*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
August 11, 2022, 07:16:52 AM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 70 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
Pages: [1] 2 3 4
Print
Author Topic: Superheroes: [what next?]  (Read 17247 times)
Elishar
Member

Posts: 46


« on: March 17, 2006, 07:44:16 AM »

Hello all, I'm new to the forum here.  I've been checking out the forums off and on for some time now to get a feel for the community but this is my first post.

I grew up on comic books and Marvel trading cards.  As such, superheroes have always interested me.  When the recent explosion of comic movies began coming out, my interest was renewed.  I began searching for a superhero role-playing game but after over a year of searching I couldn't find a single one that appealed to me.  So after much deliberation and procrastination I decided to make my own system.

After a year of work, I finally have a game I am proud of.  My initial design was to create a game so simple that it would be easy for those unfamiliar with role-playing games to pick it up and yet still have enough depth, strategy, and versitility for hardcore gamers.  Without going into huge detail, I think I have accomplished that objective.  Recently, I gave my game to a few independent people through a mutual friend to get an idea of how much work I had to do before the game would be market ready.  What I got was those people making me promise that I would get this game published, they liked it that much.  So here I am.

However, after reading many of the discussions here on the forums I fell like I'm over my head.  I've never published anything before nor have I ever written something this long or involved.  I'm pretty much lost as to what I do next.  I feel that the game should undergo more playtesting because the game is incredibly expansive and I'm sure there are some flaws somewhere that I haven’t found yet, but I'm not exactly sure how to get my game to a larger audience and yet continue to receive good feedback.  I also don't have a clue how to even approach publishers with a new game or if even my game is up to par with other games on the market.  So really, this is a call for help.  What should my next step be?

I'd like to say that this isn't some flake project either.  My game is 130 pages long right now complete with tons of different character types, fifty skills, and well over one-hundred powers.  I have a full combat system, detailed equipment, rules for car chases and accidents, rules for collapsing buildings, a fleshed out sample campaign setting, and much more.  I've spent hundreds of hours on this project and I intend to distribute it to a wide audience, either through standard publishing or through an online source.  I also have converted the game to a pdf and I was wondering how I could post it here so people could look at it and give me some feedback.

Oh, and if this isn't the right forum for this I apologise.
Logged
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2591


WWW
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2006, 08:33:58 AM »

Hi Elishar, and welcome to the Forge! A better forum for you post would be "Publishing", but I'm sure we'll be moved there if it proves necessary.

Some ideas:
- A public playtest. That's the way to get both publicity and a wide spectrum of playtesters for your game. Both will serve you well when you go on to publish. You can start by calling for playtesters on appropriate forums, detailing your game and your expectations of what the playtesters will do. You can also put your game up in the 'net to make it easier for potential playtesters to reach.
- Publishing: write a project outline detailing what kind of project it is, what's it's target audience, how it's different from others and what you need from a publisher. Send the outline (a couple of pages, max) to gaming companies that you think would benefit from publishing your work. Be polite, be patient, don't expect much. Also, note that the Forge is specifically a publishing resource for independent publishing; if you decide to go for a mainstream publisher, it's expected that you desist from discussing your project here.
- Indie publishing: come to the publishing forum here and tell us more: what's your target audience, how much money you're willing to risk on it, how much prestige matters and so on. We'll help you get a plan together, whether it's to break in distribution or selling pdfs over the net.

Posting your game: if you can't get it in the net otherwise, PM me and we'll arrange something temporary to give people a look. The other option is to clip choice excerpts and post them here, to give some idea of where you're going with the game. In either case, I'd also like it if you answered some questions for us:
- What's your game about?
- What's fun about it?
- What's different about it?
- What do the players do in it?
Logged

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Elishar
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2006, 09:34:38 AM »

- What's your game about?
The game is basically about playing a superhero.  The emphasis on the game is dealing with your newfound powers, using them to better society (unless your players take the roll of a villain), and dealing with all of the challenges that come with leading a double life. 

- What's fun about it?
The game has all the drama, suspense, and action of a comic book.  Combat is fast paced and even from a low level the characters can do some pretty amazing stuff.  Combat is also not simple run up and kill stuff.  Tactics play a huge roll in combat as does teamwork and is often the difference between victory and death.  Character conflict is a big theme in the game as is finding a way to continue your normal life while helping others with your powers.

- What's different about it?
There are quite a few superhero games on the market and it seems they fall into two categories: either they are incredibly complicated or the rules severely limit the grandeur of being a superhero.  My game doesn't fall into either of these categories.  The game runs of a singe die, the d6, and has one basic system of opposed rolls that determine everything from if a punch lands true against your enemy to if your boss believes your lie.  Because the game only has one system of opposed rolls, the rules are very flexible and allow the characters to truly be SUPERheroes.

- What do the players do in it?
Basically, the players try to live out their character's normal lives.  However, very soon after the game begins they discover they have superpowers.  The characters can either embrace their powers or try to reject them but they still have to deal with them.  The game is geared more towards those who eventually accept their powers and try to use them for the good of society.  Most people will do this through an alter persona so that they can live a normal life at least part of the time and also so that they can keep those they love safe from retribution of their enemies.  The character then begins to establish himself as a hero in the area.  The Game Master, or GM, can have the character undertake easier adventures such as stopping muggers and bank robbers.  After getting the hang of his powers, the character begins to move up into more dangerous mission such as stopping other superhumans with powers like his or saving citizens from natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or anything else you can think of.  The ultimate goal, of course, is for the character to eventually make the world a safer place, save lives and perhaps even become a local or national hero.  The character must also do this while maintaining the life they had before they discovered they had superpowers.  Inevitably, clashes between his two world will happen such as the character skipping school or work to save innocents or standing up a date to stop a rampaging superhuman from destroying the city.  Overall, this game is one of difficult choices.  Choices where the character must balance the needs of many with the needs of himself.
Logged
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2591


WWW
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2006, 11:19:13 AM »

This is looking good; not so much the game, but you seem serious about it, which I like. I'm asking a lot of questions here. Let's call it the Socratic method, instead of me being clueless ;)

OK, have you looked at the following games?
- Hero System
- That new diceless Marvel game
- Aberrant
- Dust Devils
- Capes
- With Great Power (especially important, because your goals are very similar to this one)
- Sorcerer
- Wushu
- Pool (especially important, because has clear mechanical parallels to your goals)
If there's something on that list you've not seen, you probably should. Knowledge is power and all that.

Next, how about we talk about your system? What I'd especially like to hear about is why you have 130 pages of text if your game is directed for beginners and purposed to be simple. I don't say this can't be the case; I'm designing a game to those exact specs myself right now. But I do feel that it requires an explanation.

Furthermore, here's some questions inspired by your explanation:
- What kind of issues do newfound powers cause in your game? How (meaning, what concrete event at the table causes them)?
- How about that double life, what kind of challenges are there? How do they come about?
- The role of the villain intrigues me. How is that any different from the role of a hero in your game?
- So, you have to be tactically smart or die, and that's part of the appeal of the game?
- How is the progress from small-scale heroics to big leagues communicated between the play group?
Overall, I like what I'm seeing. You seem to have a grasp on your basic goals, which is good. We're yet to see how the game pulls it off, though.
Logged

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #4 on: March 17, 2006, 12:01:09 PM »

Is it possible for you to put the game on the net somewhere, so we can take a look at it? It will then be easier to give feedback.

if it possible, just remember that 130 pages is a lot to go through. So if you could point out what in the game, that may not work as well as you want, or something in the system that you want the players to use, but they never do. Or other thing where we can help you making you game better; so we know what to focus on.

I can not promise I can find the time to look through you game, but I will give it a try if you let me.

 - Anders
Logged

Certified
Member

Posts: 83


WWW
« Reply #5 on: March 17, 2006, 01:57:59 PM »

Just some quick questions about the setting, is the rule set tied to the setting? I ask because you mentioned its characters that are new to their powers. Do they share a common origin, i.e. something causes this change in people like the white event from New Universe or Wild Cards?
Logged

Elishar
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2006, 06:23:27 PM »

I think the first thing I should address is the issue of getting my game online.  I'm not exactly as computer savvy as I should be so I don't know of any way to get my game to you short of a direct e-mail.  I see an 'insert FTP link' button here but I'm not sure how that works exactly.  If someone here has an easy way of putting my game up on the internet I'll happily send them it via e-mail.

Until I get the quoting system down I'll just address everyone by name.

Eero Tuovinen
To be honest I hadn't heard of several of the superhero games that you mentioned.  I tried for the longest time to find a copy of Aberrant but I was never able to find it.  In fact, I have never seen a superhero game in any gaming shop I have ever been to.  I would order the games online but I really like to see if the material I'm going to spend money on is worth it.

The reason primarily why the game is 130 pages is that every power needs a paragraph to explain what it does.  The power descriptions alone are over 60 pages.  I also tried to provide plenty of examples and general dialogue to help new players.

- What kind of issues do newfound powers cause in your game? How (meaning, what concrete event at the table causes them)?
I'm not exactly sure I understand the question but here it goes.  The entire storyline is created by the Game Master (GM).  He controls the action as well as how all the people in the world react or interact with the character. 

