Showing posts with label DC Heroes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DC Heroes. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Episode 164: Greg Gorden Discusses Torg Eternity and Game Design

In Episode 164 of Geekerati Radio, we had the honor of speaking with award winning game designer Greg Gorden about his work on the Torg Eternity Role Playing Game and his thoughts on game design in general. Greg Gorden is one of the most influential game designers in the role playing game industry and his design work includes James Bond 007 for Victory Games, DC Heroes for Mayfair Games, Earthdawn for FASA, Deadlands for Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and Torg for West End Games, and Torg: Eternity for Ulisses Spiele. He has also worked on the Star Wars Role Playing Game for West End Games and many editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Many of his games have gone on to win Origins Awards in their respective categories. He is Ulisses Spiele's line developer for the Torg Eternity Role Playing Game.

Segment 1

In the first segment of the episode, we talk about Torg Eternity and its innovative concept of "invading realities" as a role playing game setting. During this segment, we begin to see some insights into Greg Gorden's continuing efforts to bring player agency into role playing games.

Segment 2

In the second segment, we do a deep dive into Greg's past role playing game design work and explore where he came up with the concepts of "exploding die rolls" and using "dice as attributes." These are only some of the elements of our discussion, but it's a great chat. Have a listen and feel free to share your thoughts.

Segment 3

Episode 164 wraps up with our "Dungeons and Dilemmas" segment featuring Game Master Extraordinaire David Nett. This time we discuss the challenges of designing one shot adventures for three different audiences: your home game, a gaming convention, and for an online streaming show. David's experience working on Geek & Sundry's Starter Kit show and his recent show on ShoutTV! provide him with a wealth of experience on the topic. Give him a listen, then read his followup Twitter thread, and join in the conversation.

Products Discussed

Every episode, we discuss a wide range of popular culture. The discussion can include references to role playing games, comic books, television series, and films. As a part of our mission to share the things we love, we always include a section of the blog post dedicated to highlighting the things we mention so you can check them out and see why we love them so much.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Mutants and Masterminds releases "Powered by Champions" Rulebook

[Edited Shortly After Posting -- This is an April Fool's Joke. I fell for it.]

When the Mutants & Masterminds role playing game was published in 2002, it accomplished something that many thought impossible. It created a workable and balanced superhero game that used the d20 system of the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (link is to 3.5 edition) as its foundation and played like comic books read. Now Mutants & Masterminds is taking another wonderful step and releasing a "powered by Champions" version that will highlight one of the game's inspirations.

When Wizards of the Coast released the 3rd Edition rules set, they had created an Open Gaming License that allowed others to make role playing games and products using the mechanics of 3rd Edition without the need of additional licensing. The Open Gaming License contained all the permissions and restrictions that would apply to the new game. When Wizards of the Coast released this license, there were a number of super hero games that were quickly published by a number of independent designers. These games included, but was not limited to, The Foundation by Team Frog, Blood and Vigilance by RPG Objects, Comic Book Super Heroes RPG by Black Drink Creations, and a d20 version of Silver Age Sentinels by Guardians of Order.

These games varied in quality. All of the games were playable, but some were better simulations of comic books than others. The quality of simulation seemed to be linked with how closely the rules tried to keep to the 3rd Edition rules. The closer the system played to D&D, with classes and levels, the less the game felt like comic book gaming at the table top. In the case of a game like Silver Age Sentinels, which had an excellent system of its own in its non-d20 version, some where surprised that they would attempt a d20 version. Such was the nature of the early d20 boom that even successful games like Deadlands and Traveller, released d20 versions as ways to increase brand recognition and gain exposure to more players.

Mutants & Masterminds displaced or reimagined many of the core concepts of 3rd Edition, like class and levels, and added elements from the classic DC Heroes Game by Mayfair Games. Those elements become even more evident in the 3rd edition of Mutants & Masterminds. The influence of DC Heroes is most visible in the freeform and narrative nature of the combat mechanics. Many D&D mechanics, like flanking, are legacy "Zone of Control" mechanics from both miniature and chit-n-hex wargames. These legacy mechanics are wonderful for the use of miniatures and ensure that certain combat situations are clearly visible on the table, but they are harder to implement without miniatures. My own 3rd edition group began using miniatures (though they were Steve Jackson Games' Cardboard Heroes minis due to the low cost) because we all got tired of asking "is this creature flanking?" Mutants & Masterminds streamlined the combat system toward narrative play and modified the character creation system to be an abstract point buy system similar to DC Heroes and Champions. It was a marvelous combination that resulted in that impossible achievement noted above. It was a super hero role playing game, using a d20 based system, that played like the comic books read. Since its publication it has become one of the best selling super hero games of all time.

