas, Buzz, so it's up to you.

Steve Long and I have discussed Creative Agenda and the Hero System for years, most recently and in great detail at last year's GenCon. We have arrived at conclusions that are very strong, I think, but also worth about an hour of lecture with many charts, names, and circles & arrows. That's actually not a joke!

What this means is that I'm not really able to answer this inquiry briefly, and since the mass of stuff on my plate keeps me from writing up a monstrous essay on this topic (although I did outline one, years ago), I don't know how well this thread will satisfy you ...

... except that the definition of the forum provides us a productive option. It's "actual play." So the best thing to do is for you to describe at least one of your actual play experiences with Champions, in detail, and talk about anything in it that really was important to you and the others at the time.

That will create the context in which we can not only make all sorts of Creative Agenda things clear as day, but also help get across some of the points Steve and I discussed, about editions, specific supplements, authors, related games like TFT and GURPS, and similar.

The same goes for Mutants & Masterminds - without really discussing actual play, we can't talk about "the game" in an abstract way.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 18, 2006, 12:41:04 PM
Paka, Ron: Thanks for the warm welcome. I'll take some time later tonight to write up some examples from my regular HERO group and the handful of times I was able to play M&M.

And, man, would I have loved to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation with Steve Long! :D


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 18, 2006, 07:11:50 PM
Okay, my current biweekly HERO group has been together about three-and-a-half years. We've been primarily been playing an ongoing Champions campaign, though we added a Fantasy HERO and a second Champs campaign as alternates we rotate in once in a while. The long-running Champs and the Fantasy HERO campiagns are run by M., our primay GM. B. runs the second Champs game. I've only GM'ed for them once, and that was a Buffy Unisystem game (fodder for another thread someday).

Anyway, instances of actual play...

The main thing I notice about how both M. and B. (mostly M.) run HERO is that, outside of combat or issue dealing directly with powers, there's not much of any die-rolling. All social interaction with NPCs and such is played out using Drama/fiat. Skills like Conversation or Persuasion have never once been used in our games. My main PC in the long-running campiagn is sort of a Reed Richards type; really high INT and science skills. I had put some points into Deduction initially, figuring that such a brainiac should be abel to look over a crime scene and assess clues easily. Actual attempts to use the skill, however, were essentially met with, "No, you have to figure it out." I ended up re-building the character and ditched any skills in that arena. In general, I rarely if ever see skills other than KS, Computer Programming, and Electronics get used.

Similarly, there have been instances where I, the player, have made a gaffe when speaking in-character. E.g., after a battle with a low-powered villain team in which one of them was mortally wounded, I used the word "homicide" when I was RP'ing the interview my PC did with reporters on the scene. I didn't mean to; I was trying to sound criminology-savvy (Criminology: another skill I ditched later). M. leapt upon that and had the reporter freak out about how our team killed someone. My PC's massive INT doesn't seem to be allowed to override stuff like this. I.e., arguments of "Hey, he would never have said that, that's just my tongue tripping over itself" are often dismissed.

I may be making it sound worse than it is. Still, I'm sometimes a little confused by how much energy will be spent assuring "realistic" adjudication of Powers and combat actions, but the "story" aspects are pretty much "roleplay it out".

What makes it somewhat difficult to judge is that most of us, especially M., have been playing HERO for decades. M. in particular, rarely seems to work from notes. He has a dog-eared SPD chart, but other than that, it's usually just him, and occasionally stats from a sourcebook.

B. is a lot more typical: notes, GM screen, lots of minis, etc. Even so, there's the same lack of skill use in his game. Hyper-realism (or at least genre-realism) in combat and powers and science issues (he's a bio Ph.D.); all "roleplay" with eveyrthing else.

On the player side of things, I'd say that the emphasis in on Actor stance, though in some cases, the PC itself has been designed to closely resemble the player's attitudes, so it's not really much of a stretch. OTOH, we also have one player (M. wife, K.), who has, e.g., a PC in our FH game that is, if I have the terminology right, a dickweed.

K.: "I detect magic. Do any of the soldiers have magic on them?"
M.: "Yes, you can see auras coming from foo, bar, blah, yada..."
Me: "Okay, well knowing that they have magic, we better..."
K.: "Oh, I don't tell any of you about that."
Me: "Oh. Uh, okay."

Anyway, that said, of the three groups I'm in, I consider this the "serious roleplaying" group, and probably the one I have the most fun with at the table. "Serious" in that we get very into the game, enjoy the deeply-developed setting, know our PCs really well, and deal with "grownup" issues in the game. My main PC has an ex-wife, son, and budding relationship with another super that come up quite a bit, and I love that stuff. My PC has a fierce devotion to his son (DNPC), and it drives a lot of fun, yet intense play.

The current storyline involved travelling through a time-rift to a future in which earth had been conquered by an alien race, and my son was trapped on one of their base-ships. I was interested in taking a break from my main PC for a bit, so we ended with him and his son trapped in the future, but an alternate, superhero version of his son (i.e., my new PC) trapped in the present. I worked this out with M. in advance of the session (but after we'd already gotten trapped in the future). I'm not sure how much effect this had on the actual play of the team's escape, other than that my main PC didn't make it back. Of course, an old nemesis of my original PC just happened to show up at the right time and bungle his escape...

The other players have also come up with genuinely interesting characters, and part of the enjoyment each session is just watching their spotlight time. Since we have six players plus the GM, these spotlight moments can go on quite a bit, but they are generally a blast to watch. Granted, it doesn't always stop me from browsing my HERO book or the rogue copies of Twisted Toyfare Theater some of us have. :)

Anyway, as far as the system goes, I often feel like we've just scratched the surface. Despite having played various editions of HERO since the '80s, I think I've only really started to grok the system with the advent of 5th edition. Ergo, I like the idea of using the rules as much as possible; I want to master this puppy.

At the table, the books rarely get cracked open, save for the occasional dispute. It's mostly during chargen that I'm poring over the books. (Chargen is a huge draw of HERO for me; I guess that's Exploring System. Whatveer it is, I love fiddling with Powers.) M.'s campaign is also slightly divergent from the current Champs universe, so even the setting material is only of so much use. Again, most of us have been using the system so long, we may just not need to consult the text much, and that makes things feel a bit more free-form, sometimes.

(M&M... I may have to leave for another time. I haven't gotten to play the new edition at all yet; the previous one I only played a few times.)

Anyway, if I'm going in the right direction, let me know. Time for bed. :)


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ramidel on April 19, 2006, 01:28:32 AM
Hrm.

A comment on the system, before actual play analysis is that it is designed to be used with miniatures (movement is specifically mentioned in "inches"). However...

In actual play, I've been with two HERO groups as well (my current group took one look at the movement system and choked). Neither used miniatures. As a general rule, all chases were run in the same abstract manner as any other RPG without using miniatures, which goes to prove Ron's point: systems can't be discussed in absence of actual play. Now, that aside:

GM A ran a Fantasy Hero game dice-heavy. Movement was abstracted, but if a player or GM wanted to roll dice in a deduction, an interaction, or any other situation that could be diced or roleplayed out, the dice came out (some social interactions did go without dice, but not a lot). Combat was focused on tactics, with frequent references to the book early on. Later in the campaign, the book rarely opened, because everyone had their own set of typical moves memorized (my hero, known better as "the Lightning Blade," made frequent use of acrobatic stunts and feints, while the other fighter tended to whack with the axe, to name two). The game seemed to be Crunch-heavy, medium-Fortune, low-competition Gamist, with the thrill of beating hell out of evil wizards and rescuing Damsels In Distress keeping us coming back. This seems to be largely in accordance with the design goals of Champions, but there was a Drift towards rules-light Sim in removing the miniatures.

GM B's Champions game was entirely different. The GM was a longtime Amber player, and the dice rarely came up outside of combat. Chargen was very, very to-the-rules, but she stated up front that most of the time, the character sheet would be used more to determine the characters' schtick than a source of rolls. Combat did get diced out, social interactions did not, clue-based research and deduction rarely got dice (the brainiac PC got some breaks because it was his thing, everyone else had to push through on player mental-muscle), and stuff like hacking seemed to get "roll dice behind the screen and ignore them." This game was very Sim in the rules-light story mode, with significant Illusionist overtones.

So like everything, it depends. My feeling is that HERO as written is designed for Crunch-heavy, medium Fortune, low competition Gamism. The trend in Actual Play seems to involve heavy Drift towards Rules-Light Story Sim, which may be because the people I game with have an aversion to miniatures and "wargaming" in RPGs.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 19, 2006, 07:15:36 AM
Our group will occasionally run combats without minis, but more often than not we break out the figs and the battlemat, especially if it's a climactic battle.

(Interestingly, Steve Long has said that he never uses minis. Which makes me wonder why eveyrthing in HERO is still in inches/hexes, barring them being so hardwaired into the rules. Not that I mind; I like using minis.)

That said, M. will still use a certain amount of fiat in adjudicating combat, usually w/r/t terrain specifics, e.g., "You wouldn't be able to do X and Y in a single phase due to the lighting and yada yada." Maybe that's a crappy example. Suffice it to say, there have been moments when I didn't necessarily see the RAW backing up the decision, but I defer to the GM.*

I'm not sure if I see the way we play HERO as Gamist, as I understand the term. I don't really see much Step On Up in our games, beyond the occasional attempt by a player (mostly this one player) to get approval for Power constructs that push the limits of the campiagn guidelines, if that counts. What I see is emphasis on dramatic situations that fit into the ongoing "soap opera" of our super-teams, and adherence to "what makes sense" when adjudicating.

Another thing I notice is a certain amount of subjectivity (afaict) in adjudicating skill rolls. Sometimes it may be that our GMs have a modifier in mind, but often it seems like, "Tell me how well you made the roll by and I'll correlate that to a degree of success that seems reasonable".

I wouldn't say that this bugs me, but it does make me think about how we use the rules, especially in light of what I read here on the Forge.

* This is one of the main things that prompted me to post. Based on what I'm learning about theory, I'm not sure how to reconcile the massive crunch that it HERO with the GM advice in the core book, which is essentially "The GM has final say. Get rid of or change any rules that get in the way of having fun." Which makes me want to ask: "Why are there rules in here that would get in the way of me having fun?" :)


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: jlarke on April 19, 2006, 10:23:24 AM
I'm running a Champions game right now. It's been interesting in that I discovered The Forge after only a couple of sessions and suddenly realized that what I really wanted was heavy Nar. Doh! However, the theory stuff here gave me much better mental tools than I had before and ultimately made the game better. I had a sort of inchoate idea that Narr was role-playing and everything else less so. My players were only really getting excited when someone used a superpower to really clobber someone, and I was dimly thinking that I'd gotten a bunch of lame roleplayers. After reading theory work here, I realized that they were just hardcore Gamists. I made some changes in the game structure and setting to facilitate Gamist play and suddenly we were all having a lot more fun, myself especially.

I use all the skills whenever applicable, but I've wholeheartedly adopted fortune in the middle for the social ones. If someone fails a streetwise roll, I ask them to tell me how it happened that they went into the bar and were instantly made. People seem to like it now that they're getting used to it.

I'd never run a superhero game without a battlemap. I think it helps create the hyperkinetic comic-book mood. Superspeed and knockback, in particular, seem to become much more meaningful when physical objects get moved from one side of the table to another.

I also prefer to do the "roll and tell me how much you made it by" mechanic instead of giving them a modifier. Figuring out modifiers takes some mental effort. If someone rolls and makes it or fails by a decent amount, I'll just wave my hand and call it a success or failure. If it's close, then I make the effort to calculate a proper modifier. In combat, of course, I'm more careful. My Gamist players would not like any evidence of slipshod work during a fight.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Andrew Cooper on April 19, 2006, 11:15:04 AM
Which makes me want to ask: "Why are there rules in here that would get in the way of me having fun?"

This is the question that sold me on "System Does Matter".  It was like a lightning bolt to the brain.  I had never thought to challenge the inclusion of Rule Zero in any game text but suddenly such a rule instantly turned me off to any system I read.  I don't have much more to add to this particular discussion, having little recent experience with Champions and MM.  I just wanted to chime in and say that from a standpoint of evaluating game design the question above and the answers to it were the "big" epiphany for me and my gaming habits.



Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 19, 2006, 12:23:12 PM
It was like a lightning bolt to the brain.  I had never thought to challenge the inclusion of Rule Zero in any game text but suddenly such a rule instantly turned me off to any system I read.
The interesting thing is that, of the games on my shelf, it's the extra-crunchy, page-heavy, Sim-leaning ones (i.e., HERO and GURPS) that stress throwing out rules and "GM is always right" the most (esp. GURPS). In contrast, D&D 3.5, Feng Shui, and Adventure! (the one WW game I own), all fall on the side of "Use the RAW and you'll be okay; don't be changing things willy-nilly."

In the case of GURPS and HERO, I don't know if the toolkit nature of the systems sort of demands some Rule 0'ing. I.e., it's more a matter of setting the dials than fiat-ing up the wazoo. But, I dunno.

To get back to actual play, my GMs seem to have followed this basic advice in settling into their GM'ing styles. E.g., social skill rules are pretty much out the window in favor of Drama. I just find it interesting that, in combat, the RAW are pretty much law. It's an interesting dichotomy.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 19, 2006, 02:38:50 PM
Hi guys,

Hey, this is a great interaction about system and agendas. Let's see if I can get to the nuts and bolts about the original questions, too.

Buzz, first things first - I've been there. I am a long-time Champs veteran, including a lot of activity in an APA back in the 1980s which brought me into contact with many, many groups around the country. What you're describing slots exactly into many of my observations from that time.

OK, GNS/Creative Agenda talk, coming up. Or more specifically, Big Model. Buzz, I'm not sure if you know that the main essay to start with, now, is just the first page or two of the Provisional Glossary. Creative Agenda is still a big deal, playing a unique and crucial role in the Big Model, but it's not (and never was) the only thing to talk about. Check out that set of text, if you will. Contrary to the title of the piece, it's not just a list of terms.

And it just so happens that some really good diagrams have been published recently at Chris Chinn's  Deep in the Game (http://bankuei.blogspot.com/), which are perfect for this discussion. I'll break'em out a little, and you might have to scroll down the page at the link a little to see each one:

Functional play (http://bankuei.blogspot.com/2006/03/putting-it-together.html) (strong emphasis on Creative Agenda, which I think he de-emphasizes a bit too much)
Incoherent play (http://bankuei.blogspot.com/2006/03/for-comparison.html)
Dysfunctional play (http://bankuei.blogspot.com/2006/04/when-it-all-falls-down.html)

What I'm seeing in your description is a classic example, Drift-heavy Champions style, of incoherent play. You'll see that there is no identifiable Creative Agenda, and a very strong emphasis on GM expertise - he is everyone's window to play. However, when play isn't consistently satisfying, the player must find some kind of pseudo-play (imagined, remembered, privately fantasized) which is satisfying enough to keep him involved. In your case, and not at all rare among Champs players, that's found in character creation. So no, that's not Exploration of System at all - it's a different activity that you're using to substitute for play itself.

What Chris doesn't show in this diagram, however, is that such play often hints at, or shows flashes of, specific Creative Agendas. I see this showing up in two ways, in your descriptions - again, both very familiar to me when it comes to Champions.

Based on your description, I think there may be bits and pieces of player Narrativist priorities at specific moments, perhaps in a managed sense on the GM's part - "OK, here's your chance to be thematic!" - which might unfortunately also arrive only on his terms - "which would look like this, wouldn't it!" So in my view, what you guys are getting is certainly spotlight time, but that in and of itself isn't a guarantee of agenda satisfaction. Perhaps that satisfaction is sometimes or even almost always there, after all, you say those moments or sequences are a blast ... but I remain suspicious that in this group, especially with a long-time history like this, a "blast" may simply mean "gets to play" and not what I consider to be a real payoff.

OK, now I want to talk about this trend (and as you can see, it's definitely not the only way to play Champs, or even a textually-supported one, but it is very common): very formal rules-specific fight scenes, embedded in totally dialogue-driven, totally GM-verbally-managed interaction and "go here do this" scenes.

I want to emphasize that I was a master of such GMing. The players could say "we do X" and "we do Y," and wouldn't you know it, because I could frame the scenes and because I could run the NPCs as reacting how I wanted, the scenes would proceed one by one ... and we'd always end up at the set-pieces that I had planned.

And you know what? It didn't matter either what happened in each fight. Maybe they'll beat on someone, maybe they'll get beaten on. Champs is wonderfully predictable for combat, as combat mainly involves grinding down opponents' considerable resources. And here's the dirty secret of such GMing ... if the heroes do manage to pull off a cool combination and knock out someone important, you can always transfer the "important stuff" (the secret of the master plan, etc) to someone else who got away.

So the fights become set-pieces which are just plain fun to run when everyone knows the rules, and players can work out little grudges against this-or-that villain, and buildings can get blown up. But the story or sequence the GM is working through can proceed as planned, pretty much no matter what. With a GM this experienced, he will never have to worry about stomping the characters into the dirt, except when he wants to, or about them totally stifling the Master Plan too early. You guys get to play your characters, he gets to write/present his story, you get to appreciate the story, and ... and, that's it.

Two things are crucial to preserving this sort of play, over time, which I used to do and which you guys are obviously doing as well.

