Superheroes can be dicks

Forget Iron Man.

PJ pointed me at the new Hancock trailer.
It’s true, Hancock has gone from being a “Wild Wild West” kind of camp nonsense movie to a movie I’d really like to see and a game I’d like to run. That said, Iron Man, much more than the Fantastic Four or Spider Man has always been a bit of a dick when he was Tony Stark – and I loved reading his stories for it.

(He also links to Superdickery)

Superheroes are often dicks.

In the first Watchtower game, there were really three ‘dick’ moments. None of these were bad on the part of the player and they made for some excellent role-playing moments but they represented times when the superhero did things that were unexpected.

  • Gavin’s first character, Atomic III, was a non-powered descendant of a dynasty of superheroes. He worked hard, he built himself some superpower-providing devices and he started doing what superheroes do – prowling around trying to find people to pummel. In the end this played out very well as he went a little power mad, fueled by his ‘power inadequacy’ where, even though he was the most powerful of the heroes due to his devices, it wasn’t enough. He ended up becoming a villain and threw a train at the player characters (one of whom were superstrong or supertough). Then he killed their healer. Ouch. Gavin has an amazing sense of comedy for these kinds of things.
  • Gavin’s second character, Wraith, was a cross between Batman and Hawkeye (but ten times cooler than Hawkeye). His actual power was the ability to be invisible and undetectable. He could sneak into places, collect evidence that was inadmissible in court and then when the criminal was acquitted, despite being guilty, Wraith would follow him home and thrash him into unconsciousness. On one absolute gem of a game, Wraith sneaked into a woman’s house (he suspected she was the supervillainess Malice) and then when nothing untoward happened (she got home, put away her groceries and sat down to watch TV), rather than sneaking out, he just turned off his power in the middle of her living room. He appeared, she freaked out and he admitted he was her creepy stalker. Turns out she was actually Malice. Go figure.
  • John Dean’s character, Ebony, discovered that his teleport skill also worked for time travel. Note to other GMs: I was a lot younger and lot stupider and had never really given unlimited time travel to players before. The ‘dick’ moments came when the player characters, after traveling into the past and modifying the future just….couldn’t….stop…..going….back to tweak things to their preference. Jade Dragon lost his restaurant, then got it back. Wraith discovered he was dating and co-habiting with Malice but had no memory of their many-month relationship. I think they all deserved to be ‘dicks’ but the biggest dick of the lot was the GM. Oops.

In the more recent WatchTower game, they all had their fair share of dickery though Paul’s character, Balance (the priest with uncanny matter shaping abilities) probably had more moments which, though caused for the most part by the possession and emotion control powers of the villain, were roleplayed brilliantly. Like when he completely blasted the whole team and caused their flesh to slough off. That was beautiful. Or when he sealed mind-controlled proto vampires in an underground tunnel (rather than seeing if they could be cured). He was decisive, let’s be honest.

I like flawed characters, especially in superhero games because they can be flawed in much more effective ways. If you’re a dick in a Zombi game, then no-one cares because you could just be left outside at some point and that would really ruin your picnic. If you’re a dick in The 23rd Letter, again, there’s a damage limitation as even psychics don’t get an easy break. It ain’t all fun being an Esper.

But in a Superhero game, you’re often the possessor of a unique ability (at least within your team) and that means you’ve pretty special. When you’re pissed off and do something about it, people notice.

We (Aidan and I) going to try playing a Superhero game online in the next couple of weeks. One player, one GM (for a while at any rate). I’ve asked Aidan to think of a character and some of the things he wants to do, or components of the world we will be playing in. I’d have asked him to do it in Wild Talents colour codes but, frankly, I’m not very keen on them and also he doesn’t have the book so it would be impenetrable to him. (It does make me want to create a ‘world builder’ for superhero games. I have it in my head how to do it (and it could be done in software too – a simple web form, oh yeah!))

I wonder about the playability of a world where there is one superbeing. And he’s the player character. Who are you foes? Do we spend more time looking at interpersonals? Do we add ‘reality’ while accepting that there is one guy in the world who can chew through steel? How does he live? How does he pay his way? Handouts?

