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A Remedy for Oppression: issues 4-7

"There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect."

—Frank Wilhoit, The Travesty of Liberalism 

“Science can save them from many things, Prometheus, but it cannot save them from themselves.”

—Daedalus, supervillain, issue 7

Attempted coups, hospitals overflowing, breadlines stretching for miles.  Having nothing better to do as the world staggers on, Fano and I are still playing this silly game.  Marvel Super Heroes seasoned as heavily as possible with Champions Now techniques.  

I'll present actual play to pose a discussion question: in Champions Now and games like it, how many subplots are too many?  Or: what do you do when the “Now” gets too busy?

MAIN PLOT SUMMARY

Earlier issues established Prometheus’s status quo as a super-scientist keeping a low profile in 2020 Brooklyn.  

In issues 4-7, old enemies from Ancient Greece begin to bear down on him in a series of escalating confrontations.  The most dangerous of these old enemies is Prometheus’s first student, Daedalus.  Facing off inside Daedalus’s headquarters in issue 7, they inflict mortal wounds on each other.  Both sides barely escape with their lives.

SIDE PLOTS GALORE

Aside from the main plot, there’s a ton of little stuff going on in the background.  It’s kind of gotten out of hand.  Here’s an attempt to clean up “The Now” for human comprehension.

On the “humble lab technician Mel Abdul” side:

  • AGNESA, Prometheus’s landlord, disapproves of her nephew’s interracial relationship, and is trying to break them up.
  • KRYSZTOF, the nephew, is skimming money from his job running an illegal nightclub, and is going to get killed if nobody helps him.  He’s cheating on Zulma.
  • ZULMA, Prometheus’s neighbor, was thrown out of work in the pandemic and looking for a job; Agnes is annoyed the City won’t allow an eviction.
  • CELIA, Prometheus’s mentee, is facing a major committee meeting on her doctoral research and may end up forging data if someone doesn’t help her.
  • MANNY, Prometheus’s young ward, is a 7 year old Honduran “unaccompanied minor,” who was tortured by Daedalus and just wants to go home.

On the “enemy of the gods, champion of mankind Prometheus” side:

  • CADUCEUS, plotting to commit terrorist acts against the C-suite of a healthcare company for suing people over pandemic-related medical care.
  • DAEDALUS, trying to determine the identity of Prometheus’s student and convince her to join him instead.
  • HERACLES, looking to Prometheus to save his troubled marriage by killing a guy
  • MEDEA, plotting revenge against Daedalus who accidentally-on-purpose teleported her to Tartarus, the torture-dimension.
  • VOLT, white supremacist, stole $10 million in consumer electronics and is plotting an attack on a nuclear reactor.

TECHNIQUES

Sorcerer and Champions Now share similar GM techniques.  The most important, conceptually, is the basic cycle of play on the GM side.

  1. Populate a locale with grabby NPC’s, especially those implied by char-gen
  2. Let the players loose to pursue their agendas and collide with NPC’s
  3. Update the status and goals of each NPC, and repeat

What I’ve discovered in this experiment is that this technique works perfectly well with Marvel Super Heroes.  It’s also how I ran B/X D&D.

Speaking solely from my own experiences, this style of play is associated with:

  • Prioritizing player agency and decision making (a/k/a the fun stuff)
  • Creating a sense of place that feels lived-in, complex, and fluid
  • “Exothermic” prep: a gargantuan hump to get over, and then it’s very easy
  • Utter, total, shameless proliferation of papers, notes, browser tabs
  • Mild stress remembering who’s doing what with whom where right now
  • Using silly voices with particular characters once in a while to cut that stress
  • The “oh damn, I meant to have that guy say that line” moment afterward.

But I want to focus on the first point, emphasizing player agency, in a specific sense.  At what point does “Hey, cool, the world moves on without me” shift into analysis-paralysis over the opportunity costs?

MANAGING THE NOW

I have 1 player with 10 major NPC’s implied by backstory and immediate circumstances.  We play for at most 2 hours, every 2 weeks.  We haven’t crossed the line into opportunity costs yet, but it feels close.  Not just for Fano as a player, but for me as a GM: “It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Medea, should she step up?  Hmmm, but that means making Caduceus wait.”