1. Out-of-combat, interactive skill use is flat out. The GM uses these features on your sheets as fiat methods, period, and if they can't work because it doesn't suit his plans, he ignores them. Your character is smart? Oh - well, not that smart. The master illusionist is just smarter, OK?

This is crucial because this approach to play requires managing those out-of-combat scene framing events, managing the necessary interactions ("they've gotta really hate this guy"), and managing the information flow from scene to scene. All this must be under one man's helm, or all will become chaos.

2. In-character dialogue, "if you say it he said it," and character-only knowledge are also crucial, not because of any aesthetic values they have (the usual justification), but because they fiercely limit your (the real person's) ability to influence these scenes either. "Wait, doesn't that mean Bat-Shriek is really Killjoy's brother?" "Hey! You're not there!" The flow of information, revelation, insight, and judgment is under that helm too. You guys, you're there to appreciate the SIS through the GM, and such interjections smack too much direct contact with it, and contact with each other about it.

All right, I'm not really trying to bust on your GMs. I do understand the kind of play that's going on ... but long experience leads me to think that you, right this minute, are at the cusp of realizing that somehow ... everything seems to be becoming ...repetitive. Are you really having a blast with each spotlight? You qualified it, when you said so. Is warping the very fabric of space and time actually as fun as stopping a bank robbery was, back when your character had only 272 points? I mean, you guys are turning to alternate futures and pasts ... what next? When do the situations collapse under their own escalating weight?

I'll be happy to discuss Champions as system as well, but for now, let's stick with play and have some dialogue about the points I've raised, and see whether I'm anywhere near on my ruminations. I'll do the rules-discussion and Champs-as-system after that.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 19, 2006, 06:30:02 PM
Buzz, I'm not sure if you know that the main essay to start with, now, is just the first page or two of the Provisional Glossary. Creative Agenda is still a big deal, playing a unique and crucial role in the Big Model, but it's not (and never was) the only thing to talk about. Check out that set of text, if you will. Contrary to the title of the piece, it's not just a list of terms.
Gotcha. I have read the main essays and have been making my way through the glossary... I'll keep goin'.

And it just so happens that some really good diagrams have been published recently at Chris Chinn's  Deep in the Game (http://bankuei.blogspot.com/), which are perfect for this discussion.
Ah, yes! Chris' blog is a daily stop for me; I loved those diagrams. (I've mostly been delving into theory via the articles page and the various "blog diaspora"; primarily Chris' and Vincent's, as well as Ben Lehman and others. Mearls, too, though he doesn't post as often any more and is not a Forge-guy, per se; I love his work.)

In your case, and not at all rare among Champs players, that's found in character creation. So no, that's not Exploration of System at all - it's a different activity that you're using to substitute for play itself.
FWIW, and barring two Champs con events I prepped, I've only made three PC's in the three years we've been playing. The new PC being introduced as a "break" from my main Champs PC will be the fourth. Granted, I"ve re-built these PCs a few times, improving my point minmaxing (and ditching useless skills, as I mentioned). Of course, I love it when I do it.

Based on your description, I think there may be bits and pieces of player Narrativist priorities at specific moments, perhaps in a managed sense on the GM's part - "OK, here's your chance to be thematic!" - which might unfortunately also arrive only on his terms - "which would look like this, wouldn't it!" So in my view, what you guys are getting is certainly spotlight time, but that in and of itself isn't a guarantee of agenda satisfaction. Perhaps that satisfaction is sometimes or even almost always there, after all, you say those moments or sequences are a blast ... but I remain suspicious that in this group, especially with a long-time history like this, a "blast" may simply mean "gets to play" and not what I consider to be a real payoff.
I can see this. You mention my qualifying the "blast" comment later in your post, and it's true. While I often thoroughly enjoy simply being audience member to other players' spotlight time*, I'm not always in the mood to be just that. And one player (the one I mentioned who often presents tricked-out Powers to the main GM) will unabashedly read books while waiting for his turn to come up. (Sometimes even prompting me to read some bit from the latest KODT or whatever--"You gotta read this!"--when I'm trying to pay attention. Ugh.)

* In addition to M's wife, his brother-in-law (i.e., the wife's brother) is also in the group. The three of them have been playing together for about 20 years. Watching the interplay between M. and his bro-in-law is thoroughly entertaining; the bro especially has an incredible sense of humor. M. and his wife can also get pretty deep and put on a good show. AFAIK, a lot of the backstory and NPCs from the current campaign are previous PCs of theirs from years past.

And you know what? It didn't matter either what happened in each fight. Maybe they'll beat on someone, maybe they'll get beaten on. Champs is wonderfully predictable for combat, as combat mainly involves grinding down opponents' considerable resources. And here's the dirty secret of such GMing ... if the heroes do manage to pull off a cool combination and knock out someone important, you can always transfer the "important stuff" (the secret of the master plan, etc) to someone else who got away.

So the fights become set-pieces which are just plain fun to run when everyone knows the rules, and players can work out little grudges against this-or-that villain, and buildings can get blown up. But the story or sequence the GM is working through can proceed as planned, pretty much no matter what. With a GM this experienced, he will never have to worry about stomping the characters into the dirt, except when he wants to, or about them totally stifling the Master Plan too early. You guys get to play your characters, he gets to write/present his story, you get to appreciate the story, and ... and, that's it.
Man, this is pretty spot-on.

For example, our time-hopping adventure. Despite having to plan our attack on the alien base-ship and confer with an NPC from MAGE as to how to get ourselves back to our own timeline, I think we all pretty much knew that we were going to get back; it was mostly seeing how it all played out. And, as I mentioned, I knew in advance that my main PC was not coming back, as I'd planned it out with the GM to effect bringing in a new PC for me to play. Granted, I didn't know how he was going to do it exactly, nor that my main PC's son would also get stuck in the future, but still, there was no point where I wondered how things were going to turn out.

And, really, I can probably think of many other climactic battles that sort of ended up the same way. I can think of one instance where we failed and, as far as I know, will see the repercussions, and another where my PC was faced with having to face one of his disads in order to save the world (having to order the death of a villain, despite his code v. killing). But I honestly, don't think that, e.g., PC death is ever truly on the table (though it is awfully hard to die in Champs). I toyed with the idea of having my main PC die in order to play a new PC. I knew that it would be something I would plan out with the GM, and that it would get to be all dramatic and meaningful. :)

All right, I'm not really trying to bust on your GMs. I do understand the kind of play that's going on ... but long experience leads me to think that you, right this minute, are at the cusp of realizing that somehow ... everything seems to be becoming ...repetitive. Are you really having a blast with each spotlight? You qualified it, when you said so. Is warping the very fabric of space and time actually as fun as stopping a bank robbery was, back when your character had only 272 points? I mean, you guys are turning to alternate futures and pasts ... what next? When do the situations collapse under their own escalating weight?
I guess the most obvious answer is that I wouldn't be conspiring with the GM to contrive the entrance of a new PC for me if I was still having a blast with my main PC. And I'm the second person in the group to do this, AND I know of two other members who have talked about bringing in different PCs.

Thing is, I do feel that I have fun with this group. I like the people, and though we don't socialize outside the game very often, we have done so and it's fun. Whatever grand story is coming out of all our incoherence is interesting to me (well, most of the time), and really feels like the long, involved continuity of the '80s Marvel titles I enjoyed so much.

Nonetheless, reading the theory here has made me examine exactly how we do things, and I find myself wondering if we could be doing things better. It's made me bristle at some behaviors I may not have noticed before, and has me thinking very hard about ways I can make for what might be a better style of play should I GM for the group in the future. (My current concept is to do something Traveller-esque, i.e., heroic level PCs with heavy skill emphasis in a hard-SF milleu. 180 degrees from what we do when we play Champs.)

The main reason I started this thread was to find out how to recognize HERO's strengths and weaknesses, and then figure out how to play to the former and minimize the latter. I don't know if that's the purpose of the Big Model or not. All I know is, when I read the RAW, I think "This is freakin' cool." Now what I want to know is how I use the rules (really *use* them) to create play that is freakin' cool.

Lemme mention two more things:

First off, another bit about skill use. A lot of the PCs in the big Champs campaign are magic-based supers. A recent scenario invovled analyzing some magic threat, and the issue of whether any of the PCs had any applicable KS skills came up. At the time, only one PC in attendance did, and that was the specific KS: Technomancy. It took a lot of wrangling with the GM to determine that it wasn't of much use.

I found this a bit bizarre. Knowledge skills in HERO are essentially player-defined, so I realize that a PC's expertise is essentially limited by the player. In contrast, the other system I play regularly is D&D 3.5. In 3.5 there are set number of Knowledge skills, and the scope fo each one is defined.

I got into a bit of a discussion wit the GM on this, as my 3.5 mindset was taking over when the Technomancy issue came up. Since the player made up "Technomancy", it's application becomes sort of a Mother-may-I with the GM. In this case, the resulting bargaining process ended up with the skill being useless. I then tried to get the GM to nail down how skills like these should work, i.e., how do I know whether a skill I choose will be at all useful? The effective answer was, basically: it depends on how you define it and how the GM sees that working in the setting. I found myself missing D&D 3.5 right hen. :)

Second bit, a quick word about the Fantasy HERO campiagn.

I pretty much hate it.

It may be that D&D is informing my FRPG expectations too much. Part of me was expecting fantasy done under HERO to be totally different from D&D, but we end up crawling through dungeons just the same, though with less looting. I also maybe expected that our PCs would gel into a co-dependent whole, in the sense of D&D-like class niche's that cover each other's weaknesses. There's a bit of that, but mostly we have a pretty motley crew.

I created a John Carter/Conan pastiche with a gritty background. He's a tough guy from WWI-era Earth who was trasnported to the fantasy universe and now lives by his sword and drinks hard. A mysterious goddess speaks to him (voices in his head), directing him to some unknown fate.

The other GM, B., created... a cleric named Brenda. The bro creatd a halfling paladin called Percival Pondskipper, who weilds the mighty weapon Kneecap Avenger. The wife created the aforementined dickweed PC, a half-elf/half-dragon named Snapdragon. A "paladin" that's really a fire mage and a thief-type round out the group.

The setup and feel of this campiagn is very campy; there's some camp in the Champs game, but not nearly as much. We work for "Illuminati University" (the GURPS supplement meets Hogwarts) and go artifact-hunting. There's also a plot that involves a German general from Earth that is mustering an army in our fantasy world (pretty much a plot directed at my PC), but we spend so much time muddling around dungeons, not being told anything useful by the dickweed PC (middle of combat: "I go chase a butterfly!"), and getting into goofy hijinx in town that... I just don't really look forward to the sessions. The combats are very boring; without the superpowers, it's literally swing-hit-roll damage-repeat. Given that we're not using skills for squat, it's just a lot of talking and subplot-pursual.

Thankfully, it only rotates in every 5th session.

Anyway, thanks for all the input. Time for bed once again. :)


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 20, 2006, 07:17:44 AM
A few more comments about what I want when I roleplay w/r/t this group.

To a certain extent, I have a sort of  Rilstone-ian (http://www.aslan.demon.co.uk/johnny.htm) agenda: I want to do cool stuff in a given RPG milieu. I love supers almost more than any other genre (it battles with fantasy for top spot), and I love HERO's engrossing chargen process that lets me realize, in a crunchy context, the kind of supers I want to play. I don't mind adversity and overcoming challenge, but I eventually want to kick ass. Maybe not in a Step On Up way, but more a "do the cool stuff I see in the comics" way. If the ass-kicking is done within a very comic-book-like context (i.e., an interesting setting), all the better.

Unfortunately, this will get subverted by the GM. The uselessness of skills and in-character talk stuff I mentioned earlier, for example, makes it hard for my brainiac PC to be much of a brainiac. Other than giving him a high PER roll and good bases for his KS skills, his INT 35 hasn't really meant much. All my XP has since been sunk into improving his laser eyebeams and body armor.

The new PC I'm bringing in is basically a Hyperion clone (i.e., Superman). I've got a lot of points to work with (about 450), and he's going to be entirely ass-kicking focused: monstrous STR, massive defenses, ridiculously fast flight, Life Support, lots of Combat Levels... all the stuff that seems to actually matter in-game. Beyond Tactics, Teamwork, and maybe Breakfall, I don't forsee him possessing a whole lot of skills.

But, for all I know, the opponents will just be ramped up to match, and he'll get his heine handed to him. I guess we'll see.

So, I want to do cool, engrossing stuff. Sometimes the story we interact with or are witness to accomplishes this, sometimes it doesn't.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 20, 2006, 03:04:08 PM
First, Buzz, I'm going to call you (and Rilestone) on something. This business about your goal being to "play your cool character, in a satisfying way in an interesting setting?" That's like someone whose knees have been shot out saying, "I just want to walk." Which means that my points about Creative Agenda are not applicable yet, because Creative Agenda concerns where and how you want to walk.

I think we agree strongly that Chris' incoherent-play diagram applies to your group. That means, as I see it, that this conversation contains some pitfalls for discussing Creative Agenda. If your chief aim is to enjoy playing (and I mean playing, not just getting together with friends and cobbling together solitary imaginative satisfaction once in a while), at all, then it's going to be a long haul; Creative Agenda talk is a few inns down the road. Since you've brought so much enthusiasm and attention to my essays, I'm willing to do it with you. But hey - there are some pitfalls, and we might fall into a couple along the way. When that happens, let's try to help one another out of them.

All right, now let's get concrete with Champions, although I'd really like a sit-down with the GM and his dog-eared notebook, to ask some question about how long he played the previous edition(s), which supplements from those days he does and does not utilize, and so on. I suspect there's more 3rd edition in there than one might think.

But here's a loop to throw you for - just for a minute, consider D&D. Why? Because in my essay A hard look at Dungeons & Dragons (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/20/), I present a case that emerged from an old Forge discussion, that there was no actual "D&D," but rather a large number of pockets or sub-communities that each cobbled together its D&D from unique, local combinations of artifacts that they were sure added up to be a game. In other words, cargo cults, each convinced they had figured out the "real" D&D. Check out the essay if you'd like.

Champions presents something of the same situation, although not identical. The similarity can be observed in the plethora of editions and habits and ideas, which were also represented as subsets per group, also creating more-or-less cargo cults of  groups which were individually convinced they were playing the game "right." It can also be observed in the immense range of Creative Agenda that could be observed across groups, to the extent they could not be said, by the wildest stretch of imagination, to be playing the same thing.

To this day, people will look me in the eye, speaking with barely-suppressed protective rage, and tell me exactly what Champions is, how coherent it is, how perfect for that goal it is, and how wrong I am for using the word "incoherent" within paragraphs of its name. Except that what they individually describe differs from one another to the extent that Polaris differs from Rifts. Yup, that different.

Now for the hard part, and this is why we need that historical perspective and circles-and-arrows chart that I was talking about. Because the points I'm going to make are supported in two ways:

1. The diversity among the actual rules of Champions across three distinct historical phases. You'll note some other games are lumped in there too.

a) The older game The Fantasy Trip, Champions 1st and 2nd editions, including the supplement Champions II, the Stronghold supplement, a bunch of the house magazine issues, and the first two Enemies books

b) 3rd edition, including the supplement Champions III, a number of modules including Coriolis (a Phoenix type story); it's important to contrast these with the contemporary Fantasy Hero and Super-Agents

c) GURPS (early version), 4th edition Champions, the first official stand-alone Hero System, almost all associated modules and spin-offs, and GURPS Supers; in terms of origins, this set has more in common with Fantasy Hero and Super-Agents than either does with the Champions material in part (b)

In my view, the leap from (a) to (b) is very different from the leap from (b) to (c), but that would be a big topic in the imaginary lecture and not immediately relevant to my present point.

2. The diversity among the perceived goals of playing Champions, in Creative Agenda (GNS) terms, across groups at any particular point in the above historical sequence. It's pretty damn diverse, too; here are the high water marks.

a) Gamist - this breaks into a couple of categories, ranging from the tactical emphasis based on combat options and teamwork, to the individual-advantage emphasis based on playing with points. The latter tends to devolve into the Hard Core pretty quickly.

b) Simulationist - this breaks real fast into two distinct sorts, on one hand the "do it like the comics" die-hards, and on the other the engineering-style "realism" folks who really, really care about a character's or vehicle's turning radius, or how hot an eyebeam must be to melt a girder.

c) Narrativist - this breaks into several versions as well, historically pretty muddled together, ranging from a highly emulative desire to write one's own comics, to pushing one another's ethical or political hot-buttons, or to focusing on highly consequential expressions of character development

No particular detail in terms of the imagined content is going to be a give-away for any of these. That's the big error in talking about Champions and Creative Agenda - to focus on what the characters do and what they're like. Instead, we have to talk about the real people and what they do, and what they like.

So you see what's up here? Not only do we have to look at the range of options available to and accepted by a given group, based on which rules they use, but also at the range of Creative Agenda, in order to find the one (if any) that they consider these particular rules "perfect for." It's complicated. No one's Champions is anyone else's Champions.

Which leads me to my final point, predicated on all the stuff I just went over. It's this: any particular rules-set of Champions requires immense local tuning in order to be satisfying at the Creative Agenda level. If we're talking about pre-4th edition, it's like having a bunch of really interesting parts and pieces, some of which look like junk and some of which clearly are meant to be in the middle somehow, and the group must decide what this vehicle is, assemble it, and take it where they want to go. On the other hand, if we're talking about 4th edition and beyond, it's like having a weird already-built vehicle that has all sorts of propulsive devices and onboard computers and no recognizable front end; the group literally has to remove a bunch of parts in order to see what it can do and which way you're supposed to sit in it.