- How about that double life, what kind of challenges are there? How do they come about?
So when you start the game you are a normal, everyday guy.  You pay your taxes, have a wife and kids, and are generally a good person who tries to help others in ways that you can.  Now what if one day you find out you have the ability to lift cars or fly or regenerate even the most grievous wounds?  You would probably want to use these amazing abilities to help people (assuming you are the good guy we assume you are.)  However, you wouldn't just go walking around lifting cars off of people or flying over crowded intersections in your work clothes.  You'd have the feds at your door asking questions by the end of the week.  Additionally, you would tell everyone about these powers you have.  This is where the double life begins to form.  You want to use these powers but not at the expense of being able to continue on with your normal life.  So let's say you're going to work one day and you hear on the radio that a school is burning down on the other side of town and there are some kids trapped on the top floor that no one can get to.  However, you have to also be at work in 10 minutes.  Do you let the kids die, knowing that with your powers you could save them, or do you skip work and risk getting fired over an act that no one will know you did?

This is just one of the challenges that a good game master, or GM, can use to make the game interesting.  Really, all of the struggles characters face originate with the game master, because he controls the flow of action.

- The role of the villain intrigues me. How is that any different from the role of a hero in your game?
The game is geared more towards heroes, but it is possible to play a villain as well.  Villains use their newfound powers for their own gain instead for the good of others.  Instead of stopping the bank robbers they are the bank robbers.  Instead of saving innocents they are often putting them in danger.  Villains face their own challenges because they quickly become high priorities of the police or even federal agencies.  They must lead a double life out of necessity or else have their home swarmed with police very quickly.

- So, you have to be tactically smart or die, and that's part of the appeal of the game?
I have tried to make combat as real as possible in this game.  There is no "let's go kill the 100 foot tall dragon and walk away without a scratch."  Bullets kill.  Fireballs kill.  Thrown cars kill.  Combat is meant to be a serious deal not only to heighten the action but also to provide some excellent role-playing opportunities once the battle is over.  Let's say you tell your wife about your superpowers.  One day you run up against another superhuman using his powers to rob a bank and you confront him.  Battle ensues and you barely escape with your life.  What do you think your wife is going to say when you get home after she sees the battle on TV on the 6 o'clock news?

I also make combat very tactics based because I was very tired with the standard 'I run up and beat the bad guy into submission' technique that seems to happen in many games.  I wanted my game to flow more like an intense martial arts or superhero movie with all kinds of amazing moves and breathtaking stunts.

- How is the progress from small-scale heroics to big leagues communicated between the play group?
I do have a system of levels in place in the game that allows characters to improved their powers and abilities over time.  This allows the characters to take on bigger and bigger challenges without seriously risking death.  I also have developed a system of popularity, which reflects how the general public views the character.  As the character engages in heroic (or villainous) actions and make their mark in the paper or on TV, their popularity rises (or falls) and they become more and more loved (or feared) by the general public.

Anders Larsen
Well, over 60 pages of it is simply just "this is what this power does."  The real core of the rule set can be found in the first 40 pages.

Certified
In the general game I left the cause of these superpowers up to the Game Master (GM.)  In the sample campaign setting I have included, called Armageddon, I made demonic influences the cause of superpowers.  This campaign setting has a very dark feeling to it and I've added that when the characters use their powers too often they run the risk of losing their humanity to demonic possession.
Logged
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2591


WWW
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2006, 04:26:16 AM »

I think the first thing I should address is the issue of getting my game online.  I'm not exactly as computer savvy as I should be so I don't know of any way to get my game to you short of a direct e-mail.  I see an 'insert FTP link' button here but I'm not sure how that works exactly.  If someone here has an easy way of putting my game up on the internet I'll happily send them it via e-mail.

As I said earlier: PM me, and I can host it for a couple of weeks.

Quote
Until I get the quoting system down I'll just address everyone by name.

Click "Quote" on the post you want to quote, so it copies the message for you into the new message field. Then, separate the part you wish to focus on with <quote></quote> tags (using [] instead of <>, as we're doing BBcode) and remove the rest. Or just paint the text you want into the quote box with the mouse, and click the word balloon on the bottom row of the quick links on the posting page. If you're quoting several messages, it's easiest to copy the pertinent parts from the "Topic summary" that appears below the new message field on the posting page.

However: addressing people by name is often better than just blind quoting. At least we know who's paying attention. I'm just using quotes here to give you some examples you can copy.

Quote
To be honest I hadn't heard of several of the superhero games that you mentioned.  I tried for the longest time to find a copy of Aberrant but I was never able to find it.  In fact, I have never seen a superhero game in any gaming shop I have ever been to.  I would order the games online but I really like to see if the material I'm going to spend money on is worth it.

Well, if you're going to write your own game, I certainly hope you can spare a couple hundred bucks for research, eh? I can assure you that the titles I mentioned, while they're not all good games, are all certainly relevant to what you're trying to do. And there's a couple there you're in a big danger of being overshadowed by if you don't take care to actually overcome their challenge.

Or, alternatively, visit conventions and get to know people. I'm sure there's plenty of folks who'd be more than happy to play these games with you. You could even go to Gencon this year and get some of these authors to play their games with you and explain why they did what they did. The best kind of tutoring, if I may say so.

Hey, I forgot one possibly pertinent title from my list:
- Darkpages

Quote
The reason primarily why the game is 130 pages is that every power needs a paragraph to explain what it does.  The power descriptions alone are over 60 pages.  I also tried to provide plenty of examples and general dialogue to help new players.

Hmm... do you have something useful in those power descriptions? Because the last time I wrote an abortive attempt at a superhero game, the idea of writing separate power descriptions a la Champions never popped into my mind. My thinking is this: either you're going to have players who're familiar with the genre, or you don't. If you don't, are you really going to try to transmit the cultural heritage of superheroes to them via a rpg, instead of advicing some comics on them? If they do, why exactly are you explaining to them what "Elongate self" does? (You do have "Elongate self", right?)

Among the games I listed earlier there are several specifically superhero games that do not have definite power lists:
- Capes
- With Great Power
- Darkpages
Note that these are all pretty new games; this is how they usually do it these days, I should say. And it works, too: the game is easier to play if you have unified power mechanics, there is less balance problems and you can do all kinds of fancy powers a traditional power list couldn't imagine. My own favourite was a character I designed for With Great Power: the president of the United States reimagined as a superhero. His powers? None, except a f***ing big military establisment ;)

Now, I don't say that a definite power list is necessarily a bad thing, but like all things, it should probably support your design goals somehow. So: how does it help your game to have 50% of your text pages occupied by a list of powers?

Quote
- What kind of issues do newfound powers cause in your game? How (meaning, what concrete event at the table causes them)?
I'm not exactly sure I understand the question but here it goes.  The entire storyline is created by the Game Master (GM).  He controls the action as well as how all the people in the world react or interact with the character. 

A fine answer. Now, how does your system ensure that the GM indeed introduces issues related to newfound powers. Especially: will the GM realize that this is what he should be doing? If he does, what if he doesn't know how? If he does know, is it fun for him, too? I mean, I love the idea of a superhero rpg focusing on the complications of power and juggling secret identities, but I don't think this is going to happen by just saying it. Some system needs to be in place.

Quote
- How about that double life, what kind of challenges are there? How do they come about?
So when you start the game you are a normal, everyday guy.  You pay your taxes, have a wife and kids, and are generally a good person who tries to help others in ways that you can.  Now what if one day you find out you have the ability to lift cars or fly or regenerate even the most grievous wounds?  You would probably want to use these amazing abilities to help people (assuming you are the good guy we assume you are.)  However, you wouldn't just go walking around lifting cars off of people or flying over crowded intersections in your work clothes.  You'd have the feds at your door asking questions by the end of the week.  Additionally, you would tell everyone about these powers you have.  This is where the double life begins to form.  You want to use these powers but not at the expense of being able to continue on with your normal life.  So let's say you're going to work one day and you hear on the radio that a school is burning down on the other side of town and there are some kids trapped on the top floor that no one can get to.  However, you have to also be at work in 10 minutes.  Do you let the kids die, knowing that with your powers you could save them, or do you skip work and risk getting fired over an act that no one will know you did?

That sounds like rather interesting play. How does it come about? I mean this whole "lose your job or let the kids burn" thing. Specifically:
- Who invents it?
- How is it introduced into play?
- What kind of ways does the player have to address it?
- How is it resolved?
- How are repercussions invented?
I suggest that the easiest way to answer these questions is to write an excerpt of what we call "imagined play". This is a description of an imaginary session (or part of one) of playing your game, preferably line-by-line. You don't have to describe all mechanics in detail, but you should mention it when they happen and what they do. Like this:
GM: OK, let's roll the dice! <rolls dice; finds out whether the hero succeeded>

This kind of imagining gives us valuable information, which can be compared to your actual mechanics and their implications. If your game and your imagined session actually match, you're better off than half of designers tend to be.

Quote
This is just one of the challenges that a good game master, or GM, can use to make the game interesting.  Really, all of the struggles characters face originate with the game master, because he controls the flow of action.

