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Author Topic: Genre Expectation - a Sketch of "Cosmic Zap"  (Read 12955 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: September 23, 2002, 12:22:38 PM »

Hi Fang,

I've been considering what I'd like to use for a fairly-Sim genre game (close as I'll ever get anyway). Since I don't want the metagame stuff to be overwhelmingly present, i.e. I want it to creep in only insofar as we want it at the time without too much deliberation, Scattershot seems perfect.

Here's the deal: Cosmic Zap comics, Jim Starlin all the way. Adam Warlock, Thanos, all that freaked-out combo between Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel. I know you know what I'm talking about. Silver Surfer prefigured it; Guardians of the Galaxy gave it its deathblow; its final swan song was a few years later with Nexus.

Features of the genre:

1) Pop psychology. Every conflict's a metaphor, every villain represents a troubling power/psychology conundrum, every story is a personal journey. A typical conflict would be the death of the body contrasted with the death of the self contrasted with the heat death of the universe; a typical ending entails the character "resurrected" and it all happened in a baby's dream. Or the mysterious child-of-light defeats Death Himself only to become Death Himself. Or some shit like that.

2) Overwhelming scope. Galaxies, universes, the very fabric of time and space, whole planetary populations in the balance - hell, whole dimensions get brought casually into the story. It makes Star Wars seem piddly and provincial. The villains were outstanding - Dormammu and Galactus to go back to the early versions; Thanos in the Starlin days. These guys were badasses; the Beyonder ten years later was a horrible wimpy worthless echo.

3) Outrageous early 70s fashions and attitudes - the guys all looked like a butch Sean Cassidy with Dorothy Hamill haircuts; the gals all had fishnet stockings and heavy eyelid makeup, and they lounged about in various states of liberated confusion. The guys' outfits were glossy 60s retreads of Silver Age superhero costumes, skin-tight with wide upturned collars and open V-necks, e.g.

4) Battles! Fisticuffs, cosmic blasts, whole swirling panels of starry destruction. It's all mystical-magical and generalized though, nothing like a stupid blaster pistol or energy sword, or even any very well-defined stable of powers like a typical superhero. Superheroics as an expression of moral conviction was as literal as it could possibly get.

Hell, I can't even remember Captain Marvel's powers from this era save for these sparkly wrist-blasts and his ability to fly through space - he was just ... Captain Marvel. ("I am ... Sancho.")

5) Wise-ass hip commentary by an ethnic/alien/both buddy (Rick Jones of course, and I remember a goat-legged troll named Pip in Adam Warlock, and who can forget Judah Maccabee in Nexus).

Fang, like I said, I know you know this stuff. Go!

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2002, 02:37:10 PM »

Hi Fang,

Quick clarifiers:

1) Zap Comix, the imprint used by R. Crumb and a few other folks in the late 60s, isn't the same as "Cosmic Zap," which I believe is the term coined by Jim Steranko (or someone) for the type of spacey-whacked superheroes that I'm talking about.

2) I left Dreadstar out because, frankly, I think Starlin was resuscitating a dead medium. That material all felt very forced to me, as well as over-influenced by Star Wars (which admittedly came along and successfully co-opted "space adventure" for what seems like forever).

(As for the Dreadstar/Nexus crossover many years later, by First Comics, ugh! What a piece of crap ...)

So, where's my thread?

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2002, 02:45:45 PM »

Oh wait, I forgot.

Central Concept: Cosmic Zap! which I think I've described. Adventures in Space that are perhaps contemporary with here and now (i.e. 1974) but are utterly disconnected from it despite (e.g.) a hero's origin back on Earth or very, very tenuous connection with earthly superheroes. Note well that "adventure" as a term is barely appropriate, as stories' conclusions are often utterly inconclusive in terms of traditional conflicts.

Metaphor: Space as "Space," meaning, personal space, experiential space, arena for discovery; Hero as "chosen one" without a clear mission, who would question it even if he found it. Also, violence within space is inner turmoil - no one "just fights," but rather suffers by fighting, even if he wins.

Motif: Chix as somehow "in tune" with real things and feelings (although they mainly are confused about things like right and wrong), very sexy but also untouchable (based on their confusion); Mentors as very wise but also very sad and (in their agedness) ineffectual, as "times are changing and a new age is upon us"; Villains as powerful metaphysical statements that hammer home the point that Injustice, Death, and Power really do exist without recourse to fairness or idealistic ends; Buddy Commentator as connection to the reader.

