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

Monday, July 03, 2023

Geekerati Video: Chatting with Alan Bahr About Swords of Meropis and Tabletop Role Playing Games

 Alan Bahr is publisher and lead designer for Gallant Knight Games and his company recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for a storytelling game called Swords of Meropis. Alan was inspired by Sword & Sandals films like Jason and the Argonauts and wanted to make a game that captured the feel of those classic fantasy tales.

In this interview, I chat with Bahr about the inspiration behind Swords of Meropis and the basic mechanics underlying this storytelling focused role playing game. Bahr is no stranger when it comes to designing games focusing more on interaction than on tactical combat, but this is one of his first designs that fully utilizes what I call a “player focused” storytelling approach.

It’s an approach that really came into design focus with Better Games’ series of Free Style Role Play games in the 1990s. While there were some earlier games that incorporated storytelling elements, like Greg Stafford’s inspired Prince Valiant Story-Telling Game (originally published in 1989), the Free Style Role Play system games like Conrad’s Fantasy, Where Fools Dare to Tread, and Good Guys Finish Last by Better Games really pushed the boundaries of player agency and narrative focus in a way that would be immediately recognizable to a player of Apocalypse World and other modern storytelling focused games. Better Games were a major contributor in the Southern California gaming scene in the 1990s and their ideas were ahead of their time.

Just take a look at this character sheet for their horror game Where Fools Dare to Tread.


Since this is a starting character, there are no numbers on the sheet except for the task resolution chart. As the character gained experience, the only numbers you would see would be bonuses, such as a +1, to the skills. I’ll be doing a deeper dive into the mechanics of Better Games’ Where Fools Dare to Tread in my extended analysis of Candela Obscura by the Critical Role team, but you can easily see how cutting edge this game was mechanically.

Alan and I don’t discuss Better Games in detail, but it is a game in the same vein as Alan’s design for Swords of Meropis. The focus is on player agency and storytelling, but with mechanics that allow for solo gaming as well as troupe based play.

Check out the conversation. We talk about a lot more than his upcoming game and our discussion ventures into how while we often hear and see role playing game play presented as art, we don’t often enough think about game design as art. Just as live streaming performances and home games are moments of theatrical art, so too is good game design an example of artifice.

Take the time to watch and/or listen and please make sure to share if you enjoyed the discussion.

Monday, June 12, 2023

A Conversation with Steven Schend about Super Hero Role Playing Games


A while back Geoff Engelstein wrote a 2-part series on his GameTek newsletter about game balance. The discussion primarily focused on different types of balance in table top board games, but it inspired me to think about the different types of balance in table top role playing games and how that focus has moved around over the years. I’m in the process of organizing my thoughts and doing a lot of background reading. This reading has ranged from Glen Blacow’s article in Different Worlds #10 and Robin Laws’ Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering and includes a lot of additional reading in rpg game design theory.

The tl;dr version of my thoughts is that table top role playing games have a number of types of game balance that ought to be considered when designing the game and that these kinds of balance tend to line up with different styles of play. The most obvious type of game balance is “combat balance” where the various kinds of characters are balanced mechanically with regards to their combat capabilities. You can see the evolution of the importance of this kind of balance in D&D from one edition to the next. Earlier editions had tremendous imbalance in this category, but more recent versions have much more “balanced” classes in combat. The first real step in this direction was when D&D 3rd edition gave Wizards proficiency with the light and heavy crossbow. This gave Wizards much more effectiveness in combat and much more to do in combat situations.

This was a break from D&D’s traditional balance focus. Prior to 3rd edition, the main thrust of balance between character classes had been an “activity” balance. John Eric Holmes, the author/editor of the first D&D Basic Set, discussed the vitality of this kind of balance in his book Fantasy Role Playing Games when he discussed how D&D’s game balance was expressly designed to promote moral behavior.

I’ll save further discussion of this topic for later, but I mention this because these thoughts were all in the background when I sat down with game designer Steven Schend to talk about super hero role playing games. I’ve got a deep love of super hero role playing games, and at one time could say I owned every game in publication, and Steven worked on the old Marvel FASERIP system. In this YouTube chat we talk about a lot of different elements of super hero rpgs, but one thing I mentioned a number of times was “role” balance. Super hero rpgs have a number of design decisions to make with regards to balance, and one is to abandon combat balance and focus on activity or role balance. One of the best, and Steven’s personal favorite (FASERIP), does exactly that.