“There’s not enough time in the day to resolve all my subplots” is perhaps the hallmark of the comics period Champions Now celebrates.  From a storytelling point of view, which problems capture the hero’s attention, and which problems he chooses to let fester, not only serve as characterization, but also as a thematic statement.

But of course reading a comic is a passive experience: the reader doesn't have agency the same way a player does, which means the creators only have to tell one main story and (say) two subplots rather than twelve.

I've tried to deal with this the following ways:

  • Crossing: Daedalus, part of the Greek Revenge group, is now trying to track down Celia, part of the Daily Life group.  I need to do more of this.
  • Holding Pattern: in order to make room for the Greek characters, I decided Volt needs time to work on his inventions, which in this game takes many weeks.  I’ll be happy to see him again, but for now, it’s enough that he has a plausible reason to lay low.
  • Under the Rug: I still don’t have a firm sense of Medea as a character, so she hasn’t been getting as much attention, which means she’s falling further behind.  I’m hoping to figure her out and have her come roaring back, but if that doesn’t happen she’ll just become an extra.  This looks like a holding pattern in play, but it’s not fictionally justified by character motivation, I just don’t know the moves for her yet.
  • Not Yet: things need to calm down before Atalanta and Orpheus show up.

WHY AM I WRITING THIS AT ALL: I'd be interested to hear (a) if other people have this problem, and (b) if so how they address it.

BONUS 1: The Morals of Prometheus

That bit about characterization and thematic statements?  Prometheus got mad about a kidnapping, but when he realized it was all part of a long running custody battle inflamed by "pandemic tyranny" he quickly lost interest and called the cops on the guy.

Prometheus had no problem fighting off the NYPD to assist Caduceus blowing up the offices of a health insurance company.  Whether he'll assist Caduceus in committing murder is a question reserved for a later date.

Prometheus rescued an immigrant child, Manolo, from Daedalus's headquarters, but seemingly has made almost no effort to find the kid's parents.  There was even talk of making this poor, tortured kid into Prometheus's sidekick.  I think I grimaced so hard at that Fano gave up on it.  Close to a line on my part.

In terms of reward systems:

  • I've been too stingy with Karma, and need to throw some more villains at Fano.  Slice-of-life episodes are interesting but don't provide much reward.
  • Fano has not spent very much Karma, even in a serious show-down with his arch-nemesis.  He did burn a lot to avoid being mind-controlled.
  • The Resources haven't fluctuated very much.  He's slowly getting into that sub-game, but it may take a while before he catches on to how much money he actually has.
  • Popularity has remained static during these issues, in part because this was a hidden war between Ancient Greek demigods and no ordinary people were around.

BONUS 2: Artifacts of Play

The Now (warning - ugly as hell, out of date, needs to be tweaked)

Daedalus

Daedalus's Headquarters

Hylomorphic Extractor (a McGuffin)

Prometheus's Headquarters

Little Miss Mushroom (supervillain WIP)

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Sean_RDP's picture

I certainly have been in this position. I fondly remember a MAGE The Ascension game which rotated between GMs where there were many NPCs. When it was my turn, I introdcued a whole new villain sub-plot with several new villains and allies. It became a bit confusing.

In that case I handled it by letting the characters kill off a few enemies and send others into hiding. But the question is: which ones provide an ongoing interest and which ones can be dropped or put off for a while? Some threads are never picked up because there just is not time. And sometimes these become the seeds of new stories. In the short term if a thread can be tied up in a satisfying way, then do it. If the player has not interest in something, then let the consequences be what they are. 

Like CELIA. In your head, give it 1 or 2 sessions. If the player does not pick up that thread, the conseuqences are what they are. This lets that NPC move onto the next thread, based on the consequences of their actions.

This is not a direct answer to your question, but more like a prelude to discussion. In the Jeremey Keller game, Technoir, he codifies a method of generating a web of elements from which the session's events will arise. This is a visual technique involving a map of the elemtns and the making of connections between them. There are specific rules which govern the type and number of connections which can be made which - if violated - can represent graphically the notion I think you are describing here of too much going on to handle, but also a related problem of too many things being tied together. 

I found it to be quite useful to help clarify and transform the inner conversation of the GM during whatever method they use for preparation into a procedure which can help a person bypass situations like this which seem fine on the surface but in play prove to raise questions or concerns. 

