Friday, April 30, 2021


Consolidating some thoughts.

It was either Bill Willingham or Steve Marsh (recent interviews from the Grogtalk folks) who said something along the lines of: if you've been playing D&D for 30+ years and haven't changed the rules to reflect your own play style, then you're doing it wrong

Regardless of who said it (or how), the sentiment behind it has been fluttering around my mind for much of the last month...a sentiment that plenty of other folks have expressed over the years, on their blogs and elsewhere. Previously, it was not a sentiment that I bought into (much). Oh, sure, changes and house rules were fairly inevitable with a game as hodge-podge as D&D is, but I figured you should always strive to follow the rules as best you could...doing otherwise can lead to unforeseen problems and consequences. Tinkering solely for the sake of tinkering (as opposed to patching flaws of design) has been, for most of my gaming life, anathema. Better to just write your own game than say "yeah, I play my own version of Game X." Better, I've felt, to just say I play Game X, but it has these setting specific adjustments...when we're not in the setting, we play the game straight.


Problem is, this is just willful arrogance on my part. It's just me wanting to hold myself above others, judge them, deride their efforts. Or maybe not...I'm not a complete jerk (only a part-time one). Even so, there's a certain snobbishness I've been able to retain by living this fantasy of "(mostly) by the book" play. It's like I have a fear of losing my "credibility" should I go down the road of willy-nilly rules screwery.

[like when I was rewrote the OD&D books last year...all I did was reformat them in a useable form; my own "campaign house rules" (never finished) were to be in a separate document]

It's all absolutely ridiculous anyway. The only game I ever truly played "straight" was B/X...and look at all the additional rules I wrote to supplement that edition over the years!

Over the last 15 months, I've gone from B/X to OD&D to AD&D, shepherding my kids (and the occasional kid friend or two) through it all. I've written up and destroyed and rewritten multiple worlds and settings; I've run both my own adventures and those designed by others. Dice have been rolled, treasure found (and spent), spells cast, henchmen hired, characters killed. 

D&D y'all. Glorious D&D. The Great Game.

I'm tired of adhering to rules written by other people. I Am Tired Of It. I am tired of being dissatisfied with one section or other of a given edition and feeling that I need to make a Serious Effort to run it the way it was meant to be run. Why? Just to say that I can?

[spoiler: I can]

Nope. Time to end the charade. 

Okay. Nap time (again).

Rome: she is a-burning.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

What Matters

Can D&D save your soul?

Don't actually try to answer's more rhetorical in a Don McLean (American Pie, '...can music save your mortal soul?') kind o way. Looking back over my earliest blog posts from 2009, I see that I still struggle with the same issues regarding my life in gaming as I ever have. 

Regardless of whether or not D&D (or roleplaying in general) has any ability to "save," it has certainly been a large, indispensable part of my life. It would probably conflict me less if its study and practice were more widely accepted as "useful" by mainstream society. But it ain't. And even the gaming thing's popularity of the moment still seems...well, only momentary to me. I might feel differently if I'd managed to make (and/or squander) a small fortune in the gaming industry like a handful of notables have, but perhaps not: I've lived with gaming for decades, and those lean times of yesteryear have left heavy, indelible marks (I won't say "scars") on my memories.

It's just how I'm built. How my brain/psychology has been constructed over the years. My family raised me with a mentality that I could "do anything" with my life, but there were also caveats on what I should do. Those mental blocks remain with me to this day. It has led me to many of my personal life choices. It has bred untold hours and years of bubbling resentment in me. It is why I try to raise my children to be different from me, exposing them to all the things I love for all the reasons I love them with (hopefully) none of the hang-ups I have about them. 

Yesterday's whining was, unfortunately, brought on by the need for a nap. There aren't enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do AND do all the things I need to do...and there never have been. These days, I don't even have a job to go to and I still can't find the time to do all the things that fit both those categories. This has been a theme my entire life. It's why the idea of my mortality hangs so much over my head. I don't really fear death these days (or what's beyond), but I live in a state of anxiety over leaving this life when thing's undone: from unfinished writing projects to failing to complete the raising of my kids. I've told folks over the years that I hope to live about two hundred years, which seems to be an adequate number for getting all the shit done enough that I'll feel "satisfied."

Prospects doubtful. I get it.

With regard to D&D: the "hiccup" that started about a month ago has just about run its course. We went through the superhero thing. We're finishing up the Star Wars thing. I ended up reviewing my old B/X Star Wars system (most recently in the form of Kloane War fact, but while I never finished posting that particular series, the book itself is just about complete (only missing about 1-2 pages of text). Maybe I'll make that available) and thinking, huh, I could just give that to my kid. I did my annual or bi-annual walk through Palladium's system (this year it was Rifts) thinking about how I might revamp the thing into a workable form. And now we're (just about) back. Back to the good stuff. The D&D stuff.

I've been thinking a lot about interdimensionality lately...perhaps because of Rifts, perhaps because I was thumbing through both Maelstrom and my old copy of Feng Shui recently...and I was thinking about how the idea might be applied to D&D in a way that helps make sense of the strange world that is the default D&D setting. Barker's idea of humans being stranded long ago on a hostile planet (Tekumel) isn't a bad one, and goes a long way towards explaining why humans are constantly fighting against humanoids like orcs and gnolls and gobbos: i.e. they all hate us because we are invaders/encroachers on their territory. Unfortunately, being stuck in such a hostile planet/dimension what are humans supposed to do? Lay down and die and get out of the way of the indigenous folks who were there first?

When have humans ever done that? Even when NOT faced with the prospect of isolation and death?

Unfortunately, this doesn't jibe well with the campaign I've been working on lately (set in Ye Old Evergreen State) which would necessitate blowing things up again...but I can't say I don't like it the more I think about it:
  • It explains the anachronistic thinking/sensibilities of players set side-by-side within a pseudo-medieval culture (remnants of former lives passed down to descendants).
  • It provides reasons for exploration and adventuring (this new, hostile world is still...largely...a mystery to the newcomer humans).
  • It explains justification for why high level (human) PCs are set on carving out empires for themselves (i.e. why the adventuring area hasn't already been settled by the ever-expanding humanity).
  • It allows all sorts of explanation for the kitchen sinky fantasy of D&D.
One of the things that helped snap me out of my funk yesterday was looking back over my 2019 posts regarding the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. These were pretty groovy (if I do say so myself)...

[which reminds eldest child was giving me crap the other day for using the word groovy. "No one says 'groovy,' pops." Oh, my...the teenage disenchantment with (and ridicule of) the parents has already begun. Only took ten years... *sigh*]

...and I still feel like those posts (and my hard look at GAZ1) are something that could be plumbed for a decent campaign setting. The image that keeps coming back to my mind is the cover of Bradley's Two To Conquer, one of the handful of Darkover novels that I've never read, despite seeing it on book shelves for years back in the 80s/90s. Even without having read the book, there is the suggestion of an idea here (what with the back page and the cover art) of conflict and warfare fought with blades and psychic powers over feudal territories by the descendants of crashed space colonists that I find...well, very inspirational. I find a lot of interesting and theft-worthy stuff in MZB's Darkover books (as I've blogged in the past), and I can't help but think of Karameikos as ripe for some kind of Darkoverian pastiche.