Watch the video. Like and subscribe and feel free to comment on what we missed. We missed a lot, so I’ll be wanting to chat more about super hero rpgs in the future.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

SENTRY FORCE #0 Provides an Entertaining Glimpse at Tiny Supers' "Gallantverse"

Gallant Knight Games ran the Kickstarter campaign for their Tiny d6 based super hero role playing game Tiny Supers in July/August 2018. I've chatted about Tiny Supers on the Geekerati Podcast, but haven't done a full review of the game. The tl;dr version is that the system has quickly become one of my top 10 super hero rpgs ever. It's easy to learn and very flexible. I loved the system so much that in the blog post for the Tiny d6 episode of the podcast, I did quick conversions of two members of the Fantastic Four (The Human Torch and the Invisible Woman).

I'll do a full review of the Tiny Supers game later this week, but last week Gallant Knight Games' own Alan Bahr sent Kickstarter backers a copy of Sentry Force Prime #0, the first (and hopefully not only) comic book based in their in house Gallant-Verse super setting. I've had a chance to read the comic, several times and in a couple of formats, in order to give it a thorough examination. Before I get deep into the weeds of my analysis of the book, I'd like to give you my overall impression of the book.

TL;DR/Overall Impression

I like it a lot. It's not perfect, and suffers from what I call "pilotitis" when discussing television shows, but it is a fun and engaging book. I love the illustration style and I am impressed with Alan Bahr's attempt at writing a "team origin story" for his first ever comic book script. The short and sweet? Buy it and make sure you read the pdf in "2-page mode" in order to get the most out of Nic Giacondino's art work.

The Good, the Bad, and the Awesome

There are two things that are essential in order for a comic book to "work, you need good writing and good art and in that order. Sentry Force has both. They aren't perfect (as will be discussed in "The Bad" section) but they are good.

When I was an undergrad I took a couple of creative writing classes with an award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author. Over time, she became one of my most supportive mentors and I am eternally grateful to her. One of the most important lessons she taught me was that "writing a novel is hard, but writing a short story can be even harder." What she meant by this is that readers of novels will allow the writer to meander, but readers of short fiction demand tight, lean, and compelling prose. The medium itself demands it. While comic books may have the benefit of beautiful art, their word count is small and if you are writing a fully contained origin story for one-shot title, you've given yourself quite a writing challenge. There's a reason that the Avengers comic book was written after the characters had their own stand alone books, and there's a reason the Marvel movies started with solo stories rather than jumping right into the first Avengers film. It's easier to create one compelling protagonist at a time than to try to connect readers with multiple protagonists in one go.

It's a difficult challenge to meet, but author Alan Bahr manages this task. The Sentry Force is filled with an interesting array of characters that fit a nice array of super hero archetypes while retaining a touch of their own personality. Velocity, the techie "Iron Man" proxy and the hero who assembles the team, is presented as a man desperately outmatched in a city on the edge of collapse as new villains emerge. He's running as fast as he can to keep the city safe, but he cannot do it alone and what heroes there are in Sentry City have yet to work together in any meaningful way. Velocity wants to help, but all he can do is triage. A fitting metaphor as in his secret identity, he runs a medical supply company. The character is a nice balance of arrogance, vulnerability, and desperation. He might also be, as is revealed in the comic's "voiceover," one of the causes of the rise of meta-humans. Bahr crams in a lot of backstory without a lot of exposition. That gives depth to the setting, but it also leaves room for interpretation and development. Did Velocity's tapping into the Tachyon Bridge merely result in the creation of his Velocity armor, or is it a partial explanation of the emergence of meta-humans? I'm guessing it's just the first, but the second possibility could be developed into some fun story lines.

