stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 15: 459 )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 14: Masters of Evil )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 13: Gamma World, Part 2 )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 12: Gamma World, Part 1 )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 11: Panther's Quest )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 10: Everything Is Wonderful )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Sorry this Avengers Assembled post is a bit late: June activities have been keeping me busy, then I decided to wait and post this one on my birthday. Just be glad I didn’t decide to wait until the release of Captain America: The First Avenger in theaters...

Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 9: Living Legend )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 8: Some Assembly Required )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 7: The Breakout – Part 2 )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 6: The Breakout – Part 1 )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 5: The Man in the Ant Hill )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 4: Meet Captain America )
stevekenson: (go-play)
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 3: Hulk vs. the World )
stevekenson: (go-play)
So, I was originally going to just post these blogs once per week on Wednesdays, but then I realized it's my blog and I can post any time I feel like it, so...

Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

Episode 2: Thor the Mighty! )
stevekenson: (go-play)
A little side-project I’ve been wanting to work on for a while is going through the episodes of the new Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series with an eye towards superhero RPGs and what (if anything) we can learn in terms of game design and game mastering from what is (in my humble opinion) an excellent comic book style superhero show. So, without further ado...

Episode 1: Iron Man Is Born! )
stevekenson: (go-play)
In many ways, Dungeons & Dragons was the first “licensed” RPG in that it was based off a fictional property, quite a few of them, in fact. Gygax and Arneson made no secret of the works of fantasy fiction that influenced the development of the game and their own campaigns. They listed them, in fact. Many forums of Old School gaming—such as James Maliszewski’s Grognardia—have spend considerable time deconstructing said influences.

A recent thread on RPGnet asked about “dream RPGs” and I was struck by how so many of the responses were essentially licenses, that is, some fictional intellectual property (novel, film, TV show, etc.) the respondent wanted to see as a game setting, often for an existing rules engine. Given Steve Long’s recent op-ed on licensing in RPGs, I thought it was interesting how many gamers considered a license their “dream game product”. How many game designers and developers have had the same reaction?

I recall a discussion at an Origins Game Fair some years ago where a colleague said how the newly revived James Bond property would make a great RPG. I countered that James Bond was actually a terrible license, for two primary reasons:

1. There’s the classic problem of living up to the property. Who gets to play Bond? Is there an expectation that someone plays Bond, or a character like him and, if not, in what way is the game based on the fiction? Do you base adventures on the original Flemming stories (which true fans already know) or try and create ones in a similar style?

2. More importantly, I argued, any modern espionage RPG worth its die modifiers could already function as a perfectly sound “James Bond RPG”. If it couldn’t, then I submit there’s something wrong with it.

While most early RPGs weren’t licenses, they were efforts to emulate particular genres: fantasy, far-future and post-apocalypse sci-fi, espionage thrillers, superhero comic books, and so forth. They were inspired by key elements of those genres. While Champions and Villains & Vigilantes (or Mutants & Masterminds, for that matter) weren’t licensed DC or Marvel games (although M&M now is) they were all looking to emulate the stories and characters DC and Marvel established as staples. Likewise, Top Secret wasn’t the 007 RPG (we’d have to wait for Victory Games to get to it) but it was certainly aiming for the same target, along with source material like Mission: Impossible and The Man from UNCLE. D&D is certainly not a Lord of the Rings RPG, but Tolkien is part of the game’s DNA, as are the works of Howard, Leiber, Anderson, and even Lovecraft.

Now, the interesting part is when these big genre-blenders manage to move beyond pastiche and begin adding their own elements back into the genres from which they sprang. It’s difficult to estimate just how much of an influence “D&D-style fantasy” has been on the genre of fantasy fiction; big enough that the expression “D&D-style fantasy” seems to hold some meaning for fans and readers. Similarly, it seems to me the superhero RPG convention of characters with a suite of attack/defense/movement capabilities has taken greater hold in the comic book in the past few decades and you see more heroes and teams who could be characters from an RPG as much as a comic book.