I don’t know what Aidan will bring to the table but I’m excited about the opportunity to play a bit more.

“I don’t have any choice, somebody has to save the world”

I’ve been reading a lot of old comics this week.

There’s been a recent thread on RPG.net about creating a setting where Superheroes conquered the world.

This, along with other memes, was part of what I was working on with the Watchtower game.

When I first started writing my own superhero settings for the Marvel Super Heroes game, I started with Zenith. This was the name of a team of superheroes based in the UK (and years before Zenith the superhero started in 2000AD). The original lineup was Metalon (strongman), a Minddancer (telepath) and Shatter (telekinetic). As time went on, the lineup changed. Metalon and Shatter stayed, but they added Aura (telepath), Scorch (pyrokinetic), Sentinel (energy manipulator) and Synapse (speedster). It was around this time that I started writing my own fiction around these characters which turned into my first and only attempt at a novel. As I was about fourteen, it needed some work, needless to say.

Zenith stayed with me for around 3 years until they lost their government funding. Synapse died, Metalon and Sentinel left and a new group called Apocalypse Inc. started, funded by the rich but probably insane Hemlock (snaffled from Jack of Hearts, Marvel Premiere #44). Additions to the team were Stasis (Healer) and Nucleon (radiation controller). There were also villains from the time: Tantrum and Hysteria, Skybreaker, The Red Menace, Lillith. This was all using the Marvel System.

I started writing my combined UK background for superheroes, including the WW1 supersoldier, Yeoman, his modern day clone, Lionheart, Lancaster, Vitesse, Prodigy, La Feu, Striker, Plasma, Blaze “Death!”, Frost, Nano, DeathMaster, Deacon, Schreck.

Not long after I started playing in Jeremy’s game and this introduced the Zombie Squad to my cosmology. The lineup, as I recall, was Sergeant Strike (scrapper with a force field), Demon Motorbike guy (it had a graser too), UnderGraduate Von Doom (you know, ruler of small country, but before he got his doctorate), Stick (a martial artist) and Baron Samedi (voodoo loa). They fought giant robots, travelled to Ravenloft (where we recruited Strahd) and other places and annoyed an ancient evil a million years ago in a place a million light years away which immediately started pursuing them at light speed. And should have arrived…just…about…then. I don’t remember fighting it. I think we may have changed game. Or left the group. I don’t remember. We used Jeremy’s homebrew system for this game.

The next superhero game involved the Protectors. These individuals: Glitter, Warhead, Download, Quill, Inferno – faced off a weather manipulator in Colorado and that was the only game we played. We used the ill-fated Heroes and Heroines for this.

After that, we had quite a few one-offs until I got a few friends together, wrote a backstory for the US involvement in the world and started my first Watchtower game. This was really the first superhero game that I placed in the USA. The Watchtower was an organisation that spanned the US with approximately 40 offices across the nation. They had quasi-legal status with the US government though few actual legal powers but a good relationship with the Federal government made crime-fighting a lot easier. The San Francisco team had recently been killed by a bloodthirsty voillain known as Bloodrage and they were recruiting new members. They were Jade Dragon (Alan), Atomic III (Gavin), Bullet (Iain), Ebony (John) and Ivory (Aidan). Gavin’s second character, Wraith, debuted when he let Atomic III go mad. Aidan’s second character, Quickening, replaced Ivory pretty soon as well. Most notably they eliminated (yes, that is a euphemism for killed) Bloodrage and defeated ARES. the US Supersoldier. They also witnessed first hand the issues with FORTRESS and why time-travel is bad.

This involved creating a whole background for the US as well. This was “The American Dream” and had luminaries such as Atomic I, Lifeline, Moon Boy and others I don’t remember. World War 2 superheroes and their unfinished legacies.

A few years later, we continued with the New York Watchtower. Again it started with a recruitment drive where Balance (Paul), Yellowfist (Gavin), Indigo (Aidan) and Skyhook (Rob) joined up with other existing members (Red Shift, Psiren, Jack White) to bolster out the membership. There was a conspiracy afoot to extend the reach of the Watchtower globally though ‘conspiracy’ often has negative connotations. This was the beginnings of an “Authority” level campaign which is why I permitted the monstrously powerful characters that the players had. e.g.