The first Gallant Knight Games product I backed on Kickstarter was the Powder Mage Roleplaying Game based on the excellent book series by Brian McClellan. It was a very good attempt at adapting McClellan's fictional world to the Savage Worlds rules set. It was especially rich as a Black Powder Mage Universe world guide. In another world, that might have been the only Gallant Knight Games product I purchased, but that would be a world where Alan Bahr didn't work with great artists. From the first time I saw concept art Michael Leavenworth put together for the 2nd Edition of the Tiny Dungeon Role Playing Game, I knew I had to back that game. From their, Bahr introduced me to a number of talented illustrators who's work was different than that being used by other role playing game companies. Of the Gallant Knight Games pool of artists, one stands apart from the others in my esteem. Nicolas Giacondino is the Jack "King" Kirby of the Gallant Knight Games stable. His work is consistently evocative and fun and brings to mind many of my favorite comic book artists. When I see a Giacondino page, his work brings to mind the layouts of Keith Giffen and the art of Matt Wagner, Chris Sprouse, Ty Templeton, and Mike Wieringo. All of these artists have clean line work and demonstrated that the 4-color illustration style of the Silver and Bronze age of comics could be as sophisticated and dynamic as the best of the Iron and Digital Age illustrators.

You can see the influence of these artists on Nic's work in many places, but one place I wanted to examine briefly is in how Giacondino approaches page layouts. Take a look at these three pages with art by Matt Wagner, Keith Giffen, and Nic Giacondino. It should be noted that I intentionally chose one of Giacondino's "least interesting" pages in order to make this quick demonstration, but it should also be clear from even this basic page that Giacondino understands how to tell a story graphically. Each of these pages is a riff on the classic "9 panel page." Two of them are expressly 9 panel pages. Giacondino's page uses the structure of the Giffen (center) page, but uses narrative techniques demonstrated in both the other comics. Notice how Giacondino starts at a wide anger and zooms in one step at each step of the conversation. He's playing with point of view and demonstrating the increasing intensity of the argument between the characters. It's similar to what Wagner is doing in the panels from MAGE #1, which alternates from mid-shot to close-up to match the information being transmitted in the dialogue.

One of the things that stands out in the Giancondino piece, though this really should wait for "The Awesome" section, is that he hand inked the pages. Inking by hand and not digitally or by color coding gives his illustrations a nice depth of space more closely aligned with the Wagner illustration on the left than the more flat-space dominated Giffen art from LEGION OF SUPERHEROES in the middle. Even in a "boring" Giacondino panel, you see variety and texture. We'll see more of his work as I move through "The Bad" and "The Awesome." I do have one small quibble with the page and that is with the lack of window frame behind Camila Cantor. The yellow space behind her is a paneled window and those panels are shown on the next page and add needed background to the page.

Which brings me to "The Bad" elements of the book, none of which are too bad but all of which need to be discussed honestly if I want you to trust my opinion about comics and other media. I really liked this book, but has roughness around the edges.

The first patch of roughness comes in the use of exposition. Bahr doesn't use a lot of it, but there is one case where it needed significant tightening. In presenting Velocity's backstory on page 3, Bahr has the following two sentences back to back. "We were exploring tachyon physics to cure muscular disability and illness, but we stumbled onto the Tachyon Bridge..." and "I had to shut down the research, lock it up, and control it, because what we unlocked with the Tachyon Bridge was bigger than anything I'd ever dreamed of." What is striking here is the repetition of the term Tachyon Bridge. The second sentence could easily read, "I had to shut down the research, lock it up, and control it, because what we unlocked was bigger than anything I'd ever dreamed of." By eliminating the repetition of "with the Tachyon Bridge" it reads quicker and cleaner. There are a couple of small things like this. They aren't deal breakers by any means, but they demonstrate a writer learning to write in a new medium. Comic book story telling needs to be tight and this is a little loose. To be fair to Bahr, I've been reading some older Gardner Fox books (his CROM comic book if you must know) and Bahr's work here is significantly better than Fox's on that title. Let's just say that when you're work is better than Fox's, at any point in his career, you're doing fine.