So, tell us, what kind of rules structure does the GM need to support the endeavour? What kind of rules structure there actually is? What I'm driving at is, if the majority of dramatic content is created and controlled by the GM, surely the rest of your 130 pages of rules are for the sole purpose of helping the GM in doing it? So those rules are what I'd like to hear about, next.

Quote
- So, you have to be tactically smart or die, and that's part of the appeal of the game?
I have tried to make combat as real as possible in this game.  There is no "let's go kill the 100 foot tall dragon and walk away without a scratch."  Bullets kill.  Fireballs kill.  Thrown cars kill.  Combat is meant to be a serious deal not only to heighten the action but also to provide some excellent role-playing opportunities once the battle is over.  Let's say you tell your wife about your superpowers.  One day you run up against another superhuman using his powers to rob a bank and you confront him.  Battle ensues and you barely escape with your life.  What do you think your wife is going to say when you get home after she sees the battle on TV on the 6 o'clock news?

You do realize that this is dramatically opposed to how superheroes work in comics and movies? This is not necessarily a problem, but I suggest that you make it exceedingly clear that this is not genre-faithful superheroes game; otherwise you risk massive confusion as players send their Captain Heroics to certain death on account of playing faithful to the role.

Actually, that kind of reminds me of some dungeon rpgs of the kind typically termed "hack'n slash". Some of those approach the dungeon the same way, with the convinction that characters should die, and if they should live, at least the danger heightens the experience. I've been playing perhaps the best example of the style, the Finnish Praedor, for a while now, and it's great fun, let me tell you.

Quote
I also make combat very tactics based because I was very tired with the standard 'I run up and beat the bad guy into submission' technique that seems to happen in many games.  I wanted my game to flow more like an intense martial arts or superhero movie with all kinds of amazing moves and breathtaking stunts.

Just make sure your system encourages intense martial arts and breathtaking stunts as valid tactical choices; a common problem with "tactical" rpgs is that they confuse tactics with realism. Realism usually means laying low and attacking with surprise, so the amazing moves are few and far by in most tactical games.

That said, I think tactics and varied battle coreography are quite doable in a superhero game. I'm reminded of the aforementioned With Great Power, which is a very tactical game on the player level, while staying quite true to the superhero genre on the story-level.

Quote
- How is the progress from small-scale heroics to big leagues communicated between the play group?
I do have a system of levels in place in the game that allows characters to improved their powers and abilities over time.  This allows the characters to take on bigger and bigger challenges without seriously risking death.  I also have developed a system of popularity, which reflects how the general public views the character.  As the character engages in heroic (or villainous) actions and make their mark in the paper or on TV, their popularity rises (or falls) and they become more and more loved (or feared) by the general public.

Sounds good to me. Would you say that the popularity system controls the size of the stakes (what is endangered in the exploits of the heroes), or is it just some ancillary numbers scribbled on paper?

An experience system is again rather opposite to how superheroes work in fiction, but if you think it's necessary for the kind of game experience you want, then go for it!
Logged

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Elishar
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2006, 09:15:04 AM »

Quote
Hmm... do you have something useful in those power descriptions? Because the last time I wrote an abortive attempt at a superhero game, the idea of writing separate power descriptions a la Champions never popped into my mind. My thinking is this: either you're going to have players who're familiar with the genre, or you don't. If you don't, are you really going to try to transmit the cultural heritage of superheroes to them via a rpg, instead of advicing some comics on them? If they do, why exactly are you explaining to them what "Elongate self" does? (You do have "Elongate self", right?)

My general format for power descriptions is to explain exactly in real world terms what the power does and then discuss the rules for the power.  Here's an exerpt from  the example you brought up:

Elongation
Type: Body Control
This always-active power allows the character to extend their limbs as if they were rubber.  This allows the player to attack targets 5 feet per two ranks further than normal reach (10 feet at rank 1, 15 feet at rank 3, and 20 feet at rank 5.)  This power also allows the character to move more quickly by extending their legs, as if they had the lightening speed power at three ranks lower than this power (if the player had 5 ranks in this power they would move at 60 feet.  If they had only 3 ranks in this power their speed would not be improved.)

Quote
Among the games I listed earlier there are several specifically superhero games that do not have definite power lists:
- Capes
- With Great Power
- Darkpages
Note that these are all pretty new games; this is how they usually do it these days, I should say. And it works, too: the game is easier to play if you have unified power mechanics, there is less balance problems and you can do all kinds of fancy powers a traditional power list couldn't imagine. My own favourite was a character I designed for With Great Power: the president of the United States reimagined as a superhero. His powers? None, except a f***ing big military establisment ;)

Now, I don't say that a definite power list is necessarily a bad thing, but like all things, it should probably support your design goals somehow. So: how does it help your game to have 50% of your text pages occupied by a list of powers?

I'd have to say that my system was heavily influenced by the other role-playing games I play, primarily D&D.  I know, it seems like D&D could never influence a Superhero game but it did help me.  So in a sense my power descriptions are very similar to the spell descriptions in D&D.  Additionally, I also took what I perceived as problems in D&D, such as powergaming and general rule exploitation, and I tried to eliminate them from my game.  The main way I tried to eliminate this is by making power selection rolled randomly.  I know at first this might seem like a bad idea but I've put some safeguards to make it better.  When you do roll for your powers there is a significant chance you will get the choice of a 'double roll.'  What this means is that you get to roll randomly twice for powers and then choose which one you prefer.  If you roll 'double roll' again that increases the number of powers you have to choose from.  In addition, let's say you randomly roll for the power "Resistance to Fire."  Under that power description there is a heading called 'allows' that list all the powers relating to fire such as Absorption(fire), Energy Reflection(fire), Fire Control, and Fire Missile.  You can choose any of these powers relating to fire without having to randomly roll for them.  Thus you begin to get this massive web of powers that connects together in a variety of ways, providing non-linear power trees.

Additionally, if you really don't like any of the powers you are able to choose from, you can re-roll for other powers but you take a penalty to the starting power level of the power.

So yes, power descriptions do have a place in my game and I can’t see any way adapting my game to include a free-form power system, though if any of you can I am open to suggestions.

Quote
A fine answer. Now, how does your system ensure that the GM indeed introduces issues related to newfound powers. Especially: will the GM realize that this is what he should be doing? If he does, what if he doesn't know how? If he does know, is it fun for him, too? I mean, I love the idea of a superhero rpg focusing on the complications of power and juggling secret identities, but I don't think this is going to happen by just saying it. Some system needs to be in place.

I have included a section of my book specifically for the GM to help him understand his role in the game as well as give him suggestions as to how to run the game.  The game does not require the GM to introduce issues or character conflict into the game, it is simply highly recommended by me.  Some groups may prefer to simply use the game as a fun way to blow stuff up and not include much plot or substance to the game and that is really up to them, but I have tried to steer GMs in the direction that I find makes the best game.

Quote
That sounds like rather interesting play. How does it come about? I mean this whole "lose your job or let the kids burn" thing. Specifically:
- Who invents it?
- How is it introduced into play?
- What kind of ways does the player have to address it?
- How is it resolved?
- How are repercussions invented?
I suggest that the easiest way to answer these questions is to write an excerpt of what we call "imagined play". This is a description of an imaginary session (or part of one) of playing your game, preferably line-by-line. You don't have to describe all mechanics in detail, but you should mention it when they happen and what they do. Like this:
GM: OK, let's roll the dice! <rolls dice; finds out whether the hero succeeded>

This kind of imagining gives us valuable information, which can be compared to your actual mechanics and their implications. If your game and your imagined session actually match, you're better off than half of designers tend to be.

Most of the things you brought up are decided by the GM.  The GM essentially acts as the storyteller and controls the flow of the plot as well as events in the world.  The GM also controls the actions of all the NPCs in the world.  So let’s take the example I provided and say that the character decides to skip work to save the kids.  On the upside, the character gets a great deal of applause from those watching the rescue and a fair amount of positive media coverage on the TV (which raises his popularity.)  On the downside, the character will have to explain to his boss why he missed work.  This would most likely involve the character having to be very diplomatic as well as lie a fair bit for his boss to let him off the hook.  To resolve whether or not the boss decides to go easy on him, the character would have to make a Persuasion check followed by a Bluff check (both of which are skills that the character can take.)  The boss would make a Sense Motive check to see if he recognizes the character is lying to him.  If the character succeeds on both checks, the character keeps his job.  If the character ends up failing one of the checks, the GM might rule that the character keeps his job but he is put on some type of probation or he loses his yearly bonus (basically anything that a boss would do in the real world to punish a worker without firing them.)  If the character ends up failing both his checks, the GM could rule that not only is his boss not moved by the character’s attempts to butter him up, he also is offended that the character would lie to his face and so his boss fires him.

Quote
So, tell us, what kind of rules structure does the GM need to support the endeavour? What kind of rules structure there actually is? What I'm driving at is, if the majority of dramatic content is created and controlled by the GM, surely the rest of your 130 pages of rules are for the sole purpose of helping the GM in doing it? So those rules are what I'd like to hear about, next.