The super hero role playing game community is an interesting group though. They tend to collect as many games within the genre as they can and like to borrow ideas from one game and put them in another. A trend in the early super hero rpg scene was for publishers to include rules to port characters from one system to another. That is not a trend that one sees often today, but it is one that Green Ronin appears to be embracing with their latest announcement. Not only will they be providing a version of the Mutants & Masterminds game powered by the Champions RPG engine. They will be releasing a host of products using their IP and other super hero game mechanics. They announced this move today with the creation of the  System Upkeep, Collaboration, & Knowledge Exchange Roundtable.

Here is a copy of that announcement:

For far too long, we here at Green Ronin have stuck our head in the sand and focused entirely on the Mutants & Masterminds game engine, ignoring the many other superhero game systems that came before. And ultimately, that kind of myopia doesn’t benefit anyone but ourselves. Our fans deserve better. We’ve long partnered with Steve Kenson’s Adamant Entertainment to bring you Icons Superpowered Roleplaying, and so we have reached out to the creators of other amazing superhero game engines, both active and defunct, to begin the new Mutants & Masterminds System Upkeep, Collaboration, & Knowledge Exchange Roundtable. Our goal is to bring you the great Mutants & Masterminds products you love, for the systems you play! Releasing at the end of this month is the new Mutants & Masterminds: Deluxe Champions Handbook, powered by classic Champions 3rd edition! Everything you need to play a Champions-powered Mutants & Masterminds campaign, complete with extensive point-buy systems our fans already love, plus tracking END to pay for your powers, sorting your attacks in Killing and Non-Killing, and many other elements that add a much-needed authenticity M&M has always lacked. A lot of you will ask “why not use Hero System, Sixth Edition or Champions Complete?” And that is an excellent question. One which I have no answer to. Licensing is a strange mistress and the rites must be observed. 

We’ve been hard at work to fill out the System Upkeep, Collaboration, & Knowledge Exchange Roundtable line, and you’ll be seeing monthly releases to support it for the next year. After the release of the Mutants & Masterminds: Deluxe Champions Handbook this month, expect soon-to-be fan favorites like Freedom City powered by Villain & Vigilantes, Emerald City powered by Heroes Unlimited, and Rogues Gallery powered by Street Fighter the Storytelling Game!

It's great news for the Mutants & Masterminds brand and it's great news for super hero gamers.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Remembering RPG Campaigns Past -- Meet The Crusaders

When I was and undergraduate at the University of Nevada, Reno I ran a DC Heroes campaign that lasted for a couple of years. It is the most successful superhero campaign I've ever run. I had the luck to have a great group of gamers who were willing to cut loose and have a great time with the genre and who felt free to push the limits of the DC Heroes game system. This campaign is one of the reasons that I think DC Heroes is the best set of rules to play a superhero game, though Marvel Saga System comes in a close second.

The premise of the campaign was pretty simple. I wanted to run a game where the characters were on the same power level as the Justice League, minus Superman and Wonder Woman, and I wanted the game play to have a touch of the feel generated by the Giffen/Maguire/DeMatteis run in the Justice League books. I wanted a mix of action and comedy. To be honest, based on my experience in running RPGs, I knew the comedy would come whether I wanted it or not. It's is the DM's Lament to want to run a game that captures the epic tales of the Eddas and Beowulf only to end up with Monte Python's Holy Grail. Instead of fighting that tendency, I decided to roll with it. The title of the campaign was Justice League: Auxiliary. The premise being that the characters were members of the Justice League, as then managed by Maxwell Lord, but where the second string of the team.

What a team it was too. The membership included an interesting mix of characters about whom my wife (girlfriend at the time) drew a couple of cartoon strips that ran in the school paper The Sagebrush. That brief strip was called "Meet the Crusaders" for obvious copyright reasons.  Over the next few days, I'll be presenting the Crusaders to you and will be including statistics for them for a number of role playing games. The primary games I'll be using to emulate the characters are Wizards of the Coast's excellent 4e based Gamma World game and Pinnacle Entertainment Group's Savage Worlds.

First, let me introduced the team to you.


Gabriel was character who believed himself to be the Archangel Gabriel and who exacted swift justice on any he viewed to be in violation of his very strict code of morality. During a battle with the god Ares, he attempted to use his Aura of Fear power and ended up not only succeeding at cowing Ares but in causing the entire continent of Europe to quiver in fear as his pushing of the power extended the aura over the entire geographic area. The character was played by my good friend, and best man at my wedding, Matt.


One of the great things about the DC Heroes system was it's ability to make almost any superhero and my friend Robert's character Aquarius was one that really demonstrated the strength of the rules. Robert wanted to play a super strong character who was a living water elemental and who could transform his hands into any weapon he imagined. In this particular case, the powers were called Omni-Arm, Density Increase, Dispersal, and Water Control powers. Robert was a relatively new gamer at the time, and had never played a superhero game before, so in the early sessions he tended to limit his use of Omni-Arm to turning his hands into sledge hammers. That changed soon enough.

