Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Legendary Might (Part 1 of 2)

All right, all right…after an inward struggle of whether or not to do this, I’ve decided I would provide my readers with a copy of theone-page micro-game of Legendary Might, my new supers game (currently being tested) which makes use of my DMI (Deal Me In) game engine.

Or perhaps I should write Legendary Might™ and Deal Me In™ instead.

That’s the only real debate I had: not “does the system work?” or “will people like it?” but do I distribute, for FREE, my awesome awesome game system prior to selling it in a published (copyrighted) form for cash-money? However, leaving aside the fact that even a free publication still has a “copyright” associated with it, I’ve come to a couple-three conclusions:

1) There are a lot of pros to freely distributing something in this “bare bones” format, including free publicity and possible feedback from play-testers.
2) The game (and DMI system) still has a few bugs and tweaks to be worked out, so a full-on copy of the game would still generate some interested buyers (if there’s any interest at all) and the micro- might actually drum up some interest.
3) Games were made to be played, not kept in a dusty closet.
4) Stop being so f’ing paranoid already!

Anyway, people could already have “engineered” similar systems using the original (even BARER bones) version of DMI using the one-page micro- for Out of Time. Heck, maybe I should make MDR available, too.

So here’s the skinny: I had the chance to play-testLegendary Might (hereafter abbreviated LMZ…no, the Z doesn’t stand for anything, I just prefer a three-letter abbreviation) last Thursday at Gary’sGames in Greenwood. The three players (Greg, Kayce, and Will) seemed to have a good time with the game and (with a few tweaks from the prior week) were able to get through chargen and rules orientation, as well as accomplish some stuff(i.e. “beat up some bad guys”)…which is more than I got through in the prior week's game.

Yes, the players appeared to have fun and the game “worked”– that is, it appears to do all the things you’d expect a supers RPG to do –but for me (full disclosure time) I was dissatisfied. Not terribly, but dissatisfied nonetheless. And the reason for the dissatisfaction was that “justworking” isn’t good enough for me anymore. Most folks can work up some simple rules for an RPG (see Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, AKA “the most boring RPG ever written”)…but can they make it compelling?

I want my games to be f’ing compelling. I want people to be salivating at the mouth to play it again. Hell, forget other people; I want to be the one slavering to play the damn thing. And I just wasn’t “feelingit” at the end of the evening, despite a lot of good things happening in the session.

[full disclosure #2: my lack of enthusiasm might have been caused by several consecutive nights of less than 4 hours sleep, coupled with a long work day and a copious amount of alcohol]

But allow me to digress for a moment: it’s been several days since the play session, and I’ve had a chance to mull things over (not to mention catch up on my sleep) and I’ve come to a couple thoughts/theories.

Anyone remember a guy named Yellowjacket?

Henry “Hank” Pym is a Marvel superhero, one of the original founders of the Avengers super team (along with Iron Man, Thor, Hulk,and Pym’s wife, The Wasp). Like Iron Man, Pym is an inventor, though his specialties are more genetic engineering and electronics. His powers are derived from his inventions, including chemicals that allow for size shifting(growth and shrinking), and his specialization in insect research. He first came on the scene as Ant Man (having the ability to shrink and communicate with Ants using a cybernetic helmet), but then took on the persona of Giant Man(whose ability to grow big and strong was more about Pym’sinsecurities…comparing himself unfavorably to the likes of Thor and CaptainAmerica…then about the team needing yet another “strong man” type member).After, leaving and rejoining the group a couple times, Pym settled in his persona of “Yellowjacket,” whose only noteworthy abilities seem to be zapping opponents with a bio-electric sting, and being kind of a douche.

My first introduction to the Avengers as a child included Pym as Yellowjacket, and as a kid I thought he was pretty cool. I mean, he had a neat looking costume and he zapped people and he seemed kind of smart and,well, I don’t know he was just INTERESTING to me. Iron Man had kind of a tepid personality (in the Avengers comics), whereas Captain America was always so“goody two-shoes” (not to mention lacking real “superpowers”) and the Wasp…comeon, she shrinks? That’s just lame. Thor always had that stupid Winged hat and I just didn’t relate much to a “thunder god” at the time. Wonder Man was a coward. Tigra seemed worthless (a female replacement of the Beast who was also kind of a throwaway). Hawkeye was cool at first, but he came later (and lost his luster pretty quick).

I don’t know what it was, but I liked Yellowjacket. A lot!

