I got the Serenity book a few months ago from Sub City in Dublin and the Smallville book arrived today from Amazon.
Both use derivatives of the Cortex system from Margaret Weiss Productions. While Serenity uses the Cortex systems in a “traditional” way, Smallville uses it in an interesting way. To perform an action, it’s not really how talented or skilled you are, it’s about how much the action matters to you, how it aligns with your values and who will benefit from the action. That’s interesting because it aligns partly with what I had in mind for Qabal – even though I may not have realised what I had in mind. I’d still likely use a card-based system rather than a dice-based system but the mechanic is interesting.
Smallville is a TV based on the early years of Superman/Clark Kent, concentrating on the period before he put on the red cape and blue tights. It’s mostly a teen drama similar to Roswell, 90210 or Gossip Girl. The series plays loose with the Superman mythology, altering timelines and characters to provide a episodic story (which has been denounced as “Freak’o’the Week”. They are also, for the most part, blaming the rise of superheroes on the kryptonite meteor rocks which accompanied Clarks escape pod. As plot devices go, that’s quite clever. The story arc is detailed enough and they’ve even resurrected the JSA to provide older mentor roles.
What turned me onto Smallville was an Actual Play on RPG.net. in this AP, the GM (Watchtower) is running a game entitled “Gotham” which is chronicling the teen angst of the various personalities involved in the Batman legend; obviously Bruce Wayne but also Vic Sage (the Question), Talia Al Ghul, Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), Harvey Dent (Two-Face), Ted Kord (Blue Beetle) and others. He’s chewing his way through some of the old DC villains (Black Spider, Terrible Trio etc) and working up to a series end which will have some of the bigger foes. It’s an extremely compelling read.
Of course, to be able to play these kinds of games, you need players who are not only able to put themselves in the mindset but also those who are interested in the mythology of the series, whether that’s Smallville, Gotham, Roswell or Gossip Girl. I’ve met players who couldn’t get past their own biases when playing characters. Such as an atheist who couldn’t play a religious character and a caucasion who couldn’t play a black character. Most fellas seem comfortable enough playing women though (with hilarious and creepy consequences). This sort of game is a relationship drama – it’s about the interactions of people – and you can recognise them on TV as the protagonists are wound up in secrets and never seem to be able to tell the whole truth. Because that would sort stuff out. Duh
The community is developing other homebrews such as Blakes 7, The Matrix, Bugsy Malone, Teen Titans. I’m tempted to find some folk to run a Misfits game. Misfits is a E4 TV series about four young offenders who gain superhuman abilities by being exposed to a strange storm while performing their community service. The first series was extremely enjoyable, the second series starts at 9 pm tonight. It has the advantage of being “new” so you don’t have to have extensive background knowledge to enjoy the story but the disadvantage that you don’t have a lot of pre-made stuff from 50 years+ of writers and artists.