This is just a glimpse at two of the members of the team. I want to save the other strips for when I present each member's statistics, so you will be seeing these strips again as well as those for Jynx, Vanguard, Spirit, and perhaps the most bizarre superhero ever made...Jody's beloved "Less" who was a character inspired by John Carpenter's THE THING and Larry Cohen's THE STUFF. Who is Less? Why is Less called Less? You'll have to wait for his entry.

To bide you over until the next entry, and I promise it will be soon, here is a glimpse at what the Gamma World statistics sheet (page 1) will look like.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Learning to DM, Thoughts on Campaigns, House Rules, and Rules as Written. #RPGaDay Megapost 2, Days 13-16.

Overall, I've really been enjoying this year's #RPGaDay question line up and am trying to give each question more than a single sentence answer. I love the RPG hobby and questions like these are a time to share thoughts an memories as well as to answer questions.

That's another way of saying, "give me an inch to talk and I'll take 50 miles."

Day 13 - Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

I imagine that for a lot of gamers, this is the kind of question that evokes a tale of the "best gaming session ever." In such a tale, the author would wax poetic about how having a DM of Matt Mercer quality changed their life forever and made them a better gamer. That is not my tale. Mine is a tale of abject failure and learning from that failure.

I'm at a point in my life where I think I'm a pretty darn good DM. My gaming groups tell me they have a good time and there tends to be great energy at my tables and our stories often go off in wild directions. Heck, my groups have even developed their own sayings over the years. My favorite is the famous Drow saying, "It's as easy as shooting a dwarf in a well." I'm not saying I'm on the same level as a GM as Tom Lommel, Jordan Caves-Callarman, David Crennan (America's DM), or Satine Phoenix, but I am proud of the sessions I run. And the reason I am a good DM today, is that I was once a terrible one.

The interesting thing is that I didn't start terrible. I was inexperienced, sure, but the early games that my friend Sean McPhail and I put together had narrative qualities to them and our characters had personality. In my late Elementary school days, I was heading in the right direction. Then came my first experience being a DM for someone who'd never played. (Dun...dun...dun...)

A friend of mine in Middle School, not the one from the Sweet Pickles Bus Wars, saw me with some of my D&D books on campus and wanted to learn to play. We arranged a sleepover at his house with a couple of friends and we did our best all-nighter Stranger Things impersonation. Except it wasn't that cool at all. I had done ZERO preparation and didn't want to use one of the modules I was familiar with. I wanted to run my own adventure to teach these folks the game. So what was my adventure? I don't remember the particulars, and I'm pretty sure that I've suppressed them because it was so bad, but suffice it to say that it started in a tavern, had a fight with goblins, and ended with the PCs going down to Hell and killing Tiamat. They would have slaughtered all the levels of Hell if we hadn't gotten so tired.

That was all in ONE night. From 1st level to high enough to kill Tiamat. It was awful. I knew it was awful at the time. I was essentially opening to random pages in the Monster Manual and having them fight the monsters on the page.

As bad as it was, and as HORRIBLE as I was, it was still fun. It was at that point that I knew the game was better than I was as a DM and this was a good thing. I wanted to aspire to be a DM who improved the quality of the game instead of one who was "saved" by the quality of the game. That night changed my approach to the hobby and I'm grateful to the friends who endured the evening and were kind enough to wait years before mocking me for it.

Day 14 - Which RPG do you prefer for open ended-campaign play?

For me, the most important quality for open ended play is that the characters start out as great at what they do and stay that way. For a game to be truly open-ended, it cannot have class levels where characters start as inexperienced and work their way up to demi-god status. That makes for a great campaign, but not open-ended gaming that can be picked up at any time and place. In my mind, and this may be different for you, open-ended play is like a never ending soap opera. And I mean that as a complement. Good soap operas tell compelling stories for decades, but they don't tend to have people go from newb to l33t. If someone is l33t, they stay that way.

Games like D&D and with its levels, or Runequest with it's path to Rune Lord, don't fit that bill for me. They are fantastic games, but not open-ended in the way I'm interpreting this question. Surprisingly, Call of Cthulhu isn't either. I've heard too many stories of players with skill ratings in the implausible range, or even with enough power to fight the Elder Gods (can you imagine? That's like my D&D story above), to think that Call of Cthulhu fits the bill.