The real elders of the RPG IP field have been around long enough to become sub-genres unto themselves. D&D has “iconic” and “signature” elements that started out as goofy Monster Manual pictures, throwaway lines in modules, and sci-fi rip-offs. Similarly, it was the strength of the Champions setting and characters that gave Hero Games licensing muscle. How many did Call of Cthulhu introduce to the Mythos, and how big an influence was the game on the addition of Great Cthulhu and his kin to popular (geek) culture?

One thing RPGs (and RPG creators and players) seem good at is taking sometimes contrasting or cliche elements, combining them in novel ways, and producing new story elements and stories out of them, which can in turn be recombined to fresh effect. A sort of fictional evolution out of the primordial ooze of all the various character, plot, and setting elements thrown together into the bubbling stewpot of a roleplaying game.

I’d suggest some of the best RPG properties (that is, fictional elements, not rules systems) start out aiming to emulate the source material of a genre, but then push past their origins and break through into territory uniquely their own. I actually think this is true of both licensed and non-licensed games. West End Games Star Wars RPG, for example, was often at its best when it put aside slavish devotion to the films and looked at other parts of what is now called “the Expanded Star Wars Universe”. Dungeons & Dragons started out as a patchwork of pulp fantasy but established its own sub-genre. Traveller took the conventions of Imperial SciFi and built a universe with them. Shadowrun copied some of the conventions and language of cyberpunk, but added its own fantasy spin and developed in its own direction, just as Vampire might have been the Dracula or Lestat RPG, but grew beyond that to create its own mythos.

I think it’s an interesting approach for RPGs to provide the genre elements and framework, to serve as systems for making up and trying out new worlds. The Diaspora game with its cluster-creation system (almost a game unto itself) is an interesting example, not unlike the random world design of Traveller that helped inspire it. Games of the imagination are often at their best when they challenge us to create new things out of old rather than look for ways to repackage experiences we’ve already had and opportunities to argue the same details of fictional canon over and over. The place for creatives—both designers and players—to reach for is the synthesis where the whole is greater than the sum of just its (randomly rolled) parts.
stevekenson: (go-play)
It’s no secret that the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG was a big inspiration for my own Icons: Superpowered Roleplaying. I still consider MSH one of the high-water marks of RPG design, especially superhero RPG design.

Still, I didn’t necessarily want Icons to just be a MSH clone, especially when it has already been done. I was looking to implement some other concepts in the system, notably elements I liked from FATE and a different sort of “hero point” economy with the Determination system.

One area where Icons might benefit from being more like MSH, however, is in terms of numbers. Like Marvel, Icons has a 1–10 scale for most abilities. (MSH also has the “infrared” of Shift 0 and the “ultraviolet” of Shift X, Y, Z, and Class 1000, 3000, and 5000, but let’s stick to the “visible” spectra for the moment.) Unlike MSH, Icons’ 1–10 scale is a literal scale with numerical values from 1 to 10. Marvel’s scale assigns numerical values from 2 to 100, and staggers them with some interesting effects:

Low-End Resolution: Icons’ average and below levels are 1–2. Marvel’s are Feeble (2), Poor (4), and Typical (6). You don’t even get to a “round” value until Good (10), which is above average. For Icons to have equivalent values, they would have to be fractions (0.6, 0.4, and 0.2) – not a lot of fun to deal with in game play.

High-End Resolution: Marvel’s traits are linear and similar to Icons from Good (10) to Amazing (50), just ten times more. The upper two ranks, however, show a marked jump from increasing by 10s to 25, for Monstrous (75) and Unearthly (100). By contrast, Icons has a linear progression all the way through. The difference between any two adjacent levels is always 1.

I think it would be an interesting experiment to try Icons using the existing rules as written, but Marvel values for determining things like Stamina, damage, and damage resistance. I haven’t run all of the numbers yet but, if it pans out, then maybe it’s something for the Icons Wiki.
stevekenson: (calvin)
In his column “They’re Selling Comics on the iPad the Wrong Way”, Stephen Totilo sums up my feelings about how comics buying on the iPad platform has not lived up to its potential.

I’m a near lifelong comics reader. I have the dozens of long-boxes in my basement to prove it. Still, given the right opportunity, it would make the jump tomorrow to reading all (or at least nearly all) of my comics on my iPad. What are the components of that right opportunity?