Running Gag: the hairstyles and costumes, the hip commentary, the occasional use of self-important captions, the basic realization that comics are not high art despite our feverish efforts to act as if they were.

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2002, 06:54:36 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
So, where's my thread?

Best,
Ron

You guys are like little kids (in the good way).  I hope I can get to this tomorrow.

Fang Langford

p. s. Sorry, I got titles confused.  Worse than you imagine; I mixed up Zot! (by Scott McCloud) with Zap Comics and Zap Comics with your genre.  Howzat for mixed up?

p. p. s. So this is those terrible disco space comics, right?
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« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2002, 11:39:53 AM »

Okay, sorry about the confusion, I meant the post of the Central Concept/Metaphor/Motif/Running Gag as more of a lexicon to refer to (most would identify Running Gags as just another application of Motif, but I needed narrower descriptions).  I planned on taking the point for describing these features.  Another thing that was under-emphasized is the fact and need that Genre Expectations have for a single Approach.  (This is 'how you want to play' kinda thing, not any analysis of motives or behaviors; Approaches are self-selected by preference or group commitment.)  A lot of this stems from ideas you may have about 'what happens during play,' or 'what do you do.'  So any examples of that are welcome.

You've given me a lot of information about Cosmic Zap! so far, so I think I can at least get us started.  After looking over the examples and suggestions, I think we can start with the Metaphor.  A simple, sound Metaphor is often a good starting place to avoid a directionless game.  You've actually alluded to two of them and the contrast is very helpful.

In the general mainstream of comic books in this era (a Genre Expectation I've already done some work with), every superhero had both a secret identity and their own personal supervillains.  The personal nature of supervillains gives the largest clue to the Metaphor in play; base villains 'attached' to heroes of unassailable virtue is a recipe for the 'inner struggle' between one's good intentions and the darker urges.  To make it Freudian, the 'cover' is the ego (hence the central character), the supervillains represent the id, and therefore the hero is the superego.  The 'inner struggle' is a classic Metaphor.

One of the things that differentiate Cosmic Zap! from this is exactly the relationship to the villains.  If I am reading the sources correctly, these villains are far-flung threats of a caliber and magnitude unseen in the mainstream.  Likewise, their posture versus the setting does not tie them exclusively to any single hero.  That almost has to cast them in the Metaphorical roles of absolutes; probably even moral or ethical absolutes like evil.

This means that the primary Metaphor is probably the clash between ethics and the real world.  The situations you offer ("every story is a personal journey," "violence within space is inner turmoil") suggest that the Metaphor is further limited to such clashes within the individual.  Many of the listed characters deal with motivations to be righteous, but find the real-world applications quite hairy; in keeping with the exaggeration inherent in "overwhelming scope; galaxies, universes, the very fabric of time and space, whole planetary populations in the balance," these can escalate to high tragedy.

The "hero as 'chosen one' without a clear mission" is a Motif (not the Metaphor) right in keeping with this for they represent making the decisions between Right and Wrong, and the consequences of the lack of absolutes in actual practice.  The " buddy Commentator as connection to the reader" is the classic observer role in stories and wouldn't have a place in a game, except I think it could (because of the "Wise-ass hip commentary by an ethnic/alien/both buddy" comment) handle the ironic comparisons of play with the lives of the players (getting Experience Dice for appropriate humor).  You could even consider using them as a 'shared character' because they make little comment on the thematic nature of the game.

Other Motifs include Chix, Mentors, Villains, and Battle.  Since Chix are "'in tune' with real things and feelings," "confused about things like right and wrong," and "very sexy but also untouchable," Metaphorically they'd represent concrete and visceral urges (feelings don't matter to ethics, "sexy" is quite visceral and hardly absolute).  Mentors therefore represent the cling to one's ideals; "very wise but also very sad," aged and ineffectual, and falling to "times are changing and a new age is upon us," demonstrates the impossibility of applying moral absolutes to concrete situations.  Villains are described as "powerful metaphysical statements that hammer home the point that Injustice, Death, and Power;" every moral absolute has its antipode, here the also personify the choice not only between Good and Evil, but between pragmatism (is that the right word?) and moral absolutes.