The second patch of roughness comes in the art work. I know I praised the art earlier and I'll praise it more because Nic is AMAZING, but he's not perfect. Let's take these two pages of action. Where Velocity foils a bank robbery by the villain Darklight. We've got great action flow on the first page, but then WHOAH! What's happening? That top panel on page 5 has me wondering who's PoV we are seeing from. It's not the guy Velocity saved. We can see him on the top of the panel. Who is looking at the world upside down and why? It really pulled me out of the action. Which is too bad, because the action of the panel is fantastic if confusing at this PoV. I can see what Nic is attempting using the split faces on the top of the page, and that's nice, but a small modification really helps the page pop in my opinion.

Sentry Force Pages 4 and 5 (as Published)

What if we didn't feel it was necessary to keep the compelling split faces as the top of the page and instead let them go to the middle of the page? As you can see, since Darklight is in the upper left of the panel when we flip it right side up, we cannot put the face there. We have to have the faces on the bottom of the panel if the action is right side up. And look at that action! It's dynamic. Bullets are flying, Velocity is running to the action, and our hapless customer is falling. The scene has emotional appeal and it brings to my mind the combat panels from the interior of the 2nd edition of the Champions role playing game, and that's a good thing.

Page 5 Image Flipped and Mirrored

Let's add this flipped panel back to the original page and give it a look. To me this is an improvement, especially when viewed in 2-page mode. The action from page to page, and these pages are paired in Acrobat, look dynamic and there is no confusion of the action in my mind. Your mileage may differ. You may prefer the original layout on the page, but this works better for me. Regardless of which works better for you, the illustrations by Nic are a lot of fun.

Sentry Force Pages 4 and 5 (post Tweak)

And that brings me to "The Awesome." There is so much that is great about this book. It starts with a complete vision for the setting. Alan Bahr has stories he wants to tell and he wants you to experience them. Whether we get them as an RPG campaign or as a comic book, I'm sure we will see more of the Gallant-verse. Bahr is a font of ideas on a Walter Gibson (the creator of the Shadow) scale. He's always writing and publishes RPG products on a schedule almost unmatched in the industry. Bahr and Wiggy Wade-Williams are old school writers who pump out quality material on a schedule. I'm in awe of Bahr's abilities and his imagination. He's put together a great team and a compelling universe with characters ranging from the Magician Asher Solomon (a mash-up of Constantine and Dr. Strange who is now one of my favorite super-wizards), Bulwark (a "Brick" and a little more), the Eagle, many more, and...the super-heroine Gallant (the Gallant-verse's "Superman" equivalent). These characters are all discussed in detail in the excellent Tiny Supers RPG and Bahr has provided a fun Gallant-verse adventure in the back of Sentry Force #0 for you to play.

If I wanted to go into "The Awesome" as much as I wanted, I would do a page by page breakdown of all the interesting characters and detailed examination of Nic's artwork. It's really a lot of fun to look at, though I'd desaturate the colors a little to make the very strong line art pop a little more, and he manages a couple of "Perez Pages" where the panels are filled with a horde of characters who manage to be distinct and dynamic and for me the ability to do "Perez Pages" is the measure by which all comic book artists are measured.

Instead of doing all of that, I'll just leave you with the panel introducing Gallant. It's pretty darn EPIC. It has all the emotion and power I want from a character introduction.

Friday, August 02, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019 Day 2: Supergame is a "Unique" Part of RPG History

This is a post about a truly unique super hero role playing game and how I came to find a copy in the "out of print" bin at a local game store.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of Super Hero role playing games. My entry into this particular gaming milieu was Hero Games' excellent Champions 2nd edition role playing game. I happened upon a copy and was amazed that game designers had even attempted to capture super heroes using game mechanics. At the time, I was only familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, Star Frontiers, Tunnels & Trolls, and Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. I had played all three of those games and their mechanical foundations did not prepare me for what Champions offered.

Unlike the other games with which I was familiar, Champions did not have randomly created characters and instead allowed players to build whatever they could imagine. The only limit to the character you could design was the number of points available at creation (100 points with 150 more possible if you took Disadvantages). Other than that, it was all good. During my initial Champions experience, I didn't have anyone to play the game with and spent all of my time making characters and doing some solo battles. My character builds were heavily influenced by the sample characters in the rule book and thus were typically of 200 total character points (100 and 100 from Disadvantages). This included my personal write ups for the X-Men. I was content with my view of the game, but this view was to be shattered in short order.