Anyway. It's 7:36am now, I'm out of coffee, and it's time to wake the kids for school. Later, gators.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


I miss gaming with adults.

But I'll get to that in a moment.

Or now. I suppose I could get to it now...the last couple days I've been feeling it...some sort of discontent, depression, anxiety...a kind of feeling of hopelessness or helplessness or dissatisfaction, wrapped in (perhaps) "self-disgust" (whatever that means). 

Gaming with my kids is fun and all, but it's like gaming with one arm tied behind my back. They're too young and un-spoiled to pour the darkness of my imagination into their innocent minds. Even hitting them with fire and blood and destruction is an exercise in treading on eggshells.

That's sad. To be gagged in that way. I feel I'm in fertile breeding ground for resentment, and I don't want to resent my children.

[this all makes me grumpy, which is no good for them either, by the way]

Is there an alternative? Mmm. Not really, not at this place in history, not in this moment of my life. Not one that I can think of that works for me and my family.

I suppose I can just write stuff. Blog posts, adventure scenarios, shitty short stories or novellas. What a waste. Or my time, of my knowledge, of my (little-though-it-may-be) talent.

If you can't tell, I'm feeling a bit useless at the moment. 


More later. Maybe tomorrow. I'll try to be a bit more up-lifting. Or, at least, interesting.

Apologies. But I needed to vent.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Loot The Music...Er...Body

When I say "I live in Seattle" I actually mean it (unlike some folks) home is about 3.6 miles south of the northern city limits. Seattle is a big town (or small city, depending on your POV) and trying to get scheduled for a Covid vaccine in town is tough to say the least. So it was that Saturday morning found me driving north on Interstate-5 to the Skagit County Fairgrounds vaccination site for an 11am appointment...about an hour's get my first Pfeizer shot.

One of the things I enjoy about the new car the family purchased 2-3 years ago, is the "satellite radio" subscription we got with it: instant access to good music based on genre depending on whatever mood you're in, and even if there's a lousy/annoying song on your favorite genre station, chances are you can find something good on one of your other favorites, without commercials. It's not PERFECT, but for road trips it beats the hell out of the old alternative of slugging away a ton of CDs or mix tapes that you've already listened to a gazillion times. Saturday was a loooong drive (as noted) and rather than listen to the usual hair metal stations I gravitate towards, I listened instead to a rebroadcast for Casey Kasem's American Top 40 from the week of April 21st, 1973. Like, the whole thing (minus commercial interruption). 

It was a good time, and one thing I noticed about the top pop hits from that week in history (the year I was born) was the songs tended to fall into three general categories: 1) songs that I'd never heard before that seemed to be "gimmicky" (like Funky Worm by the Ohio Players), 2) workman-like songs from established artists (both Neither One of Us from Gladys Knight and Call Me by Al Green were completely forgettable pieces), or 3) true classics that I have heard countless times over the last 47+ years including Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack), Danny's Song (Anne Murray), Stir It Up (Johnny Nash), Love Train (O'Jays), Space Oddity (Bowie), and Drift Away (Dobie Gray).

And the thing that classics like Stevie Wonder's Sunshine of my Life or Steely Dan's Reeling in the Years have over songs like Skylark's Wildflower or the Stylistics' Break Up to Make Up isn't necessarily head-and-shoulders better musicianship or better production values. It's a combination of songwriting (lyrics and instruments) with interesting, memorable touches that makes a song stand out from what has come before. Some cats just have that "it factor" and you can hear it in the way the song has been put together and recorded...even if you don't like a particular song (I'm not a huge Stevie Wonder fan), you can appreciate why he's one of the all-time greats.

I say this by way of introduction to the band Loot the Body, who just sent me a preview copy of the new album Hex for review. Spoiler alert: probably not destined to be a classic.

Loot the Body is "the brainchild of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Levi Nunez." Nunez writes songs "based on classic D&D" and cites "proto metal" and "proto psychadelic rock" as his musical references. I explained to Mr. Nunez that I wasn't a music critic...I'm not steeped in the industry, I haven't the practiced vocabulary for the writing or the library of musical knowledge to draw upon...but he still said he'd appreciate me writing my impressions of his songs. Says the "music blogs" don't really know what to do with him. 


Hex is a six song EP with each track taking its name and theme from a classic D&D adventure module: White Plume Mountain,  Dwellers of the Forbidden City, Castle Amber, Tomb of Horrors, Ravenloft, and The Keep on the Borderlands. I've had some previous exposure to Loot the Body through The Barrier Peaks Songbook, which to me seemed more like a fun little project/experiment than a serious attempt at...well, a serious attempt. The new EP shows, no, Nunez IS actually serious about this wedding of D&D and music...there's a lot of obvious effort here...and whether he's trying to carve out a niche for himself or this is "just what he does," it's certainly doesn't appear to be throwaway trash.

That being said, the first word that came to mind as I listened to to Hex was "sophomoric," despite this being his third effort (I only just discovered he has an earlier album, Random Encounters, which I haven't had a chance to hear). I actually dig on the concept of the album (the idea he was going for) but my overall impression is one of flawed execution, and the thought that the music could have benefitted from some collaboration, or a strong hand in the production/editing with regard to the songwriting itself.

Musically, Hex reminds me quite a bit of Blue Oyster Cult, and shares some of the issues I have with BOC, especially the vocals. I'm okay with BOC (I've seen them live in concert) but they only have three songs I care to listen to, and despite their talent, I find most of their music to be disappointing and forgettable. I'm just not a fan of wispy, gutless singing that takes few chances vocally or lyrically. That's probably too harsh, but (for me) I like my singing to stand out and apart from the other instruments, not just become a drone in the background. I have this problem with more recent bands like Muse and Radiohead, too, although the latter band makes up for it with layering and originality. Perhaps it's music that's designed to act as a soundtrack to the group gathering around the bong, without "harshing the buzz" or acting as a distraction...and, sure, that's "okay." Elevator music is okay, an elevator. But, man, it gets old after a (very short) while. 

Nunez does have musical chops, but his singing talent doesn't stand out, and his times creative, at times highly derivative...suffer on most tracks from composition. See, this is the part where me NOT being a music critic fails me: I don't have the words to describe it. Often, he fills up the song sheet with lyrics withOUT musical breaks, rushing to get the words in, rather than letting the ear rest from the drone and just groove into the hooks and melodies. There are parts in every song where the ear wants a break from the singing...and gets none (or not enough). The bridges are too short. Another verse is needed instead of another repetition of an overlong chorus. Things like that. 

Lyrically the songs are hit-and-miss. To old school D&D guy...some of the songs are especially grating when they lift whole swaths of background text from the adventure modules from which they are derived. The album is at its best when Nunez goes "off script" with his lyrics...writing about the feelings and actions of adventurers in the dungeon, rather than the dungeon itself. 

I've listened to every song on the album multiple times. For me, the best of the bunch are Dwellers in the Forbidden City, Castle Amber, and Tomb of Horrors with Dwellers being my favorite track on the album. Castle Amber has some of the best lyrics on the album, but is scattered in its musical themes, and needs tightening. Tomb would be pretty good (despite some fairly derivative musical hooks) but suffers from the aforementioned issue of arrangement/composition...too bad, because it has one of the best bridges/choruses on the album.