Finally, the Motif of battle represents the most primitive of solutions, hence no "stupid blaster pistol or energy sword, or even any very well-defined stable of powers."  Its very ambiguity suits the nature of the Metaphor; you would use decisive powers to solve the conflict between moral absolutes and concrete applications.

You'll notice an absence of 'place' Motifs; that also elevates things to absolutes of judgment; which reminds me did any characters like The Living Tribunal, Lord Chaos and Master Order, Eternity, or the Elders of the Universe, turn up?  All are hallmarks of stories based on moral absolutes.

Well, that's about as far as I can go with what has been presented.  What we need to look at now is the 'how the sessions will go,' 'what you want to do' kind of stuff goes.  We'll also need to delve into your preference of Approach because these things heavily color what is needed in the presentation of the Genre Expectations.  After that we can delve into the specific elements of the game and the direction the Experience Dice usage will take.

Hope I'm on track so far, have a nice weekend!

Fang Langford
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2002, 01:03:23 PM »

Hi Fang,

Nifty - I agree with your breakdown of the secondary-character types very thoroughly, similarly with the inefficacy of plain old Spidey or Avengers type fisticuffs when it comes to solving anything.

As for the "absolutes" kind of characters, like Eternity and so forth - encounters with them tended to be of the sort in which the hero undergoes tremendous travails to achieve an audience with them, and comes away with platitudes like "Seek within yourself" or suchlike. In other words, once a being is that ineffably identified with an absolute or timeless concept, it is similarly ineffably remote in terms of coping with a concrete problem, or even in terms of giving advice regarding direction.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2002, 07:22:55 AM »

Hi Fang,

Here's where I'm thinking about (as you say) 'what happens' during a typical game (as opposed to comic) in a single scene basis.

I think it might go something like this ...

1) The character is three possible "inter-adventure" states: (a) seeking something, as he sees fit; (b) in a funk because he's unable to decide what to seek; or (c) relaxing and enjoying himself, on vacation so to speak.

2) Large matters are revealed to be Afoot - the relationships among villains and female characters and Ineffably Powerful characters (or whoever represents any combination of these three things) are undergoing a big shift. An important point is that these are not necessarily "villainous plots" in the superhero sense.

3) The Hook hits: either he's attacked, or more likely, someone else is in distress and he sympathizes - the point is that at first, all this seems like a distraction or detour regarding #1 above, and he is still pretty much oblivious to #2.

With multiple player-characters, this part represents some path-crossing for the heroes, or at least the potential for doing so.

[To use GNS-essay and related terminology, this style of play is Illusionism bordering on Participationism. The player isn't trying to buck this structure, nor does he have any authority over shaping it.]

4) Hero activity includes several realms of things. (1) Taking sides in or helping organize a solution to a local conflict (e.g. a civil war that's tearing a planetary population apart, or perhaps a "dimensional rift" that's bleeding corruption across a part of the space-time continuum, etc); (2) taking off on a personal journey to contact or confront a very powerful entity of some kind, or perhaps, conversely, to establish human contact with a single person (like trying to see what's troubling his ex-girlfriend);

5) Adversity! Serious adversity! This is key: the hero's whole self-concept must be challenged and thrown into confusion; he cannot be permitted to continue his life with the same-old same-old viewpoint. It can be mild ("H'm! I'm fighting on the wrong side!") or it can be radical ("What? I've never been human? My parents were urns of ancient space-pod consciousnesses?") ("Holy shit! Using my own powers destroys the existence of the past?"). The journey, fight, or whatever of #4 transforms from an adventure/soap opera into a Cosmic Event.

5) Combine comics-style combat with Ditko-style hallucinations with a hell of a lot of pop philosophy ... and generate in a kind of gumbo way a conclusion. The player's task is to struggle through confusion (and kick ass on occasion); the GM's task is to engineer a climax that does not correspond to the hero's preconceptions of what's going on.

Best,
Ron
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2002, 07:40:26 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi Fang,

Here's the deal: Cosmic Zap comics, Jim Starlin all the way. Adam Warlock, Thanos, all that freaked-out combo between Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel. I know you know what I'm talking about. Silver Surfer prefigured it; Guardians of the Galaxy gave it its deathblow; its final swan song was a few years later with Nexus.

Features of the genre:

1) Pop psychology. .