Technoir

James_Nostack's picture

Thanks for the recommendation, I'm checking it out now!

noah_t's picture

This game continues to sound incredible, James! I really dig the naming conventions and aesthetic—you're offering such a generous world to your fellow player to interact with and explore.

“There’s not enough time in the day to resolve all my subplots” is perhaps the hallmark of the comics period Champions Now celebrates.  From a storytelling point of view, which problems capture the hero’s attention, and which problems he chooses to let fester, not only serve as characterization, but also as a thematic statement.

I think my duet buddy and I are going to run into a similar challenge with our Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha game. (I almost wrote "problem" but realized it's ridiculous to call having too much engaging material a "problem").

I haven't played a game with specific procedures for handling this, but your question made me consider some positive behaviors I noticed while playing Imp of the Perverse that might be helpful for our Glorantha and Prometheus's Brooklyn.

In Imp, every Chapter is a self-contained adventure. You dream up a Monster, then place it in the center of a relationship map called the Monster's Web—the Monster must be connected, directly or indirectly, to one or more of the Protagonist's NPC relationships.

We played the game over numerous sessions and started to see significant overlaps between Chapters. Familiar NPCs, shifting relationships, repeated locations, etc. Sometimes, my buddy would actively pull an NPC from a previous Chapter into the Web, either for help or to seek emotional closure. Sometimes, their actions would require dreaming up a new NPC for the Web on the spot.

It very well could have gotten confusing, but the practice or writing a new R-map from scratch for each Chapter, with a different Monster as the focus kept it manageable. 'Secondary' NPCs could certainly steal the spotlight. Sometimes, the hunt for the Monster played second fiddle to a blossoming romantic relationship, etc. But if I needed to understand the social/emotional landscape of the situation, I always had a map at hand.

I intend to use a similar practice for the already-ballooning fiction of our RQ game: Selecting a 'focus' question/character/peril, either that the PC is already actively engaging or with or that I think will engage my fellow player. Building a map of the elements that directly relate to the focus. Then using that map as the lens for everything else. 

(And I think it's important that the Web is just a GM-facing tool....the player is not required to 'follow' or interact with it in any way. Indeed, the GM draws the Web in two dimensions, and it's the action of the players that gives it mass and volume).

It occurred to me also, reading your post, that I don't think Champions Now explicitly states you have to know what every entity in the Now is doing at each moment. You could let most of the elements of your Now 'rest' for a few sessions, push 2-3 of the elements that Fano responds to really hard, then come back and retroactively decide what the other entities were up to, what the fallout from the recent sessions means for them, etc. If he proactively pursues a 'resting' element, that might be the perfect opportunity for a Cross with an 'active' element—and the Cross will be a surprise for both of you.

James_Nostack's picture

Noah, thank you for recommending Imp of the Perverse!  I'll check it out.  I agree that letting characters rest is a good thing; part of the issue is that there are a bunch of guys running around and so even with some resting, there's a lot going on.  But I think I need to step back a bit and give Fano some more room to maneuver.

Ron Edwards's picture

If you haven't seen it, I think my discussion with Jon in Paying attention to emergent properties may be relevant, possibly helpful. I delved pretty hard into many details of his game and also received permission before offering my advice, and since that doesn't apply here, I am not offering the same point here with anything like the force I stated it to him there.

Whether that helps or not, I also want to know if you are OK with me pressing harder regarding your game to understand how you're peceiving and carrying out the Now.

James_Nostack's picture

Sure, with the understanding that if I'm slow to respond, that's due to my schedule rather than taking offense.  I know you put a lot of thought into these comments, and I always want to reply with equal thoughtfulness, but sometimes it takes a while.

James_Nostack's picture

To provide some orientation, let me dip a little deeper into the session dynamics.  

From a pretty early conceptual conversation, maybe early August (not actual quotes, but fairly close):

"Okay, Fano, so Prometheus is hiding in Brooklyn.  What's he doing?"

"He's mentoring some young genius.  He realizes he can't overthrow the gods directly, all he can do is counteract their influence by furthering Progress."

[Wincing at the mention of Progress, making a note about it] "Okay, so how's he mentoring them?  Like in concrete terms.  Is he taking them on a tour of the cosmos like in Dr. Who?  Is he running crazy experiments like in Fantastic Four?"  