(insert here twenty or thirty different examples of local specifications of rules, oh, to pick one, the role of person-based Disadvantages [Hunted, DNPC, etc] in constructing scenarios, expected responses to their use, and how spending EPs affects them in real-play terms - I can give you at least four ways to interpret the written rules, and each of which has been hit upon and institutionalized by different groups I've known)

Hence the expert-GM and his dog-eared notebook. Hence also the very strong tendency for play to begin coherently, in Creative Agenda terms, and to stay that way for a brief while ... and the equally strong, widespread tendency for the group eventually to settle on consistently incoherent play, with intermitttent flashes, perhaps reminders, of the coherence. And hence, as well, the incredibly marked inability of Champions veterans of different groups/versions to play well together.

(Side point, worth another goddam lecture of its own - this entire history of design, publishing, and play I'm briefly outlining is the single most powerful influence on RPG design throughout the history of the hobby. Not even AD&D hit the subculture with such a jackhammer of ideas, influences, inspiration, and problems as this Champions sequence did. Nearly every single game published today is really a settting-specification of some version of Champions. No lie. In your group's case, what I'm seeing is the kind of play that ultimately was to inspire the design of Exalted, almost verbatim, with the additional influence of Magic: the Gathering.)

Whew!! That was a big chunk o'something-or-other. Buzz, here's my next question. Do you want to delve into what your group is doing right now in Big Model terms? Or do you want to talk about what you'd like to see, or get from play, and discuss that?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on April 21, 2006, 05:00:26 AM
Quote
I don't mind adversity and overcoming challenge, but I eventually want to kick ass. Maybe not in a Step On Up way, but more a "do the cool stuff I see in the comics" way. If the ass-kicking is done within a very comic-book-like context (i.e., an interesting setting), all the better.

Unfortunately, this will get subverted by the GM. The uselessness of skills and in-character talk stuff I mentioned earlier, for example, makes it hard for my brainiac PC to be much of a brainiac. Other than giving him a high PER roll and good bases for his KS skills, his INT 35 hasn't really meant much. All my XP has since been sunk into improving his laser eyebeams and body armor.

I've been involved with Hero a long time.  Heck, they are my second client as an artist... but that isn't the point.  I've been playing since Danger International...and my intro to Hero was through D.I. and Fantasy Hero before I ever played Champions.  This informed my experience in such a way that when I did meet some die-hard Champions players, I did have a different sense of what was what.  Btw, I've been involved in that Champions game, on and off for 15 years.  DI and FH are very lethal games.  And this really put a patina on my Champions playing that I' ve never been able to shake.  Our house rules, have made OUR Champions more lethal... not death every ep, but we go into combat, not into adventure and huzzah!  Our Champs game resembles Authority in tone and lethality (before Millar).

And I am frustrated with the system.  Precisely because it doesn't model "do cool stuff as seen in comics".  And I think this speaks to being the 35 INT braniac character as well as more combat oriented superheroics.  My yardstick is an old 1975 John Romita Jr Spiderman comic book.  Spidey is tossed out of a plane at about 2 miles up.  (actually, 2 comics, first one ends with Spidey being tossed out... nice cliffhanger that).  In the 2nd issue, Spidey is a smart guy, knows how long he has, and how fast he is traveling, blah, blah... he is a physics guy after all.  He whips up a hangglider/parachute thing (complete with first try being ripped apart by winds, very cool touch there..) and glides to safety.

Now, Champions does not have a mechanic in place to satisfyingly take this kind of imagination into account.  That is a kickass, superheroic scene... and Champions falls flat on its face.  There is no reason that Spidey should have "Gliding" in his multipower: Webshooters.  There is no reason that a kludge like Variable Power Pool should be on Spidey's sheet.  5th Edition has further exasperated the issue by introducing 'Power Skill"... a 3 pt, 2 paragraphs of poorly explained examples... that allows one to use Powers on the fly in small ways.  A Power, that I put forth, dear readers, that every freakin' superhero and villain should have as part of the gestalt that is superheroic comics!.  So why chargre pts for it?

No, I think Champions models the Battletech system brilliant.  I'm very good tactically, leading a team to at least partial victory (our game is pretty intense, rarely is there a full out victory).  What I do is create mismatches with the bad guys, ganging up two or 3 on one and then moving to the next target.  A very Battletech approach.  But it ain't comic superheroic combat that I've read for 4 decades.  Where is the mano a mano?

Feng Shui would have said, "wow, damn cool stunt, heck, Spidey gets a bonus!"... which I feel is really the correct way to handle the milieu.  Mutants and Masterminds has at it's HEART, the Hero Pt mechanic, allowing for stunts and bonuses etc... Blow a Hero pt... Spidey whips up the cool glider and saves his hide.... lets move on to the next scene.  Really, this probably the best way, a limited, but renewable resource allowing for out-of the-box power/skill/imagination application.  To my mind, M&M has Hero Pts as its core, not the d20 system... it is so subtle and so brilliant... and even better in 2nd ed (thanks to tweaking mechanic like Burning Wheel and Forge theory in my estimation.)

With your brilliant INT 35 hero, in M&M, you can throw the Hero pt to make that brilliant deduction, or spot the clue that is helpful or what have you.  It is palatable to both player and GM, because for the player, you get to choose when to use it, when is it important to succeed or shine or to co-gm author the scene?  For the GM, it is a limited resource, the player cannot be doing it all the time... somethings have to slide in comics for things to happen... Superman can't be everywhere and every vigilante.

As HOW to make your INT 35 guy have an impact, unfortunately the GM has to see worth (25 pts worth in strict terms ) of your INT as compared to how anyone else spent 25 pts and craft things towards that.   If I was your GM, I would have you making great deductive rolls... I wouldn't even have you roll... you are the smartest guy in the room.  I would ask for the KS's to be put back adn lets emphasis those.  I would be asking what kind of scenes allow you to shine, what is neat about having a 35 INT?  C'mon, its comics, Dr. Doom, Mr. Fantastic, Doc Savage, Batman... these guys are cool for their intellect even more than their power/skill set!

Quote
Side point, worth another goddam lecture of its own - this entire history of design, publishing, and play I'm briefly outlining is the single most powerful influence on RPG design throughout the history of the hobby. Not even AD&D hit the subculture with such a jackhammer of ideas, influences, inspiration, and problems as this Champions sequence did. Nearly every single game published today is really a settting-specification of some version of Champions. No lie. In your group's case, what I'm seeing is the kind of play that ultimately was to inspire the design of Exalted, almost verbatim, with the additional influence of Magic: the Gathering.)

I so totally and strongly agree with this.  To dovetail it back, just because *I'm* frustrated with Champions, doesn't mean that it is not a brilliant and powerful tool. 

However, I do think it needs to be seriously adjusted, for me and players like me, to absorb some of the last 20 years of RPG theory.  It could be even stronger, even more flexible and even more elegant. 


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 21, 2006, 07:55:09 AM
First, Buzz, I'm going to call you (and Rilestone) on something. This business about your goal being to "play your cool character, in a satisfying way in an interesting setting?" That's like someone whose knees have been shot out saying, "I just want to walk." Which means that my points about Creative Agenda are not applicable yet, because Creative Agenda concerns where and how you want to walk.

So, just so I'm clear on this, you're saying that we need to get my knees fixed before we can get to the walking lessons? :)

All right, now let's get concrete with Champions, although I'd really like a sit-down with the GM and his dog-eared notebook, to ask some question about how long he played the previous edition(s), which supplements from those days he does and does not utilize, and so on. I suspect there's more 3rd edition in there than one might think.

First off, let me ditch the codenames. M. is Mike and B. is Bart. They are our primary GMs. Mike's wife is Kathy, her brother is Bill. Bart's wife, Steck, is also in the group, as is Jason and myself. The two married couples are, I believe, the oldest in the group, i.e., late 30s/early 40s. Bill and I are in our mid-30s, and Jason is the youngun, in his early 30s.

What I know about his history with the system is that Mike has probably been playing since 1st ed., and he, his wife, and her brother have all been playing together for most of that history. Mike introduced them to Champs; based on when he and his wife met, it was probably 2nd or 3rd ed. Bart, the other GM, has been playing just as long and does a lot of HERO events at conventions.

I've been playing Champs since 1st ed., though I didn't play it extensively at the time. I missed out on 3rd ed. (the "b" era in your post), and then got back into 4th (the BBB) in college and ran a short campaign. Then, many years passed and I got into 5th ed. and found myself a group. This group got together via a posting on the Hero Games forums. The four "component subgroups" (Mike, Kathy, Bill; Bart, Steck; Jason; me) did not know each other prior to forming the group.

But here's a loop to throw you for - just for a minute, consider D&D... Check out the essay if you'd like.

Already done. :)

No particular detail in terms of the imagined content is going to be a give-away for any of these. That's the big error in talking about Champions and Creative Agenda - to focus on what the characters do and what they're like. Instead, we have to talk about the real people and what they do, and what they like.

Would it help for me to post more actual play?

Hence the expert-GM and his dog-eared notebook.

Nitpicky point: Mike does not have a dog-eared notebook, but just a dog-eared SPD sheet. I have honestly almost never seen him bring any notes to the table. The only notebook I ever see occasionally is a tiny 3" x 4" spiral book, from which the SPD chart was ripped out. Really, all I see him bring to the table consistently is HERO books and dice.

In your group's case, what I'm seeing is the kind of play that ultimately was to inspire the design of Exalted, almost verbatim, with the additional influence of Magic: the Gathering.

I'm not sure I'm familiar enough with Exalted to fully understand what you're saying here.

Whew!! That was a big chunk o'something-or-other. Buzz, here's my next question. Do you want to delve into what your group is doing right now in Big Model terms? Or do you want to talk about what you'd like to see, or get from play, and discuss that?

I'm not sure; do we need to deal with the former before we can move to the latter? The latter is probably closest to what prompted me to post in the first place.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 21, 2006, 08:21:16 AM
Quick fanboy moment: Storn, I love your work. I really wish DOJ would commission more pieces from you.

However, I do think it needs to be seriously adjusted, for me and players like me, to absorb some of the last 20 years of RPG theory.  It could be even stronger, even more flexible and even more elegant.

I recall some discussions over on the HERO boards where you mentioned most of the sentiments in your post here. I don't want to divert into abstract system discussion, as I'm thinking that's not the point Actual Play... but I do agree with a lot of what you say. I think Steve Long's preference for the gritty (e.g., Dark Champions) informs a lot of what HERO is right now.

That said, my opinion varies on Hero Points/Bennies, if only because of a comment by Mike Mearls (whom I respect quite a bit) that "fudge point" mechanics are sort of a kludge. To paraphrase what he posted in one of his blog entries: if the system did what it was supposed to do, you wouldn't need "fudge points". Iron Heroes, is a good example of this line of thinking. In IH, you accomplish amazing, wahoo things by taking a penalty on a roll. Sort of a stake-setting: I'm going to risk X to get effect Y. In some ways, the Power skill method in HERO is akin to this.

Anyway, I have been giving some thought to "fudge" mechanics for potential games I may run for this group. I figure that, if there's going to be fudging, we might as well do it out in the open, with "rules, borders, and an end zone", as it were. :)


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on April 22, 2006, 07:57:38 AM
Quote
I recall some discussions over on the HERO boards where you mentioned most of the sentiments in your post here. I don't want to divert into abstract system discussion, as I'm thinking that's not the point Actual Play... but I do agree with a lot of what you say. I think Steve Long's preference for the gritty (e.g., Dark Champions) informs a lot of what HERO is right now.

I think it is very much YOUR Actual Play.  You have stated that your 35 INT is not being addressed, used, acknowledged.  My beefs with Champions/Hero system (which predates Mr. Long's involvement) is that it *TENDS* to reward superman clones and channel GM arbitration into the areas that are making you gnash your teeth a bit.  It does a piss-poor job, in my estimation, of emulating superheroic comic fiction as it emphasises only one aspect, kicking ass and taking names... or one is forced to have every freakin' overlapped skill in order to do Batman or every martial art to do Capt. America.  That is Steve Long, IMO, trying to make up for the fact that Champions base philosophy 5 xp = 1 die is not flexible enough to have Batman's Deductive and Streetwise abilities... nope, we have to have a list of 15 or so narrowly defined skills to make up that gestalt of abilities.

Your character is not optimised for kicking ass and taking names.  So, what do you do, you come in with a Supe clone.  A perfectly valid response.

However, I think your 35 INT character is a wonderful idea...a great concept.  He, too, should have his day in the pantheon of superheroic comic fiction... as many characters in comics solve problems with intellect.

When there is a M&M like game mechanic, where your Character can have all kinds of attempted solutions to problems by throwing a limited resource Hero pt... then this *TENDS* to channel GM arbitration into a much more open mind.  It helps channel a Mr. Fantastic kind of solution as opposed to only a Superman kind of solution.  Especially 2nd Ed, which open up the Hero pt rules dramatically.

System matters.

But some of this is just education and communication...

Quote
This group got together via a posting on the Hero Games forums. The four "component subgroups" (Mike, Kathy, Bill; Bart, Steck; Jason; me) did not know each other prior to forming the group.

You guys don't know each other.  YOu don't know where the "break pts" of emulation are between each other.  I think you need to gently say that your 35 INT should have equal weight as +7d6.  That non combat application of your PC's Power/Skill set is interesting to YOU.  And that if given the opportunity, you will help drive story and make it EASIER for the GM to do his job.  Getting info in the hands of Players is tricky business... there is a definite ebb and flow and balance to consider... let your PC be a conduit!


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 22, 2006, 12:05:51 PM
Storn, your enthusiasm is all well and good, but you are falling into the same trap as people do in most D&D discussions. Your preferred way to play Champions is the way - for you. It seems so solid to you, so perfect, and so justified by every imaginable element in the rules, to you, that it seems anyone sensible will strike their foreheads with surprise and say, "Thanks! I get it now!"

The trouble is, it will mean jack shit to the GMs in question, because their way is the right way, and they know it, sure as shooting, rock-solid, with just as many decades and as solid a social experience of play to back them up as you have. Your currency-based argument, that 35 points equals 7 dice in any and every application, will mean nothing to them.

Absolutely. Nothing.

What you are describing as "communication" and "education" will be perceived as taking over, patronizing, and disrupting. It doesn't matter whether you point with a jabbing finger at this-or-that section of the rules. All of your input, at this time, tells us only one thing - that your Champions is not these guys' Champions. But we knew that. You have to get over the idea that your certainty that you understand, use, and respect the rules better than they do, will carry any weight with them at all. They know they have the true religion and that you're just another cargo cult.

It just so happens that my play-preferences agree with your assessment. In my old Champs game, points were everything - if you spent points, it mattered, and negative points from Disadvantages were just as important to play as positive ones spent on powers. But it doesn't matter to this discussion. It doesn't matter. Your fervent statements that explain your viewpoint and urge Buzz simply to "communicate" it to them do not carry logical, rhetorical weight, but only the emotional heat from your own group's achievement at making the Champs car go.

Their car goes too, using different equipment, ignoring the parts you so carefully integrated into your drive-shaft ... and it goes a different direction, using different fuel. They really. Don't. Care what you did with yours. To them you simply "play wrong," and I'd bet you dollars to dogshit that the minute they heard that point-talk, you'd be branded a stinking, point-mongering Gamist and ignored instantly.

I'm asking you to withdraw your intensity about what Buzz should do or explain or advocate to this group. He's called for an understanding of Champs which will permit his goals to be met, and yes, your preferred focus on the currency is a good start. But let's keep the discussion focused on those goals, and not turn into a polemic on how Storn will inform the world how to play Champions right.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on April 22, 2006, 01:32:22 PM
Ron, good points.

But.  I am not an academic nor a writer.  I probably didn't preface the part about 35 Int getting the same weight as 7d6 correctly.

It is away from the-table suggestion for Buzz to try as a "hey, here is something to consider".  Especially since it is group of new players to each other with vast experiences..  Maybe it will work, maybe it will not.  One has to start the conversation with this group somewhere; its the long haul, quoting you; "
Quote
If your chief aim is to enjoy playing (and I mean playing, not just getting together with friends and cobbling together solitary imaginative satisfaction once in a while), at all, then it's going to be a long haul;

Where do you suggest the conversation of the long (over?)haul begin?

I don't put that much stock in 35 INT as the same weight as 7d6 to be honest.  Precisely because of the context issue...  its not MY group, its not my read on the situation.

I don't think the Champions Car goes all that well.  I think it coasts in areas that are dated and take a lot of "handling" to get the car to go in the directions I *think* Buzz wants to go.  But if he's going to stick with Champions, helping (not lecturing, not pointing fingers) the GM and the fellow players make the adjustments to the car so everyone is on board.... it takes some discussion.

I still think system matters.  It channels certain patterns of thinking.  I think Champions channels some very good things, getting people to think about the Flaws of the Hero thru Disadvantages for example... but it also Channels a very wargame-y, if ain't on the character sheet, there ain't much ya can do about it dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" that I don't much care for.  Not that it is wrongbadfun.  Just not goodrightfun for me.