2) Overwhelming scope. Galaxies, universes, the very fabric of time and space, whole planetary populations in the balance -
3) Outrageous early 70s fashions and attitudes -
4) Battles! Fisticuffs, cosmic blasts, whole swirling panels of starry destruction. get.

Hell, I can't even remember Captain Marvel's powers from this era save for these sparkly wrist-blasts and his ability to fly through space - he was just ... Captain Marvel. ("I am ... Sancho.")

5) Wise-ass hip commentary by an ethnic/alien/both buddy (Rick Jones of course, and I remember a goat-legged troll named Pip in Adam Warlock, and who can forget Judah Maccabee in Nexus).

Fang, like I said, I know you know this stuff. Go!

Best,
Ron




Oh GOD! I want to sign on for this one.  It's made me dig out all my old Dr Stranges, I always wanted to do a superhero campaign on this level,  I came close when I acquried the D&D Immortals rules but nothing every came of it...(None of those Dieties and Demigods pussies for Immortals, D&D Immortals gods were GODS by god!) On the other hand this might be a level where something like the original, highly abstract Marvel superheroes rules Might actually shine.

  This is the sort of game that might benefit from a narrativist/simulationist hybrid, you have a narrative session where all the major metaphysical and continuity and setting groundwork is laid out then you have your simulationist component where all the pontificating and zapping occurs......
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 08, 2002, 07:21:18 AM »

Hiya b-,

Ha! Another fan of this stuff. It's funny, people either get it or they don't.

Take a peek at the Scattershot system, as laid out in the threads in this forum. You'll see that it's actually the other way 'round from your proposal. The Sim-ish stuff starts first, and then through the use of a couple of mechanics (mainly reward mechanics), during play itself, play gets "tuned" to whatever tone of Narrativism is desired.

Best,
Ron
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #9 on: November 08, 2002, 06:25:16 PM »

Transcendant-  These are the entities that exist at the highest metaphysical level, they are the ones that have names that are abstract concepts.  They deal with aspects of the universe as a whole, they are essentiall unkillable as long as the universe still exists.  They are the creators or co-creators of existence either personalized abstracts of existence as a whole or actual metaphysical gods. Thay can't even kill each other although one aspect may become dominant for a LONG time if it wins a struggle.
Examples: Eternity,Destiny, Death,The Force

Cosmic-This next tier down consists of beings manifest in some lesser aspect of the universe , something that is dependent on the material realm without necessarily being material themselves. these being are mostly unkillable but it would be possible to do so if you destroyed the entire substrate they were based on (Dr. Strange's 'Nightmare' could only be killed if you wiped out all the dreaming sentients in the entire universe.) Sometimes beings on this level are masters of an entire small universe of their own and have godlike powers within their own domain. Sometimes they are the agents of the Transcendant beings.

Examples: Nightmare,Mephisto, The Dread Dormammu,Gaia

Enlightened- Many of the beings at this level have their origin as mortal or at least evolved there from species that were mortal.  They have achieved the pinnacle of evolution that mortal beings are capable of by their own efforts and have powers that and compete with all the superheroes of an entire planet or hold its fate in their hands. They are eminently killable ,but only by power levels comparable to their own. They are localised generally have some kind of 'physical' body.

Examples: Guardians of the Galaxy,The Living Tribunal,Galactus

Mortal- These are distinctly mortal beings, they can die, their thought processes are understandable by lesser beings. They almost always have physical bodies, and although their powers are immense ,they are tormented by many of the frailties of normal beings. The most powerful superheroes in the world fall into this category  as well as the 'category leaders' (i.e. sorcerer supreme). The scale for this level goes all the way down to normal people, Indeed many of them started out that way.
Examples: Silver Surfer,The Spectre,Dr. Strange, Dr. Fate,Adam Warlock
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #10 on: November 08, 2002, 10:10:06 PM »

Most of this type of story operates on the 'horshoe nail' prinicipal.  Upper teir powers thumb wrestle for a couple trillion years and suddenly the situation develops where thing are in some state of critical balance where a tiny (on their scale) action can tip things over. Usually its the lower teir power either because when upper teir powers try to intervene directly it messes too much up, or it violates some rule of engagement.