  • Yellowfist, a modern-day Native American shaman gained his powers by channeling spirits. In theory he could do anything but he only had Falcon and Bear at the start.
  • Skyhook could move huge amounts of stuff around with the power of his mind. This includes a TK gun platform as well as being able to lift huge amounts.
  • Balance has absolute control over matter – being able to shape almost any amount at will and being able to transmute other amounts.
  • Indigo, a high tech hero, had teleportation abilities which could place objects on the outskirts of the solar system.

The “plan” was that they would have the opportunity to step into these roles. Yellowfist as the infantry, with Skyhook as artillery, Balance as the engineers and Indigo as recon and supply. Sadly they only got round to cleaning up the oceans before, due to real life, we had to split the group.

I’d still like to continue that game, in theory, with the same or different characters.

This finishes some of the cosmology for my superhero games.

OREs Magica

I spent some time at work today thinking about things that could be done with the ORE system. I admit that I’ve not yet had the chance to really test it in anger

Part of this is to kick a bit of life into the forums at Project Nemesis as well as the ones at Arc-Dream especially seeing as July brings us Wild Talents second edition.

OREs Magica is a terrible pun on Ars Magica, one of the best RPGs of all time. In Ars Magica, the players can be Grogs (the peasants and footsoldiers), Companions (nobles, ‘adventurers’ and ‘special’ characters’) and Mages. The background is ‘Mythic Europe’ which, to be honest, can be as ‘fantastic’ or as ‘mundane’ as you like. I quite like the “turnips and boils” of low fantasy contrasted with the Magic of Ars Magica.

OREs Magica takes the background of Ars Magica and plonks it onto a ORE-based system. I don’t have Reign yet but I’m guessing that the Reign system works much the same (though they have the concept of Expert Dice which are a little like Hard Dice.)

Anyway – the thought I had was that you could easily replicate the Techniques and Forms of Ars Magica onto the ORE system.

The Techniques (or Verbs) of Magic are:

  • Creo,
  • Rego,
  • Perdo,
  • Intellego,
  • Muto

The Forms are:

  • Animal,
  • Auram,
  • Aquam,
  • Corpus,
  • Herbam,
  • Ignem,
  • Imagonem,
  • Mentem,
  • Terram,
  • Vim.

e.g. Curdus the Fire Mage has 3d in Creo and 2d in Ignem. To create Fire, she rolls 5D. One match is needed minimum and the height of the roll dictates the intensity of the flame. The Width of the roll can indicate speed or skill. She also has 1d in Perdo but no dice in Aquam, therefore she cannot “destroy water” without additional, outside assistance. The most common assistance is Vis.

Vis is the purified essence of magic as extracted from magical things. To convert, for instance, a Magical Bull’s Heart into Vis requires two rolls; the first being Muto Animal and the second being Creo Vim. A failure in the first roll may be attempted again. Failure in the second roll means the Vis disappears in a dramatically appropriate way. Success in both rolls means a number of points equal to the width of the Creo Vis roll are extracted from the heart.

But why do we need Vis? Every Mage wants more Vis. Why? Because Vis has some very special properties. Each point of Vis that is expended in a Magic roll can have one of the following effects:

  • Each point adds a single dice to the Magic Roll adding to Techniques and Forms. This means that you can perform pretty much ANY magic if you have Vis to help.
  • Each point adds a year and a day of permanence (in the Ars Magica book, adding Vis makes something permanent but I never liked that.) After the year and a day, the magic wears off. This has some serious repercussions for Longevity Potions and magical constructs. It won’t affect a house built with magic if the structure itself is sound.

The maximum amount of Vis that may be used in any activity is equal to your Vim score.

To do any more on this I guess I’ll have to buy Reign 🙂 Okay, I’m convinced!

Converting some WatchTower characters to Wild Talents.