"Well, no--I'm thinking more of a 'teach a man to fish' kind of thing.  Besides, if he gets too actively involved, the Olympians will come looking for him.  So it's more like, he arranges for the bread to get moldy and the scientist discovers penicillin."

[Note: ....breadmold = Progress??]

"And these guys who are after him--any thoughts on them?  Has he been fighting them?  What's the deal?"

"They're bounty hunters, I guess?  Maybe Greek, maybe other mythologies, maybe something different.  He fought them a long time ago, but lost, and now is just trying to stay out of the way."

At the time, I didn't press harder, but I probably should have: if we were playing Sorcerer, Prometheus urgently needs a kicker.

So as a result I've ended up creating perils on a couple of different fronts: the Greek backstory (Daedalus & Co.), the general street chaos going on right now (Volt), social justice issues involving healthcare (Caduceus), and assorted social dysfunction. 

All of which is presented as stuff Fano can dig into if he wants, but he kinda talks himself out of things sometimes and I'm back to playing hot again.

I'll add a post describing the recent sessions in slightly more detail, but I wanted to get the general dynamic in place.

James_Nostack's picture

So, looking over it, I think I've been playing it very hot overall, and I realize I need to check in with Fano on something.  

Here's the most recent issue, #10, briefly summarized:

(1) We open with Prometheus working on his Olympian Neutralizer device, which has been a long-term project running in the background and one of Fano's persistent priorities.  (Marvel Super Heroes has a little sub-system for inventions as an alternate form of advancement, but I'm not sure it adds a whole lot.)  Issues 4-7, described in this post, ultimately sprang from the Neutralizer project.

(2) We had some low-key interaction with his ward Manolo (who's an affectionate little kid but has been through a lot), with the neighbor Zulma (worried about her boyfriend's absence), and with Agnesa (showing off the upstairs apartment, asks Prometheus to check out some guys surveilling the building).  

(3) Prometheus, in his secret identity, goes to talk to the guys surveilling the building, and realizes they're cops on a stake-out.  This builds on previous sessions establishing that Prometheus's friend Krysztof is a small-time gangster who's involved in something way over his head.

(4) Prometheus talks to his protege Celia, about how to finish her "regeneration implant" project--another instance of the invention rules.  The project needs a special ingredient, and I present three options.  Fano, though tempted to hang out with some Mayan backstory-characters he'd suggested in an earlier session, instead suggests raiding Daedalus's headquarters for the equipment Celia might need.  Cool, we can make either of these ideas work!

(5) After ten minutes of internal deliberation, there's still no signal on the "visit the Mayan gods versus raid the enemy's HQ" decision.  Fano clearly wanted to raid the enemy's HQ, but kept talking himself out of it, even when I kept saying, "That is a cool thing to do and easy for me to run with."  I didn't feel I could just take that choice from him, but also we've got 45 minutes left in play. 

(6) Fuck it, a minor supervillain goes on a rampage.  This is according to the Now: Prometheus had let an extremely unscrupulous person off rather lightly back in Issue #4, and according to my notes, around this week in the fiction, that guy would end up hiring a supervillain to do some dirty work. 

In my notes, this wasn't so much, "Hey let's stomp on Fano's decision-making process," so much as, "In this world, there are supervillains for hire and this is exactly the type of job they'd do."  But as applied, I'm sure I felt like including some superhero filler material, in part just for a change of pace action scene, and maybe so that Fano could use the inter-session to make up his mind about the stuff that matters.

(Marvel Supers explicitly considers that players might decide to ignore villanous rampages to focus on their personal lives.  "I just don't have time for Electro today" is plainly meant to be a thing that happens sometimes, even if it costs you a little Karma.  Those moments are really solid characterization, with a long tradition in Spider-Man comics especially.  If that had happened in our session, I would have been delighted to see a moment like that, even if it left me spinning my wheels a bit.)

(7) Fano charged off to fight the supervillain.  I'm not sure whether he was doing that because he felt it was the "plot of the week" or because he felt like fighting something after checking up on all of his subplots, or because he was playing for time on the bigger decisions.

Ron Edwards's picture

At least as conceived, and as related to the Sorcerer diagramming technique, the Now isn't about choices for the GM. It's there to reduce choice, to allow the GM not to judge what "would" be better or more fun or the right thing or the way to grab the players.

One result, and I think this is a good thing, is that plenty of actors across the rich-and-varied landscape will get up to things which the heroes don't know about until they're done, i.e., ,they cannot stop.

