September, huh? Guess it's time to throw some content up on Ye Old Blog.
While gaming in the time of Covid must certainly suck (I wouldn't know, since I have zero opportunity to game), school in the time of Covid sucks worse. Does it suck as much as this new Blogger interface that I am finding it tricky to decipher at the moment (WTF Blogger)? Yes, more...because it affects the entire household, not just the education and developmental years of our children's lives.
So, yeah, school started up for the kids last week, and I've been dealing with that since the end of August. Oh, and a few other things. But fortunately the fam had a chance to get away for a mini family vacation in the mountains (far away from Covid country) and THAT as much as anything is still keeping my batteries charged up the last couple weeks. Oh, and the return of sports on the TV. Everyone's happy when the Storm or the Sounders can take someone apart (as has become my custom the last few years, I have ignored the Mariners since they fell under .500 and will continue to do so until they can put together a respectable season), and hey football season started! I wear Seahawks merch all year round, but at least now I won't look like such a tool (or, rather, I'll have company with the rest of Seattle).
Mmm. None of that is really "content." Apologies.
Just because I haven't been blogging doesn't mean I haven't been reading (and listening to podcasts) from other folks. Thanks to all of you who have continued to entertain me...it helps keep me sane.
On my own front, well, as said, we've been pretty darn busy the last couple weeks
[ugh...just as an aside, I'm listening to my child's remote learning class in the next room. Is there anything more obnoxious than a 4th grade teacher that claims to love fantasy and cites Harry Potter as her favorite book series? Well, yes, there is...a 4th grade teacher who also touts her Nintendo Switch as her favorite game/toy. Gosh, I am a crusty old man...]
...but before things started heating up, the kids really REALLY wanted to play a superhero RPG. And not just any RPG but, specifically, Heroes Unlimited. Because, as everyone knows, Palladium has the greatest design for an RPG ever. I mean EV...ER. 😉
Actually, here's the deal: an inventory list that includes Real World equipment, especially FIREARMS with ILLUSTRATIONS is pure nectar of the gods to my children, especially the boy. The random character creation which allows one to create a Soviet agent with enough money to buy a Yugoslavian assault rifle (wow, dated) is more adolescent geekery than I can stand, but for my kids, it is FAN-fricking-tastic. Heck, what they wanted to start with was Ninjas & Superspies, but got overwhelmed with the extensive martial arts lists, and decided they'd prefer to make mutants and robot pilots and whatnot.
[no, my kids haven't gotten to that stage where they argue about which culture's kung fu is better. Maybe some day they'll get into the Hong Kong action theater, but right now Lego Ninjago is about the extent of their cinematic martial arts experience]
Anyway, I just decided to "roll with it;" that is, I figured I'd just run the game By The Book, rather than complain about the thing. But, as has happened before, things fell apart in the usual places: character creation and adventure creation. I know, right?
It's actually the latter issue that I wanted to write about. Character creation, despite being convoluted, is still relatively straightforward. And depending on the character type you rolled (or chose) it might even be fast, other than the skill selection process which is O So Awful (sorry, Kevin Siembieda...it is). For a guy who's owned, read, and played the game over three decades...well, it's still a laborious process (depending on the type of character being created), but it's doable. For newbies (like my kids) there's a lot of hand-holding required...unless you want to circumvent it with your own rules (which I did).
Adventure creation...or rather campaign creation...is another matter, though related. Basically, the problem is this: you can't prep anything until after you've got the characters created and the team established. Which may be a big "duh" from long time GMs of the supers genre but was a bit of an "ah ha" moment for Yours Truly.
See, I'll let you in on a not-so-secret secret of mine. I'm not a fan of "Session Zero;" quite the opposite, in fact. When I sit down to play a game, I want to play the game, not "prep" for the next game session. That is a big fat waste of my time. It's what makes D&D such a great go-to game: there's plenty of time to create dungeons, scenarios, adventures, etc. in one's free time (or read and familiarize yourself with a pre-written module), and then when come to the table you simply pull out something that matches the characters' general level. Even for campaign play, you can have multiple established adventures or scenarios ready to point a party towards...or let them choose amongst...based on their comfort level with various risk/reward factors ('No, we don't feel like tackling the Necropolis of the Dead, seeing as how the party cleric got eaten in our last session.'). Hell, even if the party takes a left turn from where you expected an adventure to go, it's fairly easy to come up with something "on the fly" just using random tables.
But that doesn't fly with the supers genre. Unless you're playing a pre-written scenario that includes pre-generated PCs (for example, any of the old TSR adventure modules for Marvel) there's no way to come prepared to the session until AFTER the characters have been created. Starting a basic D&D game? You show up with adventures suitable for 1st level characters (and then let the players put them together in 5-10 minutes). But with supers characters the range of divergent power levels is so wide that you can't do that. You can't prep for a street level Daredevil style game when players are creating Thor-level characters...and vice versa.
Likewise, there's no way for a GM to set-up a campaign until AFTER you see what the characters are you're dealing with. Diego's robot pilot ("Red One") is a Soviet special forces soldier driving a prototype power vehicle with the explicit sanction and blessing of the military institution that developed it. Sofia's tech-savvy inventor is British secret service. While this in itself can be an interesting dilemma to resolve, given an 80's Cold War setting, how the heck am I supposed to have an adventure prepped for that prior to play? Or, rather, how do I prep for the possibility that these are the characters that will be generated at the beginning of the game session?
Oh, yes, yes...I understand that one could say at the outset: "Hey, everyone: your team of superheroes is a special task force put together by the American government to deal with alien invaders" (for instance) "so make sure you create a superhero to match." But, again, what if someone rolls up the equivalent of a masked vigilante while another gets the equivalent of Superman? Point buy? Okay, that's just conceding (again) that the entire first session is going to be spent in character creation as people hammer out concepts and figure where and how to spend points in order to build some sort of coherent, consistent team.
And if you're going to do that, you might as well let the players use their own imagination (rather than set parameters) and prep your adventure based on what they come up with.
This is, in the end, my point: you need a Session Zero (i.e. a game session where no part of the regular game "play" happens) if you're going to run a campaign of any longterm value in the supers genre. You need to establish origins and relationships and how characters complement (or don't) each other and what the power level is going to be. Regardless of the planned scenario (or "story arc") for the campaign.
At least if you plan on running a game that allows for a wide range of different super characters with disparate power levels, i.e. something that emulates the superhero genre. Because in the genre, you DO have characters with divergent power levels: Thor and Iron Man with Hawkeye and Black Widow. Superman and Wonder Woman with Batman and Black Canary. Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach. Green Lantern and Green Arrow. Etc.
And I hate Session Zero. I just do. And I kind of hate pre-generated characters (at least, for this genre of game) because I do NOT want a game to be about how well the players can role-play a particular established piece of intellectual property. Don't give me your Tony Stark impression, pal.
Hmm...that's a lot of hate (probably grumpy due to, you know, everything going on in the world. Lot of smoke outside my window at the moment). But it explains why I've always had difficulty getting superhero campaigns off the ground, despite personally enjoying the idea of running such a game. And it explains why (for me) D&D is soooo much easier to run.
My next post should be on that particular topic.