White Plume Mountain, and Keep on the Borderlands are just heartbreaking (or embarrassing, depending on your point of view). When you have one of the worst villain names in the history of D&D ("Keraptis" sounds a bit too much like "crap") you don't spend the entirety of the lyrics on the dude and his history in the module's "background" section, and nothing about the adventure itself (what? no mention of Blackrazor, Wave, and Whelm? Come on). Definitely NOT the song to lead off the EP. TKotB isn't quite as bad, and is fine sitting at the end of the album as coda...just wish it was more than adventure background. 

Ravenloft, like the adventure it's based on, is just gimmicky in tone. It feels like the worst of BOC and irritates me every time I've tried listening to it (it's a struggle to listen to the track for more than two minutes,)...and yet it's the ONLY track that has a decent musical interlude (sans vocals) in the middle. Unfortunately, while it may be the best composed track on the EP it has an incredibly annoying chorus. Ugh.

Should you buy this album? Mmm. There's definitely worse musical projects to throw money at. Like anything produced by Pitbull. AND if you're a fan of droning, stoner rock...especially if you're tickled by themes inspired by classic D&D adventures...then, sure, yes. Because chances are, that's the only way you'll be getting a chance to hear these tracks. I don't think you'll be hearing these songs on the radio any time in the near future. 

And as I come to the end of this review (marveling at how any sane person would ask me to express my honest opinion of their work knowing how caustic and negative I can be..."gutless?" really?) and I finish listening to Hex for what must be the 10th time, I find myself coming to the conclusion that the best track on the album, despite its flaws, is Tomb of Horrors and not Dwellers of the Forbidden City. Even though I prefer the rock hook and lyrics of Dwellers, Tomb is the better song...Dwellers is just too short, needing more time to unwind, gel, and melt into your mind. Plus, Tomb's got the better, hookier chorus; I'll probably be humming it the rest of the day.

All right. That's enough of that.

Loot the Body's new EP Hex is scheduled for release June 4th and can be found on Bootcamp and elsewhere.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Come Sail Away...

We finished running "Rebel Breakout" yesterday, using my modified version of the old West End Games Star Wars. It went fine (the "adventure" isn't all that great...though as a starter/sample, what would you expect?) but the kids really enjoyed it...they were far more enthusiastic about this little game than the supers game. Getting a chance to blast stormtroopers and fly Y-Wings I suppose...

I am satisfied with the system enough that I'm taking the time to write it the moment it's about five pages long, but the final thing will probably come in around 20 or so pages, depending on formatting and how much I decide to "pad" the thing out. Probably there won't be much of the latter...I mean, it's just Star Wars. And it's really just WEG with a slightly different system. We'll see how it holds up over a couple-three adventures.

However, while folks wait for the PDF, I might as well give y'all the gist of the thing...something for the "so inclined" to ponder over the weekend (I will be very busy, with multiple baseball/soccer games and Covid vaccinations going on). Here are the basics:
  • Dice pools get substituted for polyhedrals: 1D = d4, 2D = d6, 3D = d8, 4D = d10, 5D = d12, 6D = d20. Much of the mechanics involve "shifting" die size UP or DOWN. Above d20, shifts go to d20+1, d20+2, d20+3, etc. all the way up to an absolute maximum of d20+9 (the equivalent of 15D; there are a couple dudes who have these scores). Fractional "pips" from WEG are generally dropped or rounded when doing conversions.
  • Target Numbers are pretty simple: Very Easy = 2, Easy = 4, Moderate = 6, Difficult = 8, Very Difficult = 12, and "Heroic" (from 2nd edition) would be around 15, if you wanted to set something that high. Many rolls are contested (meaning an opponent is trying to prevent your action), in which case you must beat the opponent's roll AND the target number to succeed.
  • Character creation goes like this: start with the same six attributes (DEX, KNO, MEC, PER, STR, TEC) at 1d8 each. You can select a max of two to shift UP to 1d10 by selling down others to 1d6. Nonhumans can shift ONE 1d10 to 1d12 by selling down an additional attribute (either another 1d8 to 1d6 or a single 1d6 to 1d4). Skills are mostly the same, though I've combined some ("parry" has just been subsumed under melee, for example, "shields" are part of piloting, cultures/aliens species/planetary systems is just one combined skill as is jumping/climbing/swimming, etc.) to shorten/streamline the list. Starting characters get seven skill advances to raise die types (up to two shifts per skill); so, for example, if I have "Blaster" at d8 (because my DEX is d8), I could spend up to two of my advances to make the skill d12. Characters with force skills (force adepts, aged padawans, washed-up Jedi) can assign these skill advances to the usual control, sense, alter skills, but as they start at NO DIE TYPE (they don't fall under an attribute) the first advance gives you a d4 and the second a d6, should you choose to "max" them. Trappings (i.e. equipment or "starting stuff") is based on template, and I've got a list of 19, mostly taken straight from the original 1E list. It's workable.
  • Combat works more-or-less like WEG: declare actions, adjust die type downward for multiple actions (such as shooting while dodging), high rolls happen first, rolls must beat both opponent's defense AND target numbers to succeed (tie rolls allow simultaneous attacks/damage). Melee is simplified (no parries, just compare attack rolls). Succeeding allows a damage roll versus STR (adjusted by armor) to determine wound level. Wound results are as per 1E rules (stun, wounded, incapacitated, mortally wounded) with the addition of messy, instant kills for damage rolls exceeding 4X the target's STR roll.
  • Damage for melee is generally STR + damage die determined by weapon (knife: +2, club: 1d4, spear: 1d6, sword/axe: 1d8. vibroblade: 2d4, vibroaxe: 2d6). Lighsabers do 1d12 + control skill. Ranged weapons don't add STR, and range from 1d4 (thrown rock) to 1d20+2 for an E-Web heavy repeater (standard blasters are 1d10+1, heavy blaster pistols are 1d12+1). Armor has two ratings: a die roll that's added to STR versus physical attacks, and a die shift to STR versus energy attacks.
For example: a stormtrooper (STR 1d6) rolls 2d6 to resist physical damage (1d6+1d6) and 1d8 to resist energy damage (like blasters and lightsabers). If your angry wookie PC (STR 1d12) bashes him, he's a lot less likely to get killed than if the wook uses his bowcaster (1d10+3), which counts as an energy weapon. 