The best role playing games for open-ended action are super hero role playing games. The characters all start out highly capable, they are super heroes after all, and in most systems the character improvement curve is very shallow depending on how you run the game. In Champions, as Aaron Allston pointed out in Strike Force, characters tend to learn new things rather than get increasingly better at the things they do. This is especially true if you are enforcing campaign wide Damage Class restrictions. Mutants and Masterminds has a similar phenomenon. But the best two games for this kind of action are Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) and DC Heroes (MEGS), and of these two I have a deep love of DC's system.

What both of these systems share is that they use experience as an expendable resource. In Marvel it's Karma and in DC it's Hero Points. In both cases, the points can be spent to have an effect on outcomes. Why is Spider-Man able to hang out with Thor in fights? Because he spends a lot of Karma in those battles. Why doesn't Thor get even more Godlike? Because increases at his capabilities are super expensive and it's easier to learn to do new tricks with your powers. Why is Batman able to hang with the Justice League, I mean seriously? Because he blows through Hero Points like nobody's business. He's constantly going for "Devastating Blows" and Pushing attacks all day. Sure, his devastating blows are in the form of "exploiting the weaknesses of his opponents" rather than haymakers, but that's the mechanic.

Batman and Spider-Man's player can play for years and only increase in power by an increment, or choose to get better at a lot of things. The stories though, never get stale. This is because the challenges are at a fixed level an stay there.

I imagine that D&D could work that way if you started at 5th level or so and just told stories at that challenge rating, but that fails to take advantage of the "I'm getting better calculus" that underlies the game. The calculus underlying Marvel and DC is "I just did something normally not possible at my power level" and that's why it feels satisfying for very long periods of time.

Your mileage may very, but that's the kind of gaming I like for open-ended campaigns.

Day 15 -- Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

Image by Andrew Asplund
Given my love of the Savage Worlds gaming system, one might expect that I'd drop that one down right here. Nope. Not that I run it "as is," though I mostly do, but it's not the one I'm always wondering what I could do with it. Though to be honest, I have yet to see anything it can't do with a little tweaking. The game I enjoy adapting the most is 4th Edition D&D, in particular it's Gamma World variation.

Shocking! I know.

It's just that the game can do pretty much EVERYTHING. It makes the basis of a very good super hero game. It's easy as pie to make Rocket Raccoon using the rules. You can be the characters from freakin' Phoenix Wright!

For what it's worth, I find that the Gamma World iteration and Essentials are all you really need. Once you realize that the game is really an effects based game and that you can rename powers whatever you want, it opens up endless possibilities. Coming from a super hero background, as I do, reskinning powers has never been an issue for me and I think this game can do least in a one shot setting.

Day 16 - Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

Truth be told, I play most games "as is." I don't have a lot of time to spend creating house rules for games I'm playing and changing them up. I'd rather write adventures than tweaks to a magic system. This isn't to say that I don't do any house ruling, but I do tend to try to give the designers respect when I sit down to play. For example, a lot of people feel uncomfortable with Savage Worlds' initiative system when they first read about it. "You mean it uses CARDS? And you reshuffle a lot?" But the fact is that it's a fast, furious, and fun way of handling initiative that has a lot more give and take that it might seem just reading the rules.
Clearly from my previous statement about reskinning 4e like crazy, 4e isn't the game I play "as is." No, that honor goes to Champions 4th Edition...still the best edition in my mind. The fact is that Champions is extremely well designed and well balanced and any tinkering I want to do is filled up with making characters and not house rules. The 4th edition of the game stretched the rules to as granular a level as I like to play. 5th edition got a little too "engineering" based for me and the players I gamed with started to fall too much into the "if it's not on your page and paid for, you can't do it" camp for my liking and that seemed to be a trend with 5th edition. The 4th edition started down that path, but was only beginning. Like GURPS and 3.x/Pathfinder, this is a rules set that tries to have a rule for everything to ensure that you have a fair and consistent answer for every question. The underlying math is sound in the game, though Wayne Shaw did make an argument for a change in the skill system on my Geekerati podcast that I agree with.

If only I had 4 weeks to teach people how to play and make characters before starting up a campaign. I really miss playing this game, but it's not one that's easy for players to pick up and play. There is an initial learning curve, particularly if you are making your own characters. But God is it a great game.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Game a Day, for a Week?! What is this Madness?! #RPGaDAY Day 6

While all of the #RPGaDAY prompts are thought provoking, most of them fall into the realm of "realistic." Today's prompt is the rare exception. Autocratik's question of the day is, "You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do." First, that's a wonderful fantasy. I wish I had the time to game every day for a week, RPG game that is. I'm pretty sure that I could find a way to fit in a game a day if I really tried. It's just that the gaming would include things like Solitaire/Patience and a couple of quick Dice based games from Reiner Knizia's essential book of dice games. As for role playing games, that would be impossible...or would it?

I'd have the friends/family I gamed with rotate the GM role when it's needed.