Example-The universe is invaded by the Nightmare continuum ,a hierarchy of cosmic ghouls and goblins which add up to a powerful cosmic level force.  The Continuum are the loosers in some catyclysmic battle between Transcendants in another dimesion which laid it waste. After a massive war with the local cosmics who fail to expel them, the Transcendants, in a rare display if direct intervention contain the Continuum in the Nightmare galaxy locked with the Apocalypse key, which they hid under the cosmic equivalent of a doormat.  However the Transcendants missed one agent of the continuum, and Enlightened level being who would become known in interstellar legend as The Black Seeker.  The Seeker has been looking for the key for millenia and has found it, and now has to get back to the Nightmare galaxy to release the continuum.  Naturally its up to the players to find the Seeker and Get the Key before this can happen.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2002, 11:26:38 AM »

Yeah, what he said. This is a nice breakdown of some of the Motifs.

However, I think my points about how these stories become internal, as a primary goal, are worth reviewing. "Stop the Black Seeker" is bluntly boring after the first two minutes - what matters is when we find that he is actually the Nightmare Continuum version of our hero himself, and thus seeking and confronting the Seeker really means coming to terms with "nightmare" as an essential feature of one's own psyche ... and it turns out that Ramona, the hero's hip-hugger-wearing girlfriend, is irresistibly attracted to the Seeker ...

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2002, 02:11:43 PM »

You missed a couple of levels, IMO B, if you are emulating Marvel.

 - Gods - actually below the enlightened level of power, but definitely above mortals. This includes all the pantheons, and wierdos like the Immortals (I think that's what they are called; the guys on the dark side of the moon?). BTW, I place Dread Dormamu, and all sorcerer-supremes at about this level in their home dimension. I'd put Gaia and Sol at the upper end of this category. I see this as likley the highest level for starting PCs (c'mon, Thor is a PC, right?) What sets these characters apart is that they are truley Immortal being linked to some god plane (remember when Hercules got atomized, and spent a long time reforming?). Higher up gods like Odin are out as PCs, however.


 - I tend to conflate your Cosmic and and Enlightened levels. I can see them being different thematically, but powerwise, they cross over a lot. Galactus could eat a lot of the cosmic ones for lunch and never skip a beat. He lived through the last big-bang, fer heavens sake.


There is another even higher level of power than those which you mention, a level of power of which we can't really concieve:

 - Beyond - This is the level of the cosimc cubes, which, when they become imperfect, start actually doing things. The Beyonder, Shaper of Worlds, and the one that was just refered to as the Cosmic Cube, etc. This is important thematically because you want to have somebody who you can point to as the most powerful.


Also, if you want to get really technical, I see a level between the mortals and the gods, as well. Call it:

 - Unearthly - creatures who are more or less mortal, but live in space or come from elsewhere, and are therefore a bit badder than Earth heroes and villains. I'd put the surfer and all the heralds of Galactus here along with Terminus, and the Super-Scrull, etc. Maybe Thanos, though he might be considered at the god level at times. Even the Hulk gets into this class because of his demonic heritage.

A guy like Terminus can really ruin a regular mortal hero's day. Or planet.


I could also point to the fact that there is a level above the mutant lowlifes that is still below Unearthly but I think that level is the lowest this game is supposed to go (heroes like mutants, and spiderman are just too low level), and as such the mortal category should cover these guys.

Mike
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b_bankhead
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« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2002, 02:23:11 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Yeah, what he said. This is a nice breakdown of some of the Motifs.

However, I think my points about how these stories become internal, as a primary goal, are worth reviewing. "Stop the Black Seeker" is bluntly boring after the first two minutes - what matters is when we find that he is actually the Nightmare Continuum version of our hero himself, and thus seeking and confronting the Seeker really means coming to terms with "nightmare" as an essential feature of one's own psyche ... and it turns out that Ramona, the hero's hip-hugger-wearing girlfriend, is irresistibly attracted to the Seeker ...



Of course, the source of a nighmare after all is the dreamer's own unconcious,something that hasnt been properly integrated. It'll turn out the reason the Transcendants didn't simply wipe out the continuum is that is is vital to the balance of the universe and in the end the heroes must find some way of coming to terms with it, either by finding a place for them on our plane or redeeming where they originally come from
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« Reply #14 on: December 05, 2002, 11:42:14 AM »

Whew.  These Genre Expectations are really chewing up a lot of time (like I didn't expect that).  As such, I believe the quality of my writing may suffer, but 'on with the fight!'  (Apologies where I am not clear.)