The GM controls the plot and the flow of the game but just about any type of interaction or task is decided with opposed rolls.  If the character is being opposed by another character or NPC, they roll a corresponding number of dice described in the rules.  If the character is trying to accomplish a task where he isn’t being directly opposed by someone, like if the character wants to lift a car, the GM can assign a difficulty to the task to see if the character can accomplish it.

If I was a little vague with that it will all become clear once your read the “Opposed Rolls” section of my game.

Quote
You do realize that this is dramatically opposed to how superheroes work in comics and movies? This is not necessarily a problem, but I suggest that you make it exceedingly clear that this is not genre-faithful superheroes game; otherwise you risk massive confusion as players send their Captain Heroics to certain death on account of playing faithful to the role.

Actually, that kind of reminds me of some dungeon rpgs of the kind typically termed "hack'n slash". Some of those approach the dungeon the same way, with the convinction that characters should die, and if they should live, at least the danger heightens the experience. I've been playing perhaps the best example of the style, the Finnish Praedor, for a while now, and it's great fun, let me tell you.

Well, I think I should explain myself better.  Every superhero has weaknesses.  Professor X could not survive a punch from the Hulk and Wolverine, dispite his regeneration, is powerless against mental attacks.  Spiderman, even though his agility is virtually unmatched, would be in serious trouble if a bank robber actually managed to shoot him with a lucky shot.  The point is that even though you may be Super, it doesn’t mean you can simply wander into combat without any tactics and not expect to get hurt, especially when you go up against other superhumans.

Character death is not something I would like to happen regularly in my game and it is not something I expect to happen in my game very often.  However, characters are going to want to rest a while after facing off against an enemy superhuman, I guarantee that.  Healing damage is a slow process in my game unless you have a power like Regeneration and often serious injuries still require medical assistance unless your character has superhuman constitution.  This very fact can lead to even more adventures as the character must somehow find a way to explain how he received his injuries to curious medical professionals or find a doctor he can trust with his secret.

Quote
Just make sure your system encourages intense martial arts and breathtaking stunts as valid tactical choices; a common problem with "tactical" rpgs is that they confuse tactics with realism. Realism usually means laying low and attacking with surprise, so the amazing moves are few and far by in most tactical games.

That said, I think tactics and varied battle coreography are quite doable in a superhero game. I'm reminded of the aforementioned With Great Power, which is a very tactical game on the player level, while staying quite true to the superhero genre on the story-level.

Yeah, my game is more in favor of amazing action as opposed to incredible realism.  Believe me, its pretty realistic, however, there is only so much realism you can have in a game about superheroes before it begins to detract from the fun.  The tactics emphasis is more on using special attacks, teamwork, flanking, and power augmentations to bring down foes quickly before they can hurt you.

Quote
Sounds good to me. Would you say that the popularity system controls the size of the stakes (what is endangered in the exploits of the heroes), or is it just some ancillary numbers scribbled on paper?

An experience system is again rather opposite to how superheroes work in fiction, but if you think it's necessary for the kind of game experience you want, then go for it!

Popularity basically determines how the general public views the character.  Do the citizens cheer or run away in terror when they see the character?  Do police officers aid the character or pull guns out the instant they see him?  That’s what popularity is good for.  Popularity also plays a role when a character tries to persuade or intimidate someone, with positive popularity helping you persuade someone and negative popularity helping you intimidate them.

My experience system is basically a numerical way of tracking the development of the character.  Over time in comics characters will become more proficient with their powers the more they use them.  Some comic book characters train themselves to be faster or stronger or more resilient to attacks.  Some characters take up martial arts once they begin fighting crime or continue going to school and get degrees that advance their quality of living in their normal life.  Basically, they never stay static.  That is why I have included an experience system in my game.  If your character never has any way to grow or improve that seems to take a lot of fun out of the game.
Logged
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2591


WWW
« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2006, 11:52:13 AM »

I'll have to split this one in two parts due to length. I'll just snip at a random place, I guess...

My general format for power descriptions is to explain exactly in real world terms what the power does and then discuss the rules for the power.  Here's an exerpt from  the example you brought up:

Elongation
Type: Body Control
This always-active power allows the character to extend their limbs as if they were rubber.  This allows the player to attack targets 5 feet per two ranks further than normal reach (10 feet at rank 1, 15 feet at rank 3, and 20 feet at rank 5.)  This power also allows the character to move more quickly by extending their legs, as if they had the lightening speed power at three ranks lower than this power (if the player had 5 ranks in this power they would move at 60 feet.  If they had only 3 ranks in this power their speed would not be improved.)

Ah, I see where this is going. Now, I'm going to suggest that your approach is fundamentally uncompatible with the superhero genre of comics (Marvel, DC, etc.). This might be hard to believe, especially as you've clearly worked on your game a lot. If you come to the same conclusion I do after the discussion, you can either rethink your approach or make it absolutely clear that this is not a game of superhero comics so much as a game of "superhero D&D". Nothing wrong with that, again.

Why am I so skeptical? Well, just look at that rules excerpt, which tells us how your game handles Mr. Fantastic, pretty much. Now compare that with the following, documented occurrences in the comics:
- Mr. Fantastic is punched/shot at /impaled, but due to his stretch powers he escapes any serious harm. Indeed, he frequently takes bullets for other, weaker people. Shouldn't the power description take this into account?
- How much is the reach of Mr. Fantastic? In some situations he's been hard pressed to stretch, say, twenty meters. In other situations he's stretched to the heights of skyscrapers.
- How thin can he get? Mr. Fantastic has crawled through the lock of a door pretty recently, if my memory doesn't fail me. Does your power description take into account the benefits of fitting into a really small space (somebody's pocket, say), or the ability to go through the tiniest crack? Especially when he has or doesn't have these powers depending on the writer?
- I admit this one's rare, but I remember not so far in the past (this decade, anyway) how Mr. Fantastic literally stretched his brain in some story or other to shift around his mental faculties.
The point is, while it would seem that Mr. Fantastic is a "single-power" superhero, in reality any "effect-based" system like yours has to use many, many powers to describe what he is capable of. Would you say that this is a problem? Champions works exactly like this, and sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't, depending on what you're trying to do. Usually it breaks down exactly when you have powers with weird combat uses like the elongation, because the power rules are solely concerned with gauging combat effectivity. But always, without exception, it is impossible to faithfully convert a comic-book superhero into the system and expect him to work the same way he does in the comic. It's not just Mr. Fantastic, it's the f****ing Wolverine, even! Actually, I wouldn't bet that you could do Punisher with any effects-based system, now that I think of it.

What's more, metering feet, seconds and pounds of force has little to do with how superhero comics work. You don't really think that Mr. Fantastic as conceived in the comics really has such variable and fuzzy limits to his powers? No, how it really works is that the current writer gives him whatever limitations he feels good about, reflecting the recent history and thematic focus of the comic. If you'll simply read comics from thirty (or even fifteen) years ago and compare with today, you'll note that heroes today tend to "break their limits" much more often; the aesthetics of superhero comics have changed, and nowadays the writers literally salivate at the chance of writing a scene where Mr. Fantastic, broken by rage and madness, does something utterly surprising to his long-time fans, like flows into the lungs of Dr. Doom and chokes him to submission. There's this "Whoah! That guy has actually pretty bad-ass powers!" thing the writers like to focus on, nowadays.

So if we're talking about "comics-style" superheroes, your approach is somewhat backwards, I should say. What you get with your methods is "rpg superheroes" like those Champions (Hero System) has been doing now for twenty years, not so much superheroes that feel like Spiderman or the Flash. Two points:
- Champions (the superhero game that utilizes the Hero System) does what you're proposing here really, really well. It's also the system of choice for many, many people who like to play this kind "realistic" superhero game. And it's not alone! The majority of superhero games, especially the popular gamer games, are like this: both Tri-Stat superheroes (Silver Age Sentinels, for example) and Mutants and Masterminds (which is, literally, superheroes utilizing the D&D rules) have exact, realistic (more or less) rules with long lists of powers, which each are defined very clearly on what they can do. They're focused on superhero combat with tactical complexity and risk of injury, and do it admirably well, especially if the players are interested in really working the system. I could mention many other games that go this way, like Godlike and even Sorcerer. The point is, you should learn from those games if you wish to be better than them!
- You won't get a game focused on dramatic issues if your rules are focused on how many feet Mr. Fantastic can elongate himself. Not surprisingly, you will get a game that focuses on how many feet Mr. Fantastic can elongate. Your rules will transmit the values of play to the players, and they will, indeed, focus on whatever it is they've paid for in those rules. If it's the limits of elongation and how getting longer makes you faster, then that's what their play will be about. This is a thoroughly documented phenomenon; you can read descriptions of Champions play and see how play in a system like that looks like.