Here's what I imagine I'd be playing during this mythical week of a game a day.

1) The Prince Valiant Role Playing Game.

Have 10 minutes and a small pile of quarters? Then you can learn to play this game and get playing.

The Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game is a fantastic starter RPG and it's one that I'd like to play a little bit more. The "Pokemon Emergency" box set comes with a complete mini-campaign.

3) Chill

Quick and easy, this game can be played straight out of the box and the very simple introductory adventure allows for a lot of role playing while also making it easy for the novice game master to run.

4) Home by Jim Pinto

The rule book is 32 short pages, all it requires is a deck of regular playing cards, and it's the first in Jim Pinto's very thematic and dramatic Protocol series of games. I'd love to play a few of these with my group, and a game fest like this would be the perfect opportunity. Oh, and I'd have the US version published with the Spanish cover.

5) Arena of Khazan by Ken St. Andre

C'mon, there is no way I'm getting a group of gamers over every day to play and Ken St. Andre's Arena of Khazan is one of the best, and most replayable, solo dungeons ever written.

6) DC Heroes by Mayfair Games

In order to expedite play, and get straight to the action, I'd use the "Exposed" starter adventure included in the 2nd edition boxed set. It's a commentary on reality tv culture, in the case of the adventure of Geraldo Rivera, but it is surprisingly topical. It's also funny, has a great mix of heroes, and ends up with a smashingly fun free for all.

7) Tails of Equestria 

A family friendly role playing game designed by the creator of the Mordheim skirmish miniature game? Yes please! This game is wonderfully easy to pick up and play and has a core mechanic that inspires creative thinking. It's also a great first game to GM.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Favorite New Games, Most Surprising Game, and Other #RPGaDay2015 Catch Up on Prompts 3 through 11

I've already posted answers to the first two #RPGaDay2015 prompts by +Autocratik, but I wanted to catch up before focusing on longer posts for some of the future answers. I'll be answering the prompts between 3 and 11 today. Some of these deserve longer posts, and I will likely do some later, but I don't want to drop the ball like I did last year and not answer all the prompts.

You can find my answers to Prompt 1 (Most Anticipated Pending Product) and Prompt 2 (Kickstarter Project Most Pleased to Have Backed) at the appropriate links.

3)  Favorite New Game in the Past 12 Months -- The Strange from Monte Cook Games.

4) Most Surprising Game -- James Bond RPG from Victory Games. This is quite simply one of the best espionage role playing games ever designed and given the poor state of licensed games at the time it was quite a feat. You can get the retroclone Classified here.

5) Most Recent RPG Purchase -- Fantasy AGE by Green Ronin Publishing. I also ordered their TitansGrave campaign sourcebook.

6) Most Recent RPG Played -- Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. I love the game and it gives my players a break from all of their 5th Edition D&D games.

7) Favorite Free RPG -- Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules by Wizards of the Coast. There is enough there for years of gaming. There are other free rules I enjoy, but when Wizards offers most of 5e for free it's a big deal.

8) Favorite Appearance of RPGs in the Media -- The Big Bang Theory.  I know that this show has gotten a lot of hate from the gaming community because "They are playing it wrong," but it's my favorite appearance for two reasons. First, David Goetsch and Maria Ferrarri - writers on the show - have been kind enough to visit my podcast twice (First TBBT Visit and Second TBBT Visit) in which they demonstrate how geeky they are. Second, and more importantly, they show players having fun. Everyone is having a good time when they play, and that makes it a good appearance.

I'd like to give special recognition to TitansGrave and True Detective Season 2. I almost gave it to True Detective because Ray's son was playing at recess on a DIY grid-map made from a cardboard box and with random action figures as miniatures, but I opted for TBBT.

9) Favorite Media You Wish was an RPG -- Thundarr the Barbarian. This was an extremely difficult question because it seems like this year is the year when all my RPG wishes are coming true. Modiphius is releasing a John Carter role playing game. Flash Gordon is being released by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. There was an official Sherlock Holmes game produced this year. It really seems like all my favorite stuff is getting made with official adaptations. That leaves Thundarr. There are several unofficial mockups, but I'd like to see what could happen if someone did a professional version. Ideally, I'd like a version based on the 4e adapted Gamma World, but that would be impossible.

10) Favorite RPG Publisher -- Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Good people, creative ideas, and focus on fun. Savage Worlds, Necessary Evil, Rippers, Flash Gordon, Deadlands, Weird War II, Slipstream, Solomon Kane... Oh, and I've written something that they'll be publishing later this year.