Cost: Right now, e-comics cost essentially the same as print comics. That’s insane. If I’m going to pay the same price, I might as well get the collectibility of the printed comic. Funny thing is, at this point in my life, I’d much rather not have to find storage for more printed comics. The possibility of having my entire comics collection available from a single e-reader at the tap of a button is tantalizing, but not worth paying the same price for the physical product. Now, I’d gladly pay under a buck for an e-comic. I like 50 cents because it harkens to the prices when I first started collecting (yes, I’m old) but I could potentially go for 75 cents, maybe 99 cents for the new books, with reasonable deals on the back issues, which brings me to...

Bundles: Even worse in terms of cost, I can actually get printed comics cheaper than the electronic versions if I wait and pick up a trade paperback collection for a bundled price. There are no options for bundles, or discounts for picking up a whole arc, miniseries, or even entire run of a book for e-comics. When Marvel first ventured into electronic comics, they were selling DVDs with the then entire run of books like Fantastic Four or Spider-Man—forty-plus years of comics—for fifty bucks! I would totally pay something like that to, say, download every issue of Avengers to my iPad. Thing is, presumably, the back issues have already earned out. Hell, I already own many of them! Why should the publishers be charging full price for them all over? And why am I going to pay full comic store prices to pick them up piecemeal? Three hundred back issues for $600? I could buy a new iPad! On the other hand, three hundred back issues for $59.95? Hell yeah, sign me up!

Convenience: The interfaces on apps like ComiX (and the official DC and Marvel apps) make you hunt-and-peck for individual issues. I want to pay my flat-fee and start whole collections of comics downloading to my iPad or Mac.

Choice: If I knew, for certain, that all of the week’s new comics would be available for download on my iPad the same day they hit stores, I might still make the switch in spite of the above concerns. But instead, only a few select comics show up as e-books each week, along with a confusing mix of seemingly random back issues.

I honestly hope the major publishers figure out how to do it right, because I think they’re leaving money on the table with their current half-hearted approached to e-publishing now that the near-ideal platform for their media has emerged and is continuing to develop (with the production of competing tablet devices).

In the meantime, I’ve got my long-boxes...
stevekenson: (go-play)
From the blog:

I think it may well have been the suave and sophisticated spy RPGs—either James Bond: 007 with its Hero Points or Top Secret with its Fame and Fortune Points—that gave us the modern RPG staple of what we’ll call the “hero point.” Hero points, which go by many, many different names in different games, serve essentially two functions:

1) They help to avoid anticlimax and the general “dramatic deafness” of many rules systems by granting players some control over the randomness of the game’s resolution systems (as most RPG resolution systems include a random element).

2) They help to avoid whiny players who pout when their precious snowflake characters actually (gasp!) fail at something.

Both functions help hero points work as a “safety net” encouraging players to make risker (that is, more dramatic and heroic) choices, because they know if the choice results in a metaphorical (or literal) fall for their characters, they’ve got something to “catch” them.

Makes sense that hero points came from the super-spy genre. Those guys are good at everything. They’ve got what S. John Ross defined at the “Truly Badass” advantage. However, it makes for a frightfully dull RPG to simply say “the heroes always win.” So hero points provide a way to do it, but with limits.

(As an aside, it’s interesting to note that the dramatic tension with iconic heroes like James Bond and Doc Savage isn’t if they are going to win, but how. It would be interesting to model this in an RPG context. That is, the goal isn’t to make enough good rolls to eventually succeed, it’s to—literally—plot a course from initial challenge to success. But I digress...)

Hero points are all about limits: you only have so many of them, you can only use them for certain things, or at certain times. There may be ways to get more, in which case they as serve as “carrots” to encourage genre-appropriate behavior (Mutants & Masterminds and ICONS both do this).

One interesting element of hero points is they allow players to essentially remove some of the misfortune in the game, negating a certain number of poor die rolls or other random factors on the negative side of things. They typically do so without any counterbalancing. So if I get three hero points to improve my die rolls, I get to ignore three bad rolls as if they never happened. That certainly changes the dynamic of the game in terms of how often my character will encounter dramatic failures, assuming my hero points can save my bacon (and my dignity) most of the time.