And I think there are systems or at least subsystems that show what difference flexiblity can make in the play experience... and I've tried to point out some options.  Not as this is WHAT I would do.  But rather, "hey, here's a suggestion, it works for some other folks.".

But some of this is simply rust of a new group.  Having nothing to do with game system.  Its rust because these folks are going into new waters with each other.... THAT's what I mean by communication and education... educating each other in THAT group... not educating about Storn's Way of Champions.  What does Buzz want from a supers RPG?  What does Mike want?  Bart?  The rest of the group?

Personally, from my Actual Play experience, I will probably never run Champions again.  That's Storn's Way of Champions.  But I don't think anyone is clamoring for that thread. <g>


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on April 22, 2006, 01:34:43 PM
I do want to say that if Champions is a good enough car for Buzz and group... that's cool.  I'm not trying to be this big huge detractor of the system or tell people how to run their games. 

Now I will shut up.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 23, 2006, 07:33:54 AM
Thanks for clarifying, Storn. Our perceptions of the group differ a little. Although I recognize that the group as a whole has come together for the first time, the two GMs are arriving not only with powerful support members, but also with extremely developed histories of play. At least one of them is using his old play-history as background - he may well consider this not to be a new group, but a batch of new players for his onoing game. If I'm reading him right, based on Buzz's description, he may even consider it his duty to make sure that the group knows how to play Champs "right," in which case discussion of how, for instance, skills might be an important arena of conflict is right out the door.

All right, Buzz, let me go with your statement that you'd like to discuss how you'd like to play. Here's step 1. Give me an example of an unmitigated success, in your experience, of role-playing. A great time with great fun, perhaps a session or two's worth. When was it, what were you playing, and what happened?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 23, 2006, 09:29:56 AM
What you are describing as "communication" and "education" will be perceived as taking over, patronizing, and disrupting.

FWIW, everyone in this group is very good-natured and communicative. That said, I would much prefer to "lead by example", as it were, than try to "correct" the way Mike or Bart run their games. Regardless of what we are revealing about how they GM in our analysis, I can say that their intent is always to provide a fun game. I don't feel like there are any unspoken power-struggles or secret agendas in the group's relationship. It's more just ingrained habits, afaict.

Ergo, I'd rather run a session or two with techniques informed by our discussion here than try and tell these guys, point-blank, how to GM. That's my current thought, at least.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 23, 2006, 10:40:50 AM
At least one of them is using his old play-history as background - he may well consider this not to be a new group, but a batch of new players for his ongoing game. If I'm reading him right, based on Buzz's description, he may even consider it his duty to make sure that the group knows how to play Champs "right," in which case discussion of how, for instance, skills might be an important arena of conflict is right out the door.
FWIW, when the group was first coming together via email discussion, what kind of HERO campaign we'd be playing was up in the air. I.e., Mike did not say "I'm looking for people to join my Champs campaign." It was, "I'm looking to put together a HERO group, and here are some ideas for the kinds of campaigns I'd be happy to run." The group unanimously voted for a standard-power Champs campaign. FYI, Bart and Steck joined the group the second session, so Bart-as-GM was not a factor initially.

Whether he's trying to show us how to play "right", I dunno. He doesn't comment or interfere when Bart is running his campaign. Granted, their two styles are fairly similar, though Bart doesn't seem to plot out his game as much. It's mostly, "Here's the situation, let's go."

All right, Buzz, let me go with your statement that you'd like to discuss how you'd like to play. Here's step 1. Give me an example of an unmitigated success, in your experience, of role-playing. A great time with great fun, perhaps a session or two's worth. When was it, what were you playing, and what happened?

I'm assuming you mean an example from any RPG I've played, not just examples from this group. I'm also limiting myself to 2001 and forward because most of my gaming prior was '92 and earlier, and my memories are very foggy.

The session that sticks out most in my mind as an unmitigated success was a demo of Arcana Unearthed run by Mike Mearls at GenCon '04. Despite everyone at the table being total strangers, we managed to have a group where every person at the table: knew the rules well, could roleplay (i.e., talk in character, do actor-ly stuff) without going overboard or hogging the spotlight, came to the table seemingly ego-less ("your fun is just as important as my fun"), and were focused on playing the adventure. Mearls was very clear about our objective, and I don't think we spent even a second of play on trivial or tangential aspects of the adventure. Every moment was as step forward towards our goal. The RAW were adhered to without ever bogging down the game, and I did not perceive that Mearls was fudging anything. Our PCs were challenged, yet never getting their asses irrevocably kicked; each PC got to shine, and it was never artificial. PC death was always on the table, but there was balance.

For example, my litorian warmain (iirc), at the climax of the final battle, spent a Hero Point to accomplish a great, cinematic combat maneuver against one of the main villains, saying the perfect line as he did so. (He wielded some wicked dire weapon, so it was a very "Lt. Worf has just kicked your ass with his bat'leth" moment.) The whole table was applauding. The best parts were that: a) I think every PC had a moment like this, and b) the cool moment happened because *I* made it happen. Sure, the location of the fight had some special terrain that made the move possible, but my actions set it all up and made it happen. Mearls just stood back and let us do what we wanted to with the situation, running the NPCs accordingly.

This session has informed my attitude towards GM'ing more than probably any other (in a positive "do it like this" sense, as opposed to a "Don't ever do this" sense.).

The campaigns with my HERO group have had many enjoyable moments, but they number far greater in the "cool character/story stuff" category. IOW, I can't think of many memorable fights, but I can think of lots of funny character moments and story events.

The only combat from Mike's game that I can remember was resolved by means other than whittling down STUN was a battle with VIPER agents in their nest in which my PC was able to use his Electronics and Inventor skills to disarm a self-destruct mechanism. That, and the aforementioned Big Campaign Moment when my PC ordered Steck's gun-totin' PC to take a head shot on a villain who was about to destroy the world. Given my PCs code v. killing, it's wasn't the most in-character thing to do, but I didn't see any other way out at the time (and am pretty sure there was no other way out). Naturally (sic), the big villain then reverted to her formerly super-good self and saved the world (undoing what her evil self did) before dying dramatically.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 25, 2006, 07:38:24 AM
Two things to call you on!

1. Remember, I know Champs well. When I say you're diddling about with character creation as a substitute for play, I totally know that you could be doing so with a single character. In fact, I can think of any number of people for whom this endless, single-character reconstruction was the primary reason to identify as Champions players; actual play was the last thing that interested them.

2. So they're all good-natured and communicative, are they? Is that why your 35-INT character with all those deductive and perceptual skills was ignored as such? Your solution to that situation was to rewrite the character without the skills. Is that "communication" with Mike? I don't think so, unless communication means you simply play the way that he wants.

I'm going to ask you to stick very closely to your initial reasons for starting this thread - dissatisfaction. A lot of your posting since then seems to backpeddle about this and to try to reassure me that, hey, they're all really good people, and not so bad, and everything's really fine. I'll tell you now, I'm OK with them being good people. I'm also aware that gamer-culture insists we stick up for our fellow group members no matter what. But you came here (a) to bitch and (b) to seek avenues for improvement. To get to (b) effectively, you gotta stick to your own guns about (a).

You wrote this:

Quote
I wouldn't be conspiring with the GM to contrive the entrance of a new PC for me if I was still having a blast with my main PC. And I'm the second person in the group to do this, AND I know of two other members who have talked about bringing in different PCs.

Grab onto that dissatisfaction as the foundation and driving force for this dialogue. You can take it as given that I'm not saying Mike or Bart or anyone is a bad person, and you don't have to keep telling me they're not, and then qualifying yourself again because you're not very satisfied. That'll just go 'round and 'round forever.

Now for the next step. Let's stick with the anecdote from Mearls' game. I see several points jump out automatically.

1. You want to contribute to a resolution through a series of decisions, not just being permitted to roll at the pre-arranged moment at the end. At present, your most familiar context for this is a sequence of events during a fight. I'm guessing that you haven't had much experience in applying the same idea to an entire story-in-creation, i.e., having character decisions set up the important conflicts in the first place.

2. Everyone's engagement and appreciation is important to you. You want to be interested in what others are doing; you want others to be interested in what you do. You're bringing a lot of good will to the table. You'd like mechanics to be involved in this as well, e.g. spending Hero Points is something that others should notice and appreciate.

3. You are deadly, deadly sick of wasting time. You want events, decisions, action, and consequences. To date, your experiences have associated this priority with having a shared objective assigned to the group - well-defined villains to defeat, problems you have to solve, etc.

4. You're also tired of being taken out of play, especially early in a sequence of events. I'm guessing that your experience of characters being knocked out or killed is synonymous with you being unable to contribute to what's going on, and also with the character not getting to shine either before or later - just being taken out and "gone."

5. Long-term play has not yielded much satisfaction for you, for the above points. Check me on this - has any long-term play been a solid source of fun for you, reliably and consistently as the months go by? And I mean solid fun, not intermittent or provisional.

You mentioned that,

Quote
This session has informed my attitude towards GM'ing more than probably any other (in a positive "do it like this" sense, as opposed to a "Don't ever do this" sense.).

When you say your "attitude towards GMing," you're mainly talking about your view toward others being the GM, while you remain a player, right? In other words, this is what you want from the GM's input at the table.

Well, it's pretty easy to do with Champions. Storn's advice is spot-on, because the game comes with a great, if awfully detailed currency framework that can be used as signals between GM and players about their priorities. If I get 40 points from some yahoo who's hunting my character, the GM makes a special effort to make the yahoo interesting to everyone including himself. If I spend 60 points on some power or power-framework, then I expect (a) to get my dice's worth from it and (b) to face threats that are going to make me sweat, even armed with this firepower, and for whom this firepower is relevant.

However, just because it can be done with Champs doesn't mean it's going to happen. Right now, it seems to me as if your priorities are at odds with both GMs' priorities.

Their priorities are to develop their own wonderful long-term stories, using certain cues and hooks to involve your characters, and to have you guys act them out. Your priorities are to shine and engender a lot of right-here, right-now fun among a group of creative people. And it seems very clear to me that these just don't mesh as well as everyone thinks they automatically should. The dead giveaway is that non-combat points and abilities are ignored, so that you guys are not really able to contribute except in terms of who hits whom during a fight, or in terms of who gets to act out a certain scene and conflict as framed by the GM. So a hell of a lot of play seems to be about waiting for your turn - which isn't shining and engendering that right-now fun, the kind you saw in the Mearls session.

(For people who are interested, Buzz is facing the kind of Champions play which is the absolutely direct, do not pass Go, progenitor of Exalted.)

All right, so where does that leave us, and you? I'll take off that bent-topped pessimist hat I always seem to be wearing in these discussions, and say, "Go ahead. Communicate." Let everyone (not just Bart and Mike!) know about what you want. Describe it just like you did here based on the Mearls session, and say that you like the overall developing story, but you want more of this sort of thing per unit play. If you want, point out that non-combat scene influence is something you like to do, and would like those scenes to be more open-ended so that you're not just moving on to the next set-piece.

I'm still holding that hat, even if I'm not wearing it, so I have to say, I'm not real optimistic about the response you'll get. But I hope I'm wrong and they'll say "No problem!" Let's see.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 27, 2006, 06:10:15 PM
Grab onto that dissatisfaction as the foundation and driving force for this dialogue. You can take it as given that I'm not saying Mike or Bart or anyone is a bad person, and you don't have to keep telling me they're not, and then qualifying yourself again because you're not very satisfied. That'll just go 'round and 'round forever.

It's a fair cop. :) I guess I just didn't want to make it sound like I was miserable... but, yeah, I'm not satisfied. Not consistently. I was in awe of Mike's GM skillz when we started out. Now, I can appreciate his genre expertise and storytelling, but the play itself is lacking.

I'm guessing that you haven't had much experience in applying the same idea to an entire story-in-creation, i.e., having character decisions set up the important conflicts in the first place.

I guess not. All I can really say is that I've had character decisions determine when the conflict is encountered. I definitely can't think of an example that proves otherwise.

I'm guessing that your experience of characters being knocked out or killed is synonymous with you being unable to contribute to what's going on, and also with the character not getting to shine either before or later - just being taken out and "gone."

Yes, though if my character is eliminated fairly (I make a lame tactical choice or whatever), I don't mind as much.

Check me on this - has any long-term play been a solid source of fun for you, reliably and consistently as the months go by? And I mean solid fun, not intermittent or provisional.

The primary Champs campaign and one of the two D&D games I'm currently in are probably the only really long-term games in which I have ever been involved. Growing up, logistics made for endless one-shots. In college, there were a few short-lived campaigns. My other current D&D group switches off campaigns quite frequently, so no one campaign has been going very long.

I want to say that the Champs game was great fun for a while, or is generally, but that's usually more of a "fun as a spectator" or "fun seeing what the GM comes up with" way. It's never consistently provided anything like the Mearls game.

Quote
This session has informed my attitude towards GM'ing more than probably any other (in a positive "do it like this" sense, as opposed to a "Don't ever do this" sense.).

When you say your "attitude towards GMing," you're mainly talking about your view toward others being the GM, while you remain a player, right? In other words, this is what you want from the GM's input at the table.
Actually, I meant it as my view towards being a GM myself. I.e., this is what I need to be striving for. But, yeah, it's also the yardstick by which I measure GM I play under.

(For people who are interested, Buzz is facing the kind of Champions play which is the absolutely direct, do not pass Go, progenitor of Exalted.)

Can someone please explain to me the Exalted thing? Point me to a thread?

Let everyone (not just Bart and Mike!) know about what you want. Describe it just like you did here based on the Mearls session, and say that you like the overall developing story, but you want more of this sort of thing per unit play. If you want, point out that non-combat scene influence is something you like to do, and would like those scenes to be more open-ended so that you're not just moving on to the next set-piece.

I'm still holding that hat, even if I'm not wearing it, so I have to say, I'm not real optimistic about the response you'll get. But I hope I'm wrong and they'll say "No problem!" Let's see.

Hmm... I'll need to work up a good way to present my thoughts to them. I'm hesitant, but there's no point in being a turtle.

So... what about from the "lead by example" side of things? How can I approach HERO in a way that incorporates what we've been talking about and what I've been learning from the Forge? How do I give these players a game that meets my Mearls standard, but that they will enjoy as well?


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 28, 2006, 06:41:50 AM
Hi Buzz,

Thanks for sticking with me on this.

I think you're really going to like these threads: Bumpy Exalted game (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=8928.0) and [More Abyssals] CA clashes and holes in Gamist systems (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17859.0). An earlier one Exalted: searching for my face (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=6902.0) will be most useful to you if you read it last.

I should emphasize that RPG.net threads on Exalted - which I followed carefully for a long time, before the search function was axed - always demonstrated the same pattern. They'd start with great consumerist enthusiasm about which books they'd bought and how cool they were. Then they started with great enthusiasm about the incredible play they were having, but if you read again, they're really talking about how cool their characters look and the neat Feat combinations they'd figured out. Then play reports become more problematic, especially with those painfully-revealing thread titles like "Learning to love what you hate about Exalted." In fact, they all start to sound like you, full of effusive justifications for why and how the GM is so good except that play doesn't seem to be working, oh, "here and there." Much debate ensues about interpretations of Feat rules, but most especially about your exact issue in your Champions game - how resolution of skills and Feats should be handled during non-combat scenes, and what those scenes accomplish in player terms. The process goes on a long long time, often re-fueled by someone buying a few new books and re-energizing the game with "Fun this time, guys!" enthusiasm. At best, they manage some Ouija-Board satisfaction. Posts then take on a weary, weary, bravely-smiling insistence that it's the best game with the best people ever. After dropping hundreds of dollars on the books and studying them harder than anything they ever paid tuition for, what can one expect?

It's like clockwork. I've watched this progression many times regarding this game. I have concluded that Exalted perfectly commercializes a particular form of long-term, "Fun soon" promises that I learned allllll about during my tenure with Champions, and ultimately the players' primary enjoyment is re-diddling their characters in their off-time. To be clear about that, though, make sure to check out my comments above on Champions diversity and see that I'm talking about a particular usage of Champs, not "it" as a game, period. Unlike Exalted, in which the "it" seems to be locked down into the same pattern.

Now for really discussing what to do next. Here's the bad news first, courtesy of Forge maestro Mike Holmes: Mike's Standard Rant #7: you can't sneak up on mode (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=9812.0). Everything he says there is pure wisdom, and it should explain why your phrase

Quote
what about from the "lead by example" side of things? How can I approach HERO in a way that incorporates what we've been talking about and what I've been learning from the Forge? How do I give these players a game that meets my Mearls standard, but that they will enjoy as well?

needs some heavy revision in order to work. Bluntly, you can't guarantee they will enjoy anything. There is no way to say, "Hey guys, this is what I'd like to experience more in our game" and know that it's going to be a Dead Poets Society moment when everyone discovers the joy of learning, or whatever. You are in a social situation performing a shared, leisure activity. In order for it to be more satisfying, you have to address it in social terms "This is what I'd like to be getting out of my role-playing," using the Mearls example. Let's hope that in this case, you can all arrive at some revisions in the activity. But you cannot make or expect anyone else actually to want what you want - all you can hope to do is either (a) to find that at least one other person agrees with you (although brace yourself for the same kind of dodging you've been doing in this thread, including stuff I didn't call you on), or (b) willingness on others' parts to accomodate you.

