Now or later or much later? [Champions Now]

When Champions was first published, most people involved in role-playing accepted, or even expected, to put in extensive effort before play. Today, plug-and-play is widely recognized as a virtue, whether justified by playing in convention situations or by citing friends who reasonably do not commit to complex nonsense before doing the thing they want to do.

Is plug-and-play possible for Champions Now? I don’t think so. I’m increasing the customized, personal, undirected, canon-free features of the first-generation version of the game. But I also think there are some ways to get past the expected, even overblown play-before-play features. Some of them come from playing the textual game, and some of them are specific to this project.

Brian and I work through some of these ways in this video.

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8 responses to “Now or later or much later? [Champions Now]”

  1. Awesome chat

    I'm preparing my first GMing of Champions and this was all really useful. I'm thinking on meeting to make characters, and have the first session on a different day. I was planning on making up villains from there, but now I'm wondering about coming up with some on my own. Ron, that's what you did with Ghost, right? What about Mirmidon? Did they come from Michael's character? 

    I found the advice for dealing with snarky players most useful, since one of my two prospective players is, I think, very much prone to that. I'm also on board with the idea of letting them change the characters after the first session, and plan to let them know that if I see them obsess too much when making characters.

    • Ghost and Myrmidon were both

      Ghost and Myrmidon were both examples of "the middle" in a spectrum of villain design. I'll try to describe it.

      • Almost entirely player-driven, e.g., a player describes a given super-NPC in his or her character's back-story, by name and in some detail. Typically that character is listed as a Disadvantage, either DNPC or Hunted. In this case, the GM designs the character's mechanics but is pretty much adopting the concept as it's been given.
      • At the other, entirely GM-driven, for a super-NPC which no player mentioned or thought of, and who is not represented by any listed Disadvantage.

      The super-NPCs in our game are somewhere between the two. Ghost and Myrmidon were not made up or described in any way by Rod, but they only exist, i.e., I only thought of them, because Rod included the Hunted disadvantages, one by Immigration & Customs Enforcement and one by Noldo Viera, the creepy humanitarian billionaire. Given these prompts, which included the requirement of super-characters, I thought up Ghost based on what kind of people I thought would be super-goons for ICE, and I named Myrmidon the company, and conceived of Myrmidon the character, on my own.

      Man o'War is similar in that Ross named AmyBiota as a Hunted disadvantage, and I filled in what seemed to me to be an inspiring gap in that concept – the bio-hackers that Ross had conceived of needed some raw material, after all. This one differed slightly in that it arose more directly from our pre-play dialogue. (Disclosure: the name Man o'War and the idea of a jellyfish superhero came from a long-ago discussion with JE Shields when we were talking about doing comics together.)

      Other places on that spectrum include:

      • The player putting down a super-NPC as (for example) a Hunted, by name, but not having much idea beyond the name, i.e., willing to see what the GM does with it.
      • The GM having a concept in mind for a super-NPC that they want to play, and suggesting to the player to include the name somewhere in the Disadvantages.
  2. Meet the hero, Sabotage

    I came up with a player-character on the basis of the two statements from this conversation: ambiguity between heroes and villains, small town/big secrets around Des Moines, Iowa.

    From the three “corners” concept, I can describe:

    • A religious community figure, a preacher or reverend, in some highly local and active Protestant church
    • He’s socially conservative but tends to bend in individual cases without realizing how far he goes
    • His powers have nothing to do with religion, instead based on some weird energy source, and also rather sinister in appearance
    • He’s good at helping people with personal and locally social problems, believes in the community, but he’s hit a tipping point when local power structure and outside developers screwed them over – some situation very much like compromised water in Flint, Michigan

    One idea here is to characterize and investigate the religious hero, from a relatively ordinary or human perspective. I’m really tired of the emo pop-Gnostic tradition in comics and cinema, which has added or said almost nothing since its inception around 1990 (see my Comics Madness post I just want to talk to him). So no faith-based power, no tormented faith, no fallen angels, no road trip to meet God, no warmed-over and romanticized Miltonian back-story. Just a guy who believes enough to make it central to his life, without being nuts.

