Monday, April 28, 2014

Spoiling the Child: DC Adventures

The wife and baby are sleeping at the moment, and my boy is at daycare. There's a lot of things I could (and probably should) be doing at the moment, but drinking some coffee and plugging a few words into the blog feels like the thing to do.

Despite the lack of recent posts, I've spent a lot of time mentally composing posts in my head (not that this is particularly useful to my readers...). Most of these have been on the subject of comic books, superheroes, and superhero RPGs. I really need to sit down and do a week or so of posts on the subject but, well, time is limited these days due to the kids.

Not really the baby, mind you. Having a second child is, in many ways, less a challenge than the first time around. My wife and I know what to expect and how to handle it. I'm more useful than I was before and the whole thing is a lot less I've gotten used to sleeping less than five hours a night over the last three years (a combination of 1st baby, beagles, time zone shifts, early morning jobs, and night owl wife). Yes, I spend a lot of time in "grump mode" but I can survive and function. No, Sofia's actually a bit of a snap at the moment. The real time constraint on my time is the attention I need to lavish on my first born (in addition to household chores). The refrain of "Papa, you play with me" is near constant in my waking hours.

Which isn't a terrible thing, by the way (soon enough it will be "Papa, leave me alone" I'm sure)...but it does use up any time I might have for writing. That's just the fact, friends.

On the other hand, my play with D has been a source of inspiration. One of the reasons my brain is stuck in superhero mode lately is my sharing in my son's obsession with super types. We dress up as, and pretend to be, superheroes, we play with superhero action figures (Fisher-Price has a great toy line for toddlers), we color superhero coloring books, and we read superhero comic books...when we can find ones that are child friendly (Batman '66 is good in this regard and has pretty cool/interesting stories, too).

In fact, it is due to my son that I have a newly acquired appreciation for DC comics and its characters.  I stopped being interested in most of the DC universe (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) sometime between the ages of eight and ten with a couple notable exceptions (Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters and the Wally West Flash of the 1990s). I just wasn't much interested in those classic Justice League types, tuning out about the same time Richard Prior starred opposite Christopher Reeves in Superman III. I watched Keaton's first Batman movie mainly because of Tim Burton (and the Prince soundtrack), and failed to catch the rest of the franchise, only picking it up again with the more recent Nolan trilogy. No, for almost all my comic book and movie franchise viewing pleasure, I've been saying "Make mine Marvel" since roughly 1984.

But now? I think I'd pick up an old school Barbara Gordon Batgirl comic over anything X-Men or mutant-esque at the moment. Scratch that: I'm absolutely certain I'd pony up the dough for the former over the latter. Part of this is that Diego loves Batgirl and has very little idea who Wolverine is (he's colored a picture or two)...but I truly mean that's only part of it.

Even Aquaman is pretty damn cool (and my son's second favorite superhero after Batman), and I don't mean the pony-tailed, one-handed warlord version. For what it's worth, my favorite depiction is probably the big-ego (if good-hearted) Aquaman found in the animation Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but Diego and I have (since Paraguay) logged a lot of time viewing old episodes of the 1960s Aquaman on YouTube, complete with "Aqua-Lad" and Tusky, their trusty (somewhat bungling) walrus mascot. Black Manta vies for top position in Favorite Villains of All Time, though he's got stiff competition with Gorilla Grodd.

[a super-intelligent, huge-ass gorilla with mind control powers? What's not to like?]

Good with a filet knife.
But, yeah, I've started to acquire a real appreciation for all those old "cheesy" DC characters: Robin, Hawkman, Supes and Bats, Wonder Woman (who's a little over-powered, if you ask me...), Aquaman, Red Tornado. It still bugs me that DC has uber-powerful characters like Flash and Green Lantern and then the classic bad guys are so weak (Captain Cold, Penguin, Cheetah, etc.). But for a child...and maybe it's because I'm looking at these dudes through the eyes of my child...these power discrepancies don't matter. Diego considers Riddler to be the baddest, toughest bad guy of the bunch "because he has bombs."

[though I believe he considers Gorilla Grodd to be the scariest]

And goons. A bad guy's entourage of goons is a big part of their prestige in my household.

ANYway, having immersed myself in DC supers for the last couple months, it was probably inevitable that I would pick up a copy of Green Ronin's DC Adventures Hero's Handbook, AKA Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition. I've had the chance the peruse it over the last three days or so ad I'm still having a hard time making sense of it. I mean...ugh. Maybe I'm just getting stupider in my old age, but I got lost right around when they started talking about conditions (even before constructing "power effects"). It seems like the game is part M&M, part "Champions Lite," and part Magic the Gathering (you know, the recent versions of the game where you need to know a bunch of specific jargon for card effects that have been created over eight or ten releases?). My guess is that game play would become relatively easy with practice (as one becomes used to the particular conditions and effects and how they interact) and that character construction (a better term than "character generation" for a process like this) is an art form in and of that can lend itself to abuse and one I don't have much interest in mastering at the moment.