The good news is that you can approach the Hero System quite easily and happily with what we're discussing, and with material that's scattered all over the Forge. But clarify something for me first: are you talking about GMing for this group, in that question? I know you said you did so once, but the current question ("how can I give them a game") disturbs me in a number of ways. Are you planning to GM for the group again? Give me some more context about that.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Brand_Robins on April 28, 2006, 08:47:48 AM
Ron,

If you want to say, "I watched Brand Robins founder around like an ox in mud while playing Exalted" just come out and say it. We all know you're talking about me (and hundreds of other people exactly like me)!  ;)

The one thing I will add to this discussion is that I did finally manage to break out of that mold with Exalted -- and got a game I was really happy with. But at the end, when I stopped and looked back, I realized we hadn't been playing Exalted at all. We'd been playing an unholy combination of Sorcerer and Riddle of Steel hiding beind a mask of being Exalted. And all the pain we'd faced along the way had been because we weren't willing to let go of the old ideas of the long term story just over the hill, the concept of tinkering the character as source of fun, and the idea that new books would give us new ideas. We were all on the same page about what we were doing, and we still almost failed a million times (and did fail in the short term several times), because we were trying to creep up on things, rather than just doing what we really knew we wanted to.

So, I'll second the stuff in Mike's post about not sneaking up on mode. You have to figure out what you want, and go for it. The other ways all lead to pain.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on April 29, 2006, 05:56:39 AM
First, wanted to say, since my experience I *think* parallel's Ron's with Hero/Champions, I'm learning a lot... especially because it is being plugged into an actual scenario.  so thanks.

From Mike's Rant 7: 
Quote
Does this mean that you can't change the play mode of a group? No, actually there's a simple solution. Just play a game that strongly supports that mode from the ground up.

This is the conclusion that I came to with my Champions group.  I don't GM it anymore.  And many of our group's houserules are tyring to graft Narr mechanics into the system.  good news, many of them work.  So, I can back Ron's assertion: 
Quote
The good news is that you can approach the Hero System quite easily and happily with what we're discussing, and with material that's scattered all over the Forge

..with similar experiences over the last 5 years.  And while I hunger for other simpler/ more elegant/ more Narr game experiences, the house ruled Champions is still working for most of the players in that Champs game.  I'm just happier with other projects and therefore am only a limited, once in awhile, support player now.

And for my GMing, I have moved over to more "supported mode from ground up" game systems.  My players are a bit different too... some from the Champs game... some from the more flexible (as in, we like many systems, system tailored for campaign concept) group of round robin GMs.

I wish I had more to offer Buzz in terms of how to do the soft approach.... but I will let the smarter guys here do that.  All I can say in a wrap up... is that despite my moving away from Champions, I do think that Hero System can absorb many Forge ideas... I've seen it happen. 


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 29, 2006, 12:01:28 PM
A more in-depth response is forthcoming. This is the one forum where I really need to mull over posts for a day or two before being able to provide coherent responses.

(although brace yourself for the same kind of dodging you've been doing in this thread, including stuff I didn't call you on)

If there's more for you to call me on, please do so. Don't hold back. I want to be well again, doctor. ;)

But clarify something for me first: are you talking about GMing for this group, in that question? I know you said you did so once, but the current question ("how can I give them a game") disturbs me in a number of ways. Are you planning to GM for the group again? Give me some more context about that.

My plan is to GM for the group again, yes. Based on Mike's rant linked to above and Chris Chinn's commentary on this thread in his blog, I'm now considering a one-shot of something like Burning Wheel instead of a "here's how we should be playing HERO" campaign.

As to the original topic, I feel like I'm still waiting for practical advice with specific regards to HERO. Or are we simply not at that point yet? Or is it just a matter of reviewing what Storn posted?


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 29, 2006, 12:21:55 PM
Hi Buzz!

1. Here's another thing to reflect on based on previous posts. You wrote,

Quote
M. and his wife can also get pretty deep and put on a good show. AFAIK, a lot of the backstory and NPCs from the current campaign are previous PCs of theirs from years past.

and, after I basically paraphrased that,

Quote
FWIW, when the group was first coming together via email discussion, what kind of HERO campaign we'd be playing was up in the air. I.e., Mike did not say "I'm looking for people to join my Champs campaign." It was, "I'm looking to put together a HERO group, and here are some ideas for the kinds of campaigns I'd be happy to run."

See? You backpeddled. Also, I hope you can see that whatever Mike "said" or "didn't say" when organizing the game is not data, whereas Bart's and Steck's actual behavior during play is indeed data. Talking about the former isn't going to mean a thing regarding the content of the latter. Somewhat more pointedly - I mean, why do you think Bart and Steck favored "standard Champs," man?

2. Storn's points probably do bear some thinking on, for you, but I thought of a good way to do it concretely.

Make up a character. I'll give you parameters: mid-80s Marvel, right about the time Byrne was kicking ass on the Fantastic Four and Stern was kicking ass on Spider-Man. Pre Secret Wars, but post-Phoenix's death. Got it? Now, don't set it in the Marvel setting, but think of a game like that, and leave out all the mutant-menace crap. We're making up a superhero team which is going to be a big deal, a great fucking series. Um ... my only parameter is that all the characters are new to superheroing and have teamed up with good will and good hearts, i.e. no hidden traitors, no dickweeds.

OK, here's more - he or she has to have some Code vs. Killing, at least 10 points, preferably more. And no Damage Reduction, because it suxxorg, and no Killing Attacks. I'm deadly sick of powered-armor heroes too, so do something else. You have 250 points, i.e. 150 points in Disadvantages.

Go!! Make up a totally new character, nothing to do with any Champs or supers character you ever played before. Post it all here. (Hey Storn! You too! That'll help a lot, I just realized.) I'll show you what I mean about prepping and building expectations for play in the fashion that Storn and I favor.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 29, 2006, 03:18:41 PM
Somewhat more pointedly - I mean, why do you think Bart and Steck favored "standard Champs," man?

It's what they're familiar with? It's the genre they enjoy the most? (And, technically, Bart & Steck joined one session after we started the Champs campaign.)

OK, here's more - he or she has to have some Code vs. Killing, at least 10 points, preferably more. And no Damage Reduction, because it suxxorg, and no Killing Attacks. I'm deadly sick of powered-armor heroes too, so do something else. You have 250 points, i.e. 150 points in Disadvantages.
100+150 in disads? Okay. Does it matter that current 5th ed. Champs is 200+150? (FYI, Mike's campaign started at 125+125).

Anyway, okay! I'm heading off to D&D group right now, but will get to this tomorrow. Thank you very much for pursuing this with me.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on April 29, 2006, 03:21:49 PM
And just to be clear, you literally want me to post the character, stats and all, right?


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 29, 2006, 03:35:34 PM
Yup! Post it all here.

I'm a little out of date regarding point levels. Use the current 5th-edition standards, which I think were built to make sure you had enough for all those skills and things that weren't a big deal in 3rd edition. I have my 5th-edition rules so I can catch up on the fly.

Storn, you're in, right? Doesn't matter whether you or Buzz posts first.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on April 30, 2006, 05:15:48 AM
I'm in.  Might be tomorrow... but I"m in.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 02, 2006, 05:18:23 AM
Like so many of my characters, art comes first.  I thought of this old pic that I had done:
http://www.stornc.rpggallery.com/images/artfiles/BeaconLoRes.jpg


Bianca Donatello was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.  A bright young woman, she was thrown from a horse at a young age.  Her leg has never fully recovered.  Her parents were almost always away and she discovered a secret room in the family manse.  Books of enchantments, spells and cantrips became her closest friends.

Upon her 21st birthday, her father was killed by Black Paladin in an apparent random killing spree during the cruise celebrating the occasion.  Bianca's mystic powers sprung into full life, but alas too late to save her father.

Her mother once again has disappeared, this time searching for Black Paladin?  Bianca has vowed to protect her city from such evil magics with her own abilities, to be a Beacon against the Darkness!

Beacon
STR 10 DEX 14 CON 14 BODY 10  OCV 5
INT 18 EGO 20 PRE 14/20 COM 12/20  DCV 5
PD 5 ED 5 SPD 3/5 REC 5  ECV 7
END 28 STUN 22 Phases: 3, 5, 8, 10, 12  Mental Def. 8
Char. 64 Skills 27 Powers 159 Total 250  PD/rPD 14/9
Base 100 Disadv. 150 Exp. 0 Total 250  ED/rED 14/9

Points Powers END
22 Armor: Cloak of Protection (9 PD/9 ED); Only in Hero ID: -¼   
!4 Mental Defense (8 pts)   
8 Detect Magic (+0 to PER); Time Required: Half Phase, +0   
5 Discriminatory Sense on Detect Magic (Normal Sight)   
4 Instant Change; Clothes: One Set, 5; Incantation: Instant Power, -¼   
5 Ultraviolet Vision   
  ---   
5 +6 PRE; Only in Hero ID: -¼   
16 +2 SPD; Only in Hero ID: -¼   
3 +8 COM; Only in Hero ID: -¼   
7 EC: Mystical Movement (9-pt reserve); Only in Hero ID: -¼   
a-7 6" Flight (NC: 12"); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×2, +0; Reduced END: Zero, ½  0
b-6 10" Teleportation (Long Range 10"); Increased Range: ×1, +0; Mass Multiplier: ×1, +0; Fixed Locations: 0; Floating Locations: 0; Ranged (2 lvls of Megascale): +½; Limited Power (Only within confines of City X's Ley Lines, not outside of City X.): Half, -1; Extra Time: 1 turn, -1  3
  ---   
10 END Reserve (60 END, 6 REC/turn); Only in Hero ID: -¼   
  ---   
36 Multipower (65-pt reserve); Champions Advantage (Powers may draw from END Reserve or Personal END): +¼; Gestures: Instant Power, -¼; Incantation: Instant Power, -¼; Activation: 15-, -¼; Side Effects (Appropriate to spell attempted and around 30 active pts): 30/Half, -½   
u-3 10d6 EB: Mystic Light Blast ; Versus: ED  6
u-3 3d6 RKA: Lightning Bolt  6
u-2 3d6 Flash (Normal Sight, Sight)  5
u-2 Images (Normal Sight, Sight, 2" radius); Observer PER Penalty: 3, +9  4
u-3 Force Wall: Wards of Light (10 PD/10 ED); Width: 12", +0  6
u-3 8d6 Suppress Dark Magics; Affect: Single Power of Special Effect, +¼  6
u-3 3d6 Entangle: Bonds of Mystic Light (DEF 3); Affects Desolidified: +½; Champions Advantage (Stops Tport): +¼  6
u-2 Desolidification: Spirit of Light; Immune to Mental Powers: No, +0  5
159 Total Powers   

Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
5 Money (Well Off)   
2 Area Knowledge  11-
6 +2 level w/Tight Group: Spells   
3 High Society  13-
3 Knowledge Skill: Magic Theory  13-
2 ks: Occult  11-
3 Italian (Completely Fluent w/accent); Literacy: Standard, 0   
3 Riding  12-
27 Total Skills, Talents, Perks   

100+ Disadvantages
5 DNPC: A demon snitch who is trying to go straight (Normal, 8-); Skills: Useful, -5 
15 Hunted: Black Paladin (8-); Capabilities: More Powerful, 15; Non-combat Influence: None, +0; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Actions: Hunting, ×1; Punishment: Harsh, 0 
20 Hunted: Demon (8-); Capabilities: More Powerful, 15; Non-combat Influence: Extensive, +5; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Actions: Hunting, ×1; Punishment: Harsh, 0 
5 Phys. Lim. One knee never healed right, walks with cane -2" running (Infrequently, Slightly) 
15 Psych. Lim. Code vs. Kill (Common, Strong) 
15 Psych. Lim.Blindfully upbeat, LOVES being a hero, in a team, can't see the bad in people close to her (Common, Strong) 
15 In Love with GM's choice, but it will be irrational, passionate and strong... someone dark (Common, Strong) 
5 Rep: Donatello family, rich, old money, politically connected (8-) 
5 Rivalry: Mystic based Hero of GM's choosing; Situation: Professional, 5; Position: Equal, +0; Rival: NPC, +0 
15 Secret Identity: Bianca Donatello 
15 Strange Destiny: Unbeknownst to her, Father was in Council of Mages. She is a leagacy hero (Common, Strong); Situation: Common, +10; Intensity: Strong, +5 
10 Watched: Council of Mages (8-); Capabilities: More Powerful, 15; Non-combat Influence: Extensive, +5; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Only Watching: ×½; Punishment: Harsh, 0 
10 Vulnerability: Cold Iron (1½× STUN and BODY); Attack: Uncommon, +5 
150 Total Disadvantages

Notes:  Bianca walks with a cane, but Beacon does not.  The staff is not an OAF, it can be reconsituted by Beacon in an instant.  This might be a gamist idea, but acually, I just wanted a staff of light that just fades if swiped and springs back to life as a cool style thing... so I went with Only In Hero ID.  Note, she can cast spells in her civilian guise, but it comes out of her minuscule END.  Her END Reserve is in Hero ID.   Beacon is not a front line fighter, far from it.  She is supposed to be support. 

I envision that her Father and Mother are part of some secret organization, Council of Mages (stoopid name, but it serves).  Bianca/Beacon is a legacy hero with close ties to "her" city.  She has teleport with megascale to move around said city at pretty fast clip... but only in that city.

I think the roleplaying aspects of dual personaes is interesting... and I chose to make Beacon more beautiful, charismatic and glamourous than Bianca.  While that is not in the disads column, that would be something, if this character was to be played, that I would be interested in exploring.

So, Ron, does this set any warning bells off?  <g>




Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 02, 2006, 06:09:09 AM
Waitin' for Buzz. This is going to be a long-term thread ...

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 02, 2006, 06:23:32 PM
Waitin' for Buzz. This is going to be a long-term thread ...

It's been a busy week so far. :) I am not giving up on this thread! The Canadian-in-exile hero Polestar will be posted... soon.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 05, 2006, 05:57:09 PM
Okay, this is not as mechanically interesting as Storn's, but I like the guy. Your genre touchstones made me think immediately of the early Alpha Flight issues for some reason, though that may be a bit later than what you're asking for.

Aidan Moseley's father, Carter Moseley, was career military. Early on, his meritorious service to the Canadian Army warranted his selection for the top secret Weapon Mega project. Their super-soldier experiments on Carter proved fruitless, and he was eventually transferred back to regular duty. Later, after he had married and had a son (Aidan) with his young wife Sarah, Weapon Mega became interested again. Aidan's blood work had proved unusual, and, being born in a military hospital, word soon reached the project. Whatever they had done to Carter's genetic makeup had affected his progeny.

Flash forward seventeen years later. Aidan, trained under close supervision by Weapon Mega since he could walk, is asked to use his powers to covertly "liquidate" a suspected terrorist. He can't do it. On top of this, Carter is made aware of the fact that Weapon Mega has been operating as a rogue agency for the last three years. Carte and Aidan demand the project get out of their lives immediately. Weapon Mega insist that they "own" Aidan. The Canadian government insist Aidan is stolen military property. The end result, Sarah is killed in a suspicious car accident. Carter resigns his commission, and he and Aidan flee to the US.

Insisting that some good come from his abilities, Aidan christens himself "Polestar" and sets out to "do good in the world." Initial attempts earn him the enmity of VIPER... and a Champions character is born! ;)


Polestar

Val   Char    Cost
10   STR    0
25   DEX    45
13   CON   6
10   BODY   0
13   INT          3
10   EGO   0
10   PRE          0
10   COM   0

5/15   PD          3
5/15   ED          2
4   SPD          5
5   REC     0
34   END          4
22   STUN   0

6"   RUN          0
2"   SWIM   0
2"   LEAP   0
Characteristics Cost: 68

Cost   Power
55   Graviton Manipulation: Multipower, 55-point reserve
4u   1)  Graviton Wall: Force Wall (11 PD/11 ED) (55 Active Points); Concentration (1/2 DCV; -1/4)
4u   2)  Graviton Blast: Energy Blast 11d6 (55 Active Points); Beam (-1/4)
4u   3)  Graviton Well: Entangle 3d6, 3 DEF, Takes No Damage From Attacks All Attacks (+1/2) (45 Active Points); Concentration (1/2 DCV; -1/4)
4u   4)  Graviton Command: Telekinesis (30 STR), Fine Manipulation (55 Active Points); Concentration (1/2 DCV; -1/4)
35   Flight 15", x4 Noncombat
30   Graviton Field: Force Field (10 PD/10 ED) (Protect Carried Items)
Powers Cost: 136


Cost   Skill
6   +3 with Graviton Blast
3   Acrobatics 14-
3   Breakfall 14-
10   Defense Maneuver I-IV
3   KS: The Military World 12-
6   Penalty Skill Levels:  +4 vs. Range Modifier with Graviton Blast
9   Power 15-
3   Stealth 14-
3   Teamwork 14-
Skills Cost: 46

Total Character Cost: 250

Pts.   Disadvantage
10   DNPC: Carter Moseley, father:  8- (Normal)
15   DNPC: Shelley Black, girlfriend:  8- (Normal; Unaware of character's adventuring career/Secret ID)
15   Canadian Government is watching:  11- (Mo Pow, NCI, Watching)
15   Hunted:  Teleios 8- (Mo Pow, Capture)
10   Hunted:  Weapon Mega Project 8- (As Pow, Capture)
20   Hunted: VIPER:  8- (Mo Pow, NCI, Harshly Punish)
15   "A regular Boy Scout" Psych Lim:  (Common, Strong)
15   Code v. Killing:  (Common, Strong)
15   Secret ID:  (Frequently, Major)
20   Vulnerability to Electrical Attacks:  2 x STUN (Common)

Disadvantage Points: 150
Base Points: 100



Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 06, 2006, 02:10:07 PM
Hi Buzz, hi Storn.

