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!
: )

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