Saturday, August 10, 2019

Forget the Supers

At least, for right now.

Never did get to the play-test I wrote about in the last blog post. See, the plan was to run a modified-for-my-game version of Mall of Terror (Heroes Unlimited Revised), and then a real life maniac gunned down several dozen people in a Walmart. Yeah. Less than 24 hours before a shooter in Dayton, Ohio killed nine and wounded 14 in less than 30 seconds...about three melee rounds in B/X terms.

Hard to model that type of destruction in game terms. Hard to balance that with "super powers." Even if I wanted to. Which I don't have the stomach for, not at the moment.

But even if I did, such events merely serve to remind how insipid the whole superhero genre is, as far as "fantasy adventure" in a contemporary setting. You can tell structured stories (in media, for example) or you can use giant invasions of creatures (aliens, zombies, whatever) that are immune to conventional armaments as a source of constant conflict...but for a game the latter gets old pretty fast, and the former isn't suitable for the style/type of game I want to run.

Hero Worship
On a related note, as a means of burning off the ennui that was brought on by this chain of events/thoughts, I took the time to stream the entirety of the rather brilliant series The Boys last week (on Amazon Prime). Yes, I realize it's adapted from a comic series. Yes, I realize there are some substantial changes from the original medium. It's still brilliant, and I like the changes that were made for the new medium. It's probably the best series of "godlike" (Avengers/JLA) supers ever written...clever, touching, funny, and (at times) even surprising, which isn't a word I'd usually when talking about the genre.

It's also incredibly cynical (though, as I understand it, not nearly as much as the original comics were created by a guy rumored to absolutely hate superheroes as a genre). Which is fine. I dig on cynical super movies: I've owned The Watchmen since before it was produced as a film, and I enjoyed both Super and The Mystery Men to watch them multiple times. But The Boys take things to an all new level. It's basically the world of White Wolf's Aberrant RPG, except that instead of having M-R nodes activated by a fallen space satellite, the world's superhumans have been created through an old Nazi chemical compound injected (clandestinely) into babies all over the country. If I wasn't so enamored with non-mutant heroes (like Iron Man or Green Arrow), it would make a great basis for ANY super-themed world setting. But then, you already have that in Aberrant (replace Project Utopia with Vought and Team Tomorrow with The Seven).
Caestus Pax...the Team Tomorrow
version of Homelander.

Yeah, the more I think about it, The Boys is really just a Hunters Hunted version of Aberrant.

Anyway. I'm going to be taking a break from the supers thing for a while. I like where the game is at (even thought up some new mechanics this morning that I need to implement), but I just don't feel like playing it right now. Instead, I need some real escape from reality. I'll be at the Dragonflight Convention next weekend, and I've already penciled out a schedule including ALL the B/X games at the con. I'm not going to run anything, just lose myself in fantasy bloodshed and mayhem.

Or maybe I'll cut out the bloodshed. Maybe I'll try playing some non-fightery types for a change...wizards sporting all utility spells, cowardly thieves, or pacifist clerics. Something with a different approach to treasure gathering. Maybe.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the break.


  1. The only really successful supers campaign I ever ran was a sandbox that took place in a post-apocalyptic world that the players woke up in. It was the only conceit I could come up with that wouldn't have ended up being an endless stream of "danger room"-esque scenarios with little player input or choice.

  2. The issue I have with superheroes is that they take so long to think up and write up that you don’t want to get them killed off and therefore they gather plot immunity.

    Have you seen a thoroughly-engineered Champions 5E super? It’s an incredible feat of mathematical architecture.

    The art form of comics is robust and enduring (even if DC and Marvel are on the verge of canceling their paper product). But the RPG version almost requires oversimplification to get it right.

    1. This is why I always have my old copy of V&V handy. It offers a quick and easy random super that can be generated in minutes. Conversion may be necessary, but it makes the character more immune to the whole "plot immunity" complex.

    2. @Scott:

      You're very much right. Thing is about the "robustness" of comic characters: the most "robust" ones have developed over decades of writing. The Batman as originally written bore little resemblance to the character as currently exists, for example. Neither did Superman (who had no inherent ability to fly, only "leap tall buildings in a single bound"). When we watch a supers film based on an established character - be it Spider-Man or whoever - we're looking at a character who's emotional make-up and extensive backstory has evolved over hundreds of issues. Even Captain Marvel (the newest one) appeared in many, many Avengers story-lines over the years (in which aspects of her character were developed) prior to her latest incarnation as a solo, headlining hero.

      The "plot immunity" thing isn't something I'm terribly worried about, as I'm not trying to emulate comics (or their other-media derivatives). And the best way to combat the extensive-build chargen-thing found in other supers games...whether you're talking Champions, Superworld, GURPS, to make the creation system completely build-less.

      Which is what my new system does.
      ; )

    3. JB, have you ever tried or read Icons?
      I'm not sure it's exactly your cup of tea, but for what it's worth, it is the only superhero rpg I have ever played that actually felt like a superhero rpg, rather than an rpg in which the characters were superheroes. (If that makes any sense) My main point of reference is Champions 4th and Hero 5th. I messed around with HU 2nd, V&V, some retroclone take off of FASERIP, and GURPS Supers for 3rd edition.

  3. The only superhero rpg I have experience with is Supers! I enjoyed the short games I played with my kids years ago but I don't have a lot to compare it with.

    Man, is "The Boys" brutal. It makes "The Watchmen" look like boy scouts. It's great. I've read part of the comic and I like really like what they've done with the series.

    I had planned on going to Dragonflight for the first time this year but it turns out I work this weekend. Dammit.

    1. Sorry to hear it Narmer. It's been a couple years since the last time I had a chance to go. I'm pretty excited.