A couple of months after I discovered Champions my family moved to a new city, I finally encountered a group of gamers who played the game every weekend. Given that this was the Bay Area, and the game company was a Bay Area company, I soon discovered a rich and vibrant Champions community. I also discovered that how I interpreted character adaptations to the game was very different from others. Some of that difference, I maintain to this day. I personally believe that too many gamers inflate the stats of their favorite characters out of love for the character, rather than an examination of benchmarks and mechanics of the game. But these are things that can only be understood through play, and that was something I had not yet done with Champions. In playing the game, I learned how some combinations worked better than others and I learned that other players were much more likely than I had been to "grab" the "Obvious and Accessible" items some characters used in combat. Not that I designed a lot of those kinds of characters, I didn't, just that I had expected gamers to behave more like the characters in comics than like "tactical gamers" and that the rules treated gamers as tactical gamers while allowing them to behave like characters in comics.
Long story short, I learned that you can only truly judge the quality of a game by playing it. I still love Champions and think it is one of the top 3 or 4 super hero games out there, but my view is now grounded in experience of how the game works and how when some character building norms take over the game can slow down significantly and lose some of its charm.

Eventually, my love of super heroes and super hero games led me to purchase Villains & Vigilantes, Marvel Super Heroes, and DC Heroes, all of which have there charms. At one point in time, not that long ago by some standards, I could claim to own a copy of every super hero rpg published (at least in one of its editions). With the explosion of pdf based publishing, that is no longer the case and I'm sure I'm missing out on some great games, but I also have a HUGE backlog of games I'd like to play...see how I'm pulling this back to the question of the day?

Among that backlog is Jay Harlove and Aimee Karklyn/(Hartlove)'s early Supergame. It wasn't the first super hero rpg published, that was Superhero 44/Superhero 2044, but it was one of the first and predates Champions. Both the first edition and revised edition came out in 1980. I discovered the game as a "real" thing and not just something mentioned in old gaming magazines, when I moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college in 2000. I was looking for gaming stores and found a long standing game store in Long Beach that had a copy of the 1st edition. Later searches on the internet have shown me that I got a significant bargain on it, as I did with copies of Warlock and a couple of other games originally designed by the Southern California gaming community.

Supergame, like Superhero 2044 which predates it and Champions which comes after it, has a point based character creation system. It also has an interesting skill and combat system that I think has a lot of potential. Some of the stats are odd in how they are presented. For example, if a character has an Agony score (similar to Stun for Champions fans) of 10 or more they suffer no penalties to how they move or act. Given that scores start at 0, and that some sample characters have 0s in other stats implying that a score of 0 is sometimes the "average" score, it seems odd that a person has to spend points just to be a normal person in some areas and not others. Why not just have stats start at "average" and let people buy them down later? Or why not have Agony start at 0 with no penalties and allow negative scores to cause impairment? It's a small complaint, and there are a number of neat features like different defenses against different types of attack (pre-Champions remember). A thorough reading of the rules, both editions, and the supplements has convinced me that I need to play this game to evaluate whether the designed characters are effective at all in a way that would be fun. There are far more characters who have an Agony of 10, or a Physical (like Hit Points but with those with less than 10 being hurt), which means that if they suffer just 1 point of damage they will be impaired.

I think there is a very good game buried in the Supergame rule books, but I think it is a game that needs a lot of play testing and rules tweaks to bring out that game. I applaud Jay an Aimee for their hard work on the game and their ability to get a game like this published in 1980, and this is definitely a game I wish I was playing right now. I have so many questions I'd like answered and I'd love to house rule this game into a more complete system.

I don't know how many copies of Supergame 1st edition exist, but I do know that you can purchase the original and second edition of the game on DriveThruRPG. Precis Intermedia Games reprinted the game last year with a high quality scan. The pdf includes both the 1st and 2nd edition of the rules. I don't know where Brett got his copy of the 2nd edition for the reprint, but I do know where he got the copy of the 1st edition. It's my personal copy. He treated it kindly as he scanned it for the project. I'm glad he did, because I think that this is a unique gaming item.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Episode 163: Toy Wizards, Pop Lurkers, and Running Mysteries.