[working out the damage/armor stuff was one of the trickiest bits, just by the to make armor effective, but not too effective (especially with regard to stormtroopers and modeling their tendency to fold like paper cups)? This actually works out quite well in play, but it took a while to get it right]
  • For fans of The Mandalorian, I added my own rules for beskar armor that work like this: each piece added increases the protection of the armor (+1d6/+1 shift with one piece; +1d8/+2 shifts with two pieces; +1d10/+3 shifts with three pieces, considered a "full set"). A partial set can be worn with light body armor, increasing both physical and energy protection one step (to +1d8/+2 and +1d10/+3); however, doing so forces the character to use the body armor penalty (-1 die shift to all DEX related skills). Beskar amor by itself carries no penalties.
  • Force points are awarded and used much the same as per the 1E WEG rules: spending a force point allows you to double the dice rolled for any actions taken in the round. So, for example, if I'm shooting at a 1d8 (possibly because I'm blasting multiple opponents), I'd roll 2d8 for each shot, greatly increasing my chance of success. My daughter used her force point to convince the AT-AT pilots via commlink that the PCs were actually Imperial pilots (flying Rebel Y-wings) so that they could escape without being blasted; she rolled a truly heroic success!
  • We haven't seen any Jedi characters (yet), but my intention is to allow any force skills found in the 1E rules, rather than worry about characters learning "spells" (or whatever they're called) in 2E. Since it hasn't come up, I haven't had to mock up a table for it, but it will probably be an extrapolation of the stuff I've already got here. Maybe I'll put some Dark Inquisitor types in my next adventure.
  • Skill points: using the rules from 1E (rather than 2E's character points) with some slight modifications. I'm handing these out in play in the form of poker chips; all players get 1 to start and then I toss them another every time they do something amusing, heroic, or "Star Wars-y," and every time they finish a combat or significant action sequence (like a chase). Chips can be spent to re-roll any failed die (one re-roll attempt only!); no player is allowed to hold more than 10 chips at a time.  At the end of the session, the GM (me) throws each player a couple-three extra chips depending on the final result of the adventure...whatever is in their pile (again: maximum of 10) gets "banked" and can be used for buying advances, as per 1E rules (i.e. for skills or for modifying ships and signature gear). Increases are strictly by die type, so it costs a number of skill points equal to the new die to advance it (to improve a skill from d6 to d8 costs eight skill points, for example). Dice that are already at d20 (or higher) can be advanced (to d20+1, d20+2, etc.) with a flat expenditure of 20 skill points; as stated previously, d20+9 is the absolute maximum. 
 Light combat
armor + 1 piece
of beskar.
And...mmm...that's about it. Oh, there's some more stuff about nonhuman's special abilities (basically: you can get an advantage by taking a disadvantage from an old list of mine), and I haven't taken the time to put together the droid stuff (I don't think it will be too hard), but that's plenty for folks who want to try stuff out. I'll add that the d6holocron site has been invaluable resource in putting this together, especially the fan-made sourcebooks for later films and SW shows (most of which are very well done).  

The kids really liked the game, and picked up the rules pretty quickly. They especially appreciated the fast-flying skill chips which caused them both to be more courageous and heroic (seeing as how I was rewarding bold action). This had the effect of pushing the pace (always good for a "Star Wars" adventure) as they competed with each other to see who would be the first to brave the dangerous also caused them to think of clever things to do in order to amuse me. It was a great example of a reward system impacting behavior, and I didn't mind doling out the chips as they spent 'em nearly as fast as they were earned.

In retrospect, it might appear that I've crafted something that looks like a cross between FATE and "Savage Worlds Lite" (I don't actually own Savage Worlds, but I owned and played PEG's Deadlands way back before Savage was even a thing...), though such was unintentional on my part. And I have to say that the lack of fiddly-ness, the abstract wound system (favoring the PCs), and the exuberance of space opera all combine to make for a much more satisfying play experience than what I've found in either of those particular systems. That's pretty cool, and I might play this game for a bit.

In other news, my boy has plans to introduce his D&D club (now fully half of his 4th grade class) to actual Dungeons & Dragons, which will be a serious first for all of them. He's considering the B/X system in order to teach them the game, but anticipates moving into Advanced play soon enough.
; )

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Returning to WEG

Happy birthday to my daughter, Sofia, who turns 7 today. Seven?! time flies. Last year, her "party" was a Zoom call with her class. This year, we are actually having a small gathering (three kids) which will be held outdoors, with masks and social distancing. The theme is "garden party" and there will be croquet, lemonade, and shortbread cookies...also tiny sandwiches that I am supposed to make. The weather looks to be beautiful (again).

But the sandwich making won't be going down for a couple-four hours, at least (and I still need to pick up a gallon of guest-friendly hand sanitizer). Which gives me a chance to blog a bit. Yay!

I've been working with the old West End Games version of Star Wars this week, what is commonly referred to as "D6 Star Wars." I usually just refer to it as WEG on Ye Old Blog, and if you check through my old posts, you'll find the last time I wrote about the game did NOT have me saying many (any?) complimentary things about the game. 

Welp, that was more than ten years ago. And just as time flies so, too, do past complaints and bitchin-moaning flit away on summer breezes. It ain't that I've "mellowed" so much as I'm just a bit smarter (maybe) than I once was about what makes (and breaks) a game. Much of the time the proof is in the play, and there are reasons designers do what they do.

Of course, I'm also smarter about doing what I do, which is to say running games. And part of this is ignoring true the scripted intro to the Rebel Breakout adventure found in 1E WEG...and getting to the meat of play.  Which is what I did yesterday afternoon (more on that in a minute).

Why O Why, though, am I looking at Star Wars again? As with most of my motivations these days, it stems from my kids. As I've mentioned before, my son has been running his own game that he calls "D&D Five," which is more-or-less Star Wars run using a D&D (mash up edition) chassis. Players choose from races like human, wookie, "yoda," droid, and ewok and then one of several classes like bounty hunter, Jedi, pilot, etc. He's put together his own club at school the last couple weeks and has been running the game for a group of five or six kids.

[some might be curious about my children's "version numbers" for their game designs, and I'm not exactly sure where their numbering scheme comes from. My daughter started this a year or so ago when she started running her own game she called "D&D Three" to distinguish it from both the B/X game I was running and the B/X campaign of her brother (which consisted of a rather endless megadungeon with no name). Sofia's campaign is this weird world of "tower" dungeons, talking animals, and superheroes that really deserves its own post. I'm not exactly sure what game is supposed to be "D&D Four" in my son's mind...that perhaps is our current Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I should probably ask him about that...]

ANYway...the boy working on his own game and the kids rewatching Star Wars Rebels during their lunch breaks got my mind turning towards Star Wars again,  and wondering if maybe I should/could be running a SW game. Not only because the kids are reaching that age when they're really starting to dig on RPGs (and are trying new styles and genres) but because it might help them with their own game design development.

So enter, WEG Star Wars. Oh, I own all those Fantasy Flight Games books for the latest version, but the tomes are far too massive to incorporate all of them into a single game (which is kind of the beauty of the original SW universe, what with its rebels and scoundrels and Jedi) least not effectively in any meaningful way. And even Saga Star Wars (which I ALSO still own) is too fiddly for my kids (and me) to make practical use of. No, fast and loose is the order of the day for the SW (space opera) genre and WEG does a good enough job of that...better than "good enough," in fact.

1500+ pages or less than 140? Hmm...

There are a couple issues. The first is relatively minor: my preference for the 1st edition of the game. I know, I know...I have badmouthed this edition to no good end in the past for all its "deficiencies." Can a person be allowed to wise-up with a decade plus of experience under the belt? I should hope so.