But then as a (young) adult who had the opportunity to read the collected serials of my friends rather than a few scattered issues(not to mention the depth and breadth of history and information available to players of the Marvel Superheroes RPG…these days you can find info on the internet and Wikipedia, but back then RPGs were HUGE resources) I learned what a weenie Yellowjacket really was. Not just with regard to his personality: whiny , insecure, abusive, passive-aggressive, etc. No, as a SUPERHERO he’spretty lame. Tony Stark and even Hank McCoy (“the Beast”) are smarter/better inventors, he’s the weakest fighter of the group (with the possible exception of the Wasp), his size control is limited, unstable, and/or unavailable at any given point, and the extent of his insect control is pretty weak, too. He can’tfly, has no armor/forcefield, no super strength or agility; he seems clumsy and ineffectual in comparison to the other members of the Avengers. No wonder he has issues of inadequacy!

[his MSH stats are also pretty weak: his FASERIP scores are something like 60 total for physical/health and 50 or so for karma. That is totally weak sauce for any Marvel icon]

And then he does dumb-dumb, douchebag stuff: inventing Ultron (who becomes a crazy, indestructible super-villain) might be excusable,but then he puts together a robot menace to attack the Avengers so he can “saveeveryone” and redeem himself…and of course it backfires. What a dumb-dumb.

And it’s obvious that the rest of the universe has a degree of disdain (or apathy) for a character who should be an iconic member of the Marvel stratosphere. Pym’s the guy who gets left out of most (all?)Marvel-based video games, unless he’s showing up as some sort of NPC info-source; I don’t recall ever seeing Yellowjacket as a “playable character”in a video game format…he’d get his ass kicked even by “low-powered” characters like Daredevil. Hell, Misty Knight would probably bitch-slap him…and this is a founding Avenger!

However, having said all that, let me just say that these days I’ve come nearly full circle. No, if given a choice of Marvel characters to play I probably would NOT choose Yellowjacket. But once again I find the character to be both cool and compelling. I find myself looking up old Avengers comics I remember from my childhood, in part because I find Hank Pym to be such a fascinating character. I thought the“updated” version of Pym in the first couple ULTIMATES books was both interesting and dead-on in their presentation: self-serving and insecure, while wanting so desperately to be something more than he is. I mean, not everyonehas the abilities of Captain America or Thor and THAT’S OKAY. We all have our part to play in the real world…we’re all granted certain gifts to be used in this lifetime, and the more important question is HOW you use those gifts, notWHAT gifts you have. Fictional Hank Pym is someone who needs to learn that…andas with most REAL WORLD people, he has a hard time figuring it out. The Ultimates adapted long-running character arcs from the70s and 80s into a handful of issues to drive the point home without stringing out the soap opera.

[as I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of those initial two Ultimates series]

ANYWAY…why do I bring up Yellowjacket and what does the character have to do with my superhero game? Especially considering it is titled Legendary Might and Yellowjacket is anything but “legendary” (unlessyou’re talking about a legendary asshole)? Well, when considering what might be missing from my RPG that would make it truly “compelling” I considered what, if anything, made comic books compelling. I mean, besides the premise (people of our own times with phenomenal abilities), and the beautiful artwork, what is it about the stories that made for compulsory reading?

Because when you take your average comic serial of the Silver or Bronze age with an unbiased eye, the product (story-wise) isn’t great shakes. Every couple issues you have a new costumed villain to beat up. Often the villain has some advantage that must be overcome by the hero’s courage or ingenuity, but in the end the hero generally triumphs and the comic world returns to an idealistic state…until the next issue arrives. If this is ALL we had, even with clever plots and creatively sinister villains, the shtick would get old after a few story lines, REGARDLESS of the neat powers a superhero might exhibit. And some comics DO get old after a few issues (some more, some less), feeling tedious and tired, regardless of the pretty pictures. The conclusion I came to (when mulling this over this weekend) is there’s only ONE thing that can consistently make a hero or serial compelling:

The human element.

And no, I am NOT referring to a character’s human frailty, flaws, and weaknesses (Ha! You thought I was going THERE didn’t you?After all that talk about Yellowjacket’s character flaws). No, whether or not Spiderman is broke, or Tony Stark is an alcoholic, or Yellow Jacket is, well,Yellowjacket…all of that is throwaway character color. I mean, a weakness of that type is an ASPECT of the character (like Superman’s vulnerability to kryptonite), but in and of itself it doesn’t make a character (or a story)COMPELLING. In a vacuum it may be interesting (or depressing) but so is a guy who shoots fire or grows claws…frailty by itself is not enough.

[to be continued]

1 comment:

  1. Yellowjacket was in an episode of the new Avengers cartoon. Giantman is an important character on that show and is one of my daughters favorites.