Episode 163 is filled with reviews and interviews and comes in at one hour and 52 minutes!

Segments 1 and 2: Something Old/Something New

The "something new" for episode 163 are the Young Adventurer's Guides from Ten Speed Press. Weapons & Warriors and Monsters & Creatures are written by Jim Zub, Stacy King, and Andrew Wheeler as introductions to D&D fantasy tropes for younger readers who are interested in playing Dungeons & Dragons.

The books are described as "all the information you need to start building your own characters and putting together your adventuring party," but are they? Listen and find out.

The Supercrew by Tobias Rades├Ąter is a rules light roleplaying game of superheroic action. Like the old Masters of the Universe Role Playing Game, the rules for the game are presented in a comic book format. Supercrew's central conceit is that the players are playing super heroic versions of themselves, which provides game masters with an interesting opportunity that I discuss in my review.

Does The Supercrew work as a role playing game, or is it a mere novelty item?

Segment 3: An Interview with the Toy Wizards 

Toy-Wizards is one of the go to websites for toy collecting news and we had the honor of interview to of the Toy Wizard crew, Loryn Stone and Scott Zillner, in this episode.

Image Source -- Toy Wizards
Loryn Stone is the Editor in Chief of Toy Wizards and has dedicated her life to the Word of the Nerd. She is most excited by collecting toys, writing about them, and infiltrating the convention scene. Loryn is also the writer of SyFy Wire’s ‘Important Toy News’ column, as well as the site owner and Executive Editor of Toy Wizard’s sister site,

Her writing has been published on other pop culture websites such as Cracked, LoadScreen, Nerdbot, That Hashtag Show, and Temple of Geek. Her toy collection is comprised of Megazords, Gundam, miscellaneous robots and trinkets, Sailor Moon, Snoopy, Otaku Garbage, and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Image Source -- Toy Wizards
Scott Zillner is a world-renowned toy collector and the owner and founder of Toy Wizards. He grew up in the 1980s, the undisputed greatest decade ever. He truly believes in collecting, and his once hobby is now his lifestyle. A new world Renaissance man, he is a professional Artist, Toy Expert, and Convention promoter. He collects massive amounts of toys, games, and art. He also runs several pop culture conventions.

As a Professional Artist, he worked on Disney’s 2010 Tron Legacy film, painting the light bikes and toys in young Flynn’s room. The same year, his Tron Stich collectible vinyl sculpture from Disney was released.

Segment 4: Dungeons & Dilemmas -- Running Mysteries

In our second Dungeons and Dilemmas segment, writer/director David Nett and I discuss the challenges Dungeon Masters face when running mystery themed adventures in role playing games.  David came to the discussion with three key recommendations, but the conversation ended with five. Along the way, we make a number of pop culture adventures and give insight into our own personal game campaigns.

Episode Segments Featured Discussion of the Events and Products Listed Below:

We hope you enjoy your listening experience. We've got a lot of great interviews lined up in the future and you can leave us voice messages on our page if you have any topics you'd like us to discuss.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Episode 162: Not So Tiny Conversations About Tiny d6

It's time for Episode 162 of Geekerati and this one is a doozy, coming in at approximately 2 1/2 hours of content.
Segment 1:

The first segment of episode 162 is a 30 minute interview with Alan Bahr of Gallant Knight Games who joins us to discuss GKG's wonderful catalog of role playing games. During the interview we go into a detailed discussion of Tiny Supers, Tiny Dungeon, and GKG's other Tiny d6 role playing games. We also discuss how Alan's company runs the gamut of the indie rpg world from OSR style games like For Coin and Blood to one shot pick up and play narrative games like Beach Patrol. It was a great conversation and our experience with the Tiny Supers role playing game inspired us to write up quick statistics for The Human Torch and The Invisible Woman using the Tiny Supers rules set. You can find those characters down below and we'd love to hear your thoughts on how you would adapt the characters to the Tiny Supers system.

Segment 2:

Since we were highlighting Tiny d6 games in our main interview, we thought it would be a great opportunity to expose listeners to a delightful Kickstarter project launched to support Tiny Dungeon 2nd Edition. The Micronomicon Kickstarter features new spells, new archetypes, and more importantly new "micro-settings." John D Payne and Gregory Israel stopped by to chat about this wonderful project and to share their love of the Tiny d6 system in general. It's a wonderful discussion.