Approach

Quote from: Ron Edwards
6) Combine comics-style combat with Ditko-style hallucinations with a hell of a lot of pop philosophy ... and generate in a kind of gumbo way a conclusion. The player's task is to struggle through confusion (and kick ass on occasion); the GM's task is to engineer a climax that does not [necessarily] correspond to the hero's preconceptions of what's going on.

...To use GNS-essay and related terminology, this style of play is Illusionism bordering on Participationism. The player isn't trying to buck this structure, nor does he have any authority over shaping it.

It seems to me that the player does want to be 'on board' with the exploration of the premise, but in a very 'actor stance' way.  Surely they will be led to feel that 'they were used' on a character level (by gamemaster Mystique), but on a player level, I should think that's the fun of it, the voyeurism.  More importantly I believe that, at the end, the players must render up 'the verdict' often times as their own Mystique; "Ah, Oblongo, but it isn't a matter of 'fighting for Good' or 'Fighting for Evil,' the true answer is 'not to fight at all.'"

What I'm not sure of is whether the player and gamemaster ought to 'work together' on this; I rather think not, ala Participationism.  Thus you probably want the players to enjoy watching 'the show' more (Overt Illusionism?); in Scattershot terms, that pretty much makes it an Auteur Approach game with thematic (or maybe literary metaphoric) Ambitions.  However unlike 'hardcore' Narrativism, I believe you are looking for the players to use only Self-Sovereign sharing (a little like Actor Stance) and leave the 'thematic guidance' to the gamemaster (this may even be the primary source for his Mystiques).  It is still very much a Self-Conscious narrative though, as everyone will still be 'watching' (and perhaps aiding-by-omission) and I think this is where you have the idea of Participationism.

Some of your "it all turns out to be a baby's dream" stuff will be an important type of Mystique that the gamemaster must consciously maintain throughout the game as a subordinate Running Gag.  The difficult part is some of these games will lead to the protagonists 'figuring it out,' some will lead to the protagonist being a chief 'identity' within the larger Running Gag, and some won't have it at all (and the players can't know which, mostly).  This difficulty has to do with how the protagonist's final choices may turn this Running Gag into a crucial component of the thematic message of the whole game.  That's a tall order; I need to give it more thought.  (One note, you can see how complicated an idea Mystiques are, since you can have one as a Running Gag, which means you have this nebulous Proprietorship - the Mystique itself and all it must entail - that pops up and makes mysterious demands without warning.)

Which Relates to Metaphor

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Serious adversity! This is key: the hero's whole self-concept must be challenged and thrown into confusion; he cannot be permitted to continue his life with the same-old, same-old viewpoint. It can be mild or it can be radical. The journey, fight, or [action] transforms from an adventure/soap opera into a Cosmic Event.

It's also a 'call for action' during initial Persona development; there has to be a solid "self-concept" if it is going to be "thrown into confusion."  I'm thinking maybe archetypes here, are you?  A certain part of the Personae's initial Development will concern 'their place in the universe,' right?  There may even be some degree of 'staging' for the potential conflicts; for example, certain characters lend themselves to certain kinds of ethical dilemmas.  Going the other way, a Persona could be sketched out somewhat archetypically and the gamemaster might be then expected to intuit what such a dilemma ought to be; I caution this requires more Development-before-Play, Development-in-Play (since we're talking Self-Sovereign with heavy gamemaster Mystique) could lead to some heavy conceptual disagreements.

It's important to note, as far as the Scattershot Metaphor is concerned, that the 'challenge to self-concept' must mirror the escalation from "adventure/soap opera" to "Cosmic Event;" timing these will be key, I think.  Perhaps this might be 'the turning point' as far as Sequences go; a point at which the Mystique of 'what is really at stake' is dropped (without revealing any 'hidden agenda' or machination Mystiques) simultaneously with 'screws being put to' the Persona.

Group Persona Development sounds quite crucial and could probably lean towards the '...and his band of followers' type of group design.  This way each 'follower' colors on the Metaphorical representation of the 'main character,' rather than each having all of their concepts in question at the same time.  The 'everyone at once' approach would be highly taxing for the gamemaster (without at least brief or episodic Referential or Gamemasterful sharing); given that was the goal, perhaps a 'chapter format' could be used to poll members for how close they are to 'being challenged' between chapters.  The indirect feedback might ease the gamemaster's responsibility to coordinate the timing.