Increasingly over the years, when I've revisited old RPGs, I have found the original "first editions" to be the best, especially when it comes to explaining and maintaining the designer's clarity of vision. 2nd edition seldom improve the original design...they add mechanical nuance that cloud the maker's vision or "patches" that create new flaws. Some of the 1st editions I've come to prefer to later editions (even when I actually started on later editions) include: Advanced D&D (naturally), Heroes Unlimited, Vampire the Masquerade, Top Secret, Gamma World, Shadowrun, and Traveller.  

WEG Star Wars now (for me) falls into this category. I know I decried things like "lack of scaling rules" or "missing force powers" or the need for "character points" (both for advancement purposes and narrative control)...I now see all those complaints as pretty much bunk. There are rules for difference in scale between vehicles and people (for example), and they are far simpler than the 2E rules (and do we really need a scaling chart to show Death Star class threats? Shouldn't that kind of be self-explanatory?). More definition of "force powers" aren't needed...the Force should be mysterious, strange, and hand-wavy, and the powers are fine the way they are. And the original game's "skill points" don't need to be altered from the way they already work, and attributes shouldn't be dithered about with anyway (why make advancement even more glacial?).  No, the 1E version is JUST FINE...although I did just order a copy of the original edition Star Wars Sourcebook off the internet the other day (still want my extended equipment list). 

The second issue though, isn't quite so minor: giant handfuls of D6s. At the moment, the basic WEG system doesn't work for me for a couple-three reasons:
  • I don't want to invest in buckets of D6s.
  • I don't want to add big handfuls of D6s and compare them to other giant added sums of D6s.
  • And (mainly) I'm running Star Wars for my kids as an inspiration for their own games (at least for that of my son). And the boy is already invested in polyhedral dice having picked up several sets (with his own money!) to supply his school crew with their own dice (he also took the time to sanitize them and bag them in individual packets...the kid is meticulous!).
SO, silly as it may sound, I spent the last couple days (Monday and Tuesday) converting the entire WEG game to a system that uses polyhedral dice instead of dice pools, calculating probabilities, altering target numbers, etc. Madness? Yeah, sure. But guess what? It works. We ran Rebel Breakout yesterday (the sample adventure from the book) with the conversions, and there weren't any issues whatsoever. For running something like Star Wars Rebels or The Mandalorian, the system works fine. It's Star Wars...not D&D. Which I understand doesn't appeal to everyone, but it's a nice change of pace now and then. 

All right, that's all I have time for this morning. I've got a garden party to organize!
: )

Friday, April 16, 2021

Fast and Loose

Ran the current version of DMI (superheroes) again yesterday. It worked fine...worked well, in fact...and gave us a session that reached a satisfying conclusion, not much different from what one might expect in a single, standalone issue of your favorite comic book. 

At least, a comic book from "back in the day" (something from my own past: the 70s and early 80s). 

Which, unfortunately, isn't quite what I want. I was hoping for something more cinematic (or serial) in nature, but the only thing "cinematic" was the gusto of violence my players brought to the thing...which isn't terribly unexpected seeing as how that's what they see in cinema hero films. 

In the hands of more serious role-players could this game be turned into something more than a beer-and-pretzels one-off? Mmm...I don't know. The thing worked best running fast-and-loose, with me using my card power (as the GM) to keep a firm hand on the direction we were steering the game. Even so, the narrative control allowed the players had us going in unexpected directions that required a lot of "rolling with it." That might end up being the same even with older, more experienced gamers and is a general pitfall (or feature) of games that share narrative responsibility.

Of course, that's how I designed it to run. Maybe I just don't dig that style of play as much as I thought I did.

The kids DID enjoy the game (which isn't nothing) and they DO like it, but they also told me (unsolicited) that they still prefer D&D. Which, absurdly, still makes me happy for some reason. I guess because it goes to show that AD&D is still "king," and (for me) I like having some consistency in this ever-changing world of ours. Makes me feel comfortable.

So anyway...I think it's time to put down the hero design for a little bit. I'll still tinker with the text/system on the side, but I think it's time I got back to some more "serious" gaming.

It was a nice interlude.
; )

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Hammering Away


Despite what I wrote Sunday, yesterday (Tuesday) was the first opportunity I had to play-test the new game...and that was just fine. I mean, the weather hereabouts has been beautiful and we decided to go on a nature hike instead of gaming (and, yes, actually it was my idea. I'm not will eventually rain again in Seattle!).

And yesterday was just as nice, but the kids had nothing go on in the afternoon and we were able to hang out on the freshly mowed grass in the sunshine and play. Which was just about perfect (the only issue being the wind which was a constant hazard to our deck of cards).

SO...good testing. Problems were found immediately when we went through the character creation process, but those were quickly ironed out. Procedurally, there were quite a few issues, both in terms of system and...surprisingly...terminology (appears I need to develop some specific definitions for the game's vocabulary in order to make the thing clear in use).  

BUT (in general) play proceeded more-or-less as I imagined, if not exactly as smoothly as I'd hoped. The scene creation/shared narrative thing worked very well, the kids adapting to it quickly, and even my youngest was able to set up a scene that resolved the story/session in decent fashion. Though both kids ended up turning evil and joining the villain (that was unexpected). Neither particularly liked this outcome, but both enjoyed the game and want to play again.

I begin to see now how it was that Gygax developed D&D using his children and their friends. I see why some things were emphasized and others weren't and how various systems changed (to the Advanced version of the game) as the original players grew older. EGG, of course, wrote for (and played with) adults as well, but there's something about developing a game in the crucible fire of your kids' delight that is both inspiring and limiting (in the sense of "boundary setting") that is quite different from simply theory-bashing or doing design with/for adults/peers.

Anyway. More later. This is yet another "placeholder post" and not meant to be particularly profound. Stuff happening.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Revisiting Old Haunts

Sunday. Our last day of Easter vacation (kids are going back to school tomorrow) and I, for one, am a little sad for it to be coming to an end. It's been enjoyable for the whole family, despite not really doing much of anything...I think the kids really needed a break from the "grind" of clock-punching for school. All of us are a little more slack these days...the wife even said she's not looking forward to her office reopening (she's been working from home since last February), and I'd imagine there are a lot of folks who feel the same after adapting to the amorphous Covid-induced limbo of "shelter-in-place."

One thing we didn't get to, though, was much gaming. Sad but true...the boy had a full schedule of sports this week (soccer Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday; baseball on Wednesday; and then both a baseball game AND a soccer game yesterday).  Today he's sleeping those poor legs a rest...but the last couple weeks of the soccer season look to be equally as busy as it continues to overlap with the Little League (and my daughter's first season of LL is slated to start in a week as well). Seems he may have finally been "called up" to a higher tier in soccer (that's the reason for the extra practices)...just as he was getting ready to chuck the thing in frustration. For me, I'm just happy I can watch my kids play in sunny weather. Yesterday was a beaut of a day (and the boy went 3 for 4 with two runs and an RBI as the leadoff hitter...what a stud!).

D&D. I think we'll be playing some D&D today. Need to exercise the "mind muscles," too.

However, while I have the minute to type, I wanted to blog a few words on my superhero side project. Even though I haven't been gaming this week, I have been designing like a bit of a madman. Even done a bit of writing, though most of that's going to need changes. Thing is, I've been tweaking my whole concept, and while I still like the idea of a game focused on the "superteam" I find I need something altogether different for play-testing. Because the fact is, I don't HAVE a "team" of players to draw upon.