Quote
I'd have to say that my system was heavily influenced by the other role-playing games I play, primarily D&D.  I know, it seems like D&D could never influence a Superhero game but it did help me.  So in a sense my power descriptions are very similar to the spell descriptions in D&D.  Additionally, I also took what I perceived as problems in D&D, such as powergaming and general rule exploitation, and I tried to eliminate them from my game.  The main way I tried to eliminate this is by making power selection rolled randomly.  I know at first this might seem like a bad idea but I've put some safeguards to make it better.  When you do roll for your powers there is a significant chance you will get the choice of a 'double roll.'  What this means is that you get to roll randomly twice for powers and then choose which one you prefer.  If you roll 'double roll' again that increases the number of powers you have to choose from.  In addition, let's say you randomly roll for the power "Resistance to Fire."  Under that power description there is a heading called 'allows' that list all the powers relating to fire such as Absorption(fire), Energy Reflection(fire), Fire Control, and Fire Missile.  You can choose any of these powers relating to fire without having to randomly roll for them.  Thus you begin to get this massive web of powers that connects together in a variety of ways, providing non-linear power trees.

What would you say if I told you that I think powergaming is pretty much the point of D&D? I mean, look at the facts: the game's about heroes penetrating into hostile environment to grab gold and magic items from the paws of evil critters. You do better in the game if you have a stronger character. Where do you get the idea that the game isn't about powergaming? And rules exploitation, I don't even understand what that means in the D&D context! Is it, like, when players use the rules of the game to their benefit? Like they do in Monopoly?

This is an important point, because what you're doing is, you're taking a well-crafted game and using it as an inspiration in building a completely different type of game. Shouldn't you, seriously, take a peek at what others have done when they've explicitly written "superhero games focused on comics-style storytelling and drama"? I cite Capes, With Great Power and Darkpages again, because what you told about the focus of the game being on the problems of having power and a double life sure sounds much more like those games than D&D. Looking to D&D for inspiration in building a game of drama is like making a campfire out of old tires, or am I wrong?

I should note that I completely adore and support the idea of doling out superpowers randomly in a superhero game. It's a great idea almost regardless of where the play is supposed to be going. It's also how I'd probably do it if I was making a superhero game. What better way to transmit the idea that you're not playing a superhuman, but rather a normal person who gets these powers through no choice of their own? However, you should make sure that the rules of the game either ensure equally "good" powers for everybody, or completely support different power levels in play. I'd like to think that the latter is closer in spirit to how superhero comics operate; we never get to see how the X-Men dynamics fail to function because Cyclops has a weaker power than other's after all!

Also: what I'd like you to think about and tell us is, if you hypothetically had to choose between the dramatic themes we've talked about, or the D&D-influenced power lists and tactical combat, which is more important to you? I mean, if, hypothetically, it proved that you can't have both, or at least you'll have to put one of those into a weakened and secondary position, which would be the more important part of the game? I think both of those would make a fine game (your character generation actually seems genuinely interesting from a D&D perspective, just like the themes we discussed earlier seem fruitful for a dramatic game), but I have doubts about whether you can fit them both in there just like that.

Quote
Quote
A fine answer. Now, how does your system ensure that the GM indeed introduces issues related to newfound powers. Especially: will the GM realize that this is what he should be doing? If he does, what if he doesn't know how? If he does know, is it fun for him, too? I mean, I love the idea of a superhero rpg focusing on the complications of power and juggling secret identities, but I don't think this is going to happen by just saying it. Some system needs to be in place.

I have included a section of my book specifically for the GM to help him understand his role in the game as well as give him suggestions as to how to run the game.  The game does not require the GM to introduce issues or character conflict into the game, it is simply highly recommended by me.  Some groups may prefer to simply use the game as a fun way to blow stuff up and not include much plot or substance to the game and that is really up to them, but I have tried to steer GMs in the direction that I find makes the best game.

So, would you say that these thematic elements of the game are essentially free-form, with no rules support?

Freeform is fine for what it is, but I suspect that you've not realized the effect rules have on the overall play. Having rules always trumps not having rules, simply because the rules are there in the book sitting on your lap when you play, while the "no-rules" is nowhere in sight. Thus, if you have two possible ways your game could run (like, say, beating mooks in tactical combat or making hard choices about ruining your civilian life), I predict that the one that actually has rules present wins. I think that you can only disagree with me if you can tell us about the unforgettable session of Monopoly where you all were sitting there, ostensibly playing Monopoly, but actually playing football. Football does not spontaneously rise from Monopoly because the players, by the virtue of being there to play Monopoly, have no way of getting inspired to play football, instead. To the contrary, I should think that even if the miracle happened and one player started to set up goal posts, the rest would probably complain vehemently about him ruining the perfectly fine game of Monopoly they had going. Even if the goal-posts player was the banker in Monopoly, I don't think he could make the others believe that Monopoly is actually supposed to be played with a ball and two goals, when the other players can perfectly well read the rules included with the game of Monopoly they're playing.

If you want to check out roleplaying games that were designed for the purpose of drama and introducing thematic elements (the football of our example), I suggest, in addition to the superhero games I've mentioned, games like Dogs in the Vineyard, Fastlane, Dust Devils, The Shadow of Yesterday, Mountain Witch... the list is rather long, actually. There's plenty of games that do not pretend to be Monopoly while being football, or rather, do not pretend to be football, when they're really just Monopoly.

Logged

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2591


WWW
« Reply #10 on: March 19, 2006, 11:52:39 AM »

And here's the second part...

Quote
Quote
That sounds like rather interesting play. How does it come about? I mean this whole "lose your job or let the kids burn" thing. Specifically:
- Who invents it?
- How is it introduced into play?
- What kind of ways does the player have to address it?
- How is it resolved?
- How are repercussions invented?

Most of the things you brought up are decided by the GM.  The GM essentially acts as the storyteller and controls the flow of the plot as well as events in the world.  The GM also controls the actions of all the NPCs in the world.  So let’s take the example I provided and say that the character decides to skip work to save the kids.  On the upside, the character gets a great deal of applause from those watching the rescue and a fair amount of positive media coverage on the TV (which raises his popularity.)  On the downside, the character will have to explain to his boss why he missed work.  This would most likely involve the character having to be very diplomatic as well as lie a fair bit for his boss to let him off the hook.  To resolve whether or not the boss decides to go easy on him, the character would have to make a Persuasion check followed by a Bluff check (both of which are skills that the character can take.)  The boss would make a Sense Motive check to see if he recognizes the character is lying to him.  If the character succeeds on both checks, the character keeps his job.  If the character ends up failing one of the checks, the GM might rule that the character keeps his job but he is put on some type of probation or he loses his yearly bonus (basically anything that a boss would do in the real world to punish a worker without firing them.)  If the character ends up failing both his checks, the GM could rule that not only is his boss not moved by the character’s attempts to butter him up, he also is offended that the character would lie to his face and so his boss fires him.

Wow, it does really sound like D&D, with all those Bluff, Persuasion and Sense Motive checks ;) I suggest you familiarize yourself with Mutants & Masterminds without further delay; it's the most popular D&D-based (d20, rather) superhero system, and probably has thing or two you could learn from.

Your example did answer many of my questions, but it left the most important one open: say that I really like the situation you're offering here, the whole save-the-kids-and-maybe-get-fired deal. I want to play the game that has stuff like that. The questions is still, how, exactly, does that situation come up in play? Is there, like, lists of these kinds of situations in the book, and the GM picks one whenever he feels the game isn't moving anywhere? Assuming he does, can he just frame the PC into the situation so that the player doesn't have any chance of preparing? What if the player thinks that his character would have, of course, got special dispensation for unexplainable disappearances from work already when his powers manifested? Overall, my question: say we've got to the point in play where the GM asks me whether I'm going to save those kids. How, exactly, did we get there? What kind of activity was necessary from me and the GM for this intriguing situation to take place?

The part where the consequences are decided and the situation is spun further is also important, but it seems to me you have that well under control. I imagine setting difficulty levels for all those rolls is going to be quite a chore for the GM, but if you think it's important, I'm sure he can handle it.

Quote
Quote
So, tell us, what kind of rules structure does the GM need to support the endeavour? What kind of rules structure there actually is? What I'm driving at is, if the majority of dramatic content is created and controlled by the GM, surely the rest of your 130 pages of rules are for the sole purpose of helping the GM in doing it? So those rules are what I'd like to hear about, next.

The GM controls the plot and the flow of the game but just about any type of interaction or task is decided with opposed rolls.  If the character is being opposed by another character or NPC, they roll a corresponding number of dice described in the rules.  If the character is trying to accomplish a task where he isn’t being directly opposed by someone, like if the character wants to lift a car, the GM can assign a difficulty to the task to see if the character can accomplish it.

If I was a little vague with that it will all become clear once your read the “Opposed Rolls” section of my game.

Hey, I love the opposed rolls here. Sounds quite streamlined and progressive. I also love giving reference works, as you've probably seen, so I direct you to one of the definitive works on opposed rolls mechanics, Heroquest; if that game's not familiar, I'm sure there's plenty there to learn.

Quote
Quote
You do realize that this is dramatically opposed to how superheroes work in comics and movies? This is not necessarily a problem, but I suggest that you make it exceedingly clear that this is not genre-faithful superheroes game; otherwise you risk massive confusion as players send their Captain Heroics to certain death on account of playing faithful to the role.

