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Zap II, in-house testing

Here's the next round of seeing how Cosmic Zap is shaping up. It's an important phase because Ian is the project developer for Chaosium, and Rod and Juan are both artists who are very familiar with the source material.

Juan screen-shared during most of the session, allowing us to enjoy his emerging character sheet. I've pasted a few moments of the progress over his field in the video.

Our three characters emerged quickly. The following lists the three keywords in descending order of magnitude for each:

  • Sten Duncan (person), tweedy London accountant and husband; Negentropic (cosmic); The Fulcrum (super)
  • Blue Streak (super), speedy techno; The Slipstream (cosmic); Mark Unsworthy (person), bar patron with a girlfriend he doesn't love
  • Sweet Jane (super), half woman half galaxy; Janie Jones (person); The Omega Galaxy (cosmic)

The discerning viewer will easily spot, this time, that I am not struggling with "gee let's try this" notes but rather referring all of us to something more like an actual rules text. Questions are welcome!!

One thing I'd like to follow up with is Juan's comment at one point concerning "getting the party together." Although he probably meant it in jest or partially so, it's a non-trivial component of play in this game which the system accounts for very nicely, especially since the actual extent of it occurring is left wide open. It's actually functional throughout the full range, which may be difficult to believe, but let's talk it over and see.

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
Cosmic Zap

Comments

First I want to establish two meanings of ‘getting the party together’. The first is as some kind of super group (Fantastic four style) who might share similar goals and objectives. The second is making sure the characters come together in some sort of meaningful way.

 

In the previous game I used my usual criteria for decision making, what is what is my character (as some kind of fully formed ‘thing’ in my imagination) interested in. Which led to fairly bad play on my part. I enjoyed the Zeb scenes but I think the overall fiction would have been stronger if I’d tried to interweave the characters more. Given my predominance in play (I was the only player present for every session) I think my decision not to do so had negative consequences.

 

Maybe.

 

I found one of the strongest parts of the fiction was the showdown Morgan and Gordon’s characters had with Quin-lao. I’m unsure if that’s a consequence of how they interwove or the characters themselves. Of note is that both were fighting a mutual enemy and I think Quin-laos development over play was pretty awesome. Although me and Hijal did interweave, Hijal did the heavy lifting and I was a bit ‘my guy, introspective, not caring about the greater fictional whole.’ Which I think caused a certain amount of, I’m not sure what to call it, flailing maybe?

 

So yeah, if I was doing it again I think I’d play hard towards interweaving and getting people together.
 

Ron Edwards's picture

In a comics-inspired game, or any game which strongly references a body of work in another medium, we have a couple of different angles to address this question.

The first angle shouldn't be a strict guide but it can yield important insights. Specifically, how did creators like Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, and Steve Gerber do it in the comics? The answer is about as far from the ideal of "focused genius vision" as you can get - it's messy as hell.

  • They worked with existing material from other titles, including events, characters, locations, and (for lack of a better word) opinions which they had not created or controlled.
  • They threw in new material in an extremely disorganized, improvised, and unsupervised way, arguably without regard for "where this is going."

And I can't say either of those without stressing that for each, respectively, the creators changed the material they'd inherited rather freely and sometimes irreverently; and they discovered what bits of their own introduced material "stuck" or "worked" only by using it, including abandoning those bits that didn't. Crucially: this is a process of constant creativity and constant utility - you throw it in and you see what happens with it, and you run with whatever works.

That leads me to the third point about the historical creative process for works of this kind:

  • All the points of creative input and all the processes of creative use are driven by passion.

You only know whether to throw things in because they interest you, whether to write or to draw or both; you only know what to do with them because it seems fun or honest, preferably both; and you only know whether it works because you get a charge out of it and cannot help but bust out "one more page" even when it's nuts by any observable measure.

The second angle is the one you brought up: the conceptual group or lack thereof. This body of work, or more relevant, the creative experience I'm aiming for in play, includes both. But the least important is the idea that the player-characters are themselves a group!

Take a look at my favorite group in this whole body of work: the Forever People. Do you know what the most obvious game-mechanics version of them would be in Cosmic Zap? They would be a Super keyword on someone's sheet, very likely the primary one, with the same sheet putting Cosmic at the second rank and Personal at the third. I'd put the starting ability for the Personal simply to be "Space Hippies," i.e., the sheet contains no particular specific information in terms of each member's personal lives.

How about the Fantastic Four? Obviously there are lots of ways (one could see each of them as abilities scatterd across the players' sheets), but one way would be Reed Richards as a character, with Super at the first rank, "Mr. Fantastic" as the keyword ability - and the other three characters are merely abilities within it. That makes the most sense if a starting ability or two in Cosmic (second-ranked keyword) were racked up high enough with the free points to be his strongest ones.

Imagine some other player introducing the Mother Box as a specifically Forever People based ability, inside the Cosmic keyword on that other player's sheet. Or some other player deciding Ben Grimm was fun to play and putting an ability or two for him in the Personal keyword on his or her sheet.

That's how you do "groups" in Cosmic Zap. You do not conceive of the named character-sheet player-characters as a group. Mar-Vell, Eros, and Adam Warlock could conceivably be those characters if we were to look at Starlin's relevant work - but they are not a group in the sense this concept relies upon.

Instead, the fictional groups appear and are included very similarly to how the primary villains ought to develop, as a plethora of abilities that sprout like weeds all over all the sheets, but just a little more unified or focused via one player's keyword.

Therefore I'm not very interested in the player-characters meeting and teaming up. I'm much more interested in these things occuring:

  • Developing characters and other entities by creating abilities across different player-characters' sheets, thus creating a populace of motivated actors and relationships
  • Establishing and repeating indirect effects on characters' spotlight scenes upon other characters, thus creating the metaphysical or cosmological setting
  • Bringing the player-characters into contact with one another for reasons based on the above two, i.e., crossing paths rather than simplistically teaming-up or equally simplistically fighting one another

The mechanics make all three available at all times.

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