John D Payne is the editor of The Micronomicon and he has a Patreon account which supports his game design efforts. The Patreon has a large number of backer supported extras that you might want to check out.

Gregory Israel's designs have been featured in the Tiny Dungeon 2nd Edition rulebook and in issues of Tinyzine, an official online magazine that supports the Tiny d6 line of games. Gregory is also the author of Between Sun and Shadow, a setting for the Tiny Dungeon system.

Segments 3 and 4:

Segments 3 and 4 contained our regular Something Old and Something New segment. This week, I  highlighted the Beach Patrol game from Gallant Knight Games as the Something New and Tales from the Floating Vagabond by Lee Garvin as the Something Old. Both of these games are humorous in nature and can be used to emulate the action of 80s and 90s shows. I had intended to include a review of Extreme Vengeance by Archangel Studios as well, but that will have to wait for a future episode. Hopefully an episode where we interview Philip Reed or Tony Lee who were involved with that particular project.

Segment 5:

We were finally able to reveal one of the exciting changes to the Geekerati podcast in Episode 162 with the addition of the Dungeons and Dilemmas segment with writer and director David Nett. Nett was on the vanguard of gaming related webseries and his Gold series set a high standard, particularly its second season Night of the Zombie King. We are honored to have him as our regular game mastering expert Dungeons and Dilemmas.

Segments of this episode discussed the products and blogs below.

Products Discussed/Featured in this Episode

A Glimpse at Two Quick Tiny Supers Characters

No post should be without gaming content if we can help it, so here's this post's weekly does of gaming goodness.

While the Fantastic Four has never quite been able to translate successfully to the big screen, they are among Marvel Comics' most iconic characters. The brother and sister team of Johnny Storm and Sue Storm-Richards are particular favorites of the Geekerati crew, so we jumped at the chance to convert them to the Tiny Supers role playing game system as a way to test it out. It's a pretty good fit, but maybe your take would be a little bit different. Feel free to give us your ideas for how you would adapt these or other characters to this quick and easy to play super hero role playing game. Is Johnny a "Striker"? Is Susan Richards best defined as a "Defender"? Would you use a different mix of powers?

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.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Look Back at CHAMPIONS 1st Edition.

With the recent announcement that Ron Edwards was teaming up with Hero Games to produce CHAMPIONS NOW, a game that hearkens back to the first three editions of the game, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at those older editions.

The CHAMPIONS super hero role playing game is one of the best super hero role playing games ever designed, and the game to which all super hero rpgs are compared.  CHAMPIONS wasn't the first role playing game in the super hero genre, that honor goes to the game SUPERHERO 2044 which I discussed in an earlier blog post.  CHAMPIONS even builds upon some of the ideas in SUPERHERO 2044.  CHAMPIONS used the vague point based character generation system of SUPERHERO 2044 -- combined with house rules by Wayne Shaw that were published in issue 8 of the Lords of Chaos Fanzine-- as a jumping off point for a new detailed and easy to understand point based system.  CHAMPIONS was also likely influenced by the melee combat system in SUPERHERO 2044 in the use of the 3d6 bell curve to determine "to-hit" rolls in combat.

While CHAMPIONS wasn't the first super hero rpg, it was the first that presented a coherent system that allowed a player to design the superheroes they read about in comic books.  The first edition of VILLAINS & VIGILANTES, which predates CHAMPIONS, did a good job of emulating many aspects of comic book action but the ability to model a character in character design wasn't one of them.  CHAMPIONS was released at the Origins convention in the summer of 1981, and it immediately captured the interest of Aaron Allston of Steve Jackson Games.  Allston gave CHAMPIONS a positive review in issue #43 of the Space Gamer magazine, wrote many CHAMPIONS articles for that publication, and became one of the major contributors to the early days of CHAMPIONS lore.

Reading through the first edition of the game, can have that kind of effect upon a person.  The writing is clear -- if uneven in places -- and the rules mechanics inspire a desire to play around in the sandbox provided by the rules.  George MacDonald and Steve Peterson did more than create a great role playing game when they created CHAMPIONS, they created a great character generation game as well.  Hours can be taken up just playing around with character concepts and seeing how they look in the CHAMPIONS system.

