Sunday, January 16, 2011

Strength Doctrines

Wow...I need to re-read these old blog posts more often. There are a more than a few gems lodged in the archives! I was composing (in my mind) an essay on the when I found half of what I planned on saying waaay back in this post on a similar subject.

The Doctrines of Strength is a set of rules (like those of Sun Tzu) for the forces of Nurgle in the WH40K game, derived from the Strengthfinder philosophy of Tom Rath. Unfortunately, my actual essays on the subject were scattered to the astral (or internet) winds when shut down their forums, but the Doctrines were based on three pillars distilled from a "Strengths" seminar I was required to attend at work:

1) We only become more of what we already are.
2) We make our biggest advancements in areas of our strength.
3) Um...something else I can't remember right now.

Actually, I'm probably screwing up #2 in my needs to be broken down into two distinct tenets:

a) building upon strength is easier.
b) building upon strength pays better dividends.

Now as I said in my previous post, I don't think the strength theory is particularly apt for daily life...I'm more of the "DaVinci" school of thought that people should be well-rounded in their training and education rather than focused only on their strengths. After all, LIFE is not just about winning (well, for some people it might be, but they might not be the nicest folks you'll meet). In many ways, trying to do so is the equivalent of min-maxing.

On the other hand, in playing a game in which WINNING is the objective...such as WH40K or football...the Doctrines of Strength can reap rewards. Yeah, you're one-sided...but so long as you keep the game focused in YOUR arena of expertise, you can blow up your opponent before they exploit your weakness. In effect, you're changing the strategy from "how do I manage the field with the pieces at my disposal" to "how do I manage my opponent so that I can force him to play my game." It's not effortless, but it is proactive instead of reactive...which I prefer anyway.

[by the way, as I write this, the Bears are up on the Seahawks at halftime. They will need to come back...much as Pittsburgh order for my fevered ravings to prove accurate. Hey, I was right about Green Bay! Hopefully, they'll find their own strength in the locker room. Go Seahawks!]

ANYway...y'all are probably wondering what this has to do with RPGs. Well, it can apply to game design, especially in helping to focus the designer. Not only does it keep the designer on task (not worrying about systems and mechanics that don't contribute to the overall game coherence), but it dials in attention on the components that are cool/innovative and building on them.

In discussing Heroes Unlimited, a lot of its coolness gets lost in its ugliness. Yes, HU is ugly, and loses its focus...or rather, never properly places its quest to highlight its author's diatribe.

On second thought, "diatribe" is definitely too strong a word. And while Siembieda's discussions on how HU is a "thinking man's game" ( opposed to...?) don't even appear too much in the main HU rulebook, it is the conspicuous lack of instruction on how to make best use of the rules that makes any such wasted space more irritating. You won't find anything like "Campaign Info an Ideas," or "Adventure Creation" in the Heroes Unlimited rule book. Such sections can be found in the Heroes Unlimited GM's Guide...but last time I checked there was no mention this was a required volume for playing the game.

But I don't want to talk about HU's failings...I want to talk about its strengths.

- granular superhero action from street level all the way up to Bronze Age Thor with minimal effort (i.e. Champions or GURPS could do it with hours of prep, sure...I don't want to do that work; not my idea of "fun").
- in-game experience having a measurable impact on character effectiveness without affecting the actual power level of super characters.
- emphasis, not on combat, but on performing heroic activities (linked to reward system, i.e. influencing character behavior).

[ugh...the game just ended and the Seahawks are out of the playoffs. A key injury to our tight end unhinged the offense in the first half, along with the mysterious disappearance of Marshawn Lynch. He must have pulled a hamstring doing all those expo spots on ESPN this week...]

- a fearless approach to superhero archetypes including distinct mechanics for handling physical superpowers versus psionics versus magical abilities versus robotics versus special training.
- and, of course, the three-tier strength system that, with minimal tweaking, can model most anything in the comics or live action film (television cartoon? no...go get Cartoon Action Hour if you want the Superfriends or something).
- a combat system that actually feels a bit like the slow-motion, frame-by-frame of the comic action sequence.

I can't help but think that if these things were EMPHASIZED by the writer(s)...and then if there were some real guidelines written for running the damn game...Heroes Unlimited might get a little more love from the RPG community.

But what am I saying...I'm not even running it, and I like the game!

I'm going to have to review Palladium's policy regarding "derivative works" and the internet again. I think I'd be more likely to run and play HU with a little (self-imposed) organization and stream-lining of the game...but it seems a bit of a waste to do so only for myself.
; )

[or maybe I'll just watch that the Seahawks are out of the play-offs, I find I am rooting for the Patriots to NOT lose to the Jets. Not because I'm a New England fan or anything, but because I don't want the Steelers going back to the Super Bowl; sorry, New York]

***EDIT: And yet, at halftime, the Jets are up 14 to 3 on the Patriots, surprising them just as my fever dreams predicted. If this keeps up, my Steelers Super Bowl prediction will hold, but I really don't know who they'll be playing from the NFC. Whose defense is better between the Bears and Green Bay? Probably the Bears...but it's pretty close. And Rogers is much better than Cutler. But the Bears have home field advantage, a coaching staff containing four NFL head coaches, and an offensive line that should be able to give a balanced game for Chicago. Even though Green Bay will be fairly well rested after blowing up the Falcons, I think I still give advantage Bears. ***


  1. I have recently just arrived home from the game and I do hope the injured Seahawks are ok. From my standpoint it was a great game and I cannot wait for the Packers to arrive next week!

    Congrats to Seattle and their fans for two good games, St. Louis and Saints!

  2. @ Rhonin: Thanks, man. At least we're still 5-0 in our last five home playoff games...New England can't even say that after today (and while Seattle is probably proud of our success this year, I can't help but think Pats fans must consider this season a "failure" for their team!).

  3. JB

    I have to agree with you, a few personnel additions and I think Seattle will be a force to reckon with in the NFC West, the Pats and Colts have become those teams that everyone guns for and their fans expect no less the conference championships every year!