11) Favorite RPG Writer -- Greg Gorden. He has been a part of most of my favorite role playing games. He worked on James Bond, DC Heroes, Torg, Deadlands, and so many more. His design sensibilities add cinematic qualities to everything he works on.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

#RPGaDAY 6: Favorite RPG You Never Get to Play -- DC HEROES in a Landslide

As I mentioned in the second post in this - behind schedule - series, DC Heroes is the first game I ever truly Gamemastered. I was an undergrad in college at the time and had just finished playing in a couple of remarkably well GM'd games.

There was Roger Frederick's GURPS Riverworld extravaganza that was a wonderful role playing experience and set us at odds with Horatio Herbert Kitchener. To this day, I despise Kitchener beyond all reason. There was the D&D campaign in which Rob Faust's character and mine were character was "so strong he carried hemp rope." There was also a fun Amber game I played in that demonstrated both how well that system could be run and how lame it could turnout -- all due to the diceless mechanic.

I had also read a couple of books that discussed role playing games and how to run them. The best of these were Aaron Allston's Strike Force for the Champions RPG and the stuff in The Fantasy Role Playing Gamer's Bible based on Robin Laws' writings on player types.

I was ready to run an rpg and I was in the mood for a super hero game. I had recently acquired the 2nd Edition of the DC Heroes RPG and the sheer toy factor of that boxed set convinced me that this was the super hero game I wanted to play. That and the fact that TSR's Marvel game has some really wonky bits when it comes to certain match ups. Picture for yourself what a comic book smackdown between Captain America and The Everlovin' Blue-eyed Thing looks like. Got it? That's not at all what it would be like in the TSR Marvel system. There's a lot that is good about the TSR game, but unlike Champions (and to some extent DC Heroes) having a system where Captain America can hurt The Thing isn't one of them. Oh...and depending on the Wolverine write up, he can't hurt The Thing either.

So I wanted to us the DC Heroes system, but I wanted to use it in a manner that was "comic universe neutral." My DC Heroes earth had both Marvel New York and DC Metropolis. Captain America and the Invaders joined Sandman and the Justice Society in their quest to bash Nazis around. Conversion between TSR's Marvel to the DC Heroes system was a cinch since - in my view - DC Heroes APs correlate 1:1 with Champions DCs. Using this guideline the Hulk had either a 12 Strength or a 20 depending on whether I adhered to TSR's "carrying capacity" or just converted Strength 1:1 to Champions. I did the latter and my "DC" Hulk has a 20 Strength. Using the DC system, there is little need to give him the "grows as he gets mad" mechanics one might build into a Champions character. DC's "hero points" mechanic has that covered. If the Hulk needs to hold up a mountain - ala Secret Wars - he can push his Strength and spend the points. This had the effect that some of DC's more epic heroes were slightly more powerful than their Marvel counterparts, but close enough for government work. A battle between my "DC" Hulk and Superman wouldn't be without significant collateral damage, and it wouldn't be a cake walk for Supes.

What do/did I like most about DC Heroes? What makes it special? Most of these come down to Greg Gorden's design work on the game. If you don't know Greg Gorden's name, you should. He worked on the James Bond 007 RPG, Torg, Earthdawn, DC Heroes, Deadlands, and a host of other games. The games he worked on seem to share an ability to capture "cinematic awesomeness." The Bond game has areas of expertise where the PC is so good at stuff he/she doesn't have to roll to succeed. DC Heroes has the Hero Point mechanic and open ended die rolls on doubles. Hero Points can be spent to "push" abilities, but they can also be spent to "alter the environment." Did Hawkman drop his mace and desperately needs a replacement? Spend X number of Hero Points and there might just be a crowbar on the counter. DC Heroes pushes the players to become active narrators in the game play. DC even rewarded players for creating and playing out purely narrative sub-plots, this is very much like TSR Marvels use of Karma rewards for having Peter Parker pick up the laundry.

The game is great. It has clean mechanics. It's easy to learn to play and run. But it's out of print. None of the players in my group own a copy and while it is easy to learn the basics there are some maneuvers available in combat and non-combat that are more complex in concept. They are all easy in implementation, but you have to become familiar with them. The game also has a point based build component and even with this excellent character generator program, that means homework for the players or a PC generation day and my players don't tend to like those. Oh, and they also suffer analysis paralysis with questions like "How smart are you compared to Hank Pym or Batman?"

So I never get to play the game. That's okay. There are some other great superhero games out there. The Marvel Saga game and the recent Margaret Weis Productions Marvel game are pretty darn fun too.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

[Superhero RPGs] Changling of the Teen Titans: The Same Hero in Different Systems

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that  I consider Different Worlds magazine to be one of the great publications of what James Maliszewski calls the Golden Age of D&D.  The magazine ran from 1979 to 1987.  It was initially published by Chaosium, then by Sleuth Publications, and finally by Different Worlds Publications.  Two of those companies are still around today, and one is going very strong.

