Saturday, May 5, 2012

May 5th - Nothing Super

I celebrated Cinco de Mayo today by eating crappy Tex-Mex food and having giant-ass margarita. The funny part? It wasn't any worse than the "authentic" Mexican food I kept trying out on our recent trip to southern California. Apparently, you really do have to go to Mexico if you want the good stuff...or perhaps a certain Rick Bayless restaurant in Chicago.

But then, May 5th isn't much of a holiday in Mexico. September 16th is their big one (the equivalent of 4th of July in the USA, including gunfire and fireworks and drunken toasts), but for some reason it gets short shrift up here. Maybe the ex-pats don't feel all that patriotic? I don't U.S. ex-pats celebrate July 4th?

Well, whatever. Actually, despite the food it was a good time, though I had hoped to see The Avengers today. Unfortunately, there were scheduling conflicts due to naps and swimming lessons. Perhaps tomorrow the wife and I will get to take in a matinee...the forecast is optimistic. And that's cool, 'cause I've been in a superhero state of mind lately.

I should probably save any superhero discussion till after I've seen the movie, of course. If it turns out disappointing, I'll probably junk the whole thing and go back to crafting my war game (in between proofing CDF and brow-beating my artists for TCBXA project). There's no use getting all hyped up before the inspiration hits. I avoided that pitfall with the most recent Mission Impossible film (prior to seeing it, I was already starting to edge back into the ol' Top Secret waters; afterwards I was, like, meh).

But, hey...what else am I going to post? I've got an eight-page, meandering diatribe that I'll need to post in chunks but which doesn't really seem to have a point, and I've got a short essay full of glowing remarks about my play-test from two weeks ago. Yeah, I've been slack in the blogging arena...I've been on vacation, yo. Plus I've been in immense pain for awhile (the back is better, but I sprained my left wrist a couple days ago and I can't do shit with it...ugh!).

All right, all right...I'll keep this short. Here are just a few of my thoughts on the whole superhero genre:
  • It's hard to define any type of supers (i.e. people with superhero powers) without referencing comic books and the usual hero vs. villain/alien menace/crook mentality. And I mean, it's tough regardless of the medium, whether film (see Jumpers) or RPGs (look at Aberrant). So far, I don't think anyone's been successful except when sticking to the traditional "caped crusader" concept.
  • And yet, caped crusaders seem incredibly dated...have seemed incredibly dated...for some time as, I think, Alan Moore's Watchman series shows. I know a lot of gamers who say they're just not into the superhero genre, period. Sometimes, it seems like the successful films are only making money based on 1) special effects, 2) nostalgia, 3) kids. None of these are really going to help sell a NEW supers RPG aimed at a mature audience.
  • Which is so damn frustrating to ME because isn't the supers genre kind of the epitome of the role-playing ideal? I mean, to have "super powers" in "our modern world" is kind of the premise of the genre, right? Superman didn't live in ancient Atlantis; Spiderman doesn't reside in a city on Mars. And since fantasy role-playing allows folks to experience living a wildly different life (slaying dragons, casting spells, etc.) you'd think that a game of wish fulfillment like the supers genre is would have mass appeal. But it doesn't.
Not only is it frustrating, it's a bit strange. Maybe folks feel their RPG habit is "nerdy enough" without mixing in a comic book angle. Personally, I don't see how that can be more embarrassing than telling someone you pretend to be an elven whatever on the weekends, but that's just me. Is it just that the challenge is too repetitive? How many times must we fist-fight the new, weekly arch-villain before the genre gets old? Maybe that's the deal...I know that some of the criticism of the second Iron Man movie was the similarity of the villain (in motives and methods) to the one in the first movie.

Mmm...there's a lot of different things to say here, and really no guarantee that the discussion will bear any fruit (since, if I don't make or play a supers RPG, what's the point of bringing it up?). I'm going to shut-up for now, maybe do some dishes and throw on a DVD. Should I watch Iron Man or Captain America?


  1. Expat Americans do sometimes celebrate July 4th, but it's usually more subdued. In Japan I'd usually try to throw a parking lot barbecue around the 4th every year, but it didn't always work out. In Korea, I don't really do anything.

    I think the problem with Supers is that it is too close to "obvious" wish fulfillment. With fantasy or sci fi settings, we can plead simple escapism. With any sort of modern setting, it's harder to hide that, and a lot of gamers are not comfortable with that.

    Of course, comics often launch their heroes into alternate universes/timelines, outer space, whatever. It's not just beating down Doc Oc in Manhattan this week, and the Joker in Gotham next week. But as the dungeon crawl is to fantasy RPGs, so the villain beatdown is to supers RPGs.

  2. Off and on, I've played with the idea of a metahumans game that is similar in concept to Push, Jumper, Heroes, and such. It never goes anywhere, though, in part because I run into the "cool setting" problem - what do you do with it? Or, more importantly, how do you get the players on board? I mean, I could just create a sandbox, with a bunch of characters that interest me and strange situations that the players can get involved in, but I have to give the players a default action to take, and I have no idea what that would be. In a traditional superheroes game, they can "fight crime", which lets me involve them by having someone rob a bank or whatever. There's no such default in a metahumans game, though.