Well, I think I should explain myself better.  Every superhero has weaknesses.  Professor X could not survive a punch from the Hulk and Wolverine, dispite his regeneration, is powerless against mental attacks.  Spiderman, even though his agility is virtually unmatched, would be in serious trouble if a bank robber actually managed to shoot him with a lucky shot.  The point is that even though you may be Super, it doesn’t mean you can simply wander into combat without any tactics and not expect to get hurt, especially when you go up against other superhumans.

Agreed, those are good examples of the phenomenon. But think of it this way: when ever has Spiderman actually got shot? When did Hulk hit Xavier? When did Wolverine get beat by mental attack? The precedents are there, you'll note, I don't claim that heroes are invincible. But if you think about it, you'll also note that those situations are rare, and always the matter of great consternation and strict story control. Spiderman never got killed by a gunshot. Xavier never got a full hit from Hulk. Wolverine could always break free from mental domination when it really mattered. Is that realistic? No. Is that genre-faithful? Yes, yes it is. Superheroes do not die, or if they do, it's a big, dramatic deal, not something decided by the writer rolling dice.

You'll also note that while superheroes have weaknesses, they are well aware of them themselves, and when they are not, they do indeed get a beating. It's not a matter of tactics or luck at all, when you look at the genre in general; when superheroes lose, it's because they were overconfident, or because they were desperate, not because their player couldn't play smart enough.

I suggest that there is two issues here: one is a matter of stakes, whether PCs should die or get otherwise totally screwed by the mechanics. One is a matter of play style, whether winning or losing one small and large scale should be about player tactics. It seems to me that you're currently answering both the same way D&D does, which is mighty strange for a superhero game, as D&D is anything but that!

Quote
Character death is not something I would like to happen regularly in my game and it is not something I expect to happen in my game very often.  However, characters are going to want to rest a while after facing off against an enemy superhuman, I guarantee that.  Healing damage is a slow process in my game unless you have a power like Regeneration and often serious injuries still require medical assistance unless your character has superhuman constitution.  This very fact can lead to even more adventures as the character must somehow find a way to explain how he received his injuries to curious medical professionals or find a doctor he can trust with his secret.

Sounds good to me. It also seems that death as a rules feature arising out of tactical mistakes is not what you should be driving at. Why not just have rules where characters can get very badly hurt, but will never just die like that? Many games have rules like this. For example, here's how it works in Trollbabe: when a character fails her third reroll (goes to negative hitpoints, whatever), the player decide that she dies. If she does, the player narrates how. If she does not, then the GM gets to describe where and in what condition she comes to. Perhaps it's as a prisoner, perhaps she was saved by somebody. Never know.

Something like that would seem greatly more appropriate than the chance of random death, if you don't want meaningless deaths in the first place. Never design something you don't actually want in your game.

Quote
Yeah, my game is more in favor of amazing action as opposed to incredible realism.  Believe me, its pretty realistic, however, there is only so much realism you can have in a game about superheroes before it begins to detract from the fun.  The tactics emphasis is more on using special attacks, teamwork, flanking, and power augmentations to bring down foes quickly before they can hurt you.

That part sounds good to me, again from the D&D perspective. Special attacks, teamwork, flanking and power augmentations are core to superhero tactics, as opposed to the kind of stuff military genre has. You're well off in this regard, it seems to me.

Quote
Popularity basically determines how the general public views the character.  Do the citizens cheer or run away in terror when they see the character?  Do police officers aid the character or pull guns out the instant they see him?  That’s what popularity is good for.  Popularity also plays a role when a character tries to persuade or intimidate someone, with positive popularity helping you persuade someone and negative popularity helping you intimidate them.

But isn't it hit or miss whether popularity has any effect on anything, then? This is like the Paladin thing all over again, with the AD&D paladin restrictions varying wildly in significance between GMs, situations and play groups. That kind of mechanics are problematic, because you get situations like players who drive actively towards nullifying the significance of the mechanic. I can already imagine how it's perfectly useful in your game to try to avoid popularity-based situations, just so you don't need to deal with the mechanic.

What I was thinking, based on what you said about the resposibilities of the budding heroes growing with time, was that it would be interesting to have fame and popularity be a kind of "adventure scale"; the more popularity you have, the bigger adventures you end up having. Now there's a popularity mechanic with teeth!

Quote
My experience system is basically a numerical way of tracking the development of the character.  Over time in comics characters will become more proficient with their powers the more they use them.  Some comic book characters train themselves to be faster or stronger or more resilient to attacks.  Some characters take up martial arts once they begin fighting crime or continue going to school and get degrees that advance their quality of living in their normal life.  Basically, they never stay static.  That is why I have included an experience system in my game.  If your character never has any way to grow or improve that seems to take a lot of fun out of the game.

In D&D you'd be right in these remarks. If your game is like D&D, then I guess your game should have experience system in place as well.

However, there's nothing like that in comic book superheroes. Nothing. Some few stories are specifically about the early steps of the heroes, or about the changes they go through in life, but they're a minority, and there is no dramatic arc where characters start small and work their way up. Captain America in his first story is essentially just as big a hero, with the same powers, that he has fifty years later. The same holds true for practically any hero you care to name: Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, X-Men, Hulk, Avengers, The Fantastic Four... any changes to any of these are due to rewrites and social progress in their personal lives, not in their powers or the kind of adventures they have. The D&D leveling up concept is simply not applicable; I would even say that it's more common for superheroes to lose powers than gain them, if you care to start counting.

As for whether a game in general can be fun without xp, I assure you that it's more than possible. I again cite both Capes and With Great Power as superhero games that specifically have nothing even resembling an xp system. WGP comes closest with the player option of switching in secondary aspects when you want to re-emphasize something or other in the character, but the amount of player power involved varies only within a single story, not long-term.

But, that's that. I'll take a look at the rules you posted while you think on the points I raised here. Perhaps I can give you some more generic feedback after looking at the entirety, instead of discussing things in principle?
Logged

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
billvolk
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2006, 01:59:32 PM »

What exactly will happen if a player wants his hero to have a publicly known identity? What will happen if a hero's identity is exposed by accident or by an enemy? What will happen if a hero tries to abandon his old life, fake his own death or something and live entirely as his hero persona? There's presecence for all of these things in superhero comics. The Fantastic Four, The Spirit, Batman at the end of Dark Knight Returns, and countless others don't live by the standard double-life formula. Will your game allow these things to happen to the player characters at all? If maintaining a secret identity is meant to be one of the main challenges for your players, then the possibility of exposure must be real or there is no challenge.
Logged
Elishar
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2006, 02:59:08 PM »

Now its my turn to break up a post.

Quote
Ah, I see where this is going. Now, I'm going to suggest that your approach is fundamentally uncompatible with the superhero genre of comics (Marvel, DC, etc.). This might be hard to believe, especially as you've clearly worked on your game a lot. If you come to the same conclusion I do after the discussion, you can either rethink your approach or make it absolutely clear that this is not a game of superhero comics so much as a game of "superhero D&D". Nothing wrong with that, again.

Why am I so skeptical? Well, just look at that rules excerpt, which tells us how your game handles Mr. Fantastic, pretty much. Now compare that with the following, documented occurrences in the comics:
- Mr. Fantastic is punched/shot at /impaled, but due to his stretch powers he escapes any serious harm. Indeed, he frequently takes bullets for other, weaker people. Shouldn't the power description take this into account?
- How much is the reach of Mr. Fantastic? In some situations he's been hard pressed to stretch, say, twenty meters. In other situations he's stretched to the heights of skyscrapers.
- How thin can he get? Mr. Fantastic has crawled through the lock of a door pretty recently, if my memory doesn't fail me. Does your power description take into account the benefits of fitting into a really small space (somebody's pocket, say), or the ability to go through the tiniest crack? Especially when he has or doesn't have these powers depending on the writer?
- I admit this one's rare, but I remember not so far in the past (this decade, anyway) how Mr. Fantastic literally stretched his brain in some story or other to shift around his mental faculties.
The point is, while it would seem that Mr. Fantastic is a "single-power" superhero, in reality any "effect-based" system like yours has to use many, many powers to describe what he is capable of. Would you say that this is a problem? Champions works exactly like this, and sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't, depending on what you're trying to do. Usually it breaks down exactly when you have powers with weird combat uses like the elongation, because the power rules are solely concerned with gauging combat effectivity. But always, without exception, it is impossible to faithfully convert a comic-book superhero into the system and expect him to work the same way he does in the comic. It's not just Mr. Fantastic, it's the f****ing Wolverine, even! Actually, I wouldn't bet that you could do Punisher with any effects-based system, now that I think of it.

What's more, metering feet, seconds and pounds of force has little to do with how superhero comics work. You don't really think that Mr. Fantastic as conceived in the comics really has such variable and fuzzy limits to his powers? No, how it really works is that the current writer gives him whatever limitations he feels good about, reflecting the recent history and thematic focus of the comic. If you'll simply read comics from thirty (or even fifteen) years ago and compare with today, you'll note that heroes today tend to "break their limits" much more often; the aesthetics of superhero comics have changed, and nowadays the writers literally salivate at the chance of writing a scene where Mr. Fantastic, broken by rage and madness, does something utterly surprising to his long-time fans, like flows into the lungs of Dr. Doom and chokes him to submission. There's this "Whoah! That guy has actually pretty bad-ass powers!" thing the writers like to focus on, nowadays.