I was particularly impressed with Different Worlds' famously reprinted issue 23.  That issue was a "Special Superhero Issue" that contained articles by the designers of CHAMPIONS, VILLAINS & VIGILANTES, SUPERGAME, SUPERWORLD, and SUPERHERO 2044.  That's right, the designers of all the major superhero rpgs of the time had an article in that issue.  Add to this a cover illustrated by Bill Willingham and stats for the X-men in three different game systems (V&V, Champions, and Superworld) by the game designers, and you have a truly special magazine issue.  I would argue that it is the single best issue of a gaming magazine published to date.


The success of this issue led Tadashi Ehara -- the magazine's editor -- do make the Special Superhero issue a somewhat regular feature, and a year later with issue 30 in September of 1983 the magazine had a special "New Teen Titans" issue.  This issue provides statistics for the New Teen Titans -- Nightwing and crew, though he's still Robin at the time -- for CHAMPIONS, VILLAINS & VIGILANTES, and SUPERWORLD.  Three systems that each handle super powers differently, but that are all workable systems.  The statistical representation of the characters, all done by the system designers, reveal interesting things about the rules themselves.  This is especially true for the character of Changeling.  As a shape shifter, his powers are a challenge to emulate.  How do you design a character who can become any animal?  It's a difficult design question, but one that comes up from time to time in the comics.  It is also a question that eventually led CHAMPIONS to adopt the "Multiform" power, a solution that I've never been fond of.

Starting with CHAMPIONS, the character of Changeling is represented as a relatively normal heroic character in his base statistics, but has all of his shapechanging powers in a single 200 point multipower with all of his abilities represented as variable "multi" slots.

133 pts.   200 pt Multipower (+1/4 only reasonable creatures, +1/4 x6 END Battery) 
27m        Growth (200 pts)
  7m        Density Increase (50)
            7m        Flight (50)

It goes on like that to include a number of possible power combinations.  It's a solution, but one that isn't much better than the "multiform" solution later implemented.  I have always liked the use of a multipower in order to simulate this kind of ability, but I prefer one of two options not presented by Steve Peterson here.  First would be the each "animal" is a different "ultra" slot in a multipower.  Thus Gorilla would be one slot and Monkey another.  The other way would be to have several multipowers.  One for offensive abilities, a second for defensive, a third for movement, and a fourth for "variable senses and options."  Any of these can work, but as you can see any version also requires a lot of work by the player to get what they want.

Steve Perrin's SUPERWORLD adaptation was to just give Changeling all of the powers -- heightened strength, shrinking, growth, armor, movement, etc. each with a conditional use modifier of "only in certain shapes."  This is followed by a list of shapes that Changeling can assume: man, bear, cat, bird, canine, snake, elephant, octopus, and so on.  Any animal that he has listed, he can become.  And the GM and player can discuss which powers are appropriate to the form.  This is a pretty good solution, but it also requires bookkeeping with regard to building and then maximizing each form.

Jack Herman in his VILLAINS & VIGILANTES adaptation highlights the "rulings over rules" nature of the V&V system.  In this game, there is not shapechange power that quite captures Changeling's ability.  So Herman gives Changeling the following power:

TRANSFORMATION (Shapeshifter/Creatures): PR for each change equals the square root of the number of Basic Hits possessed by the new form assumed.  Any shape having over 20 Basic Hits cannot be maintained for more than 11 turns.  Smaller shapes have no time limit.  Only creature/animal shapes may be assumed, including intelligent non-human species, but he must be familiar with the creature to copy its shape.
 That's it.  Leaving the player and GM to design each and every animal the player can turn in to.  Other than having to design a lot of animal stats, this is a pretty nice adaptation.  It is also one that Herman had to invent as the power isn't in the rulebook.  That's the nature of V&V though.  House rules rule the day.

When the DC Heroes RPG eventually came out, they represented Changeling in the following way.
He's got stats that are at the high end of normal human ability, except for his Body stat which is quite good.  His shape change power is represented by... well... the shape change power which is as follows:

I am a big fan of the DC Heroes solution.  It is similar to Herman's, but balanced by being a very expensive power to have at high levels, though inexpensive enough for a starting character to purchase it.  It limits abilities to existing animals, and many can be found in the appendix.  Like all of the options though, it does require a player to have a number of character sheets at the ready to represent Changeling in multiple forms.

I think it is interesting how the different games each approached the design challenge that a shape changing character brings.  I don't know that any has a perfect solution.  I like DC Heroes' solution, but only because their underlying AP rules structure means that each numerical value has a very specific meaning.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

[Film Trailer] Justice League: Doom -- Looks Interesting

DC's theatrical releases have been hit or miss -- I'll be posting my Green Lantern film review soon -- but their animated projects have tended to be excellent.  Everything from Batman: The Brave and the Bold to All-Star Superman has been entertaining.  By the looks of this official preview, that trend is continuing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

I am Now Officially a Game Designer!