I find myself remembering why my groups and I spent so much time on pre-prep standards in my Champions games. Both of those characters would be considered marginal at best. That means my response has two related angles of attack: first, to discuss the original point, how I'd prep and play a game with these characters in such a way that the players' decisions would drive conflicts to necessary resolution parts; second, to pull on my canvas gloves and chainsaw both of these abominations into chunks. And since of course they are only abominations to my way of looking at Champions, the real reason for that latter part is to show just how much tuning of one's own mind-set (and hence interpretation of the rules) is necessary to play this game.

BEACON, PART ONE

She's a "magic rich-chick with her mysterious family gone missing - Storn, you're slacking. This is pure no-beef cliche right down to its toes. All right, I'll put that aside for later evisceration and check out the Disadvantages.

The Council of Mages, ah geez, whatta pain ... if they're such a big deal, why don't they solve the world's problems instead of Bianca? Fucking no-account pompous Jedi Council, that's why. Erase! Beef up the Donatello family instead. That serves the story role of "Council of Mages" ten times better

Grab that wonderful demon snitch and rack him up to 25 points worth of Disadvantage, pronto.

The Black Paladin bites - gotta be transformed into a character whose POV toward Bianca makes arguable sense, which means think, think.

The Rival, Strange Destiny, and Boyfriend all left up to me?? What? No way!! This is like serving up a stuffed pizza and telling me I have to stuff it.

All right, there is some serious tell-my-story-for-me and avoid-conflict-I'm-just-the-magic-user situation here. I'll get back to this in a bit.

BEACON, PART TWO

I hope you will indulge me in a certain brutality of tone ...

In order:

1. Active-to-Real point ratios
2. Power framework justifications
3. Specific/local Advantage/Limitation combinations
4. Actual concept - is this a superhero? is it pastiche?

Well, no surprise here, given Storn's long history with Champions. The Real Points add up to 339 over 250, for a ratio of 1.36. It might interest you to know that I always disallow ratios of over 1.2 or so. Why? Because after a certain accumulative point, Limitations are so much trouble to keep track of, moment by moment in play, that the degree to which they're ignored hits a crucial level.

Add to that this combination of both Elemental Control and Multipower, and points are being saved at the Real Point level to an absurd degree. The easy and typical solution is to see whether the Elemental Control is really unified in any particular way, or whether it's the equivalent of Next Generation technobabble, or in this case, powers-babble. And glory be! "Mystic Movement," which is to say, no unity at all. I mean, we already know the character's powers are "mystic," and "movement" only describes effect, not anything in the SIS. I call bullshit, and thus the nickel-dime point-savings there go away too. I kind of go back and forth on the teleportation altogether, because at worst, it's just a "get me to the scene" power, and if its Limitation were to be applied meaningfully, I'd be expected to map ley lines all over my city map ... and fuck that, you know? But on the other hand it's at least interesting, if I were to think about other cities with their "attuned" mages.

Ron's rule: whenever point-saving devices in the Champions rules make more work for me in moment-to-moment play, in terms of limiting the character's options, then they're outta there.

(Psychological corollaries to all this now start to appear. For many Champions players, 12d6 is the effectiveness cutoff they simply must reach in offense, defense, movement, and "other" or else they cannot imagine playing. All the little tricks above are involved in reaching this. My solution is simply to bitch-slap the other players until they see that I can build a wonderful, playable Dr. Strange or Spider-Man at 250 points (3rd edition) with ratios at about 1.15-1.2, with no fucking little Champions point-tricks, and sticking with reasonable uses of power frameworks. Sure, they hit for about 8d6, and a solid hit from anything bigger will knock them ass over teakettle. But it just so happens that these characters' best and most seminal stories appeared when they were right at that level of power in the comics, and in the ensuing comics which took them up to about 300 points.)

I won't even go into the optimization of rounding. That's so classic for Champions that it doesn't bear mentioning except to shoot Storn a disgusted look. I mean, a couple of attributes, sure, but every last single one?

Where were we? Oh yes, local Advantages and Limitations. I already stomped on the teleportation; what else? OK, I'm fine with the Hero ID stuff, because we have the Thor reference to work with, and I already presented my thoughts on how to use it constructively. But that Multipower ... huh, color me old-school. I never thought Gestures and Incantations meant a God damn thing in play, in terms of limiting the powers. The only way for me to get decent limits onto them during play is to contrive such bogus situations that (a) players would call me on the contrivance and (b) I'd have to railroad to set them up. Nope, not gonna do it. That'd bring the Real points up by 20% of its points, which are not to be found, and thus the Active points of the Multipower pool drops by 13 points to 52. Better.

Other details ... wah! A Killing Attack, snuck in right under the radar of the parameter "no killing attacks." Big black sharpie slash, outta there. And then there's that END reserve, which is one of those 4th edition rules that can bite me. Why so much effort was expended in that edition to make sure that characters would never be limited by END, I'll never know. If you're going to go to all that trouble to make END ineffective, why not just abandon that rules-feature entirely. Nope - in my games, END hurts. The only reason we use it in play at all is because it's likely to run out in a fight. Oh, and even if it were allowed, "only Hero ID" is totally bogus in this case, because it's there to power spells, which are mainly going to be cast in Hero ID anyway (even if they're not designated as such, that's the reality of the situation).

Finally, looking it all over and taking Part One into account, is Beacon a superhero? Barely. She fits in the debased sense that any of the Teen Titans were superheroes, with the possible exceptions of Jericho and Nightwing who had their cool moments. She's neurotic, needy, vague, optimized for generic fighting (every basic attack in the book: hold, wall, zap, blind, negate, etc), and magical in the fantasy-fic sense rather than the cosmic-cool Dr. Strange sense. She has no unique style in the visual sense, nor any passion-driven combination of outlooks that make her do stuff, rather than just react. Goddam Mercedes Lackey character, all over.

Storn, your comment that she's "support" is an alarm bell, as if any were needed. She makes perfect sense as a tactical D&D character and might as well be one, wandered in from another game. She ain't no superhero worth my time as GM.

SOLUTION FOR BEACON

Go with the rich-girl vs. hero dichotomy in a much bigger way. Decide which of the two is the "real" Bianca and set up the Psych Disadvantages accordingly.

Get rid of the stupid parents - if they're mages, why aren't they being the hero instead of her? Similarly, bring up the Donatellos like I mentioned earlier.

Rack up the Cold Iron to 2X, and back it up with some other dangerous stuff - maybe darkness kicks off ruthlessness, or something. Get that physical handicap linked up to a psychological Disadvantage - not feelings of worthlessness, far from it - think Donald Blake and Thor, and recognize that his game leg was a source of determination. (This is an instance where "disadvantage" is a historical artifact.)

Beef up all that romance! The Rivalry should shoot up to 20 points, as should the Love; get rid of DEMON (which is a stooooopid enemy group from the word go). Whip up the demon NPC to 20 points too, 'cause he looks fun.

Fix all the powers, obviously, and give them a unique bite, as "glowing" just isn't enough. Pick powers for the Multipower that are perfectly suited for the conflicts inherent in the Disadvantages, as well as having a rocking-fun-to-draw visual effect.

I haven't recalculated all the Disads in detail, but that's the direction Beacon would have to go in before I'd have her set foot in a game of mine.

.... continued ...


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 06, 2006, 02:10:35 PM
POLESTAR, PART ONE

Well, OK, he's not such an abomination. But he really isn't flashy enough for the beefcake he should be. Here's where I do my Secret Sacred Wars Roach impression and shake my fists at the sky, shouting "Conflict! Praise conflict!"

The father and girlfriend are too vague, really.

Viper's just weak; if this guy's busy dealing with the Canadian government all the time, why bother with international bad guys on a personal level?

His Psych disads need beef. If he's such a boy scout, why can't he suck it up and work for the government, killing their enemies?

POLESTAR, PART TWO

In order:

1. Active-to-Real point ratios
2. Power framework justifications
3. Specific/local Advantage/Limitation combinations
4. Actual concept - is this a superhero? is it pastiche?

Talk about the total opposite in ratios. Polestar clocks in at barely 1.01, having saved four whole points. Yeesh. Now, if everyone in a group were like this, it'd be no big deal, but the chances of everyone doing that in a Champions game are miniscule to microscopic. So I'm thinking we should look at some interesting special effect of his powers which acts as a blanket pain in the ass - not an energy-runs-out thing (the whole "impotent uberman" thing is way overused), but maybe some kind of effect he has on others. Dunno. Something. Perhaps it would be fun to see his stuff have Side Effects too, as a mirror of Bianca's Side Effects for her spells.

(A lot of you might be getting the impression that my concern with the Active-to-Real point ratios is about "game balance" of some kind. It's not. It's about the effort to manage the content of the character in the SIS, and the degree to which the baseline abilities are entertainingly limited vs. boringly complicated. Plus about not getting shit for free; not even Storn had the gall to "limit" his Multipower using Charges.)

Multipower ... ah, this is Green Lantern, basically. Pretty decent, but boring. I'd suggest changing it to a 40-point Variable Power Pool, which given the rules I was most familiar with, and laying stuff like Concentration over the whole thing, would put it at about the same total cost. That way you get the massive versatility and they're a lot of fun in play, especially when they're relatively low-powered.

Is Concentration really all that interesting, though? I mean, "he has to squint." It's ultimately just color. I'd poke around for some others.

Is Beacon a superhero? Yeah, he's in that end of the pool. Definitely a little boring, but the modifications in the Disadvantages and some complications for the powers should get him up to speed.

SOLUTIONS FOR POLESTAR

Not much to write here about the powers other than my recommendations embedded in the above points. He ain't broken, just dull.

As for the disads, it looks pretty easy to call for improvements.

First, drop VIPER and gratuitous empty-point-bags like Teleios, whoever he is, and instead, focus on those military/government conflicts, especially whoever it was who he was supposed to kill! There must be all sorts of major NPCs for use in there.

The father and the girlfriend should get written up or otherwise made interesting and Kicker-like.

The Psych disads are the real place to work on him, though. This guy needs some rage, some righteous power. He wants to "do some good?" Well freakin' define that in a specific, goal-directed way and point him in that direction with 20 points.

.... continued ....


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 06, 2006, 02:11:03 PM
PREPPING FOR PLAY WITH BEACON AND POLESTAR

Well, one thing jumps out right away: light. Bright, shining, glowing, gleaming, burning light. Huh. That should be interesting or utilized in some way.

Another - the total mismatch of the implied setting between the two of them. On the one side, magical covens and mystic relationships, hinting at how any moment now the ancient prophecy will be fulfilled and the very gates of hell or Dormammu's dimension or whatever will crack open, rahhhhh; on the other, government dudes in suits with sunglasses, hinting at black ops and secret projects and international deals that one dare not name, culminating I'm certain in a doomsday weapon going missing somewhere in the Kurdish mountains of Iraq and showing up in, yes, your own city.

That kind of mismatch can be fun! In fact, it can be the very basis for devising scenarios and whole uber-conflicts - not the fact that they have to do "Clancy thriller" one week and "mystic shit" the next, while the off-hero whines about it, no! Instead, find ways for a given conflict to kick off all the right stuff for both. We need a villain like Doctor Doom, who does magic using science, and science using magic. I love that shit, too, and jump at the chance to see it starin' at me in the potential connections among the Disadvantages.

Now for a list of the NPCs. Given my recommendations above, we have ...

Carter Moseley who obviously wants to run his son's life for his son's own good, just as the Weapon Mega goons do/did.
Carter's dead mom, who's obviously way more important in all this than appears, because why bother killing her instead of Carter?
Carter's girlfriend, who needs to be more than a querulous, suspicious wench who wonders why Carter shows up late to the date, with radiation burns and a terrorist neatly trussed up for delivery to whoever collects them.
The Canadian feds, and I need to come up with what they really want - stop Weapon Mega? Get them back under control? Suppress the whole thing? What?
The Weapon Mega dirtbags
Bianca's love-interest and Bianca's rival - work on these, get me something real here
"Black Paladin" or whoever we get with a name that doesn't make me squirt beer out of my nose, and obviously he's gonna be the science/magic, magic/science dude that I mentioned above
The Donatello family in general, with their cool contacts
The demon snitch, lovable little fucker that he'll be

Well, if you can't see the love, then I'll just have to spell it out for you. All this is just Weaving and Crossing, you realize.

1. Put Carter's mom into the Donatello family.
2. Make the girlfriend damnably interesting, quite likely a strong-minded and reasonable political activist of some kind - a good moral compass for Aidan and alternative to his father, for instance.
3. The soon-to-be renamed "Black Paladin" is obviously running Weapon Mega.
4. That love-interest and rival business with Bianca has to be a big deal, and put all kinds of bite on the kinds of scenarios going on
5. The Donatello family is in like Flynn with the Canadian feds in some way.
6. The demon snitch will write himself especially if his background makes his very presence a thumb in the bad guys' eyes, and if he's snitching on government stuff.

All right, there's a limit to this sort of thing, because sooner or later you get to the point where Beacon and Polestar are actually twins separated at birth and every single Disad on each sheet is intertwined across the other's sheet, and it all becomes stupid. But I'd certainly use some of these Crosses and Weaves, especially the bit about linking up the big mystic villain with Weapon Mega, because it solves the thematic mismatch in a fun, interesting way that would challenge me as a GM, too.

ALL RIGHT, WHERE ARE WE?

Despite how much fun it was, the structural chainsawing I did above really isn't as important as looking at the Disadvantages as the real meat of the entire play-experience, for prep, for actual in-play conflicts, and for messing with once a few EPs are available.

I think now's a good time for your responses and for setting up the next part of the dialogue - scenario preparation and in-play attention to key decisions, so the players become the drivers via their characters' actions.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 07, 2006, 02:16:21 PM
Mulling this over, and will comment soon. Good stuff!

BTW (and not to derail), but where the heck does "Strange Destiny" as a Disad come from?


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Caldis on May 07, 2006, 03:33:32 PM


This is pretty fascinating stuff, helps me with a gurps campaign I was thinking of running in a similar manner.  Just for the sake of clarity though Ron could you say which agenda the way you've used Champions is facilitating.  I'm pretty sure I know but I want to be sure.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 07, 2006, 04:45:43 PM
Well, so far there's not much Creative Agenda here except in terms of a distant, collaborative goal or expectation. At the moment, it could really be any of the three, although I've cut out about 75% of the most common Gamist approaches to Champions via a number of my pre-character parameters and post-character comments. Point-mongering to stay ahead of the difficulty curve (pretty much a me-vs.-GM, my character is tougher than what he's got) is outta there at this point, for instance. And you can probably see that I've booted most of the Psychological Disadvantage into an active, rather than reactive state, which in tandem with a few other things is at least sort of Narrativist-directed.

But the real point is not to hone Narrativism into a knife-edge that forces the players in any fashion; Creative Agenda is something we do together, not something that gets imposed as a fundamental feature of the Techniques involved. I hope instead to show that a certain approach to Disadvantages, and an eye toward minimizing certain Champions-specifics habits of optimization, is inspiring for both GM and player. Inspiring toward what? Toward developing Kickers and Bangs, rather than pre-planned scenarios.

Yup, Champions taught me Kickers and Bangs. Or maybe it's the other way around, playing and interpreting Champions's vague-ass but meaty rules made me utilize its features to invent Kickers and Bangs (using "invent" strictly locally, meaning our group, not for the whole hobby or some shit like that).

To be clear: Kickers in this case means a series of tags and interlocking pieces of the character which demand action on my part, in terms of creating NPCs, back-stories, and introductory features of a given session. Bangs in this case means continuing to do so as play progresses, particularly in terms of my playing those NPCs like the fascinating active beasts they are.

Now turn to the players. What the characters decides to do in the face of this opening and constant input is utterly up to them. Playing in this fashion means that the second half, at least, of any given game session is totally, totally up for grabs, and I as GM cannot and should not pre-plan it. I can, for instance, decide what the villain Rip Razor's hideout is like, and even build it with points by the rules. But that doesn't mean I know they're ever going to see it. For all I know, we'll never see it in play. Or Polestar will lead a team of Canadian commandos to take it down. Or instead, Beacon will end up there because in her secret ID she's sleeping with Rip Razor in his, and he decides to show the spoiled rich chick his secret life. Or whatever.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Caldis on May 07, 2006, 08:19:43 PM


Wow that's great, thanks Ron agenda questions all clear.  I was seeing all kinds of bangs in the set up once you started interweaving the characters so I'm not surprised that utilizing Champions lead to kickers and bangs. 



Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 08, 2006, 05:51:50 AM
Okay, I've been out of town at the Windy City Pulp Convention. 