But it's not just that. This week, I've found myself going back to an old well that I abandoned far too soon. Specifically I've been revisiting my old DMI (Deal Me In) game system and Legendary Might (my supers version of DMI). Last tinkered with circa 2015, there were a lot of reasons I set the thing aside:
  • a lack of "robustness" in game play and character generation
  • lack of system for incorporating human elements to contrast with super slugfests
  • need for a modified card play mechanic to allow character effectiveness without "breaking the bank"
  • need for a more abstract combat system, incorporating power usage and comics/film "violence"
  • need for procedural systems that create more than just fight scenes
A lot of these things are interrelated (duh) and while I had ideas for them, they also represented a lot of work (brain sweat) that I just couldn't put together back in 2015, mainly because I was dealing with the upended life and culture shock of moving to Paraguay (not to mention a new baby). Game design in general (for yours truly) was being "backburnered" in those days, and it's not all that surprising I let the thing get all dusty and forgotten on Ye Old Laptop's hard drive.

Stuff happens.

Welp, I've cracked it out of storage and started hammering away again. And with the steady diet of superhero fare we've been ingesting this week (old X-Men films, the Falcon/Winter Soldier series, the old Fantastic Four movies, Guardians of the Galaxy, the entire two seasons of Agent Carter)...well, it's no wonder really. I've got heroes on the brain.

And, astounding as it might seem, it feels like I'm making actual progress (at least, from a design perspective). Much as I was enjoying my MSH-HU mashup of design, the system was feeling far too wargamey for the genre...and the more I wrote, the more I found myself filing off...or amputating that were too specific, and not abstract-y enough.

Because...well, look. When you try to model comics with reality-based specificity (say, something like GURPS, or Champions, or DC Heroes), you find yourself running into all sorts of problems because neither comic books, nor films, give a rip about emulating "reality" UNLESS it is in service of storytelling. How fast is the Flash? As fast as he needs to be. How strong is the Hulk? As strong as is necessary. "Reality" only matters when it makes a decent plot point (like Flash vaporizing himself by pushing past the lightspeed barrier). The laws of physics have never applied to Superman's abilities...only the laws of a "good story."

Yet we know that not all superhuman abilities are created equally. Spider-Man and Luke Cage are plenty strong, but they can't do what Thor or the Hulk can do. Many comic book characters have an agility the equivalent of an "Olympic gymnast;" but even in gymnastics, some Olympians are better than others on a given day (that's why they give out medals). There are super soldiers and there are super soldiers but there's only one Captain America, and it's not really about the shield and costume. 

Going predicted.
Trying to model these things with specificity in a game is a fool's errand. Which is why games like Jeff Grubb's original MSH and Simon Washbourne's Supers! do such a great job: they embrace the abstraction inherent in the genre. Of the two, I think Grubb has the better design, but it still falls down in three areas for me:
  • too much randomness/lack of coherence in character generation
  • too much procedural fiat rather than direction in adventure design
  • too much "wargame" inherent in the game's logistics (in some ways more "board game" than RPG)
[although the last is somewhat corrected in the Advanced MSH system (doing away with the "area" system) it ends up falling prey to the too much specificity pitfall inherent in other games of the genre]

And it's still a pretty darn good game...probably the best for its genre of any I've read/played. At least, so far as system design is concerned. Which, of course, is why I was looking at a streamlined version of MSH for my own system as recently as a couple weeks back.  It just does a lot of things right.

But Legendary Might, especially in its current incarnation, has (I believe) great potential. And its design is all mine, for a change...not drawing from (or knocking off) some other designer's hard work. That has immense appeal to me, a dude who's made most of his money piggy-backing off concepts pioneered 40+ years ago. For that reason alone, I'd like to make the thing work. No, I'm not the first person to use playing cards as a randomizer, nor am I the first to use cards in conjunction with narrative structure...ain't saying that. But the Deal Me In system is still mine, and the way I'm using it NOW in this game...well, it's kind of exciting. 

I kind of want to play-test it. Sooner rather than later. Maybe today, instead of D&D. Maybe.

Happy Sunday to you all. Hope everyone has a good week going forward. Thanks for taking the time to read!
: )

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

X-Men, X-Fan

Sunday night, the family watched the first (year 2000) X-Men film. I'd been wanting to do this for the last week or so, figuring it was time to introduce the kids to the whole concept of the Marvel "mutant." They, of course, had been resistant, preferring to watch Agent Carter or re-screenings of the various Avengers films, but Sunday I finally got my way. Of course, they ended up digging it...mutants are fun, after all.

For me, I was reminded of all the reasons I dislike this particular film franchise. I haven't blogged about it much (at least, not that I remember...and I'm too lazy to go searching through my back posts at the moment), so guess what? Here it comes:

First, my relationship to the films: I've seen the original two movies multiple times. I didn't LIKE the first one, but I enjoyed it (for reasons I'll describe below), and there were parts of it that definitely begged for revisiting from Yours Truly. The second film I found to be better done and more enjoyable (probably due to cutting of clunky exposition necessary in a first film), and is probably my favorite of the franchise. The third film I found pretty bad/dumb: I've only seen it once. The fourth (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) used a story arc retcon that I hated in the comics, but was still "okay" right up till the end when it turned pretty that point I vowed never to see another X-Man movie in the theaters.

However, I broke this promise when I went to see the next film X-Men First Class with my wife (who is a fan of the X-Men since she was a kid).  I found the premise to be interesting but the show wasn't great...mostly bland and un-memorable. This one killed the X-Men for my wife and I've never been to another theater showing of the film. We watched The Wolverine (the next installment) on cable TV, and it was so terrible I swore off the franchise all together. 

I skipped Days of Future Past. I watched Deadpool (free on cable) because so many people told me I had to see it, that it was so good at lampooning the genre, that it was so funny and irreverent and better than the last few movies. I thought it sucked. The last 20th Century Fox mutant film I watched was a small part of Apocalypse, on TV, while drunk, when the family was out of town and I was hanging with my brother and he wanted to watch it. I dozed off during the movie, finding it both badly done and boring.

For me, the franchise got very old, very fast. It was so much a "one-trick pony" that it was simply disappointing on a fundamental level...far more so than the MCU. Just as the mutant-themed comics turned me off over time by shifting focus to their most popular character (Wolverine) the films badly stumbled by A) over-milking the mutant prejudice theme, and B) over-focusing on Wolverine and all his issues...when for me, the joy, the beauty of the X-Men comics was never found in these things. 

See, I was an X-Men fan back in the day...and from a young age. While my elementary school days was a more eclectic collection of comics, in middle school (extremely formative years for Yours Truly) and early high school it was all mutants, all day. X-Men, X-Force, Excalibur, New Mutants...these were the comics my friends and I collected. These were the comics we had to pick up, that we pooled our money to buy, that we swapped and shared. We played a LOT of Marvel Superheroes RPG in those days, and much of our gaming was informed by the stuff we were reading in X-Men comics...despite the fact that there wasn't a single mutant character in our campaign (that I can recall).

