Friday, August 14, 2015

(Super) Teen Angst

AKA "Sharpening the Axe" project. or, rather, adapting an old project in a new way. Been reading a lot of Age of Ravens lately...excellent stuff, especially his various "histories of [genre] RPG" series.  I can see why the blog was nominated for an (Ennie) award.

It was his History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs list that first drew me to his blog...not only is it hella' informative, but it gives a great, detailed account of "what has gone before." Because, face it: if you're going to write a PA RPG (as Cry Dark Future has kind of 'morphed into), it's a good thing to have an idea of what's already been done. You don't want to be reinventing the wheel if you don't have to, right? Likewise with Lowell's History of Superhero RPGs...and considering I've been working on two of those lately (and was contemplating a third) this latter list was even more pertinent to my most recent scribblings. Though it took me a couple-three days to get through the whole thing, the slog was definitely worth it.

However, neither of these lists was the impetus for the "new thang;" it was rather this old post from January 2010 about the mileage that can be gained from using a school setting for campaign framing. It's not a terribly original idea...people have been using Ars Magica to run Harry Potter (for example) since the latter gained popularity, and I seem to recall Children of the Atom having information on running Xavier's school for the original Marvel Superheroes RPG. No, it's not terribly original...but it's still a damn good idea. And Lowell does an excellent job listing the "pros" of using such a structure.

Teen Hijinx
Of course, there have been RPGs designed specifically for running school-situated games. I picked up a copy of The Tulip Academy's Society for Dangerous Gentlemen a couple years ago during a short jaunt up to Seattle. It's an interesting little game, utilizing a couple systems I've been working on myself (card based scenario construction/mechanics and "floating" GM responsibilities), but while the setting is neat, I found it a little too "wide open," and the system mechanics a tad under-developed. Also, I was a bit turned off by the "all boys" aspect of the setting and the game's male chauvinist flavor (can't there be dangerous girls at the Tulip Academy?), but that might just be my personal taste bias.

[hell, the style of artwork could easily suggest the game's concept is based in yaoi manga (a genre aimed at a female audience), or at least could be played in that way, rather than the more superficial shonen manga genre implied by the title. However, manga really isn't my bag, and I'm probably not the right guy to expound on the subject]

Also in the "already published" category is Michael Pondsmith's classic Teenagers from Outer Space. TFOS is a game I've been fascinated with since high school. God, I can still remember presenting the concept to my buddies in the school cafeteria, trying to get them interested and excited in it (I had been a fan of the cartoon Galaxy High, after all). Their disgust and condescension was unanimous: "Why the hell would I want to play a kid in high school? I AM in high school!" High school, I suppose was traumatic (or "dramatic") enough that no one was interested in doubling-down on the experience...even in a light-hearted or satirical manner.

I never did end up buying TFOS, nor playing it. I suppose I'm a weird duck, but I was probably more interested in the fantasy/escapist aspect of the idea than the "high school drama" aspect. Who wouldn't want to inject a more fantastical elements into the humdrum of school life (assuming your school life IS humdrum). Isn't that (at least part of) the appeal of things like the X-Men or Harry Potter? Wouldn't you rather have classes like Monster Zoology or do P.E. in the Danger Room? Adults tell teens they can change the world, but isn't it cool daydreaming of saving the world in a very cut-and-dry, blast-the-bad-guys kind of way?

And hasn't every teenager had an incident where they'd wished for the power of invisibility?

Well whatever...I'm not a high school adolescent anymore, but I'm strongly considering delving back into that world. Or rather, revamping my revamped revamp (of my original supers concept) to stuff it in a school setting, with young folks learning the super trade.

[just for those folks keeping score: #1 started as a B/X supers game; #2 rewritten as a card-based (DMI) supers system; #3 updated to a card only system with a specific emphasis on super-teams (a la The Avengers, etc.); #4 re-conceptualized the game as a "teenage super school," using same system as #3]

Good sourcebook
To this end, I picked up a (PDF) copy of Green Ronin's Hero High (nice, quality supplement) and spent a bunch of time reading it cover-to-cover. Likewise spent some time brushing up on young super teams (the New Mutants, Teen Titans, etc.). And oh, yeah...have also been watching a bunch of films with school-super themes like Sky High (pretty good) and Zoom (pretty terrible).

Disney's Sky High is actually a pretty good model for my idea (a school devoted to supers), though the setting is a bit more serious (think Astro City)...leave out the separate "sidekick" track, for example. It's a tricky balancing act (the ridiculous with the serious) an alternate world where supers exist, they require a standard, accepted curriculum because it's simply accepted as inevitable that they'll be needed to save the world (or some such) at some point in their lives. In many ways, my idea is really closer to J.K. Rowling's world of mages and muggles than Xavier's school for mutants, complete with the possibility that some alumni are going to end up using their powers for evil (i.e. becoming super villains).

Will I need rival high schools and dimensional wormholes dropping Pacific Rim-style monsters into Manhattan? Maybe...I kind of want to keep the game low on the "blue" (weirdness) scale (see Wild Talents). I don't want the school populated by Asgardians, Kryptonians, and sorcerer supremes...just gifted individuals learning to use their powers. But working up the setting specifics of the game is actually the minor hurdle in the design/writing process (getting the "feel" right). I'm a bit more concerned wtih reworking the attributes and game mechanics for a teen-centric game (since these kids probably aren't going to have "secret strongholds" and "super vehicles," at least not to start).

But the roughest part is the actual high school drama / teen angst shtick. It's just been so long since I've given a rip about the kind of things that matter to kids, I really pale at the thought of trying to write for the genre. Crushes and cliques and grades and esteem issues, etc. Ugh. It's one thing to poke fun of it (as, say, TFOS does), but to do it in a serious fashion? On top of the ridiculous tropes of the superhero genre? That's a tall order for a guy a quarter century removed from his time in "high school hell." Aside from which, teens have a whole new bag of drama these days (like being outed as internet porn stars and shit...Jesus).

Maybe such a concept is a little too ambitious.

Oh, well. That's what I'm working on right now.

[just BTW: it's taken me three days to finish writing this post because I've been moving my family in and out o hotels while we deal with yet another house issue. Sorry if it seems more disjointed than usual]


  1. Hero High is a great book and I had just posted something about a Magic School idea this week. This is one of the books I go to.

    "Sky High" is rather kids loved it when they were little.

  2. " Aside from which, teens have a whole new bag of drama these days (like being outed as internet porn stars and shit...Jesus)."

    Maybe not so new; there was a mid 80s movie (Angel) about a girl who went to a Hollywood prep school but paid for it by working as a prostitute at night.

    1. @ Anthony:

      Yeah, I remember that one one the shelf of Ye Old Video Store. Always confused it with the cover of Never Too Young To Die (the chick looks like John Stamos).

    2. Wow. I didn't know there was another movie that had Gene Simmons in it (other than "Trick or Treat" and "Runaway."

    3. Oh, yeah: don't forget Wanted Dead or Alive with Rutger Hauer.
      ; )