Codename: Warhead AKA David Bruce Brandon
Appearance: Warhead is an 8 ft tall humanoid suit of armour. Brandon is a slighty overweight man with unkempt brown hair and bushy eyebrows.
Background: Dr David Brandon is a robotics engineer. He discovered his electrical generation powers as a teen and quickly started to use it to power small devices. The Warhead armour was the culmination of a series of inventions which, while they seemed revolutionary, could only be used by him. Along with the armour, he has a motorcyle and an electric car; neither of which have batteries. David loves the thrill of adventure when in the suit.
Known Talent Abilities: David can generate electrical energy. It’s of a sufficiently low level that it cannot be used to create dangerous attacks but it has been use to power the warhead armour removing the need for bulky power supplies.

  • Harm (AU) – Shock only

The Warhead Armour provides the following advantages

  • Armour (Heavy Armour)
  • Strength (HyperBody)
  • Protection from cold, heat, pressure, oxygen (Immunity)

Sparkle AKA Helen Louise Ross
Appearance: Sparkle is a blonde caucasian woman in her mid-thirties. She’s attractive but her demeanour is very downtrodden. She is surrounded by sparkling motes in the air around her.
Background: Helen was a normal working mum with 2 kids, a busy husband and a dog. She was driving her children home from school when a car ran a red light and was about to hit her car when it was enveloped in sparkling light. The car was hefted over her car and into oncoming traffic causing a 7-car pile-up. Thankfully no-one died. She drove home, shaken more by the Sparkles which still surrounded her, than the accident. Her husband was not understanding, however, and within a matter of weeks she was homeless, presented with a restraining order preventing her from contacting her children and facing charges for criminal damages to 7 cars and 13 personal injury claims. These days, bankrupt and with a 2 year probationary sentence, she work on a construction site as a Lifter and has fallen in with a Talent support group.
Known Talent Abilities:
Sparkle can generate a visible telekinetic field within a short range of her body. The area effect of her ability is indicated by the movement of sparkling motes in the air which affect her ability to remain concealed. She calls this her “Sparkle Effect”.

  • Telekinesis (ADU) – Obvious
  • Flight (U) attached to Telekinesis – Booster, Multiple Targets

Inferno AKA Brad Nelson
Appearance: A well-built caucasian man in his twenties with blond hair
and grey eyes. When using his power, his hair and eyes are usually ‘leaking’ flames.
Background: Brad Nelson was always spoiled. He was tall, good looking, excellent at sports and graduated valedictorian of his class. He had it all and he was a Talent. But, like all spoiled brats, he was greedy. Brad debuted as a supervillain known as Phlogiston in New York. On his first outing, a bank robbery, he was utterly defeated and catapulted into the Hudson. It was desperately humbling. His resolution: become a hero. He took acting lessons, spent more time in the gym and at the dojo, moved across the continent and got himself a PR Agent. He’s not rich, not yet…
Known Talent Abilities:
Inferno can release flame from any part of his body. The shape and intensity of the flame can vary in intensity and he is immune to it’s effects. He cannot lessen ambient flame nor can he shape it into anything other than a burst, though he can reduce the effects.

  • Harm (ARU) – Burn, Killing Only, Engulf, Spray, Obvious
  • Immunity to Flame/Heat – Endless

Hemlock AKA Robert Gage
Appearance: Hemlock is a powerfully built human male who usually wears a close fitting impermeable black garment underneath his normal clothes. His gloves and mask are removable.
Background: Robert Gage developed his toxin producing abilities during gestation and as a result his mother died during an emergency procedure. As he was being delivered, his poisons killed two nurses and incapacitated his doctor. His father fled and refused to have anything to do with him and he was given to an orphanage. He spent his entire youth in isolation, limbs wrapped in plastic, terrified that his touch would kill. Always studious, he was awarded several scholarships, none of which he could accept. After his 16th birthday, he left the orphanage and attempted to make his own way in the world – not an easy task considering his isolationbut he muddled through gaining many useful contacts. Three years later, he was contacted by a lawyer as the sole inheritor of his father’s estate. No longer with any need to work or interact with others for money, he is free to do as his heart desires.
Known Talent Abilities:
Hemlock’s body exudes a powerful toxin which renders a target into an intoxicated delirium and, in very high doses, will kill. He has no control over this effect and therefore gauges the dose as best he can. (Using his poison skill to try to reduce damage).

