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The New Defenders (A Very Old Campaign Document)

(First time posting here, at Ron's suggestion.)

Back in the late 90s, when the only game I had time for was Champions, I was part of the Haymaker!, an APA focused on HERO System stuff. While going through some of my old Champions stuff (I have many, many file folders of hard copy and hand-filled character sheets, etc.), I found one of my early Haymaker! contributions, a guide to what turned out to be the last really long-running game I ever ran (depressingly enough, way back in the mid-90s). I wouldn't post it here, except that it also included notes on the fourteen "issues" of actual play. They're pretty much capsule summaries, but I find it interesting to look back at the setting I created (along with some of the decisions that went into that) and see what happened when I added players to the mix. I think it turned out pretty well.

Anyway, I mentioned this on G+ and Ron invited me to post about it over here, so I'm happy to oblige. As it turns out, the original pages 4 and 5 were missing from my hard copy (the electronic file has been lost to a dead hard drive), but I was able to salvage the text from a file in the archives of the Red October BBS that you can still get to from the Wayback Machine, so I tryed to recreate them and inserted them into the scanned pages. It's not pretty, but it'll do.

Here's a like to the PDF. Have at it.

The New Defenders

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
Champions

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

That's what always gets me about this game. OK, I ran into exceptions, but for the most part, a group tended to produce a remarkable amount of material, often jam-packed with tragedy and hilarity, in a relatively few number of sessions. And yet, the most common complaint concerned sitting through six hours to run a couple of rounds of combat, and certainly I ran into that for a while until we hit a certain groove with how to manage things ... so where did we find the time to do all this crazy story-making? A mystery, but true.

I mean, we are talking about Embryo and the Mighty Man-Frog. This is not any kind of boring comics.

I remember the endless battles, but I also remember figuring out ways to keep them interesting.  Also, once I hit my groove, I became very good at running fast combats (well, fast for Hero). I also tended to stick with a lot of genre emulation (Man-Frog and Embryo being ample evidence), so I tried to plan things so the combats were important to where the story was going and not just an excuse to roll dice. I think the fact that Champions combat could be cumbersome led me toward ensuring fights weren't superfluous.

(I also cheated die rolls and Stun totals and the like, so if things were getting boring, I'd have the villain go down so we could get to the next interesting step. I don't think superheroes need equal or superior opposition, if their opponents are interesting and put up a decent challenge for a while and pay off in advancing plot or character development.)

I do think the fact that characters were harder to build than D&D or many other games out there and, for much of my formative years as a Champions player, had to be done by hand created the opportunity for greater emotional investment in our characters. I had a couple of all-roleplay sessions, where no dice were thrown, but much accomplished. I had a player in the New Defenders game write a short story that resolved a blue-booked encounter we'd played out a few weeks earlier.

It was definitely the game that got the most out of me as a player and GM. I look back on that time, and while I've written (and published) better stuff, it floors me how much cool stuff happened in that short window (probably about 9-12 months of game play). I still run Champions for the occasional convention one-shot and while those games are much more generic, there still seems to be some intangible thing about Champions that people fool around in the blank corners of the character sheet to find their own approaches.

Ron Edwards's picture

I agree with and identity with a lot of that comment.

One of my big reasons for doing this thing, especially in this high-profile paid/company fashion, is that so many of us arrived at similar practices with similarly successful results.

I am using "we" here because right now, I'm seeing all over again, just as I did in the late 80s, how many people were finding and doing the same thing at once.

Part of that success must have arisen from features of the game texts, but it wasn't just that - after all, we weren't learning why superhero comics were good (in their odd way to be good) from the game text. However, there was something about the texts that mattered. Most obviously, we shared the core aesthetic with the authors and were confirmed, we were made ready to try, by their texts.

And then what about the rules as tools for it? As I'll be saying a lot, those rules are an amazing example of ram-jamming three or four basic resolution/point mechanics into one spot and then welding them together at any contact point, joined by whatever arithmetic conversion was necessary such that fine-grained point-buy currency could be spent in a user-intuitive way. It's garage buggy design from hell, and it only works because these people played it so much and so fiercely, and kept welding and sanding, until it would actually go.

And go it did! Somehow this bonkers sprawl of points and algebra helps us to a unique functionality, among what you have to choose, what you have to make up, and what you have to spend, which "is" Champions, in contrast to the other superhero games. It's even experientially different from GURPS: Supers, the closest to it, especially when you contrast pre-4th edition to GURPS: Supers like I did in all those blog posts. 

And then what? Not only did it go, it went somewhere, or better, you as a group could and did take it somewhere. This bizarre cross between a classic skirmish wargame and a tax audit reinforced ongoing, changing, high-content, and above all, unplanned yet productive play ... and as far as I can tell, did so more than any other role-playing game ever published. Back then.

I want to preserve that. It's not nostalgia, it's something that was lost to RPG culture, especially its design culture. Posts like yours let me know that I'm not the only one who wants it back.

Rod_A's picture

I've been meaning to comment on this post (and hi Theron, long time no see), but it's hard to think of what to say apart from "Whoa!" It's fun to look at the bits of San Antonio lore and note that the big institutional landmarks remain the same after 25 years, even as the feel of the city has experienced dramatic changes through commercial and residential development.

 

Dang, man. Way long time no see. Hope things are going well for you.

(I found it amusing that the same Brian Karam I dissed in my campaign guide as a hack is now a journalist working for Playboy and has been a thorn in the side of the WH Press flack.)

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