But onto tackling this.  Ron, I designed Beacon purposively on autopilot.  As blank and generic as I could.  Partly this was forced on me, I didn't have much sense of your world.  Marvel of the 80s is a pretty wide open place.  Partly, because I think that is the point of this thread. 

So, if Demon is woossy in your book, I know that now, but not before your feedback.  I happen to think Demon, especially presented in 5th ed, is not all tha woossy... nor as MY experience in 4th ed play ever susggested that.  Precisely the kind of situation that is going to crop up between experienced Champions folks who've never gamed together... crossed expectations.  I would have been happy to creating "better" mystical bad guys for Beacon's past... but this was a convienient shortcut and oh-SO-champions.

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She's a "magic rich-chick with her mysterious family gone missing - Storn, you're slacking. This is pure no-beef cliche right down to its toes. All right, I'll put that aside for later evisceration and check out the Disadvantages.

Dude!  Its Marvel's 80s!  Cliche is the foundation of superheroes.  I'm not sure what you are expecting here.... I didn't feel like I had the freedom (and constrained by Marvel's collapsed timeline) to say "oh, She's Clea and Dr. Strange's daughter!   Doc doesn't know about her!   Clea hid the birth!"  To be honest, I have a tough time working within license universes... just what this exercise should expose.  I think Champions, despite being so wedded to the Marvel's 80s vibe, actually channels folks into coming up with their own worlds, even if Cap. America or Doc Strange is a NPC in the world... soon as Beacon and Polestar impact the table... it is no longer the Marvel Universe as presented in 80s comics... it is an amalgam of Marvel and Champions tacked on.  Not that this is a bad thing... just a thing.

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The Council of Mages, ah geez, whatta pain ... if they're such a big deal, why don't they solve the world's problems instead of Bianca? Fucking no-account pompous Jedi Council, that's why. Erase! Beef up the Donatello family instead. That serves the story role of "Council of Mages" ten times better

Interesting and good suggestion.  I'm not sure if I got the energy to put into doing a whole "Family of Amber" relationship map before play.  But something that we could craft together over time.... that would be cool by me.  Sorta Clan Destine (Alan Davis comic of the 90s but one of the things that I really liked and was a phenominal group idea for gamers)

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Grab that wonderful demon snitch and rack him up to 25 points worth of Disadvantage, pronto.
  How?  Why would a DNPC become worth 25 pts?  You have a different idea of the impact a DNPC has than I.  Another experience disconnect.  Not unsolveable to be sure. 

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The Black Paladin bites - gotta be transformed into a character whose POV toward Bianca makes arguable sense, which means think, think.

Again, pre-exp disconnect.  Black Paladin seemed pretty cool to me.  Tying him better, sure... I agree.

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The Rival, Strange Destiny, and Boyfriend all left up to me?? What? No way!! This is like serving up a stuffed pizza and telling me I have to stuff it.

Well... yeah.  You're the GM.  I'm giving you HUGE openings.  Take advantage of them in terms of driving story (I'm being silly)....  okay, okay.. again, pre-exp disconnect.  This is something that I've GM'd before in OUR group to great success.  It is something that RDU Neil loves... that free floating generic idea that might tie together with something in the GM's mind that the Player doesn't know of yet.  It is a Punt (as opposed to a Kicker)... a cooperative Kick.

I did Beacon purposevilly totally based on if I was going to be in another RDU game.  Because it serves this thread.  It shows precisely how these same game mechanics can be intereperted by different groups in different ways.

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12d6 is the effectiveness cutoff they simply must reach in offense, defense, movement, and "other" or else they cannot imagine playing

I totally agree with your poiints on cost shavings, power frameworks and all of that.  One of the reasons I don't run Champs anymore.  But, I would not even start to play unjtil I got a sense of what is "effective, average, and low powered" for your campaign.  If you tell me that Beacon get along just fine with a 8d6... I will be happy to take your word for it and change accordingly.  In RDU, 8d6 will not cut it.  That is a low powered attack.  The dice are meaningless until compared to the world in which they exist.  You cannot assume I know what you are thinking is a good Doc Strange at 250.  THAT is a conversation!  That I would be so totally open to having, btw.

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wah! A Killing Attack, snuck in right under the radar of the parameter "no killing attacks." Big black sharpie slash, outta there. And then there's that END reserve, which is one of those 4th edition rules that can bite me. Why so much effort was expended in that edition to make sure that characters would never be limited by END, I'll never know. If you're going to go to all that trouble to make END ineffective

First off, Killing attack is where you have a fight on your hands.  Just because Beacon has a Killing Attack, doesn't mean she uses it on people to Kill.  KAs are more useful for doing in a locked door than a Normal attack.  AND!!! if for dramatic reasons, I really, really want to kill someone... I want to be able to attempt it.  Here is where I would ask you to trust me; I really don't like hurting people in combat period, much less killing them in games.  Trust me to use this power extremely judiciously... you will not be sorry.

As for the END thing... I think END is one of the great travesties hoisted by Champions on the superhero genre.  But first off, why did I do it?  Because I wanted her to be able to cast spells as Beacon, but that would be very debilitating, tiring.  The cool scene in my mind?  "to cast an Image to hide the demon imp who is trying to contact her during a cocktail party"  I don't know how strict of a GM you are about using powers in minor, fun, color ways... but that is something I like the freedom to do.  The alternative is that I have to beef up her Con and/or END... and that doesnt' feel like the character to me.  And to be fair to me, i've never used END Res for a character, ever...and I have 30+ Champ PCs.  So.  It was an experiment.

As for why END is a travisty.  It is extremely rare that we see a Hero pushed to the limits of their END in comics... unless it is a specific uber power (Iron Fist's Iron punch might be an example) or they are truly going beyond their limits (Spidy lifting a bus when usually he can barely manage a car) or unless they've been fighting for HOURS!!!! (Supes vs. Doomsday)  To be exhausted in 24 or 36 seconds is ludicrious and simply NOT genre...and is a left over "govenor" from wargamming concepts.

But.  How would you know that until this issue rears its head?  That is what is really striking me as cool about this exercise.

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magical in the fantasy-fic sense rather than the cosmic-cool Dr. Strange sense. She has no unique style in the visual sense, nor any passion-driven combination of outlooks that make her do stuff, rather than just react. Goddam Mercedes Lackey character, all over.

You show me how to Doc Strange... and I will be happy to do it.  Hell, Beacon has more unique style that Doc strange, who waves his hands around and says whatever mumbojumbo the writer wants and his magic works in context of the story.  Now show me how to do that game mechancis wise.  Beacon is BEACON.  A mystical Light that stands against the darkness.  That is a much more cohesive idea that Doc Strange.  Beacon might have a multitude of attack powers, but they are LIGHT oriented.  I would be happy to negotiate dropping, say Entangle, you could nail me there... but mystical bonds of light seem pretty cool to me!!!  The effectiveness (2d6 or 4d6 or 6d6) is totally negotiable... I don't care if her Entangle works only part of the time or if it is really effective (ala Wonder Woman's lasso)... I only care that I can attempt it.

I like options in combat.  I like to use my imagination.  My beef with Champions is that GMs seem to be happy if for 5 rounds of combat you say "I blast with my xd6 Normal attack"... that ain't for me.  Champions FORCES me to have multiple powers to do ONE SFX's job.  So I succumbed to the system and tried to work within it.  To glean out different, cool comic ways of doing stuff in combat.  This isn't out of a desire to be able to "handle any situation" but out of a desire to "guess" how I can be imaginative.

Cool feedback Ron.  But I wouldn't set foot in your campaign either until you revealed your expectations better {although after some blending ideas together, I feel that it would be a great game!).  Beacon is simply the starting negotiating point. 





Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 08, 2006, 05:54:07 AM
I've "buzzed" over Polestar.  I need to come back to him later.

But a key problem or situation is immeditely evident.  Are Polestar and Beacon meant to be duo?  Or to exist in the context of a more typical Champions group ala Defenders, New Warriors?

Because Duos can be a blast, but then even more negotiating between two players and GM is needed.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 08, 2006, 06:26:00 AM
Whoa, whoa. First, Storn, this isn't a debate. You're helping me demonstrate some things to Buzz, and that's what's up. Work with me. Yes, I know you brought Beacon in under different assumptions; that's part of the dialogue of making characters. But don't fight me step by step, and if possible, accept the associated mockery with grace. Again: the point here is to help Buzz with his question to me about how to do one, specific thing. I'm showing him. Help me out. (And actually rewriting Beacon isn't part of the plan. Never mind about that.)

Here's one really good point about Beacon. You're on the right track about the differing expectations. Buzz, do you see how brutally I am forced, as GM, to retool her? I mean, hard core, to the extent of devaluing Storn's expectations because without mine in place, the game cannot occur successfully?

If I were to take Beacon and Polestar as written and try to GM them with the intention of making the two of you happy, then phooey. We'd get smooth, or rather not-so-smooth blah Champions, ultimately based on me making up the back-stories, me making up the scenes to be played, me making up the information and interactions of each scene, me determining the outcome of each scene through fiat regardless of various dice results, and me faced with what's effectively been all my doing, as the foundation for doing it again. You guys would get to roll to hit once in a while and would have to satisfy your own agendas in short-term ways or out of play.

Which is incoherent play. Which, Buzz, is what you've been doing, to the extent that the very proposition of having your character do anything seems like fun to you, in contrast with what you do most of the time during a session.

Another point, and again, Storn, work with me. I'm going to use your work with Beacon as a hard-core negative example, and I'm expecting you to suck it up a little and not react like I'm throwing darts at you. This is for Buzz.

Buzz - Storn wrote that he made up Beacon on autopilot. Do you see that right there, right there, is potentially a fundamental breach of Social Contract? OK, not really, because we don't have a Social Contract about our game - the game is hypothetical. But I can point back to actual play to illustrate this point very easily - in fact, in reference to one of my Champs games!

I met a guy named Mike while trying to organize a new group, after I'd moved to a new area in 1989. I wanted to play more Cyberpunk (1st edition) and met a few folks, eventually organizing a get-together. Mike was one of them and we had a conversation about the character he might make up. For those who aren't familiar with it, the first edition of Cyberpunk was pretty character-heavy, with an extensive lifepath system. If you wanted to play stuff like Neuromancer instead of "combat cyborgs vs. the mechs," it required a lot of prep or you just got a 'tac squad.

Mike called me up a couple of hours before the get-together. He said, "Well, I don't really have my character together," and cited a few cliches that he wanted to use. I told him, "Don't bother." He was pretty stunned. This was totally new to him, that I'd meant what we'd talked about earlier and wouldn't, basically, put together and position his character into my prep for him.

The good news is that a while later, in organizing my Champions game, Mike insisted on being involved and busted out a phenomenal, proactive, central character. I was sort of surprised at his enthusiasm; instead of being turned off or feeling rejected by my excluding him earlier, he saw this game as an opportunity - at last! - to play with a group with concrete expectations and a sense of raising the bar.

The lesson - ask, is the person prepping for playing this game with you, or for playing this "game" in an abstract or uncommitted sense, just-another Champs, or even just-another-RPG that happens to be Champs this time? The latter flatly eliminate the character and quite likely this player from the group which you and I are discussing at this time.

Now we have to turn to those open Disadvantages, which is a related point, and I want you to consider this very carefully, 'cause Storn put it very well.

Quote
You're the GM.  I'm giving you HUGE openings.  Take advantage of them in terms of driving story (I'm being silly)....  okay, okay.. again, pre-exp disconnect.  This is something that I've GM'd before in OUR group to great success.  It is something that RDU Neil loves... that free floating generic idea that might tie together with something in the GM's mind that the Player doesn't know of yet.  It is a Punt (as opposed to a Kicker)... a cooperative Kick.

See, my view utilizes the extremely negative interpretation of the term Punt, meaning, "I can't be bothered so I'll give it to you to do for me." This is not an indictment of Storn's other group. It is, however, an indictment of using that tactic to play in the fashion I'm trying to explain to you. (Storn, you're with me on that, right? Don't be testy.)

In the fashion I'm explaining, you as GM will utilize those Disadvantages anyway, and always. The most specific Disad in the world - I mean, say Storn were to have written up the love-interest all the way down to his very last little spent character point - is still wide-open for GMing. It's no less "open" and "available" than saying "Love-interest, to be determined by GM, a little inappropriate and a little dark." Because, you see, the GM still gets to play the guy, or gal, or demon, or whatever.

In that case, what's the difference? Well, the advantage of doing it this way for present purposes of this discussion (i.e. the way to play you're asking about) is this: Beacon would be positioned in terms of ethical choices, which it would then be my responsibility as GM to include and hammer hard during play itself. Right now, I'd have to invent them as well as include them and hammer them ... and hey, just on the off-chance, let's say whatever I invented wasn't to Storn's interest at all. Flat empty rubber ball hits the floor.

And I know that's a common event during play of this kind. The GM who tries to invent, develop, and spike interest from the ground up will eventually become exhausted, and the prep and scenarios start to show it. The players become alternatively (a) wholly cooperative, uncritically, because they know they have to be interested or the game won't be playable at all; or (b) resistant to being forced to care about whatever it is, and basically turtle out.

Storn, I'm not saying this is happening in your group. I am saying that it's obviously, fully, and past-point-of-recall happening in Buzz's group.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 08, 2006, 07:21:35 AM
Quote
Whoa, whoa. First, Storn, this isn't a debate.

Oh, I'm not debating.  Please, I'm a poor writer... that was not my intention at all.  My intention was to point out WHERE the disconnects happened and OUR different takes on everything from Champions mechanics, to what marvel comics is COULD be indictive of when experienced Champions players play with each other for the first time.  I'm supporting your calls by showing what I was thinking when I was doing it.

That wasn't meant to be defensive, but rather illustrative.  I'm not annoyed or defensive feeling in the slightest.  Contrary, I'm enjoying the dialogue.  Really, I was trying to back you up.

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See, my view utilizes the extremely negative interpretation of the term Punt, meaning, "I can't be bothered so I'll give it to you to do for me." This is not an indictment of Storn's other group. It is, however, an indictment of using that tactic to play in the fashion I'm trying to explain to you. (Storn, you're with me on that, right? Don't be testy.)

Absolutely.  I think you find that quite disdainful.. and that is GOOD TO KNOW!  It was not meant to be lazy on my part, but rather, respecful of you as a GM.  Truly, to give you hooks into my character.  Now, I can engage you (if we were really playing) and ask "okay, help me get there.  Can I get a bit more of the campaign world?  Who would make a rocking love interest for Beacon?  What do you need from me?  Would "X" be okay?  Would "Y" be okay?"

I'm not totally convinced that a "punt" (a half "Flag"?) is necessarily a bad thing.  I had great sucess with GMing a character with amneisa and the player WANTED me to have carte blanche in surprising him in an espionage, Jason Bourne Identity context.  It worked great and I did surprise him with a totally twisted espionage mystery that he unraveled over several episodes (about 12).  That was what the player wanted.  Not the GM (me), but it was fun to implement.  Is that "wrongbadfun?"  But if you want to table that discussion... I understand.

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Beacon would be positioned in terms of ethical choices, which it would then be my responsibility as GM to include and hammer hard during play itself. Right now, I'd have to invent them as well as include them and hammer them ... and hey, just on the off-chance, let's say whatever I invented wasn't to Storn's interest at all. Flat empty rubber ball hits the floor.

a-HA!  Got the point.  The amnesia example above was invested, despite a really insanely wide open canvas, because the investigation for the player was the point, not the actual details.  You are worried that I would not be if you suddenly have Vampire Lord X or supervillain Y show up and point to him and say "Beacon, you are drawn to him" and I go 'eh' and go through the motions, but not truly engaged.  You see too many pifalls potentially.  Got it.  Cool.  Have to think about that for a bit.



Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 08, 2006, 07:23:10 AM
I hope my last reply was "working with you".

If it wasn't, can you shoot me a PM to explain HOW I can do that via Buzz?  What your expectations of me are?


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 08, 2006, 03:10:50 PM
You're doing great! We're on the same page.

Also, in a little bit, I'm going to post the complete guidelines for that old Champions game (one of my favorites ever), and you can see how far I took it. The ones I posted before were just a little scratch on the surface for dialogue purposes.

Buzz, what are your thoughts at this point?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 08, 2006, 07:22:54 PM
His Psych disads need beef. If he's such a boy scout, why can't he suck it up and work for the government, killing their enemies?
I guess I saw a difference between the sensibility of a boy who grew up believing in honor, valor, and justice for Queen and country... and covert wetworks, even if it was in the name of the greater Canadian good. He thought he was being roomed as a hero, and instead he's a secret weapon.

First, drop VIPER and gratuitous empty-point-bags like Teleios...
I've always had a problem nixing the "empty point bags". The 100-150 points in disads common to Champs, at 5-20 points a pop, seem to demand adding a lot of Hunted and DNPCs... unless you're going to venture into "blind, berserk, destitute, with a limp" territory. And Psych Lims...

The Psych disads are the real place to work on him, though. This guy needs some rage, some righteous power. He wants to "do some good?" Well freakin' define that in a specific, goal-directed way and point him in that direction with 20 points.
I wonder how the heck you turn "do some good" into a Psych Lim that's a meaningful source of points. I mean, is having a personality a Disad?


