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"Crisis on campus!" never goes out of style [Champions Now]

Introducing Silverbeak! Because adding Monsanto to a welter of corporate and government ownership that already includes ICE, Blackwater/Xe, and the U.S. Army isn't too much, no, not at all.

For the system, we're still using the very slightly altered original rules that were associated with the Kickstarter, a fair piece behind my current notes for the game. But it's really valuable to keep playing with these, as cleaning up about a dozen difficult patches prepares the way for more fundamental re-thinks.

If anyone wants, I'd be happy to talk more about those in the comments. Obviously (for those who've been paying attention), I changed rules for some of the most significant details in the game: Focus, Killing Attacks, and Endurance, as well as altering some of the point structure for Disadvantages. It doesn't seem like much - not much more than editing, perhaps, but I submit that all of play is so affected by these, it's important to see how that goes in isolation before I get all revolutionary.

I'm burning through the recordings that got backlogged throughout June, and figuring out why that happened. It's not just about the Kickstarter. One reason is that in moving to the new office space, I've run into audio problems - there's a lot of unshielded concrete at the moment, and sometimes my sound gets really awful in the recording but I can't tell while I'm doing it. That makes editing painful and frustrating because I know I'm making a low-grade thing. I'm getting some stuff on the walls that will fix it.

That gets multiplied by the strange increase in length lately. I really don't know how we went for three hours in this one, and between this and a couple similar recordings recently, I decided to keep an eye on that from now on. The Sorcerer Musik game ran in approximately hour-and-fifteen-minute chunks, with plenty of events in each, and even the RuneQuest sessions (with a notoriously time-intensive system) weren't like this, so I think I'm mishandling the interface. Anyway, we've played two sessions since this one, and they're a lot shorter.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

In the kickstarter you mentioned that you were developing two games – one that was an updated version of the original champions and one that’s a whole new game. Is the playtest document something like the updated version you mentioned? Will the new game be radically different?

Ron Edwards's picture

This has always been a little sketchy, but yes, there are really two goals. One is something you can recognize as thoroughly tweaked Champions, based on first-generation only, for which the current playtest document is only a start. I guess you could think of it as Ron's version of what Steve did with 6th edition, except that he branched from where 5th left off, and I'm branching from where 3rd left off instead, and our separate trajectories aren't the same (although mutually appreciated). It will be completed through the course of the summer, and may not be in the actual publication, or if so, probably as a summary appendix kind of thing.

The other is an ambitious task: a redesign for a much more understandable, accessible game that is still entirely recognizable as Champions' unique governing logic. This is what you get in Champions Now as a publication, when you have it or buy it as a game. I don't mind saying that nothing ever published, no RPG, has ever managed to do this, and although I have notes and some well-playtested components, I am really looking forward to getting the prototype ready for backers later this year and seeing what happens when it's out of my hands.

I'm excited to see the ambitious version.

Ross's picture

I think an interesting question is why GMs love hero on hero fights so much? (The GM of the other champions game I'm playing was also very happy why he got the heroes punching each other) 

Clearly it's a genre convention and, as happens here, is something that Champions facilitates via the disadvantages, at least in part. I'm not suggesting it's something to avoid, I enjoyed this quite a bit though I was a little worried Santiago may have found it less fun.  However it does bring into sharp relief something we have already talked a bit about - that champions combat works when players focus on what objectives their characters have and what resources they have to achieve them, not as a grind down of stun and body until someone is knocked out. Clearly as soon as Finn got his enraged under control his objectives shifted and the confrontation de-escalated... a bit, I mean he only almost started a riot!

I'm wondering if this is an area that needs some explicit discussion in the final game, maybe more around dealing with the aftermath - tune in next time to see how Ron does that.  

Ron Edwards's picture

If you’d asked me ten years ago, I would have said, “genre convention,” and either left it there or even denounced it as I have done with 99% of the Mind Control Incidents. But after all the blogging, and associated re-reading and sometimes first-time reading of the 1960s comics … I think there’s some content there. It’s more like Secret Identity – yes, a convention, yes, often used unthinkingly or pro forma … but there to be used in a good way too.

The history matters. Before the 1960s Marvel, I can think of only one dedicated hero-on-hero antagonism in superhero comics, that I know of: the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, conceived, authored, and drawn by Bill Everett. In between massacring Nazis, they fought each other constantly. It was epic, but it had a lot to do with them being respectively not-quite and barely human, deeply alienated characters, not well-disposed toward ordinary human society. The only reason they were “good guys” was because the Nazis pissed them off more than everyone else did, and I’m pretty sure they never had a “wait, you’re actually an OK guy, let’s battle Nazis together from now on” moment.

What Lee’s superhero comics did later was to normalize hero fights, making it kind of expected that most heroes were going to mix it up, even when the whole story was more about dealing with some genuinely nasty antagonist. It was supported by the odd newness to the characters, that they hadn’t been doing their hero thing for decades and didn’t have long-standing and widely-supported reputations as good guys, so it’s not like this guy “just knew” that other guy was all right – the default expectation that he or she wasn’t was not too misguided.

Granted, it played its role as filler, as that’s six pages you don’t have to trouble with plot, but it has its subversive side as well.