BUT...for a rules crunchy supers game, IF I wanted to play such a thing, it would appear that DC Adventures is the book one would want to have. Much more than HERO System (i.e. Champions) or GURPS Supers or that old Mayfair Games DC Heroes with its logarithmic craziness, it captures much of the "soft reality" of superhero comics/programs that is missing from other meaty systems.

I just don't think I want to play a game that's quite so crunchy. Let me see if my mind changes over the next couple days/weeks as I continue to  digest the meatier bits, but right now the game is more interesting for the lovely artwork and concise information on the DC Universe (in-book character write-ups also include both Black Manta and Gorilla Grodd, though it leaves out both Riddler and the Penguin to my chagrin).

As an aside: I consider Heroes Unlimited and the original Marvel Superheroes RPG to fall into the category of "rules light" RPGs, in terms of both gameplay and chargen. A rulebook doesn't have to be a 30 page indie-publication to be "light." Just so folks understand what I mean when I say DC Adventures is anything but light.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sofia Jeanne, Born April 21st, 2014

Another healthy, happy (sometimes grumpy) baby in the world. This didn't take nearly as long to birth as my son (under seven hours compared to 40+) and thank goodness...leaves a lot of energy for giving attention to the first child.

Well, "a lot" may be stretching it. Hopefully "enough."

Anyway, I'm a tad busy at the moment (making breakfasts and whatnot); hope everyone has a good week. Oh...and happy Easter (belatedly).
: )

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sawed-Off Rifts

What month is it? April?

I won't bother going over everything that's been going on, save to say that preparing for a new baby (due sometime in the next week or so) takes up a lot of your time.

'Course, we've been enjoying ourselves, too. Being back in Seattle has been a wonderful and welcome change from Paraguay and we (the fam and I) have been soaking up as much of its delights as possible the last few weeks. We sure are going to miss it once we're back in lie. Yeah, best not to think of that right now...spoils the buzz.

Let's just jump in.

Sometimes, flawed execution means little to game design. If an idea is powerful enough to capture gamers' imagination in a particular way, shape, or form they'll cross hell-and-highwater to make it work...even if they can't (or won't) particularly put up a fight in defense of said system.

That's a very cool thing, by the way. A game like Rifts or Champions or Deadlands or Shadow Run or Vampire might be a turnoff to some snooty folks (like myself) due to a perceived lack or fault of design, but it doesn't stop people from buying and supporting those games. Heck, it often doesn't stop ME from purchasing these games...I picked up four new Palladium books lately (in the last couple weeks) even though I hate-hate-hate myself (at times) for doing so. I mean, I've got a bit of an Immortal Iron Fist fetish-thang going right now, and despite knowing how absolutely useless a book of "real world" martial arts would be for modeling the alien dimension fighting styles of IIF, I still picked up a copy of Ninjas & Superspies. And, yes, I was absolutely right: NSS is worthless for modeling Immortal Iron Fist (or even "real world" martial arts, if you want to get down to brass tacks).

But again, flawed execution doesn't necessarily matter when it comes to selling books. Just look at me: I picked up the two South America "world books" for Rifts (during Gary Games's retirement sale...the sadness of that transition deserves its own blog post), even though I have no intention of running a Rifts game in the near future and even though any Rifts game I might run is more likely to be in Russia or Wormwood rather than South America.

Today, I was down at The Dreaming comic book store in the University District (the 4th or 5th comic shop I've been in the last couple weeks, though for reasons other than Rifts) and I met a man who had driven a long way, girlfriend/wife in tow, looking for a copy of Rifts: Ultimate Edition specifically in order to update his upcoming campaign with the most recent cyber-knight rules. Dude was a large African-American man, about my age, who'd been playing Palladium since 1988 and made no bones about Palladium being his preferred system for gaming. That's the kind of dedication I just don't often see these days...outside D&D devotees, that is.

I spent a lot of time last week on the Palladium forums (mainly Heroes Unlimited) reading posts and threads and I just found the whole thing so terribly depressing. I mean, the type of posts were mainly how to reconcile the crazed or faulty mechanics, and most answers were just suggestions for patches and house rules that wouldn't even work except on a case-by-case just made me dizzy and a little nauseous. I'm not saying that to be funny or snarky...I mean, it made my head spin to read the same "how does one reconcile X or Y" type posts over what is so obviously a fucked-up game design. But it's one that has such a devoted following who loves it...why else would they keep coming back to a game that was so damn irritating? The guy at the comic book store was just one of the many hundreds loyal to a warty game, who are simply inspired by its ideas and want to adventure in its world...not because of but in spite of its warts.

Maybe my main problem as a designer is being unable to come up with an inspiring enough premise. Find the right button to push, and people will flock to your banner regardless.

Ugh...sorry, I actually have to cut this post short. Just got a call from my wife that one of the running beagles is on the run (again) and I need to go track her down. I'll try to come back to this subject later.

[just typing from Ye Old Baranoff]