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 08, 2006, 07:36:32 PM
Buzz, what are your thoughts at this point?
I'm sensing that the point here is something that I've read in the texts of games like Burning Wheel and, iirc, DitV: the players need to be proactively involved in the initial creation of the campaign. The back-and-forth between you and Storn looks like an example of exactly that. Each of you is sussing out exactly what the other needs, weighted heavily on the side of you (as GM) making clear what it is you need in order to run an enjoyable game. "We're going to play Champs" is, as I understand it, a meaningless statement. It's not telling you anything about what everyone's goals and perspective are. Hence, the "autopilot" that results (and Polestar, mechanically, was definitely me on autopilot; I need more time than most to suss out point-constructs). There's far more conversation and review that needs to occur before the campaign can start.

And this is pretty much how the big Champs campaign started. We were still emailing before our first in-person meeting, and all we had was "superheroes" and "125+125 points, here are your AP limits". Mike has done tons with what I gave him, i.e., the sketch of my character's family. But was what I had intended be done? Or how I really saw them? I dunno. I pretty much rolled with whatever he threw at me.

Or am I just parroting general Forge advice and there's something more you're trying to convey? I've been buried deep in Burning Wheel lately, so may be regurgitating some of what I've read.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 09, 2006, 04:58:33 AM
Quote
I wonder how the heck you turn "do some good" into a Psych Lim that's a meaningful source of points. I mean, is having a personality a Disad?

Funny how it is easier to see someone elses stuff than one's own.

I don't want to steal Ron's thunder, but I did have an idea for Polestar.  If he was to be this uber agent for the Canadian Secret Service, not only should he have been trained in all the typical spycraft-y stuff (as is evident in the write up), but a cover should have been in the training too.  Special Forces/Delta Force often have skill sets and covers that are very civilian, yet allow for travel.  Languages are a big deal to these guys.  Maybe this is where you can glean a bit more unusual aspects of Polestar.

Background in international finances or something. 

Granted, this can suck easily 20 pts (Delta Force often speak 5 languages), but it can also springboard for some cool disad possiblities as the former "cover" generates the disad.  Maybe Polestar's civilian guise is doing consulting for the World Trade Organization and has caught wind of a horrible conspiracy.  Maybe his face has been photographed a bit too much, and is showing up in the NY Times and Wall Street... Polestar might be new... but his face isn't.... luckily, not revealing sources is still prevelant in Marvel Universe's 80s Press.

Dunno. just suggestions.  But I think if you think of a cover that is cool, then a whole new range of both skillsets and disads might present itself.  If you went with war correspondent and "To Do Good is To Reveal The Truth"... you might have a juicier Disad for Ron.

I have an L5R character who seeks for "Truth behind History" as L5R's history is very much myth and intrigue and interested parties re-writing "official Imperial history".  This throw away Disad is now driving much of the storyline and my PC is very much front and center, cutting across the social grain of the society.  Fun stuff.

Now, I will shut up and let Ron get back to your points.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 09, 2006, 05:37:16 AM
Hi there,

Storn! Yeah, baby!! Don't shut up when you're talkin' like that.

Now for the post ...

I'd like to emphasize that I'm not advocating total pre-play programming of everything about one's character. However, I'd like to get across the textually vanishingly rare point that the strongest, most reliable unexpected elements to arise in play, arise from concrete sources of conflict.

Those sources themselves may be general or specific. In Sorcerer, for instance, they're very general and only emerge after at least one session of "baking" in actual play. Whereas in Primetime Adventures, for instance, whatever the protagonist of the moment ends up coping with in a Spotlight Episode, and most other times too, it's gotta be specifically tuned to the character's pre-set issue.

If one's going to play Champions in this fashion I'm describing - and remember, the entire point of this current discussion is to show how conflicts arise from player actions - then either specific or general is OK, but vagueness isn't useful. It's a "dead ball," like I've described before. The fun thing about an inflated red ball is that it bounces. Toss/bounce it to me, and if it's totally deflated, I'm standing there with a hanging wad of rubber. Sure, I could toss it back to you, and you toss it back to me. Does that sound fun? Not in the context of having conflicts arise from player actions, it doesn't.

Therefore, my point is that such conflicts reliably arise from tensions that exist. If I get a bunch of vague "fill-in" stuff on the characters' sheets, then maybe the emergent properties of role-playing will produce (a) fun tensions, (b) relevant scenario content, and (c) satisfying confrontations, regardless of outcomes. But in practice, this becomes extremely recognizable Ouija-Board play at best, and more typically this grinding tedium fueled by hopeful glimmers.

Perhaps the strongest way to look at it is across characters' sheets, which in this case is Polestar and Beacon. When I say "tensions," I mean stuff like Beacon's determination to be an ultra-happy inspirational hero in combination with Polestar's boy-scoutiness. Sound like a match made in heaven? Ha! Not when politics and morality clash. What if Weapon Mega is still sanctioned by a joint committee between U.S. and Canadian military forces, and that committee is classified, so Congress etc doesn't know about it? Right? Wrong? Should Polestar go and serve his time with their pre-emptive assault on a suspected terrorist base in international waters?

My point is that Beacon and Polestar, in combination, provide ideas for interesting conflicts and decisions the players have to make, (a) when their stuff is contradictory and (b) when their stuff is similar. Don't get me wrong - I am not talking about excuses for them to stand around and spout angst prior to stepping up obediently to the combat against the alleged terrorists. I'm not saying, "Ha! You have boy-scoutiness! You have to do what Weapon Mega says and get into my adventure now! And like it!" I'm saying that Beacon and Polestar are going to have to decide for themselves, as determined by the players, where heroism lies in a case like this. As GM, my job is to play the other guys.

Also consider the sheets of the various villains and DNPCs in exactly the same cross-cutting way. Conceivably, you could mentally spread out all their sheets, and draw little glowy green lines for things that coincide (as with the above), and draw little glowy red lines for the things that produce opposition. Simplistic, but not a bad start. With that in mind, scenarios, scene framing, and initial interactions are all child's play to prep, and even easier to spin off during play without pre-programming.

Buzz, that's why Psychological Disadvantages and DNPCs take on a wholly new meaning for this kind of play. They are "disadvantageous" in the sense that the player cannot avoid them. However, in terms of fun, they are wholly advantageous. I am well aware and well committed to the idea that if a Disadvantage does not inconvenience the character, it's not a disadvantage and should not get points. But note what I specified: the character.

Example from actual play: the character was a musician and the DNPC was his guitar named "Marilyn." First scene in a session was the character on a trip of some kind, arriving in his hotel room with his luggage, including Marilyn. Player say, "I flip open the case," and I say, "Marilyn's gone. The case is full of heroin."

The player lit up like a light bulb and instantly switched into character voice, facial expressions, and pantomimed actions. And the rest of the players all jumped up and down too, and the session hit high gear.

I thnk this is a little different from the old, "Your girlfriend bitches at you" + "Mucus Man kidnapped her again! Go save her!" I've seen more DNPCs simply abandoned during play, due to this lame-ass approach, than you can imagine ... and the player basically tells the GM, who's pointing to the disad on the sheet and insisting that the player care, to fuck off. Instead, because the players know I'm inconveniencing the character but giving them something to work with, we're off to the races. And notice that I didn't invent Marilyn, her status as a guitar, the character's sentimental affection for her, or the player's enjoyment/fantasy of the character being a musician.

Let's also take a few looks over some of the details of the past few posts, and show you, Buzz, where you need to be a hard-ass.

1. People will, in fact, ignore things even when you say them totally clearly. "No killing attacks" is right up front and straightforward, as a phrase. Storn put one on the sheet and said "But she won't use them on people." It doesn't matter whether she will or won't; that's not the issue. The issue is, does "no killing attacks" mean what it says, or doesn't it? Role-playing traditions include the weird and rather disturbing viewpoint that no, it doesn't. Apparently an up-front statement of "let's do it this way" is subject to the response, "OK, but I'll do it the other way," and that response is treated, for some reason, as agreement.

So you have to be a hard-ass about the preferences that you really have. It so happens that I had a number of reasons and experiences that led me to that conclusion regarding the Champions game I wanted to play at that time. The gamer-response to that is, "Oh yeah? What are they?" because he wants to continue the negotiation, and he can always say "Well, I don't see it that way" and continue the same "I agree except that I'm not doing it like that" line of behavior. My current point to you is that a flat statement is a flat statement. It could be justified by something totally loopy, in my mind (killing attacks in Champions games increase the severity of global warming, or whatever), and that doesn't matter - it is a preference, in the strongest sense of the word.

2. The distinction between Duo and Group boggles me. To me, a duo is simply a two-person group; there seems to be this idea that if there's a "group," then at least some of the characters are support ... a term that rings no bells with me at all, in terms of playing Champions in the way I'm trying to explain here. Support for what? Combat effectiveness, apparently. These characters are there to beef up the team tactically and provide a little color-y dialogue every so often.

However, in the kind of play I'm talking about, there is no upside to having these characters around at all. In practice, their empty points typically remain empty, to be filled in some day or in a fashion that fills them in without providing any new stuff for play. (The absolutely classic example is the whole thing where a team member gets replaced by an android or demonic duplicate; the player is enlisted by the GM to play the bad guy secretly for a while; the bad version of the character does stuff between sessions that betrays the team, but in play the character is just played as normal; finally a session comes along when the GM reveals the traitor, the other players just shrug and pound the character into paste without thinking twice. It's never fun. Ever.)

3. Which leads me into the autopilot point. Autopilot character creation is flat-out not going to work for the kind of Champions play I'm talking about. It produces characters which don't "move," but merely occupy space. They may be very handy for the tactical squad. They may be handy for the GM who has all sorts of stories and ideas to bring to the game and needs a player-character to insert them into. They are not going to be a damn thing for the kind of activity you, Buzz, were asking about.

There's no real point in providing reasons or justifications or context that might be relevant to another group and another game. Buzz, be a hard-ass - no autopilot character creation. You  can spot'em a mile away, and you just say forget it.

4. And finally, a word about cliches. This term carries judgmental content which is often lost in role-playing discussions. What makes a cliche bad is not its familiarity, even though that's how it's usually interpreted, but rather its lack of conflict/thematic potential, to the real people involved, as expressed in this particular case.

A patriotic hero at odds with his government, and particularly the military, is familiar. But if constructed with powers, Psychological Disadvantages, Hunteds, and DNPCs which provide all that fun context for conflicts, then the very familiarity is a blessing. The response among the whole group is, "Hey, this looks like it'll play out really cool," with the unstated implication, "... this time!"

It's the same character with nothing there except a sort of vague reminder of similar characters in the past, that blows. (Interestingly, the "Weapon Alpha" or "Guardian" character from Alpha Flight was himself a lame-ass cliche, in the bad sense, who was only written in order to be killed soon anyway; hence Polestar as written is actually a copy of a copy, with all that entails.)

Buzz, I hope you can see that this approach to Disadvantages means that you no longer have to (a) make the character blind, humpbacked, allergic to food, and afraid of water in order to make your points; or (b) take 75 points of totally meaningless Hunteds ("generic mean villain, hates me for some reason") and Watcheds ("government").

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 09, 2006, 07:19:28 AM
Quote
2. The distinction between Duo and Group boggles me.

Oops... I didn't explain myself well there, did I?

IMO, a group allows for more disparate types.  You Brick, Me Psi.  NPC ally: Battlesuit.

In a duo, the classic duos are more tightly woven together.  Either by origin, ex: Cloak and Dagger.. or by similar battlegrounds, skill sets, issues to be tackled:  Capt. America and Falcoln.  Cap and Falcoln are both dealing at the same power level (street level, low end of the pnorm scale, ie. not Galactus, Silver Surfer).  Both are dealing with different aspects of the American Dream, racism is very much the point of their team up.  Both are patriots.  Both are superb athletes and warriors, although varied from each other. 

So, if we are looking at Beacon and Polestar to totally carry the story on their own, I would approach that prospect differently.  I would want to tie myself more closely to Polestar, either in the differences or similarities (as you also said, and suggested in the fixes).

In a group, there is simply more opportunities to spark off another player.  In a duo, the sparks better be really crafted from the get-go.

Even though I'm a big fan of group chargen in either case, duo or group.

Make sense?


As for the term "support", I didn't mean that Beacon should be a space occupier and not drive story or be proactive (although I will concede that motivation is a bit typical generic)... but rather, she isn't the one to win with brute force on the battlefied...   It is her role to have the power that slows the bad guys down, makes their position tougher, and allow her teamate(s) to apply the coup de grace.

Btw, "Marilyn' was brilliant.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 11, 2006, 05:27:35 PM
So, where do we go from here?

Also, would it be okay if I eventually posted the new PC I'm using for Mike's game for critique? Or is that not relevant?


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 12, 2006, 05:22:52 AM
Hi Buzz,

Well, it's your thread. One thing I'm not seeing in your posts is acknowledgment regarding my points to you. You asked, "How can Champions be utilized such that player-decisions during play lead to conflicts arising?" I hope I've shown that it can be done, and especially, that the GM is still an active player whose decisions work pretty much like everyone else's in this regard.

Is that the case? Have my points addressed your question? Are there gaps in my explanations where they don't seem to make sense?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 12, 2006, 09:49:03 PM
Have my points addressed your question? Are there gaps in my explanations where they don't seem to make sense?

I tried to repeat back to you what I understand your point to be in my post above (a couple posts up). I believe that you have essentially addressed my question, though I would like to see the guidelines from your old Champs games you mentioned earlier. Would it be possible for you to formulate "rules" that informed the exercise we just went through?

The basic thing I'm getting is that there needs to be a lot of communication between player and GM (and maybe even player-to-player) in the chargen process, and the GM needs to be adamant in getting specifics about the aspects of the PC, as well as demand that the data on the character sheet be a concrete source of conflict/momentum for the campaign.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 13, 2006, 02:53:54 AM
Good thread.

I'm outta town for a couple of days.

But on re-reading the thread, Ron, this jumped out at me...

Quote
The issue is, does "no killing attacks" mean what it says, or doesn't it? Role-playing traditions include the weird and rather disturbing viewpoint that no, it doesn't. Apparently an up-front statement of "let's do it this way" is subject to the response, "OK, but I'll do it the other way," and that response is treated, for some reason, as agreement.
.

I admit that I completely forgot the "no KAs" statement when I drew up Beacon.  But I'm not sure if this trend is "wierd and disturbing".  If the play at the table is a shared experience... then the creation of the campaign setting can be a shared experience too.  I never got a chance to say, "hey, what about KAs for the purposes of blowing shit up in spectacular superheroic fashion...not for killing people?" and the negotiations start.  But I agree, it is not "an agreement" if I do it "the other way".

I point to Cyclops, despite a tremendous code vs. killing, has a killing attack, he can punch through a tank with his eyebeams.  One cannot do that with a normal attack unless it is 25d6 Normal EB or something insane.  That is my interpertation of the genre... just one of many.  Here is where you, the GM, can say, "oh, but maybe Cyke has Armor Piercing..." or whatever...

I'm not trying to defend the KA on Beacon's sheet here, just using it as an example.  Just like the disads on the sheet, it is a starting place.  If you the GM can say "hey, flabby thinking about Beacon's love interest.." I have the same right to go; "hey, GM, flabby thinking about Killing Attacks.  Define your setting better... so I know if or not, Beacon can cause a locked door to go down."  {Btw, I once couldn't break a doorknob with an armor piercing normal attack... that seem so NOT superheroic to me...and a source of great frustration with the system.  So, yeah, that's my baggage being unloaded from the train <g>}


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 13, 2006, 12:36:39 PM
{Btw, I once couldn't break a doorknob with an armor piercing normal attack... that seem so NOT superheroic to me...and a source of great frustration with the system.  So, yeah, that's my baggage being unloaded from the train <g>}

Wow. I had the exact same experience with my PC in this campaign. He originally had a light-based attack that was no Knockback, no BODY. I was trying to break a locked door, and realized that all I could really do was the equivalent of shine a flashlight on it.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 13, 2006, 03:10:26 PM
Guys, I think this thread has reached its goals. Since I did not provide the actual, full description of the Champs game I played back then, in terms of starting points for the players, there's no point in conversing as though I had. The issues you're raising, Storn, are valid in demonstrating just how far such a sheet/summary would have to go.

Mark (Buzz), if you're good with the basic idea that Disadvantages (especially the "person" based ones) can be utilized as a kind of seedbed to see what will bloom later, during play itself, then we can probably stop here.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: buzz on May 13, 2006, 03:25:24 PM
Mark (Buzz), if you're good with the basic idea that Disadvantages (especially the "person" based ones) can be utilized as a kind of seedbed to see what will bloom later, during play itself, then we can probably stop here.
I think I'm good. Thank you (and everyone else in the thread) very much!


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Storn on May 14, 2006, 05:32:52 AM
Guys, I think this thread has reached its goals. Since I did not provide the actual, full description of the Champs game I played back then, in terms of starting points for the players, there's no point in conversing as though I had. The issues you're raising, Storn, are valid in demonstrating just how far such a sheet/summary would have to go.

Mark (Buzz), if you're good with the basic idea that Disadvantages (especially the "person" based ones) can be utilized as a kind of seedbed to see what will bloom later, during play itself, then we can probably stop here.

Best, Ron

Agreed.  Cool thread.  I enjoyed it and it made me think a lot about my own gaming disfunctions.


Title: Re: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 14, 2006, 08:33:15 AM
Closed now.

Best, Ron