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Author Topic: HERO System, M&M and assessing incoherence  (Read 17511 times)
buzz
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« 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 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!
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Judd
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« Reply #1 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.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 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
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buzz
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« Reply #3 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
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A.k.a., Mark Delsing
buzz
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« Reply #4 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. :)
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A.k.a., Mark Delsing
Ramidel
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« Reply #5 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.
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buzz
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« Reply #6 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?" :)
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A.k.a., Mark Delsing
jlarke
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« Reply #7 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.
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My real name is Jason Larke.
Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #8 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.

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buzz
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« Reply #9 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.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 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, 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 (strong emphasis on Creative Agenda, which I think he de-emphasizes a bit too much)
Incoherent play
Dysfunctional play

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
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buzz
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« Reply #11 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, 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. :)
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A.k.a., Mark Delsing
buzz
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« Reply #12 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 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.
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A.k.a., Mark Delsing
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 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, 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
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Storn
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Posts: 228


« Reply #14 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. 
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