Let's cut to comics for a moment, especially those which I've tagged as directly influential on story and activity (as opposed to thematically or culturally influential upon me, creatively): the 1960s Doom Patrol, the late-80s-early-90s Suicide Squad, the 1960s "quartet" phase of The Avengers, and (God help me) the late-70s-early-80s Claremont-Cockrum/Byrne X-Men. Here's something I see throughout all of these, all the time: the heroes find out about what dastardly individuals or groups are up to during and after the deeds are in action. Sometimes they are savvy, fortunate, or unfortunate enough to be involved directly in that activity, and often they are not, and must follow up.

A lot of the time, although not always, this feature involves some kind of gathering of information or some kind of briefing. What's easy to miss is that the heroes did not know about and could not stop what they are being briefed about.

In role-playing, this effect has always been tagged as a qualitative, aesthetic act for the GM, and here I do mean "the" GM in the loaded hobby sense of the term, especially for superheroes. It is absolutely baked into DC Heroes and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, with those titles mentioned because they're divergent in almost every other aspect of play. It is critical that the heroes are placed right in time and place in order to stop X, and whatever pre-X may be involved, the heroes get to know about it or witness it as a massaged and controlled part of play. The briefing, especially, is standard practice, and the info-gathering is extremely pro forma, along the lines of "do your rolls and then I'll brief you some more." As far as I can tell, the historical majority of Champions players would not dream of playing without exactly that feature in full force.

And that's what the Now is supposed to explode. Looking across it, if This Guy or That Organization is free and clear to do The Bad Thing, and nothing else in the Now seems positioned to oppose it, and the heroes are not themselves in some watchful, investigative, or otherwise active position of that kind either ... then The Bad Thing happens. The Now moves on without the heroes, in many places.

A lot of the game mechanics are well-placed to keep this down to a dull roar, meaning, the heroes can indeed be involved quite a lot, which is detailed in the rules: all of Chapter 9, but especially pages 150-152; and "The Wave-Front" in Chapter 13, pages 217-219. At first reading, this material probably looks like advice, musing, best-practices, chit-chat ... but it's not, it's rules. The rules determine those very things about "did not know" and "could not stop" which are presumed in other games to be fully a matter of GM-only situational prep. These are active prep and play things to do which result in when the heroes are where they are, and what they know, relative to the things which are happening throughout the Now. ... but the rest of the Now gets to keep moving.

Since a lot of that is rules-specific to Champions Now, I don't think Marvel Super Heroes can really support it. I think it probably can, if you utilize Intuition like Luck and adapt the Talents' use so that any of them is effectively topic-specific Detective Work. But without those character-side functions available for use by both players and GM, then the game would force you into the more widespread notion of treating the Now as a smorgasbord for the GM's aesthetic "what would be good now" choice, which seems to me is exactly where you're stuck.

James_Nostack's picture

Ron, 100% agreement that those textual cites are critical to play.  After reviewing my Now, the problem seems less dire than I thought, but let me run a hypothetical.

Prometheus is neither Smart nor Lucky.  He has no special crime-detection gadgets.  Play tends to run hot: either the villain comes hunting for him, he stumbles into the middle of some villainy-in-the-making, or finds out about some villainy after the fact.  So far, so good!

But imagine a rich person's stove-top, with 6 pots boiling on it.  The hero is fairly dutiful about checking the pots.  Once in a while, one boils over, but that's to be expected (and, frankly, part of the fun).  But what happens if nearly all of the pots bubble over at once?

I'm not sure that it would be wrong, but I worry that it would feel punitive, since the real problem is that the hero is outnumbered 6:1 during the downtime, and sooner or later several independent things are gonna hit at once.

I see several approaches to this:

  • Sorry, buttercup, that's superheroism for you, you can't save everyone
  • The villains have to deal with annoying interruptions sometimes too, and are not proceeding as fast as humanly possible toward their goals
  • Sometimes--not always--another superhero ends up resolving the problem (or gets captured)

One of the things I'm hoping to systematize is a minimal "downtime" process for inter-session play; Marvel Superheroes seems to assume an adventure roughly once a week or so.  And maybe if a player can do two things in the downtime, a villain perhaps can only do one, and an archvillain maybe can do two.