Anyway, I'm getting pretty far from what you've given here (only because the speculation is so much fun), so I need to hear more about how you feel the participation of the players should factor into 'the turning point' (or if that is useful at all).

The Rankings of Celestial Beings

Quote from: Given what Ron
As for the "absolutes" kind of characters, like Eternity and so forth - encounters with them tended to be of the sort in which the hero undergoes tremendous travails to achieve an audience with them, and comes away with platitudes like "Seek within yourself" or suchlike. In other words, once a being is that ineffably identified with an absolute or timeless concept, it is similarly ineffably remote in terms of coping with a concrete problem, or even in terms of giving advice regarding direction.

These platitudes are exactly what one would expect when turning to an 'absolute moral code' in terms of its practical application.  (It reinforces the Scattershot-style Metaphor quite nicely.)  Which, in turn, relates to 'what to do' with the marvelous hierarchy offered by Mister Holmes and Mister Bankhead, we need to match them to their roles within the Metaphor.

As with Mike's 'Beyond' level:
Ultimates
    It's like saying 'universe,' there is no bigger set or higher power.  They'd be 'perfect,' if they didn't get involved in the affairs of their inferiors.  Their powers are indefinable, yet to the farthest excess, only the character-with-whom-they've-taken-up's imagination limits them.  They don't really seem to have a part in stories that doesn't begin by elevating a Nat (the Nat with an Ultimate at his whim was a classic instigator and equally limited).

    Examples: The Beyonder, Shaper of Worlds, and Mike Holmes (well, maybe not, but thanks anyway Mike!) [/list:u]These often underscore the limitations of human perception (I always said that having a human 'at the helm' was much more limiting to Green Lantern than Yellow ever was).  Because 'their powers know no limits,' I'm not sure that they have much use in Cosmic Zap! games outside of the aforementioned 'duo' style.  Metaphorically, what are they?

    Per b_bankhead's Transcendent level:
Aspects
    They represent the aspects of 'realness' as opposed to 'reality' and are as impossible to understand, as they are irremovably permanent.  Often conceived as man's attempt to anthropomorphize philosophical constants.

    Examples: Eternity, Destiny, Master Order, Lord Chaos, and (Marvel's) Death[/list:u]Scattershot's metaphysics have always carried these aspects.  Paired like the sexes around the five basic paradigms;
    Inspiration <--> Extant <--> Oblivion
    All about the physical existence of anything; is it or isn't it?[/list:u]Time <--> Locus <--> Space
    All about relative position; the relevance of how time/space displacement distinguishes things.[/list:u]Life/Death <--> Pneuma <--> Eternity
    All about the energy, vitality, or spirit that impels things.[/list:u]Chaos <--> Ren <--> Order
    Everything has some element of information to it; the arrangement of things, relative to each other, is information or pattern.[/list:u]Absurdity <--> Singularity <--> Destiny
    'Character' is what separates something from another of its kind; the values attached to objects aren't absolute, but do differ.[/list:u][/list:u]When mixed with members of a natural species, you get 'Aspect Deities' commonly the founders of a pantheon (see Naturals and Deities below).

    These strongly suit Ron's "'Absolutes' kind of characters, like Eternity and so forth - encounters with them tended to be of the sort in which the hero undergoes tremendous travails to achieve an audience with them, and comes away with platitudes like 'Seek within yourself' or suchlike."  In the Metaphor they directly represent the moral and ethical absolutes that never work 'where the rubber meets the road.'

    Per b_bankhead's Cosmic level:
Transcendents
    This level transcends all that is natural.  Derivative Aspect beings (those created of more than one Aspect or embodying something more specific) are at this level; they are subservient to the Aspects, but only in their anthropomorphization do they become toadies.  Unlike the Aspects, they do some 'field work.'

    Examples: Nightmare, Dream/Desire/Destiny/Death/(anything Gaiman), Mephisto, and The Living Tribunal, The Spectre (during Swampthing saga), and Galactus (when put on trial) [/list:u]Metaphorically, these are less absolutes and more like ideals.  Justice is always relative so it doesn't rise as high as Destiny, yet Justice is a goal at times.  It will be most often that Transcendents will incur the action in this Genre Expectation where present; it is through their 'competition' that we see epic moral quandaries.  They differ from Aspects in that they actually provide a 'call to action' where Aspects are more graduations to measure by.