  • Skill: Poison (to gobble Harm dice)
  • Harm (A, R) – Always On, Touch Only

Wild Talents / ORE

I’ve finally finished reading the system bits of Wild Talents and I do wish I’d read it earlier as it is a pretty solid action system with a lot of crunch and grit.

It’s honestly the first time since reading Marvel Super Heroes by TSR that I felt like I could reliably model any power. MSH will always have a special place in my heart because it modelled things so well (in truth, it did no modelling, it was all narrative).

Essentially Wild Talents uses a system where you buy dice in ‘stats’, ‘powers’ and ‘skills’.

Powers are, ironically. the cheapest thing to buy (which I suppose is fair enough in a superhero game.). The base cost of every power is 1 point for 1 dice. It’s when you add qualities to it that the cost increases.

e.g. We want to create a power called “Fire Generation” which will model the power in the MSH Ultimate Powers Book. To keep the Math simple we’re going to guy one normal dice in it which is the logical equivalent of getting the power at Feeble (2) rank.

1 point spent in Fire Generation allows you to generate a plume of flame. It’s a showy effect but not useful for much else.

Each quality added increases the dice cost by 1 per die.

  • Adding the Attacks quality adds a single point cost but it means that the fire can be directed into an attack. Of course, with 1 dice in it, it’s actually useless but bear with me here.
  • Adding the Defends quality means that the fire can be used to defend against attacks by, burning attackers, destroying missiles and the like. Again, with one die it’s useless but you get the drift.
  • Normally, if you get hurt or otherwise distracted, the power cuts out, and in this case, the flame plume would just stop. The Robust quality means that it keeps working even if you are hurt or distracted but it still stops if you’re knocked out.
  • Fire Generation is a ‘fighting’ power but the ability to generate fire has other uses outside of roasting bank robbers. To be able to cook with it without turning the food to cinders, or light a cigarette without roasting someone alive or even just use it to light a room in the absence of a torch means you have to take the quality “Useful Outside of Combat”.

This means there’s an incredible range of Fire Generating Powers available.

It’s possible to buy Fire Generation with only the Useful Outside of Combat quality. Your character could have a career being a human barbeque, being able to perfectly create a Souffle or warm a room with his presence.

It’s also possible only to buy it with the Attacks quality so that it can only be used to blow things up.

This means a somewhat useless Fire Generation power costs 1 point per die, but a Fire Generation that allows you to attack, will defend you from attacks, will continue to defend you even if you get hurt and can be used to toast marshmallows and keep your coffee warm will cost 5 points per die (because we’ve added all four qualities). That’s quite expensive in points so how do we reduce it? By adding Flaws which reduce the cost per point. More on that later.

Very flexible.

In the next WT post, I’ll talk about the dice conventions, the names of which were a major reason for me to have ignored Godlike and Wild Talents for so long.

More on Godlike

I’ve finished reading the book itself and found it quite enjoyable. I do have some issues with the quick proliferation of Talents and would be seeking to limit them myself. I don’t mind them being very powerful (though there seem to be a lot of indestructable ‘mad’ talents out there.

The money is still on the table on whether it’ll be North Africa or Pacific. Africa would be my preference.

Jim’s background goes into heaps of detail and allowed me to build the Talent power he wanted (I think) using a combination of two powers. It turns him from a simple one-sided Talent into something a little more exciting.

Michael provided two options – the mundane and the spectacular. I much prefer the “mundane” but have a lot of questions about what happens and how.

I’ve not got much detail from Graham yet but that’s probably more to do with my lack of information provision which I’ll remedy this week.

I’m also not sure whether Paul or Aidan will be able to participate. Paul has an awkward schedule and Aidan is in the wrong country (so we’re considering RP via Skype Video).

My next post will be going through the character generation process to make a couple of Talents for the game.