Ron Edwards's picture

I don't know how precisely or how much this applies, so I'm offering it for your consideration.

It's the two statements. Or as anyone talking to me about Champions Now probably gets the impression, the - Two - Friggin' - Statements!

What I'm getting at is the mandate for any active person or group to operate as a representative or challenge to either, to both, or to some intersecting concept between them. The section "Just the same - almost" in Chapter 7, pp. 109-111, includes the details.

Here are the statements as you presented them in the prior post:

  1. Superheroes serve and protect the public.
  2. The NYC 2020 Omni-Shambles.

If I'm understanding correctly, the Greek pantheon and myth content was brought in entirely by Fano as a motif for his hero, which, perfectly appropriately by the rules, forced you as GM to say, "All righty then, that stuff is 'real' for our comic." But how it's 'real' is definitely in your sphere.

So my question is whether you have managed to recast that material in terms of the two statements, just as you would have done so from scratch (i.e., cast rather than recast) for an antagonist entirely or almost-entirely of your own making. Because if not, then it's as if you're playing two games, one based on the statements and the other continually horning in and trying to take over. In that situation, the Now cannot help but scatter around and feature "dying" spots here and there.

James_Nostack's picture

That point ABSOLUTELY applies.  It's an excellent question, and one I struggled with for a quite while.  I ended up with the "transcend" option, listed on page 110 of Champions Now. 

The gods view the concurrent crises involving governance, racism, inequality, ignorance, and selfishness as definitive refutations of Prometheus's argument in favor of human self-determination.  They're slowly planning to re-invade the Earth and take possession.  Protecting us from ourselves.

Daedalus plans to double-cross the gods, starting over with a Mars colony of cognitively-limited humans, and then bombarding the Earth with an extinction-level meteor right when the gods come through.  Protecting us from them.

Prometheus's student, Celia, potentially ties into these schemes.  Her research could produce a cure, not a vaccine, for Covid-19, alleviating the social ills; her work would also be useful to protecting Martian colonists from genetic damage.  As an Afro-Latina living in America, she's pretty alienated from business-as-usual, and if she helps someone, it's going to be on her own terms.

The lesser Greek characters, like Heracles and Medea, don't really connect up yet.  But I'm hoping it'll come together.

Ron Edwards's picture

Do you want me to continue on this path of inquiry? I have some thoughts, but they go into more intrusive and advisory territory.

James_Nostack's picture

I'm not sure if I'm replying to the 1/27/21 post or not, but sure, I'm happy to discuss it.

Based on some other discussions, I think I've drifted a little too far from the core problems of the city in the middle of a pandemic, a pretty much openly fascist police force, etc.  I've got a couple of characters who relate to that stuff only weakly--the Greek myth stuff--and in running with other concepts it's probably a good idea to... re-tread the tires a bit, so they grip the thematic material a little better.  

Ron Edwards's picture

For future reference, to reply in a stream of replies, go up to the first comment in the stream, the one that has a Reply button, and click it. Your reply will appear in the right spot.

It’s OK to work from here, though. We might as well have a distinctive Comment+Replies set as I move into the intrusive and advisory mode. As always, wear the shoes that fit and discard the rest; I claim no extrasensory insight into what happens at tables where I’m not present.

I think you’ve been seduced by the Greek mythology. The two statements tell us “2020” and specify New York City, and about heroism; the player has brought into Greek this-and-that as is his rules-given right. We both know this material is very big, nibble-able superhero bacon-with-cheese and always has been; the moment it shows up, it seizes attention and expands into setting-building almost without fail.

And thereby you lose all the motivated anger you talked about in the first Remedy for Oppression post ... gone, eclipsed by the implied ‘Verse: all the what-ifs about human history for 3000 years, and what-is-Zeus-doing. You bring in Hercules as Hercules instead of as a direct actor in an anti-mask firebombing of a store which refused service to someone, because Hercules upstages any such mundane, momentary details.

My advice is to blowtorch as much of the current Greek mythology content as you can, as quickly as possible. Nothing says you have to develop this content past its minimal necessary role ... and that role can be as minimal as saying, “Yes, yes, you’re good ol’ mythological Prometheus, that’s cool, but all that was then, and this is now.” Use only the things that come right off the sheet, and whatever they are, milk it for cool and only for cool – i.e., when anything from Greek mythology is involved, it’s gotta absolutely integrated into and heavily invested in some aspect of Everything Wrong with 2020 NYC. Preferably some aspect that pisses you, personally, off to an extent you had not dreamed possible before a few months ago.