    Per b_bankhead's Enlightened level:
Ascendants
    These beings have literally ascended beyond their natural species and their own potential.  Their mortality is beyond the scope of these games to test.  Their power conceptions are eccentric at best, 'unknowable' at the worst.  There seems to be little limit on their capability and they are always inexhaustible.

    Examples: Galactus (when injured), Celestials, the Phantom Stranger, the High Evolutionary, and Marvel's Elders of the Universe[/list:u]Rather than being motivations, this level is characterized by individuals who act.  Still beyond the realm of Personae, they often become "secondary characters" within the story or 'the major pieces' played with by the higher levels (of which the Personae become 'nothing more than pawns').  In 'smaller scope' stories, these beings can be the 'gamesters' themselves, but then the 'stakes of the game' drop down a couple of notches too.

    Like Mike's God level:
Deities
    The gods really, in Scattershot these involve some mingling of a natural species and Aspects.  (These are never the amplification of pre-existing Nats - those are 'demigods' - but unique beings unto themselves.)  They draw additional 'importance' based upon being a part of a larger unit.  Rogue Deities, cut off from their 'pantheon' sink to the next lower level (with the 'demigods').  Another way to 'lower' a deity is often by tying them to a Nat to 'ground' the story (like Thor and Dr. Blake).

    Examples: Thor, Hercules, Odin, and all those Marvel takes on mythology[/list:u]These serve strictly as "secondary characters" and do a fair amount of 'scurrying about' themselves.  Most often, I've observed them used to show that the Personae are 'outclassed at every turn' bringing home the idea that the Personae are empowered by making decisions 'out of their own league.'

    Like Mike's Unearthly level:
Supernaturals
    Greater than anything terrestrial, yet not quite immortal, these beings are often from outer space.  When it comes to superheroes, this is the "can't touch this" level.

    Examples: Thanos, Silver Surfer (and the Heralds;
what is that a band?), Etrigan (and demons in general), Adam Warlock, the Dread Dormammu, angels (like Gaiman's), and the better Eternals, Inhumans, or Deviants[/list:u]Here is where the bulk of Personae come from.  As a result, the Metaphor holds that all these others are 'competitors' or peers, frequently used to illustrate the results of choices the Personae manage to avoid.

Per b_bankhead's Mortal level:
Definitives
    The acme of whatever natural species.  These beings don't quite rate 'the power cosmic' and may be below playable level unless you crank the 'cosmic' level way down.  Most 'world class' superheroes barely get into this club, but so do some of those as powerful as the next rank with serious 'feet of clay' problems.  Frequently in these stories, a being from another dimension, where their powers are godly, manifest as this.

    Examples: Dr. Strange, Clea, Swamp Thing (before he became everyone's elemental), Dr. Fate (before all the Egyptian deity stuff)[/list:u]Almost the balance of Personae come from this level.  These are notably different than the next higher because they always have 'normalcy issues' to deal with on top of the 'meat' of the game (which can be a plus in some ways, but you have to go for that specifically).  It becomes especially blurred when the rest of such a character's comic book's cast intrudes, often turning it from Cosmic Zap! to Superhero Action, an important thing to avoid.

Naturals
    Ordinary individuals, or a natural species, ('Nats' as we call 'em) are the rank and file.  Even naming them in these stories raises them to Superlative level because of the quality of gaining 'superior attentions.'  Leave the rest faceless and nameless when you can.

    Examples: Mankind, need I say more?  Detail isn't important.[/list:u]These are the fodder of the 'powers that be.'  Use of them is only as examples of 'what may come' or as threats/hostages (a whole race as a hostage, that is).

    The use of the listed examples are mere speculation (unless you would like to infringe upon copyrights and go for a kick-butt Marvel Cosmic Zap! Game).

    One quick side-note, while I expect Persona most likely come from only Supernatural or Definitive levels, a Persona outside that range - connected closely to a character at the 'other end' of the hierarchy - is possible.  Together they become a 'binary Persona' in that the Player will probably operate both (even if the 'high end' side of the Persona becomes little more than a proxy for what the 'real Persona' is doing).

    I'm gonna save discussion of Cosmic Zap! Arch-Sequences for maybe the next time around; they're very important, but now is probably a little premature.  Sorry this is taking so long (but I did warn you).  I impatiently await your feedback (but take your time anyway).  This has been great fun.

    Fang Langford
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Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
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