[our campaign world didn't contain any Marvel properties at was our own version of "Earth"...and the game being what it is (we were using the Ultimate Powers Book, of course) there were too many interesting character choices to have simple "genetic mutants" infesting our game]

I quit reading X-Men sometime around the early '90s, before I graduated from high school (class of '92) and maybe even before that (I moved on to Silver Surfer about a year before going on a semi-permanent hiatus from comic books). I remember being bemused...and then disgusted...about the Wolverine solo series. Wolverine was a cool of my favorites even...but enough to hold his own series? Doing what? Stabbing folks? He was a bit character with a fairly specialized skill set (as were all the characters in those days)...I had issues where all he did was shovel hay with a cowboy hat and drink beer with Kurt; he never even ranked "team leader" for most of the run! Anyway, it was about that time I stopped buying single issue comics, so it appears I wasn't the "target demographic" the publisher was aiming for.

I realize now, that my experience with X-Men more-or-less coincided with the Chris Claremont run (1975-1991) on the series. 16 years on one title provides a lot of coherence of vision, not to mention a whole lot of story lines, most of which have been completely ignored by the film franchise...despite being the things that made the series "beloved" to fans that grew up with those comics....

I know, I know. "Cry me a river, JB. Wah-wah-whine." Once again I'm bitching and moaning about 'nostalgia' and ignoring the fact that things change. Uh-huh, yep, sure: things do change; I get that. When I started this blog, I didn't even have my oldest is 10 years old and playing D&D. I am well aware that I am prone to being mired in nostalgia, lost in the past. I've seen Cobra Kai (great series, by the way)...the irony inherent in its protagonists is not lost on me. But listen folks: what are these film studios trading in, if not the nostalgia of an aging fan base? Why not create new and original story lines, or new and original characters? Changing characterizations of existing characters (Cyclops and Storm especially) or changing storylines to fit characters that weren't in the original storyline (Magneto's "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" predates the involvement of most of the X-Men that appear in the first film) doesn't seem to be the way to go when pandering to a fan base.

Though perhaps the filmmakers felt people would be grateful enough just to see their comics on the big screen? Not a terrible originally worked for this fan (until it stopped working).


Monday night, the family watched X2: X-Men United and, as I wrote, I enjoyed it more than the original. It wasn't that it was more like the comics of my youth; instead, it was a matter of already understanding the filmmaker's vision and so, rather than being put off by disappointed expectations, I could simply relax and enjoy what the product was: Hugh Jackman hogging the spotlight and stabbing people. Teen romances that never were in the comics. Magneto and Mystique featuring prominently. Cyclops and Storm relegated to weaksauce bit parts (with less meaningful screen time than the cameos of minor characters). The bad juju about the evils of bigotry. Etc.

Ah, children liked both movies (they preferred the second of the two) and there are far worse "changes" in the world. The Seattle Sounders' uniform this season, for example: purple and orange?! What in the everloving name of F is that all about?! Holy blankshow, Batman! 

[and, for the record, I would welcome changes in some areas. The season's only just started and the Mariners are already under .500 for, like, the 25th straight year. Crapola]

*ahem* Anyhoo. I suppose that's about all I have to say on the subject (for the moment) except that, as I chip away at my latest attempt at superhero RPG design, these movies are indeed on my mind and in my memory...especially as I look for something that illustrates the genre as presented in cinema. That's really the key thing (for me) to remember: it's not about how "disappointing" a film may be as an homage to the comic book, it's how well it works as a serial story in and of itself. Because in the end (assuming this game ever gets written), it's really not about emulating the intellectual property of Marvel (or anyone else), but about helping the GM/participants create their own "super world," just as my friends and I did in the past. And as we used X-Men comics as an inspiration, I would fully expect younger folks to use the movies in the same fashion.

Times change.

As one last aside, I have to say I think it's especially interesting that Disney has managed to recover the X-Men rights, and am extremely curious to see how/if they will incorporate mutants back into the MCU. If it were up to me, I would reboot the whole thing, without regard to the original franchise films. Treat all that stuff in the same way as Claremont treated X-Men prior to his takeover in the 70s (i.e. fairly unnecessary). We've seen plenty of example reboots in film (the many Batman franchises, Spider-Man, the Hulk, etc.) so why should be any compulsion to tread the same sorry-ass missteps made by 20th Century Fox?

But of course they will. The X-Men movies made a ton of money and the film industry as a business has shown itself to be both unimaginative and ever-chasing of past success (*double sigh*). 

All right, that's about enough for a Wednesday. 

Any team that FEATURES Wolverine
(the ultimate non-team player)
ain't no "team." Sorry filmmakers.

OH, WAIT: I almost forgot that today marks the 20th wedding anniversary of my wife and I. I am a very blessed and fortunate man to have such a special person share her life with me. Without her love, it is quite possible I'd be even more curmudgeonly and ranty than I am. Thank goodness she's strong enough to hang in there!

Okay, that really is enough.
: )

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy Easter!

The kids will be on Easter vacation (what the secular types calls "spring break") for the next week, so I will probably be too busy to write much. On the other hand, Lent is over and so I might just go back on the caffeine...which would result in folks seeing the occasional early morning missive from Yours Truly.

Anyway, have a good one. Blessings on your families and prayers for a springtime renewal of hope and peace. God and love be with you all!

[now I've got to go buy a ham...]

Yes, back on the red
meat, too.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Thinking Out Loud

Another Thursday, another D&D session on the horizon. The kids are anxious to get back to their characters, lost in the dark though they are.  Little do they know they're about to run into the mutants ("orcs") that make their home in the tunnels the party are traversing.

But that's all for this afternoon. Right now, I'm thinking about game design. My son is writing his own RPG at the moment (a Star Wars game) that he...amusingly...calls "D&D 5" (all my kids' game designs seem to be "D&D" with an added version number), and while it would mostly seem to be emulating the old D20 Star Wars system, I am pleased with his work on the project (and also that he's drummed up some enthusiasm for it with kids at his school) 

But that's a digression. I mean, I am thinking about Diego's design (at least as much as I'm thinking of the RBI he got in last night's baseball, it's good to have sports back!), but mainly I'm focused on the superhero thing I'm putting together, my semi-knockoff of MSH (should I call it MSH Dos? Maybe as a working title) and how I can do it different. That is, different from other RPG systems of the genre. 

NOT, by the way, because I want to "stand out from the crowd." Fact is, my stuff is so low budget that any grandiose plans for publication are far more likely to fail than the newest version of...well, of whatever's the "established brand of the day" (probably M&M4?). No, I want it to be different...specifically, different in focus...because so many of these games fail to work

At least, they fail for me. I'm not as pig-headed stubborn as some GMs when it comes to the hero thing. I was never a HUGE comic book collector, even as a kid (maybe a couple dozen issues - not titles! - PER YEAR, at my height). I liked to read comics (usually those of my collector friends), but I just didn't have the money to spend on comics, nor the easy access to a solid comic book shop; consequently, I don't have the depth and breadth of comic book knowledge that some GMs possess. In my experience, the folks who can run a system like Heroes Unlimited or DC Heroes or Mutants & Masterminds over the long term is a person who has been steeped in hundreds upon hundreds of superhero comics.