Let the Greek content be chrome on the steel of the statements, and whatever has bulked up in play into actors and situations that aren’t Everything Wrong with 2020 NYC, dial it down, let it fade out of play simply by not playing it any more. Not even gradually, but as I said above, asap. If some of it remains as obviously solid, either already integrated/relevant to the immediate concerns or easily made so, then go ahead and use that, but staying with the integration and relevance and not dragging in this or that from the myths to accompany it.

To scale up to a bigger issue, I really don’t know how to help you with this hybrid rules-set you’re using. It may be possible to play “Marvel Super Heroes using the technique of the Now from Champions Now,” but it’s not easy, or from my perspective, it seems like a ton harder than playing Champions Now. Marvel Super Heroes doesn’t have much Now support, meaning, things that work numerically or in any organizational way to make the next Now. Although the Karma rules imply some “day in the life” play, the game otherwise leans really heavily toward menace-of-the-month battles. Significantly, who shows up to cause trouble is very much the GM’s decision, along the lines of “Back for more pulse-pounding excitement, it’s the Emerald Eviscerator!” With the exception of the interesting subroutine of getting arrested and going on trial, that’s all you have: pick a villain, a location, and a battlemat to suit, and get punching.

By contrast, the Now is intended to focus “next” in a very nearly deterministic way, by displaying varying degrees of impetus and constraint for each thing in it. Furthermore, the rules for NPCs’ Situations and the ways they get more points are tuned to its use pretty precisely, which is very much not evident to the reader; this effect is only really learned through use. Without that kind of mechanics support, arriving at “what Now,” so to speak, just becomes an exhausting creative chore from a standing start each time. You'll have to keep carrying that, I guess, or find some way in which the Karma rules help you with a more productively-constraining method.

James_Nostack's picture

Ron, first, thanks for all for all of that - the shoes fit almost perfectly.

Having established it, I planned to cut away from the Greek stuff as much as possible except where, as you noted, its presence is absolutely essential.  (Pandora and Medea are floating in my mind as potentially relevant but nothing's gelled yet and I don't want to use them unless/until it does).

If the player moves things in that direction, I'm not going to block him, but I'm going to increase the volume on the urgent, real-world stuff to compensate.

One place where I fell astray was analogizing the Two Statements in Champions Now a little bit too closely to the Look & Feel technique mentioned in Sorcerer Annotated.  They're doing similar things, but not exactly the same thing.  And here with Champions Now, at least as implemented in this game, the two statements are almost like a global Kicker (or the seed of one) for all major characters.  (I'm sure that made you wince just to read it, sorry.)  

So for a lot of characters, particularly on the personal end of things, the Goddamn Mess is something they're struggling with, and we can see how and why.  And that's fine for extras.  But for most of the major characters, it's not "Everything in my life is fucking upside down so now I'm putting on some spandex and getting even" type stress.  So I gotta get out my machete and go to work.

I want to try Champions Now as soon as possible--I'm going to pitch it to my girlfriend next time I see her, possibly using these exact same statements--ideally for a long-ish run.  I certainly agree that as presented, Marvel Supers does have a tendency toward "villain, location, hit 'em" - it's why all the adventures are so bad - but there may be some stuff going on within the system that's worth a full post.

Ron Edwards's picture

I want to play more Marvel Super Heroes with a very sharp eye kept on the Reputation scores, why they changed, and the actions/events which changed Karma during the previous session. I think those are strong enough to provide a real shape for each next-session, in addition to things which I've prepared or considered "real" enough separately. I agree that the game itself, in terms of long-term, change-oriented, rather dramatic play, is far stronger than any of its distinctly weak published adventures. The views in my blog post A fearful symmetry is born are relevant here in terms of comics/game history, or why this may be the case.

Which is to say, I think your hybrid is interesting to try and has been fun to discuss, but the Now isn't supported by anything so you have to carry it on your shoulders. Perhaps Reputation and Karma are getting left on the sidelines even though they have muscles of their own. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the game has a tighter field of view on the heroes than Champions Now, in terms of preparation, so that the rather dizzying scope of the Now may be too much.

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