For one thing, it threw out the notion that had evolved at DC from 1940 through 1960, that “superhero” had a fixed, understood, and reliable meaning – you were a constable for good, recognizable as such, with exactly the same opinion about society’s ills and the basic way to deal with them as every other hero. Instead, now every hero came to a situation embedded in some more personal trajectory and immediate problem, and with his or her own specific view of how problems should be dealt with. Those are pretty fun to see striking sparks. I’m surprised in re-reading how much of, for instance, the friendly-but-pissed interaction between Spider-Man and the (new) Human Torch makes sense.

For another, it highlighted that each hero was motivated by passions rather than abstractions, and that passions are a tricky guide for action. DC would catch on by about 1970 or so, but the way was paved at Marvel for heroes to succumb to frustration or be under specific tensions or points of view that led them to react violently to other heroes’ presence.

The obvious example of both principles in action is the Hulk, who wandered in and out of everyone else’s titles causing havoc – and you can’t get more “misunderstood” misunderstanding than that. Some of it was pretty heartbreaking, like when different heroes don’t admit to each other that they sympathize with him (each thinking the other considers the Hulk a villain), and so miss their chance to help him.

So my thrill at jumping on the Enrage on Crawl’s sheet, and seeing the roll go that way, was real and – true to your observation – spiked much more fun for me than I’d anticipated. The part of the mechanics that really shines for me, though, isn’t the triggering of that response, but the recovery roll – both its uncertainty, that the player cannot simply choose to have the hero calm down, and the reliable outcome, that when the hero does recover, it is a full recovery and permits reflection and dialogue.

Santiago Verón's picture

I think I'm learning to roleplay - after that time with Tales of Entropy (see my a-ha moment here http://adeptplay.com/comment/439#comment-439 ), I knew no one was expecting me to "perform" the "genre superhero fight" if I didn't want to. I did have a lot of fun (so don't worry, Ross) by playing my character really accepting of the fact that of course someone could throw a rock to him if he's a cop on a political rally, a bit oblivious towards whether it's a rock or a boulder, and worried about getting other people hurt. I will say this, though: If the guys with the guns wouldn't have started to make trouble, I would've totally lifted you off the ground, Ross, instead of the NPC.

Ross's picture

We're all having fun and rolling dice is helping! Whatever next?

I liked the enraged roll because it gave me some concrete orientation about what Finn was going to try and do in this scene - this time he's not the one trying to find the best solution to a bad situation, he's making things worse. And then here's a thing to actually do, throw a rock and start a riot. 

I'm wondering if some of the more talky scenes in later sessions might not benefit from similar mechanics to help break out of circular discussions, planning etc. I'm kind of feeling like comic book roleplaying needs more I've said my piece, you've said yours, now I'm going to do something. I'm not necessarily saying we need rolls to resolve the discussion itself, but maybe a bit of a push to get on and do something, and then come back to the discussion with the context maybe changed would be good?! I feel like there are quite a few tools in champions that could play into this, not just enraged. Or maybe I'm talking rubbish?

Ron Edwards's picture

Not rubbish at all. Our play is bogging down badly in every session, compounded by the screen-based medium. I've been handling it poorly mainly because I don't want to direct and prod people into specific actions.

This is a serious issue in superhero role-playing, because players are inclined to take cues and go where the story "is," after all, so many superhero comics are based on the heroes being completely reactive ("the Bat-signal! OK, Commissioner, let's look at that bank vault for clues") and simply led by coincidence ("this guy stumbles out of the alley and dies in your arms ... he has this odd medallion ...").

Fortunately or unfortunately, the game system is very agnostic about "what my guy will do next," so unless we're talking about a specific trigger for an extreme Psychological Limitation or for Enrage, there really is no mechanical lever to pull.

Ron Edwards's picture

I was interrupted! OK, to continue, what I've been doing is to leave room for proactivity, but also to provide the situations that other characters' actions give rise to.

Thus the situation two sessions ago, at the ICE detainment center, was prompted very much by Myrmidon (the person) and managed by her to the benefit of Myrmidon (the company) - your characters had little scope for changing "where we go and what we do." But I did that specifically because - it seemed to me - that the collective player activity until that point had actually left the door open for Myrmidon to try to throw its weight around, to "help" in the manipulative way that the company is defined, i.e., one of Scarab's Disadvantages.

(for anyone following these, Rod has renamed his character)

That's the reason as well for opening the last session with the all-NPCs-too group meeting, including the "our name" topic - it's time for the locations and moments of confrontations to come more under direct player-character influence, and for the players to know they can and should do that.

Santiago Verón's picture

I could use some more reading on superhero group stories - all I know is that the X-Men have Xavier, or Cyclops, bossing them around, I guess? This is one of those moments when a guy my age realizes he's more familiar with superheroes from TV & movies than from comics. I'm not familiar with heroes having a 'where should we go next' scene.

 

I do wonder if it would be faster if we talked it out of character. If we found the way not to make it worse - 'cause there is also that zone, which we also talked about in the Tales of Entropy experience, where everyone is checking in with everyone else before going forward with an idea, and it sucks.