    However, the biggest problem with supers games is the problem of canon. There are two sorts of canon in supers games:

    1) Games based on existing settings. These are subject to the metaplot problem writ large. Things in the comic books can make what the GM wants to have happen obsolete, forcing the GM's campaign to diverge increasingly from the source material.

    2) Games based on original settings. These don't tend to attract most of the people who would be interested in a supers game. How many people who would play a supers game care about Dr. Destroyer? They'd rather be fighting against Dr. Doom.

  3. I’m going to need some examples of superheroes who aren’t caped crusaders to understand the distinction, I think.

  4. Have you checked out Mutant City Blues by Robin Laws?

  5. One of the hardest genres I've found to capture with a ruleset is supers. Probably nostalgia on my part but nothing quite matches marvel superheroes from back in the day. And my wife's bday is may 5th, so we always do a cinco de mayo bday!!

  6. Wow! Great feedback on something I kind of figured would be a "throwaway" post!

    @ Antonio:

    I own MCB and think it's great. I have NOT had a chance to play it yet. Part of me is intimidated by the idea of running a "police procedural;" it's really not my genre of choice (I don't watch shows like Law&Order or CSI), but mainly I don't really have the players clambering for it...if role-playing is a niche market and super hero role-playing is a niche-niche markey, superhero police procedural role-playing is a niche-niche-NICHE market, ya' know?

    @ Robert: case you're not being facetious (I have a hard time grokking sarcasm on these comments at times) something like the aforementioned "Heroes" TV show or films that show characters with what one might call traditional "superpowers" that don't take to donning a mask and fighting crime. Byrne's Next Men series perhaps?

    @ Lord Gwyd (re: uncomfortableness): Wow...that's a pretty interesting insight, do you really think it's true? I mean, I get it, I do...but how is it harder to admit that you want to play Captain America than it is to say, "I want to be Gandalf." Or is it just that they leave the proper noun out of it (e.g. "I want to be a wizard.") I mean, there was a record-setting number of folks who went to see the Avengers this weekend right? And people love to buy video-games based on comic book IP, yeah? I don't see how the hero genre can get more mainstream (and 'acceptable') than it is right now.

    @ Faol: I think what you're saying about the canon IS indeed a serious issue, and one I hadn't considered. It's something I find myself doing whenever I purchase a new superhero game (which I tend to do a lot of): I check to see if it can emulate MY favorite comic books. Can I make a character that is Green Lantern? Can I make a character that is Captain America? Can I do the Hulk with the rule system? Will it bridge the gap between Wild Cards and The Ultimates?

    I almost always toss any designer's original canon to the side when picking up one of these books (even Aberrant, which had a nice it of fluff...I kept trying to figure out how to work Marvel staples into Team Tomorrow). And yet I don't want to buy the "official" licensed products (in fact, I read through the most recent Marvel RPG and found it seriously deficient)...I DO want to do my own stuff, and (personally) I don't like where most of the comic book characters of my youth have diverged in the last 15 years or so while I've been NOT reading 'em. It's not just about's about the right canonical ERA (for me, being frozen somewhere circa 1990ish).

  7. OK. I see what you mean. I guess I tend to see those as “whiney caped crusaders”. They need to get over themselves and just embrace the cape. ^_^ Heroes, e.g., was equal parts enjoyable and annoying to me. And The Watchmen I didn’t really enjoy at all.

    I think caped crusaders aren’t so much dated as classic. Like The Avengers movie. It hits that same balance the original Spider-Man comics did. Not as saccharine as early caped crusaders, not too campy, and still willing to “suit up” (which they actually say a few times in the movie). But, I’m obviously biased.

    As for superhero RPGs, all I can say is that my group plays them and enjoys them. The old MSH game is in regular rotation. There’s been talk of playing the old DC Heroes system. And after playing V&V at the north texas con, I’d like to try running it someday. If superhero RPGs aren’t popular, I’m not sure that it is anything more than the way that every genre other than fantasy is standing in D&D’s shadow.

    1. Watchmen (there is no "The" in the title) is, I think, not in the same category. Think Jumper, Push, Chronicle, and such. Superpowers, but no costumes, and not all that much crime-fighting. Heck, Carrie and Firestarter could fit in the same category.

  8. I’m not convinced the canon issue is that big.

    For my group, we usually play in the Marvel universe, but it is a given that it is our Marvel universe. Canon is used as a resource when it is helpful and ignored when it isn’t. And really, isn’t that how the comic book authors themselves do things? They ignore canon. Then retcon. Or just declare a separate continuity or something. Not to mention that every TV or movie series establishes its own continuity. You can’t really be a comic fan if that kind of stuff bothers you too much.

    I also haven’t ever seen people not get into fighting whatever villains are presented. Whether a canon world or one of the GM’s own creation.

  9. @ Robert:

    Thanks for the counter-point. Good stuff.

    I should probably mention that AFTER writing this original post, I had the chance to talk to some folks down at Ye Old Game Shop and found people had similar thoughts on the matter.
    ; )