That's not me. And it's not really my kids, either (for whom this game would be written) or even a LOT of folks these days who might be fans of the super genre. They read a couple titles, perhaps, but their main exposure to the genre is through the screen medium: film and television (and maybe video games). That's a tough thing to emulate in an RPG, and I don't really want to try.

What I want to try is bringing the screen medium's sensibility (with regard to genre) to the experiential nature of the RPG medium.  Can that be done?

My question of the day.

Clearly, the drive behind the supers thang is different from my usual brand of Dungeons & Dragons; in D&D characters have impetus be proactive. Go out and get that treasure! Level up! Become powerful! Tackle bigger challenges! The superhero genre isn't that at all, and approaching the genre with a "D&D mindset" will quickly turn the PCs into something a far cry from "heroism" (celebrity attention seekers at best; super powered villains at worst).

Leaving aside origin stories and one-off adventures (we're interested in long-term campaign play hereabouts), what exactly is it that motivates the heroic persona to become a costumed adventurer? What gets them out of bed every evening, donning cape and cowl to brave the terror of the night? Just spitballing, I can come up with a few different categories of hero fiction:
  • The Sad Sack: this is the dude who doesn't have a choice in the matter, whether due to psychological or actual pressure. I'd put both Spider-Man ("if I shirk my responsibility, people die") and the Hulk (constantly hunted by the U.S. military) in this category. These are mostly solo adventurers; they often bemoan the fact that they are super-powered at all, and constantly struggle to achieve a normal life. Whether or not they ever achieve that happy ending they want varies based on the popularity of the character (whether or not their series is going to get cancelled). 
  • The Fanatic: this one is pretty close to the Sad Sack but they're driven to become vigilantes because they have an issue with the normal criminal justice system. Lots of these: Batman, Daredevil, Green Arrow, Punisher. These guys (they're mostly guys) have serious trust issues (duh) which leads them to working solo, as much as their understanding that they are criminals themselves and really taking action that's both unnecessary and extralegal. 
Neither of these types of story are good models to emulate in the RPG medium in part because they're not very conducive to group play (due to their focus on a single, spotlight character). Oh, you could have the occasional "dynamic duo:" Cloak & Dagger fit as a Sad Sack couple, and I'd throw Misty Knight & Colleen Wing (during their Daughters of the Dragon title) as part of the Fanatic group. But more than that, I dislike the motivations presented in these two tropes: in both cases, the characters are driven by negativity. That can make for a good, fun series to read (or watch) but it's not a great one to get players up and moving.

So what else do we have?
  • Defenders of Earth: this one works for folks from the Justice League to Doctor Strange. The hero(es) are tasked with the job of handling extraterrestrial (and extradimensional) threats that Earth, being what it is, simply isn't capable of handling itself. Some might complain these are pretty "reactive" stories (and they are), rather than proactive, but when we tune into a Green Lantern comic (for example) we're expecting something to happen. We figure that MOST (not all!) of the "downtime stuff" will be ignored in favor of the Big Conflict that the comic (or show) will showcase. The stories we are viewing are only the "interesting events" that occur in the life(s) of the character(s). They can dip into a bit of the resignation thing, however (if we don't save the Earth, no one else will). A smaller version of this might be Black Panther ("Defender of Wakanda") or Sunfire ("Defender of Japan").
  • Powered Task Force: the Avengers might be "Earth's mightiest heroes" but they're generally tasked with Earthly missions: taking down super bad guys and terrorist organizations. While the Avengers films include bouts with the occasional intergalactic threat, it is made clear that they spend a lot of time on active duty acting as a kind of extra-governmental global law enforcement. Motivation is some form of "duty" - they're pseudo-military after all - with a heaping helping of "for my teammates" (fellow soldier). This category can also apply to strictly national teams (The West Coast Avengers, X-Caliber, etc.).
  • School for the Gifted: this covers everything from the X-Men to the Teen Titans to Sky High to the Umbrella Academy, all stories about youngsters learning about their powers (as a group) and finding their way in the world (as a team) while developing into adulthood. Motivation is the usual teen peer pressure, wanting to look good / not stupid thing, as well as pleasing parents (probably), and possibly school pride. 
  • Super Families: here we have your Fantastic Four and (for the younger generation) The Incredibles, the latter of which is interesting because it deals with the legacy of the parents and their mistakes. Generally, though, I'd prefer to stay away from a set-up that pits PCs in a parent-child dynamic, at least one involving BOTH parents (too much authority); single parent might be okay (Batman feels okay with both Robin and Batgirl in the mix). Siblings are better: the FF, Power Pack, or the Shazam! family being good examples. Motivation is, of course, family (also sibling rivalries), which makes even downtime activity interesting between monster-of-the-week activities.
  • Superheroes for Hire: the mercenary route isn't a great one for the supers genre because "making money" and "heroism" don't really go hand-in-hand. That being said, for a more light-hearted (i.e. humorous) series (like Damage Control, Ghostbusters, or the original Heroes for Hire), I think it might work. Luke Cage and Iron Fist are a pretty good example: despite doing hero work for pay, it's not like they ever get rich...too many widows and orphans can't afford to pay. And anyway Fist IS rich (amusingly) but simply doesn't care about money. In the end, the motivation is still adventure (and buddy/friendship) with the "professional" title being a justification for hanging out and socking people.
Looking over these categories, I think the ones that would work best for the RPG medium are the Task Force or the School, both of which could include Family dynamics under their umbrella (both military units and school peers being something like "second families," right?). Both these categories of "super" series provide a number of features:
  • Provides a reason for multiple player characters of different types to participate.
  • Provides group dynamics that function outside of adventures.
  • Provides justifications for adventures ("missions" and "exams," respectively).
  • Provides reasons for new characters to arrive (new hires, transfer students, etc.)'s hard bringing a new sibling into a super family!
  • Provides a motivation for hero participation (duty/job or responsibility/grades).
  • Gives leeway for NPC dynamics OUTSIDE the team (soldiers and students both have non-powered family members, friends, neighbors, etc.). Such NPCs may be privy to the characters' job/school or may be completely in the dark about what they do.
  • For characters whose identities are secret, they don't have to worry about supporting themselves as "full-time heroes" (they're paid a stipend or receive a "scholarship" to their fancy school).
  • Players/characters can leave at any time without disrupting the campaign.
Fortunately, in my current design I already stumbled on a way to scale the game to "younger" heroes...I was thinking of the New Mutants at the time and how the system might develop teenagers and their powers. However, the main issue I have with a school is that it's a little tougher to work with the non-powered kid (the inventor or special forces-type hero) least, not in a campaign (mostly) devoid of humor, and I have not been known for running "funny" campaigns. 

[not in the conventional comedic sense; cackling at my players' expense doesn't count]

Still, the rules should work for both, and SOMEone might want to run the game with a bit more ridiculousness than myself; look at the popularity of Teeny Titans! Anyway...

Okay, that's enough musing. I've got a host of errands to run before today's D&D game. Totally welcome any thoughts, critiques, suggestions, and whatnot in the comments section...your input in my brainstorm is greatly appreciated!
: )

Typical paramilitary task force 
with extra-national jurisdiction.