Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Team Building

"Snowmageddon" appears to be winding down here in Seattle (at least in my neighborhood) and I've already been informed the schools will be open at the regular time tomorrow.

In the meantime, though, it's still All Day Kid Play at my house. Which mean (fun as that is), writing time is scarce. I'm stealing a few minutes right now while they eat soup and watch Johnny Quest.

[really need to get around to writing my thoughts on JQ one of these days. Add that to "the list"]

Once again I'm thinking about Heroes Unlimited (the original edition) and how I might adapt/repurpose the thing to my own tastes. Part of this has to do with being snowbound with the kids...been watching shows like 3 Below and Carmen SanDiego and getting a bit inspired (though the latter also makes me want to dig out Top Secret, I watched the former first, and it's definitely put me in an HU state of mind). Part of it is seeing trailers for things like Shazam and Captain Marvel. Part of it is the kids themselves: my boy keeps asking me "Why don't you design a superhero game we can play?"


And part of it is seeing other designers tackle superhero gaming. Ron Edwards has been doing his own "retro" stuff lately as he tinkers with early edition Champions (his equivalent of my B/X fixation), trying to incorporate his decades of experience with gaming, comics, and theory-bashing. This recent post of Edwards, Venn diagramming various super groups really got the gears in my head spinning, especially as I was already considering certain CDF mechanics would fit far better in a hero-type game than in a fantasy cyberpunk RPG.

What mechanics you ask? Well, individual rewards (tied to advancement) that provide players with the choice to either A) increase their own effectiveness, or B) improve the team's abilities. It's a holdover from when I was re-writing CDF as a post-apocalyptic "tribe building" game (yes, I know that probably sounds a little didn't really work and is one of the reasons the thing was back-burnered so long, as well as one of the reasons I went back to its original design concept).

But while building one's tribe/family doesn't really work in a game about shadowy mercenaries doing dirty jobs in the grim-dark future, it's not a bad idea for a game that centers around the superhero team.

Here's the thing: if we look at D&D as a "successful" concept in tabletop RPGs, we can see that at least part of its appeal is how it draws the party together in cooperation for a common objective. And the way it does this is pretty darn simple: while there is "strength in numbers" (to spread the attrition around), the limitations of each individual class (or, in the positive, the powers and capabilities of each class) provides an incentive to work together to solve the conflicts and problems being thrown at the PCs in their quest for treasure. Mechanically, they're semi-forced to get along with each other, because survival...and success...becomes much more difficult without cooperation.

This concept isn't as effective, or compelling, in the superhero genre. Supers tend to be fairly capable individuals, able to handle whole swaths of mooks and villains on their own, only being held back by individual flaws (the elderly aunt or significant other that needs to protected, the power limitation against kryptonite or the color yellow, or whatever)...flaws that, more often than not, completely eliminate the character's effectiveness or ability to affect the in-game fiction in an effective fashion.

But for a team of heroes, such flaws rarely come up, because it would tend to throw one hero under the bus while her teammates heroically soldier on. Instead, the tendency is to simply throw one Giant Big Bad Threat at the team that requires the full might of the team to overcome: an Uber-Villain or a Villain Team (one foe for each hero!) or a Humongous Natural Disaster. Which, for me, gets old after a while.

Which is one of the reasons I keep looking at 1st edition HU. I like the idea of reducing the effectiveness of the PCs from the get-go, in part to give them MORE reason to rely on each other, and in part to open up a larger gambit of threats and challenges. But rather than simply allowing weak-ass beginning characters to "level up" over time, growing in power and effectiveness into Justice Leaguers, I'd like to see a way for characters to become more effective as a team over time...becoming more effective for their greater cooperation and ability to work together...becoming stronger as they develop stronger relationships within the group dynamic of the hero team.

This might be a little different from the approach of other "hero team" concepts. At least, it seems different to me; I don't usually see newly-formed teams stepping on each other's toes or having trouble coordinating their efforts in the field (their interpersonal relationships are, perhaps, another matter). Maybe you have a sidekick screwing up his mentor's activities (a way of giving the mentor additional challenge and providing the apprentice with a "teaching moment"), but in a "group of equals" it's rare that there's any significant time spent "team building" with the exception of young student types (the early X-Men, New Mutants, etc.).

Thing is, I don't want to run "hero school" for teenagers. I want a variety of different power types (hi-tech wonders, chemical spill mutations, aliens, etc.) brought together in the typical (for comics) paramilitary fashion (i.e. as an elite, supers-fighting task force) but without any kind of formal training...because there's nothing "formal" or "traditional" when it comes to supers of various different powers. Each super is unique; each group will need to find their own method of working together. Each team will have their own group dynamics born of differing personalities (often determined by how an individual hero reacts to the presence and effect of her own power set). Any "training" they receive is going to have to be "on the job;" I don't want any kind of alien tech created Danger Room.

[as an aside: has the Danger Room ever appeared in any of the various X-Man movies? I remember Cerebro being in the earlier films, but I stopped watching them a few years back]

Anyhoo...that's what I'm thinking about today. While I wait for the snow to finish melting.


  1. Wasn't there a brief Danger Room scene where they fought Sentinels at the beginning of X3?

    I tried a "settlement building" subgame in a Mutant Future campaign, but the game fizzled before we got into it enough. I like the idea of increasing group effectiveness mechanically but I'm not sure of a really good way to implement it.

    1. @ Dennis:

      It's a tricky subject. Might even be a "unicorn" with regard to typical fantasy adventure play.

      Just by the way: been rereading old GW posts lately, including yours. Man, you've got a lot of material! Sorry your game fizzled out.

    2. Some day, when the kids are grown and my wife has a hobby to take up her time, I may finally get to run an awesome GW campaign. For now, though, my DMing time is devoted elsewhere!

      Glad you're finding useful stuff in my old posts.