So if we're talking about "comics-style" superheroes, your approach is somewhat backwards, I should say. What you get with your methods is "rpg superheroes" like those Champions (Hero System) has been doing now for twenty years, not so much superheroes that feel like Spiderman or the Flash. Two points:
- Champions (the superhero game that utilizes the Hero System) does what you're proposing here really, really well. It's also the system of choice for many, many people who like to play this kind "realistic" superhero game. And it's not alone! The majority of superhero games, especially the popular gamer games, are like this: both Tri-Stat superheroes (Silver Age Sentinels, for example) and Mutants and Masterminds (which is, literally, superheroes utilizing the D&D rules) have exact, realistic (more or less) rules with long lists of powers, which each are defined very clearly on what they can do. They're focused on superhero combat with tactical complexity and risk of injury, and do it admirably well, especially if the players are interested in really working the system. I could mention many other games that go this way, like Godlike and even Sorcerer. The point is, you should learn from those games if you wish to be better than them!
- You won't get a game focused on dramatic issues if your rules are focused on how many feet Mr. Fantastic can elongate himself. Not surprisingly, you will get a game that focuses on how many feet Mr. Fantastic can elongate. Your rules will transmit the values of play to the players, and they will, indeed, focus on whatever it is they've paid for in those rules. If it's the limits of elongation and how getting longer makes you faster, then that's what their play will be about. This is a thoroughly documented phenomenon; you can read descriptions of Champions play and see how play in a system like that looks like.

Yes, I realized that this could be a very large problem with my game.  That’s why I implemented an attribute called Energy, which basically allows characters to do pretty much anything they want as long as they pay enough energy.  The system still needs a lot more development and expansion but it’s a start.  I am also debating whether or not I should increase the amount of energy points characters have to make the game more dramatic.

The other thing I realized what that there was no way I would think of all the things a given power could do.  That’s one of the chief reasons why I wanted more playtesting done.  Players with the elongation power should be able to do all the things Mr. Fantastic power can do and my chief job is allowing the characters to do all of them and yet retain balance.  So yeah, maybe I should include a power augmentation where if the character pays one energy point they can act as if they had the Body Armor power for one round at an equal rank, thereby duplicating how Mr. Fantastic absorbs bullets with his body.

Quote
What would you say if I told you that I think powergaming is pretty much the point of D&D? I mean, look at the facts: the game's about heroes penetrating into hostile environment to grab gold and magic items from the paws of evil critters. You do better in the game if you have a stronger character. Where do you get the idea that the game isn't about powergaming? And rules exploitation, I don't even understand what that means in the D&D context! Is it, like, when players use the rules of the game to their benefit? Like they do in Monopoly?

This is an important point, because what you're doing is, you're taking a well-crafted game and using it as an inspiration in building a completely different type of game. Shouldn't you, seriously, take a peek at what others have done when they've explicitly written "superhero games focused on comics-style storytelling and drama"? I cite Capes, With Great Power and Darkpages again, because what you told about the focus of the game being on the problems of having power and a double life sure sounds much more like those games than D&D. Looking to D&D for inspiration in building a game of drama is like making a campfire out of old tires, or am I wrong?

Yes, having a strong D&D character is important, but D&D characters are supposed to be more then great stats.  They should be living, breathing characters with opinions, thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears, and everything else that make us human.  It seems that many people when playing D&D forget that part about the character and that is what I hope to avoid with my game.

Rules exploitation is basically taking the immense amount of material available for D&D and coming up with unbeatable combos that were clearly never intended by the creators of the game.  I think the most recent is the Artificer that can take out the Tarrasque at level 6.  These clearly broken combos are what I want to avoid and I have a feeling that they will be even more numerous in a game about characters who throw around cars like they’re baseballs and are capable of pretty much having a building collapse on them and walk away with little more than a slight headache.

Quote
I should note that I completely adore and support the idea of doling out superpowers randomly in a superhero game. It's a great idea almost regardless of where the play is supposed to be going. It's also how I'd probably do it if I was making a superhero game. What better way to transmit the idea that you're not playing a superhuman, but rather a normal person who gets these powers through no choice of their own? However, you should make sure that the rules of the game either ensure equally "good" powers for everybody, or completely support different power levels in play. I'd like to think that the latter is closer in spirit to how superhero comics operate; we never get to see how the X-Men dynamics fail to function because Cyclops has a weaker power than other's after all!

Yes, that is the exact the role-playing reason for why I made powers rolled randomly.  I’ve been working hard to make sure that all powers are pretty balanced so no one feels like they get the short end of the stick but I think only more playtesting will show how well I’ve succeeded.

Quote
Also: what I'd like you to think about and tell us is, if you hypothetically had to choose between the dramatic themes we've talked about, or the D&D-influenced power lists and tactical combat, which is more important to you? I mean, if, hypothetically, it proved that you can't have both, or at least you'll have to put one of those into a weakened and secondary position, which would be the more important part of the game? I think both of those would make a fine game (your character generation actually seems genuinely interesting from a D&D perspective, just like the themes we discussed earlier seem fruitful for a dramatic game), but I have doubts about whether you can fit them both in there just like that.

Well, the thing I always loved about comic books was the character conflicts so that is what I would have to choose.  However, that doesn’t appeal to everyone and I wouldn’t spend my money on a game that didn’t have great role-playing, tactical combat, and great game balance.  So really, I won’t stop working on this game until I feel like I have the complete package.

Quote
So, would you say that these thematic elements of the game are essentially free-form, with no rules support?

Freeform is fine for what it is, but I suspect that you've not realized the effect rules have on the overall play. Having rules always trumps not having rules, simply because the rules are there in the book sitting on your lap when you play, while the "no-rules" is nowhere in sight. Thus, if you have two possible ways your game could run (like, say, beating mooks in tactical combat or making hard choices about ruining your civilian life), I predict that the one that actually has rules present wins. I think that you can only disagree with me if you can tell us about the unforgettable session of Monopoly where you all were sitting there, ostensibly playing Monopoly, but actually playing football. Football does not spontaneously rise from Monopoly because the players, by the virtue of being there to play Monopoly, have no way of getting inspired to play football, instead. To the contrary, I should think that even if the miracle happened and one player started to set up goal posts, the rest would probably complain vehemently about him ruining the perfectly fine game of Monopoly they had going. Even if the goal-posts player was the banker in Monopoly, I don't think he could make the others believe that Monopoly is actually supposed to be played with a ball and two goals, when the other players can perfectly well read the rules included with the game of Monopoly they're playing.

If you want to check out roleplaying games that were designed for the purpose of drama and introducing thematic elements (the football of our example), I suggest, in addition to the superhero games I've mentioned, games like Dogs in the Vineyard, Fastlane, Dust Devils, The Shadow of Yesterday, Mountain Witch... the list is rather long, actually. There's plenty of games that do not pretend to be Monopoly while being football, or rather, do not pretend to be football, when they're really just Monopoly.

I would agree with you to a point but I am very hesitant to place rules in place that could limit the creativity of the GM or in any way constrict where he wants the plot to go.  This is one of those things that I hope to improve upon after some playtesting to see if these rules truly do need to be implemented or if they would end up doing more harm than good.

Quote
Wow, it does really sound like D&D, with all those Bluff, Persuasion and Sense Motive checks ;) I suggest you familiarize yourself with Mutants & Masterminds without further delay; it's the most popular D&D-based (d20, rather) superhero system, and probably has thing or two you could learn from.

Yeah, I won’t deny that I dipped into D&D for some skill names, but that is about where the similarity ends.  Besides, there are only so many words that describe the ability to lie or the ability to see through those lies.

Quote
Your example did answer many of my questions, but it left the most important one open: say that I really like the situation you're offering here, the whole save-the-kids-and-maybe-get-fired deal. I want to play the game that has stuff like that. The questions is still, how, exactly, does that situation come up in play? Is there, like, lists of these kinds of situations in the book, and the GM picks one whenever he feels the game isn't moving anywhere? Assuming he does, can he just frame the PC into the situation so that the player doesn't have any chance of preparing? What if the player thinks that his character would have, of course, got special dispensation for unexplainable disappearances from work already when his powers manifested? Overall, my question: say we've got to the point in play where the GM asks me whether I'm going to save those kids. How, exactly, did we get there? What kind of activity was necessary from me and the GM for this intriguing situation to take place?

The part where the consequences are decided and the situation is spun further is also important, but it seems to me you have that well under control. I imagine setting difficulty levels for all those rolls is going to be quite a chore for the GM, but if you think it's important, I'm sure he can handle it.

I thought about including a list of events that the GM could draw on to create character conflicts but I opted instead for a couple pages instead on how to construct adventures.  Its kind of that ‘give a man a fish’ or ‘teach a man to fish’ type of things.

Well, let’s look at this as if it was real life.  If you were a superhero do you think you would ever have a chance to prepare for a building burning down with kids in it?  I wouldn’t think so, unless your character had the power of precognition (which I have included by the way.)  Additionally, would you in real life get any special dispensation to miss work because you were secretly a superhero?  The answer to that is a definite no unless your boss knows about your secret.