What if, instead of a “free ride,” hero points only deferred the “bad stuff” they usually counter? That is, a player could choose to override the results of the dice at any time in a fashion similar to hero points, but at the cost of racking up an equal amount of “karmic debt”?

You see some shades of this concept in systems for earning hero points: compels in FATE, or complications in M&M, for example. But these require the player to choose to accept bad stuff for the character in exchange for the hero point award. I’m talking about the ability to mess with the structure of the game knowing it will eventually come back to bite you in the ass. In some regards, it’s like a plot-device version of Paradox from Mage: the more you mess with things, the more you pay for it in the end. You can even adopt some of Mage’s sliding scale, with “low-impact” changes that blend smoothly into the overall fabric creating less “backlash” than the really outlandish and poorly explained ones (the equivalent of the kind of bad plotting in real world media sure to provoke angry fan screeds).

You could leave the application of the “bad karma” up to the Gamemaster, in the hands of the player(s), or some combination thereof. It would be interesting if players were responsible for their own characters’ bad karma and it was their job to think up ways to cause them problems in a dramatically appropriate way as much as planning out their dramatic successes. For a truly fiendish option, we could go with what I’ll call the “shadow” approach (in honor of Wraith): another player gets to decide when and how your bad karma comes into play! Because there’s nobody as capable of thinking up bad things to happen to your character as your fellow players...
stevekenson: (go-play)
Some superhero settings feature truly cosmic levels of power. While, in my experience, it is most often easier to simply treat such massively powerful beings as plot devices, sometimes it’s fun to consider the limits of the game system in terms of modeling them. Case in point: how many ranks of Damage would you need to destroy the Earth in the third edition of Mutants & Masterminds?
Now, a lot of it depends on how we define “destroy.” For the same of discussion, let’s stipulate the following:

• The Earth is an “object” in game terms (albeit a big one). So it is subject to the rules for damaging objects.

• While made of a variety of materials, we’ll consider the Earth’s base Toughness that of stone: rank 5.

• The “thickness” of the Earth is its diameter: 7,901 miles. That’s technically a distance rank of 20, since it’s shy of the 8,000 miles value of rank 21. Since an object’s Toughness equals its base rank + (distance rank + 7), that would make Earth’s Toughness rank 5 + (20 + 7) or 32.

• Let’s say that the Earth’s Toughness is also Impervious, so nothing less than Damage 17 even has a chance of damaging the planet as a whole. Anything else might mess up the landscape, but that’s all.

So, the minimum Damage rank (17) has a resistance DC of (17 + 15) or 32, the same as the planet’s Toughness value, meaning the resistance check pretty much can’t fail.

But wait: let’s assume the “attacker” is going to take the option of making an attack check, since the Earth is a pretty massive object. It’s not like he’s going to miss! That’s good for a critical hit and +5 Damage. Likewise, let’s assume the attacker goes for a Power Attack for – to the attack check and +2 Damage.

That ramps the Damage up to 24, or DC 39. Now the GM needs to roll a 7 or better for the planet to suffer no serious damage. A 6 or less means a Toughness reduction, while a 2 or less (for a Toughness check total of 34 or less) actually means two degrees of failure: the attack blows a hole clear through the planet! While that doesn’t shatter the Earth in one blow, it probably means the end of life as we know it as the molten core burst out and floods the surface.

(Indeed, if we were being really pedantic about this, we could probably stipulate the Earth’s “thickness” as that of the rocky mantle—mere tens of miles—since any attack that blasts through that will unleash the high-pressure molten magma from the core. But I digress...)

Ramping things up further, a Damage 20 attack, made with a successful attack check, a full Power Attack (+5 Damage), and some extra effort (for +1 Damage) does a whopping Damage 31, DC 46. The planet needs a die roll of 14 or better to avoid damage altogether. A roll of 9 or less means a hole punched right through the planet, while a roll of 4 or less shatters the enter planet in a single blast! So it’s quite possible for some high-level characters to at least threaten Earth-sized planets, to say nothing of smaller moons or the like. Take the Damage rank up by even 5– and the attacker has even odds of smashing planets with single attacks!

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stevekenson

July 2011

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