Friday, August 7, 2015

Mutants Rule

Earlier this week (Monday? maybe) my son and I finished watching the last episode of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated series. Ye Old Netflix suggested another show we might like to watch: Wolverine and the X-Men animated series. As it is (like Avengers) rated TV7 and (also like The Avengers) lacks the "FV" ("fantasy violence" tag) I figured we could give it a shot. My son understands superheroes and cartoons are just fiction, after all.

Welp, we haven't been disappointed. The boy digs it (he now says the X-Men have been added to his favorite superhero teams which previously only included the Avengers and "the Superfriends"). He does continue to refer to it as "The Mutants" ('Papa, can we watch The Mutants while we eat lunch?') which would probably have been a more apt title, if (perhaps) not one with the same cache.

[though "cache" is a relative term...I see the name "Wolverine" in a title these days and I'm pretty immediately disinterested. I reached my saturation point with little, furry guy some years back]

Anyway, the show's not bad, if a bit disjointed and grabass, story-wise (compared to tight story arcs of The Avengers). At least the characters and plots are recognizable to Yours Truly. And in addition to be a good model for teamwork, there's a nice message of tolerating others and their differences which allows me to justify my child's exposure of the program.

And from a gaming perspective, it's starting to percolate some inspiration in my brain.

The "gamers ADD" thing is a tired subject for blog posting, but it's no revelation to long-time readers of this blog that "game designer ADD" is a much more serious that flitting from project to project is a sure recipe for not getting shit done. Now, if I was a big company with a staff of writers and designers, this wouldn't be an issue: I'd hand off ideas and concepts to staffers and just oversee the development of "products" [anyone see my recent post about "entering a new phase" as a publisher? This is a taste of the direction I'm ruminating on]. But at this point I'm not a "company;" and multiple inspirations are dangerous de-railings when it comes to completing projects.

It is what it is.

The part that's got me thinking is the whole post-apoc, (anti-)mutant war, sentinel-filled future those X-Men folks always seem bent on preventing. The idea of such a future was a good and interesting one when it first came out in the comics...taking the mutant analogy for the Civil Rights movement (and general history of prejudice and intolerance in this country) and ramping it up in combination with the themes one finds in the 1984 film The Terminator (dudes from the future traveling back in time to prevent a war with "the machines"). Actually, the Days of Future Past storyline predates Terminator (1981), but the later storyline involving Nimrod and Rachel Summers physically traveling back in time was in 1985 and feels a bit derivative (to me). ANYway...

That's a lot go giant robots.
In 1987, TSR published MX1: Nightmares of Futures Past for the Advanced Marvel Superheroes RPG. MX1 isn't really an adventure module; instead, it's an entire campaign setting placing PCs in the dystopian future where the machines (the sentinels) have taken over. Most of its 36 pages contains information on the world, the sentinels, equipment, antagonists, procedures for searches, and a sample internment camp, as well as special (new) rules regarding popularity and karma use in the setting. Only the last 4 or 5 pages contain adventure ideas and possible scenarios. It's really a toolbox to run your own guerrilla war against giant robots in a dystopian future setting. Later TSR offerings MX2 and MX3 were straight "adventure modules," but ones set in the same campaign setting.

MX1 is interesting and has lots of good, useful information but, in my opinion, doesn't do enough to tweak the original MSH rules for compatibility with the rather dark and gritty setting. For example, there's no changes in character creation to insure appropriateness (i.e. a tightly themed setting could easily devolve into an ordinary cosmic weirdness/kitchen sink game MSH is prone to do). Normally, "appropriateness" isn't an issue as MSH does a great job of modeling the exact same weirdness found in the Marvel universe circa the early to mid-80s...but MX1 would probably work best in a "standard" MSH campaign wherein a PC hero group makes a (temporary) foray into the future to save a blighted alternate timeline.

A more manageable take on the "mutant hunted apocalypse" was suggested by Dennis Laffey in his recent Gamma World/Marvel mash-up campaign that uses Mutant Future as its base system. Dennis has been busy of late with a new baby and his ongoing Chanbara project, so I'm not sure if the campaign is still up and running, but the idea of using the Gamma World system (or, rather, the BX version of the GW system) is a much better starting point for grim-dark future than superheroic, narrative re-writing, nobody-can-die system that is MSH. Still not a perfect fit for the original concept of the setting (the war machines of GW far outclass the mutations)...but then, Dennis isn't trying to do the original concept. His campaign's apocalypse is inspired by the concept, but the campaign world is a far more primitive one (I use the term in a good way), more akin to the easy savagery and general weirdness found in Thundarr the Barbarian.

B/X is a good choice for gritty...I wish Dennis would publish his house rules for the campaign. But it's not quite what I want. A civilization that's already fallen (the default setting for GW) is one that's more about heroic survival in the wilderness and building a new community/civilization. I want a heroic quest to SAVE the civilization BEFORE it falls. But I still want gritty. Hence the need for a new game.

See? This is why I'm a fan of multiple game systems rather than the proponent of the "one-size-fits-all" universal RPG. If I actually pursue this inspiration (and start writing up notes), it will be the THIRD superhero RPG I've started since May. Well, third for which I've done substantial was already a "work in progress." But all have different themes, settings, and styles of play. My street level game (heavily inspired by the Daredevil net series and my favorite Marvel small-timers) utilizes some narrative mechanics, explores a "closed system" (with a definitive endgame), and also attempts to run GM-less. My "hero team" game draws its inspiration from the Avengers, Justice League, etc., makes use of my updated DMI system (previously demo'd as Legendary Might), and focuses on cinematic supers action, as opposed to the comic book style and tropes.

But this would be something different. You're not harnessing your rage (a big theme in my low powered game) to "clean up the streets." You're not blowing up buildings in an attempt to save the Earth from alien empires and high-tech terrorist organizations bent on world domination. Instead, you're battling a World Gone Bad, in which humans have turned on each other (and continue to turn on each other) under the sight of their gigantic robot overlords. I kind of like the idea of different character classes (limited to, say, mutants, cyborgs, normals, and genetic experiments) with separate power suites and leveling to represent how experienced your resistance fighter is.

"I eat mutants like you for lunch."
On the other hand, how much mileage can you get out of fighting giant robots again and again and again? Would anyone be interested in playing a Terminator-style RPG fighting against the machines and "Skynet?" It feels more like a board game...or perhaps a video which there'd be an actual objective, "get-to-the-end" target to obtain. Wipe out the bad mecha, return to normalcy (or, at least, the possibility of rebuilding the world that was lost). Is that enough for an ongoing RPG?

Maybe not.

[see the game Bliss Stage for ideas of running an RPG that focuses on the relationships and mental stability of survivors fighting a war of resistance against hopeless odds in a post apoc future; similar mechanics could probably be adapted if you wanted a more character exploration-style version of this concept]

Anyway, I don't really have time to start another project, so the question is probably moot (though one I'll continue to mull over). Too many other things to work on, including the post-apoc revamp of Cry Dark Future (which will NOT be turned into a supers game, thank you very much). Then again, if I had the right collaborator....

More on this later. I've got to put the kid down for his nap.


  1. For the record - Stan Lee says in SON OF ORIGINS OF THE MARVEL HEROES (and sometimes Stan just made stuff up for that book) that his original title for the X-MEN was THE MUTANTS. He says that Martin Goodman, his publisher and brother-in-law dismissed the idea because nobody would know what that meant. Stan said that the comic would show them but Goodman wasn't sold.

    1. @ PapaJoe:

      Huh...I wonder what he thought people would get from "X-Men."