There are sites galore about CHAMPIONS and many reviews about how great the game is, and it truly is, so the remainder of the post won't be either of these.  Rather, I would like to point out some interesting tidbits about the first edition of the game.  Most of these will be critical in nature, but not all.  Before going further I will say that though CHAMPIONS is now in its 6th edition and is a very different game today in some ways, the 1st edition of the game is highly playable and well worth exploring and I'm glad that Ron Edwards has picked up that torch with CHAMPIONS NOW.

  • One of the first things that struck me reading the book was how obviously playtested the character design system was.  This is best illustrated in the section under basic characteristics.  In CHAMPIONS there are primary and secondary characteristics.  The primary characteristics include things like Strength and Dexterity.  The secondary statistics are all based on fractions of the primary statistics and represent things like the ability to resist damage.  Where the playtesting shows here is in how players may buy down all of their primary statistics, but only one of their secondary statistics.  A quick analysis of the secondary statistics demonstrates that if this were not the case a "buy strength then buy down all the secondary stats related to strength" infinite loop would occur.  
  • It's striking how few skills there are in 1st edition CHAMPIONS.  There are 14 in total, and some of them are things like Luck and Lack of Weakness.  There are no "profession" skills in 1st edition.  To be honest, I kind of like the lack of profession skills.  Professions in superhero adventures seem more flavor than something one should have to pay points for, but this is something that will change in future editions.  
  • There are a lot of powers in CHAMPIONS, but the examples are filled with phrases like "a character" or "a villain" instead of an evocative hero/villain name.  It would have been more engaging for the folks at Hero Games to create some Iconic characters that are used throughout the book as examples of each power.  The game does include 3 examples of character generation (Crusader, Ogre, and Starburst), but these characters aren't mentioned in the Powers section.  An example using Starburst in the Energy Blast power would have been nice.
  • The art inside the book is less than ideal.  Mark "the hack" Williams has been the target of some criticism for his illustrations, but his work is the best of what is offered in the 1st edition book.  It is clear why they decided to use his work in the 2nd edition of the game.  Williams art is evocative and fun -- if not perfect -- while the work Vic Dal Chele and Diana Navarro is more amateurish.
  • The game provides three examples of character generation, but the designs given are less than point efficient and one outclasses the others.  The three sample characters are built on 200 points.  Crusader can barely hurt Ogre if he decides to punch him (his punch is only 6 dice), and his Dex is bought at one point below where he would receive a rounding benefit.  Ogre has a Physical Defense of 23.  This is the amount of damage he subtracts from each physical attack that hits and it is very high.  Assuming an average of 3.5 points of damage per die, Ogre can resist an average of 6.5 dice of damage per attack.  Yes, that's an average but the most damage 6 dice could do to him would be 13.  That would be fine, except Crusader has that 6d6 punch, and Starburst...oh, Starburst.  All of Starburst's major powers are in a multipower which means that as he uses one power he can use less of the other powers in the multipower.  The most damage he can do is 8d6, but only if he isn't flying and doesn't have his forcefield up.  Not efficient at all.  One might hope that character examples demonstrate the appropriate ranges of damage and defense, these don't quite achieve that goal.
  • The combat example is good, if implausible.  Crusader and Starburst defeating Ogre?  Sure.
  • The supervillain stats at the end of the book -- there are stats for 8 villains and 2 agents -- lack any accompanying art.  The only exception is Shrinker.  
  • Speaking of artwork and iconics.  Take that cover.
  • Who are these people?!  I want to know.  The only one who is mentioned in the book is Gargoyle.  It's pretty clear which character he is, but I only know his name because of a copyright notice.  Who are the other characters?  Is that "Flare"?  The villain is named Holocaust, but that cannot be discerned from reading this rule book.  If you know, please let me know.  I'd love to see the stats for that guy punching "Holocaust" with his energy fist.
CHAMPIONS is a great game, and the first edition is a joy.  If you can, try to hunt down a copy and play some old school super hero rpg.

This is an update of a post from 2012.