 

Back to my own experience, I'm trying to remember comics examples and I'm coming up empty. Guess I've read mostly solo stories. All that come to mind are what you call "Saturday morning" cartoons/shows - 20 minute one shots where the group has a military disposition, designed to sell toys. Beast Wars (Transformers), Power Rangers, Powerpuff Girls, Teen Titans, Gargoyles, Ninja Turtles, Biker Mice from Mars. The only thing with longer, soap-opery storylines I remember is the anime Saint Seiya, but theirs are Holy Grail -style endeavors, always embarking on a long quest. Maybe Buffy, I guess? Anyway, I wonder how they do it in comics, in case you guys remember examples.

Ron Edwards's picture

Briefly, it depends on a given creative team and even more so, on specific storylines. The easiest simple summary is that some superhero groups are based on a strong enough concept that they can be proactive, or their adversaries are sufficiently and interestingly proactive, for the plot setups and outcomes to seem sufficiently, satisfyingly organic.

However, the pressure to pump out issues leads even the best creators to fall back on missions, emergencies, and coincidences in order to get the job done over and over.  Also, some of the superhero groups lack the "concept" entirely and thus their activity fails even the most basic smell-test, being enjoyable only to fans who dismiss that angle of analysis.

That question led me to summarize mainstream superhero groups, and I was surprised to find so few. Even branching out of the Marvel-DC axis yields a couple dozen at most, and many of those are imitations, or at least use the more famous ones as templates without reflection.

  1. You have the mash-up of existing characters basically as a way to sell one more title and keep the individual IPs going: Justice League / Justice Society, and the Avengers, all of whom are tenuously identified as some kind of super law-enforcement; as a sort of defied-trope, the Defenders; also, badly, the Champions
  2. The "concept" teams who are originated, populated, and plotted in extremely coherent ways: the Fantastic Four, the Doom Patrol, the original X-Men, the DNAgents, and later, the Liberty Project. Role-playing games and their weird interplay with comics produced a very distinctive version of this with the Justice Machine, the Elementals, and maybe some less obvious examples too.
  3. I guess the Legion of Superheroes can be considered a deliberate meta version of #1, but as its own title, presents different versions of #2, generationally.
  4. When once graduated-fans become authors, and when the available material is frankly overwhelmed with spitballed material, you can use existing characters mixed with new ones in order to start new "concept" groups: The New X-Men, the New Teen Titans, the Outsiders, and later, the Suicide Squad.

I probably missed a few in there, especially since DC all-star groups had a way of appearing and disappearing through the decades, and there are villain groups who fall right into very similar categories who I guess should be factored in.

The number climbs when you look into the 90s, but those are so derived/meta, that it's hard to know how to count them. The Authority exists almost entirely as commentary on the JLA, for instance, the entire Astro City line and Invincible are the same regarding most of DC material, and I think Powers is pretty similar. I confess I hardly know what to make of WildC.A.T.S. and its associated work, whether it's a perfectly viable addition to the list or some kind of meta-parallel to it. There are also a lot of implied or briefly-glimpsed super-groups in short-form work, as in Sleeper, that are either totally derivative, on purpose, or rather interesting - but the work itself is more individualized, to a very few characters, so it can't really be considered a team title.

So the range of "why they exist" and, when inside one, "what do we do," is narrow. Or better, open to development.

Santiago Verón's picture

Super helpful, Ron, thanks!
Rereading Ross' comment, I'm thinking, what if there were a rule that's the opposite of "Talking is a free action", for out of combat? It seems to me that superhero comics benefit from having everyone talk as much as they want during combat, but being constrained elsewhere. Simetrically unintuitively.

So, some way to limit the out of combat dialogue.

Ron Edwards's picture

Adding two points to my last comment.

First, I forgot to include Alpha Flight, yet again reflecting my notion that as a super-team it was hardly ever "there."

Second, I forgot to include the important point that a motivated creator on one of the "big name" mash-up team titles will often invent a localized "reason we're together" that defines a given storyline, usually via well-conceived antagonists. Good examples include folding the New Gods into the Legion (early 80s, I think?) so that the latter has something actually to do, or seizing upon some very definite thematic point to hammer relentlessly, as with "bad parents" in the New Teen Titans.

Ross's picture

I think conceptually I’ve been seeing Finn as a solo hero who happens to have a couple of super hero friends, so of course he can’t keep his “compulsive helper out” nose out of their business and occasionally asks for their help. Certainly more so than as a well behaved team member anyway. And then the wider social group that keeps hanging out at Finn’s, sorry Michael’s flat is probably more interesting and more of an influence on events than the theoretical team. 

I’m wondering if this is true of quite a lot of super hero comics - when they are actually interesting it’s because this group of motivated individual personalities are acting together or at cross purposes in the moment and in relation to cross cutting but personally relevant themes, not because they are doing the mission of the week? If at base we are talked by action + soap opera the soap opera quickly starts driving what action occurs and complicates it. Although I can see how, absent heroes with any actual drive to proactivity, and particularly where they don’t need the other heroes to achieve their goals, it easily defaults to a super team as a big target for villains with an ill defined grudge to attack. 

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