So how do we get to an interesting scenario?  Well, we could get to one based on the character being proactive.  Maybe the character spends his days off cruising the city looking for wrongs to be righted or maybe he decides to research some unsolved murders so he can find the bad guys.  This basically causes the GM to react to the actions of his players.  The GM can basically use this pro-activeness to lead into an interesting adventure (the character stumbles upon a robbery or a forgotten clue in an unsolved case) or have it lead to nothing (the day is pretty calm lawlessness wise or perhaps the unsolved cases do end up in a dead end.)  The other way these interesting scenarios occur is the GM introducing the event to the character.  This would include our current example with the character hearing about the burning building on the radio while driving to work.  This causes the character to react to the events that are occurring in the GM’s world.  The character in this case can also either further the event into an adventure by skipping work to save the kids or he can end the scenario by simply continuing to drive to work.
Logged
Elishar
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2006, 02:59:54 PM »

Quote
Agreed, those are good examples of the phenomenon. But think of it this way: when ever has Spiderman actually got shot? When did Hulk hit Xavier? When did Wolverine get beat by mental attack? The precedents are there, you'll note, I don't claim that heroes are invincible. But if you think about it, you'll also note that those situations are rare, and always the matter of great consternation and strict story control. Spiderman never got killed by a gunshot. Xavier never got a full hit from Hulk. Wolverine could always break free from mental domination when it really mattered. Is that realistic? No. Is that genre-faithful? Yes, yes it is. Superheroes do not die, or if they do, it's a big, dramatic deal, not something decided by the writer rolling dice.

Your point is well taken and I think I will re-write rules for dying because of it.  However, its about equally as rare that a superhero walks away without a scratch from a battle.  My approach to creating this game was what if I woke up one day and was a superhero.  I’d want to help people with my powers.  I’d also not want to shout it to the world that I had them either.  And if it came down to it and I got into a fight with robbers with guns or another superhuman I’d be scared and I’d fear for my life.  I’d still fight the bad guys, but that wouldn’t change the fact that I would be scared shitless for my life when doing so.  That is what I hope to recreate with combat in my game.  This game is so much about the emotions of being a superhero that it felt out of place to not make combat a very, very big deal.

Quote
You'll also note that while superheroes have weaknesses, they are well aware of them themselves, and when they are not, they do indeed get a beating. It's not a matter of tactics or luck at all, when you look at the genre in general; when superheroes lose, it's because they were overconfident, or because they were desperate, not because their player couldn't play smart enough.

Yes, but I would argue that bad tactics and characters being overconfident or desperate are often the same thing.  Overconfidence and stupidity usually walk hand in hand, so players not playing smart (and therefore their characters not being smart) is simply nothing more than a reflection of what is often the downfall of comic book characters as well.  The only exception I can see for this is if the players don’t play smart because they don’t understand the rules or the game, in which case it is the GM’s responsibility to adjust accordingly.

Quote
I suggest that there is two issues here: one is a matter of stakes, whether PCs should die or get otherwise totally screwed by the mechanics. One is a matter of play style, whether winning or losing one small and large scale should be about player tactics. It seems to me that you're currently answering both the same way D&D does, which is mighty strange for a superhero game, as D&D is anything but that!

Again, I’d like to make character death a minimal occurrence in my game.  If the character screws up and gets beaten by his enemy he rarely dies outright.  More often then not he is knocked unconscious.  This can take the adventure in a completely new direction when the character wakes up in his enemy’s secret lair bound to a table and is not something that should be avoided because people have it in their head that the good guys are always supposed to win.  On the other issue, I think that my game has at best superficial relationships to D&D and rather shares a closer tie to what would happen in the real world.  If you end up with two, evenly matched humans or superhumans, who is going to win the fight?  The answer is the person with better tactics.  On another note, how many times has Spider-man defeated an opponent by pummeling them into submission?  Not often I can tell you.  Spider-man beats his opponents by out-thinking them.  The same can be said for dozens upon dozens of other superheroes.  That is why I place such an emphasis on tactics in my game.

Quote
Sounds good to me. It also seems that death as a rules feature arising out of tactical mistakes is not what you should be driving at. Why not just have rules where characters can get very badly hurt, but will never just die like that? Many games have rules like this. For example, here's how it works in Trollbabe: when a character fails her third reroll (goes to negative hitpoints, whatever), the player decide that she dies. If she does, the player narrates how. If she does not, then the GM gets to describe where and in what condition she comes to. Perhaps it's as a prisoner, perhaps she was saved by somebody. Never know.

Something like that would seem greatly more appropriate than the chance of random death, if you don't want meaningless deaths in the first place. Never design something you don't actually want in your game.

You bring up a good point here and I will rework death when I come out with my next revision (which should be in a week or so.)

Quote
But isn't it hit or miss whether popularity has any effect on anything, then? This is like the Paladin thing all over again, with the AD&D paladin restrictions varying wildly in significance between GMs, situations and play groups. That kind of mechanics are problematic, because you get situations like players who drive actively towards nullifying the significance of the mechanic. I can already imagine how it's perfectly useful in your game to try to avoid popularity-based situations, just so you don't need to deal with the mechanic.

What I was thinking, based on what you said about the resposibilities of the budding heroes growing with time, was that it would be interesting to have fame and popularity be a kind of "adventure scale"; the more popularity you have, the bigger adventures you end up having. Now there's a popularity mechanic with teeth!

This is an interesting point and I would like to see how it plays out in playtesting.  Though it is hard to avoid popularity-based situations because it governs how the entire world looks at you.

I like the idea of popularity tying into adventure scale.  I’ll have to run that through my brain a bit to see if I can find a way to make that work.

Quote
In D&D you'd be right in these remarks. If your game is like D&D, then I guess your game should have experience system in place as well.

However, there's nothing like that in comic book superheroes. Nothing. Some few stories are specifically about the early steps of the heroes, or about the changes they go through in life, but they're a minority, and there is no dramatic arc where characters start small and work their way up. Captain America in his first story is essentially just as big a hero, with the same powers, that he has fifty years later. The same holds true for practically any hero you care to name: Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, X-Men, Hulk, Avengers, The Fantastic Four... any changes to any of these are due to rewrites and social progress in their personal lives, not in their powers or the kind of adventures they have. The D&D leveling up concept is simply not applicable; I would even say that it's more common for superheroes to lose powers than gain them, if you care to start counting.

As for whether a game in general can be fun without xp, I assure you that it's more than possible. I again cite both Capes and With Great Power as superhero games that specifically have nothing even resembling an xp system. WGP comes closest with the player option of switching in secondary aspects when you want to re-emphasize something or other in the character, but the amount of player power involved varies only within a single story, not long-term.

But, that's that. I'll take a look at the rules you posted while you think on the points I raised here. Perhaps I can give you some more generic feedback after looking at the entirety, instead of discussing things in principle?

Well, I would disagree that comic book characters don’t change.  Spider-man improves his webs from time to type or creates different batches.  Jean Grey consistently works on improving her telekinesis.  Batman always gets new gadgets to beat his enemies.

And is it really realistic to have Captain America remain unchanged for 50 years?  Not really.  I think that the reason for this is that the writers realized that if their creations kept improving eventually any task thrown at them could be accomplished easily.  This is the problem you see with these anime shows like Dragonball Z.  Eventually you wind up with characters that can basically destroy the universe with a thought.  Therefore, it is simply not wise to have a comic superhuman improve if you want to continue that comic franchise for as long as it is making money.

However, this game isn’t a comic book.  I will concede that an experience system may not be the best idea but I think that it is vital to have a way for the players to improve their characters.  It just doesn’t make any sense to me that someone who could control fire wouldn’t be able to control it better after years of experience or that a person with super-strength couldn’t improve their bench press like a normal human can.  If that makes my game different from comic books then my game is going to be different from comic books.

billvolk
Quote
What exactly will happen if a player wants his hero to have a publicly known identity? What will happen if a hero's identity is exposed by accident or by an enemy? What will happen if a hero tries to abandon his old life, fake his own death or something and live entirely as his hero persona? There's presecence for all of these things in superhero comics. The Fantastic Four, The Spirit, Batman at the end of Dark Knight Returns, and countless others don't live by the standard double-life formula. Will your game allow these things to happen to the player characters at all? If maintaining a secret identity is meant to be one of the main challenges for your players, then the possibility of exposure must be real or there is no challenge.

Yes, I have written fairly extensively on all these things and they will all be options in my game.  Once Eero Tuovinen uploads my game to his website check out my section on “Campaigns” and see if you feel I need to elaborate on these details more because they are very big topics in comic books and I want them included in my game.
Logged
Elishar
Member

Posts: 46


« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2006, 03:11:39 PM »

oh, and here's my game for your viewing pleasure.  If you see any problems or anything that is unclear let me know and I'll be sure to fix it during my next revision.

http://www.arkkikivi.net/muut/Superheroes%20V1.0.pdf
Logged
Pages: [1] 2 3 4
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!