Every game master is a game designer at heart.  Every game session GMs make little decisions regarding player actions that seem to lay just outside the parameters of the rules as written for the game at hand.  We're used to making these decisions, but we don't often think of these things as formal game design.  That doesn't stop almost every game master from dreaming about becoming a professional game designer.  I imagine that most Fantasy Heartbreakers got their origins in the mind of a game master turned game designer.

(I have my own thoughts about the current trend to use Fantasy Heartbreaker derogatorily, but that is another post entirely.)

For years, my own design itch was scratched by game play and on line forums.  I spent a long period of time scouring Greyhawk texts for minutiae and discussing them with fellow fans on the AOL Greyhawk boards.  I also spent time on the various DC Heroes boards arguing about rules and coming up with new "fixes" for things within that rules set.  Anyone who doesn't think of DC Heroes as an "effects based" game should hunt down those old boards in the wayback machine -- sadly many of theme were lost when the "alt dot" archives faded away.  My participation in these boards eventually led to me contributing to the <em>Blood of Heroes</em> roleplaying game where I had written some rules contributions in a couple of the powers -- Superspeed is one of them if I remember correctly.  While this initial contribution might have led some to leverage participation in one product into a career, it didn't have that effect on me.  Graduate school, work, and adjusting to living in a new city (Los Angeles) took up the majority of my mental focus and dreams of being a designer faded into the background.

That all began to change about a year and a half ago when I started soliciting opportunities to playtest new games.  I have a regular gaming group made up of some very imaginative and thoughtful gamers, and I thought to myself they would be the perfect sounding board for new ideas and games.  How right I was.  I began playtesting a number of games, some of which are listed on the right hand column of this blog, and have had a great time doing it.  In fact, this playtesting has caused me to begin to feel very comfortable with the concept of designing games and I have begun reaching out in that direction recently.

One of the opportunities that emerged as I began reaching out was George Strayton's <em>The Secret Fire</em> project.  I was initially invited in to write some flavor text for some sections of the rules -- in fact my some of my flavor text is among the quotes praised in the forum praising/dissing the game -- but my role quickly evolved into rules development itself.  I was involved in discussions of game mechanics, balance, intentions, combat, spells, etc. and it was a great time.  The game was recently formally announced and is now available on Lulu, though it will soon be available from a variety of sources.  George was a great lead developer to work with -- his credits include <em>Star Wars d6</em> -- and he allowed me to play devil's advocate and to offer seemingly random ideas.  He turned game design into a sand box of joy.

The experience has inspired me and you will definitely be seeing more game design from me in the future.  I am currently putting together a pitch for the first <em>The Secret Fire</em> expansion, a couple for Super Genius Games, some for Victory Point Games, and my own company -- Twin Suns Entertainment LLC -- will be designing a number of games in the coming years.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Meet The Crusaders -- The Archangel Gabriel

In the 90s, I ran a DC Heroes campaign for a close knit group of friends that lasted for a couple of years. The players all made characters who were supposed to be around "Justice League" power level, but they could make heroes based on any concept they desired. While I was using the DC Heroes rules set for the campaign, the characters were equally likely to be facing Magneto or Doctor Polaris in combat as I incorporated characters from both the Marvel and DC universes.

For a short period during the campaign, my wife made some short cartoon strips based on the role playing adventures of the team members. Some of the results were quite amusing. One of my favorite characters in the game was the Archangel Gabriel. My dear friend Matt York came up with the character concept. You see, Gabriel is an immensely powerful super powered being who believes that he is an Archangel in the service of the Lord. His power and righteousness might lead one to believe he is correct in this opinion, but his stint in an insane asylum and his interesting interpretation of what merits swift retributions might make you rethink the issue.

Click on Image for Larger Version

Click on Image for Larger Version

The third panel in the Origin strip refers to a time during our DC Heroes campaign where Gabriel was in battle with Ares in the European Theater of Operations during a time travel story. Gabriel used his Aura of Fear power in an attempt to intimidate the God of War and give the rest of the Crusaders some benefit during the combat -- Herakles wanted to "bestow upon Ares 'the Gift.'" Matt rolled his attack, which he had already pumped up with hero points to make more effective, and it came up doubles, so he rolled again and added that result to his prior result, but he had rolled doubles again. ...and so on, and so on. He rolled doubles more times than I can remember and his result was literally off the charts. The massive Aura of Fear, which now extended over the entire continent of Europe, not only cowed Ares, but sent put the fear of God into every person in the ETO.

It was a great moment from a great character.