    Anyway, so here is Eric Berman, goes by Rick, from the far reaches of suburban Des Moines. The media has assigned his super-name, Sabotage, which he obviously doesn’t like very much; he’d prefer “the Protector” or something vanilla like that, but also understands that a misleading name helps misdirect efforts to discover his identity.

    • 15 Secret Identity
    • 10 Unusual Looks (powers are spooky-looking) 11
    • 15 Religious belief (common)
    • 15 Profound ideals (common)
    • 10 Reformer (uncommon, irrational)
    • 10 Baffled when out of his immediate cultural context (uncommon, irrational)
    • 30 Side effect: teleport unpredictably when using Distortion
    • 20 Hunted: Context Network super-corp hero goon, ruinous
    • 10 Hunted: local power structure, small group, ordinary, manipulative

    = 135

    You’ll notice he has no DNPCs, which I realized was because he kind of considers everyone his DNPC, and that’s accounted for in the “Profound ideals” and “Reformer” Psychological Limitations. He’s way more of an activist, even a borderline domestic terrorist than he realizes.

    The “Baffled” one is hard to explain, in that I think I get it (enough to include it), but I’d have to play the guy for a couple sessions in order to understand myself what I really mean by it.

    The Context Network is a real agriculture-consulting company, so I’d have to research it a little to find out if it’s as sinister as its name seems to me, and if not, I’d tweak the name a little to make it a sinister fictional corporation. I’m leaving the associated “hero” unnamed, but he or she is supposed to be some kind of America’s Heartland symbol type, who of course serves the agribusiness/congressional complex with great verve and excellent messaging. You should be able to spot his conceptual birth right out of the two statements.

    Numbers for Sabotage:

    Strength 10, Presence 20, Body 11, Speed 5, Dexterity 20, Intelligence 14, Ego 14

    10 + 10 + 25 + 30 + 4 + 8 = 87

    You’ll notice right away that these costs don’t match the Alpha document, and the powers you’ll see in a moment don’t either. He’s built using Beta.

    Stealth, Luck 2d6, Detective Work = 20

    Expanded scope regional awareness, costs Endurance = 12

    I can explain this more if anyone’s interested, but think of it as tied to the Detective Work, as a reflection of his incredible knowledge of his local community and culture, augmented by his powers – it’s really easy for him to know “what’s going on” as long as it’s in context.

    Also, this is a good way to use the Baffled disadvantage, in that he potentially gets it very wrong (“irrational” action) when out of context.

    Distortion Field: it’s roughly based on the meta-vest as conceived by Steve Ditko, in that a weird energy outlines and extends from his body, but more shadowy and with some tentacled or clawed or demonic look for which I invite some artist to help with.

    There’s a source or device for it back at his church office, but it isn’t formally limited as a focus or anything

    Elemental Control 20 points = 20

    • Siphon (Drain) Presence 4d6, Tricky = 16
    • Entangle 4d6, Obvious Focus (he does need some widget to make this work, to help him focus the energies enough) = 10
    • TK 40 Strength = 20 (I figure he uses this as regular “strength” up-close too)
    • Distortion Blast 6d6, Piercing (this contributes to the Unusual Looks, as he disintegrates things easily and messily as part of his MO, and no one realizes that he never seems to use it on people); Objects only = 20
    • Distortion Field: Force Field 10, 0 Endurance = 20
    • Rift: teleport + Flash, “home” location only = 10

    = 116

    87 + 20 + 12 + 116 = 235, ratio 115.7

    • I like this guy a lot! It

      I like this guy a lot! It hits the tone I was hamfistedly trying to get at in the video. The interesting thing is that he fits really (I mean really) well with Des Moines before it become completely gentrified in the last decade. There used to be pretty seedy adult stores right next to missionary sanctuaries right down town. I can picture this guy sitting atop the Principle Building (second highest building in the Midwest) and watching the filth and treachery drift down the side streets.

      Except that now there is so much money in Des Moines that it's like a park by comparison. But this may actually work in his favor, since that much money (say, the Principle is insuring and investing the agribusiness) usually implies tons of corruption. So instead, he'll be sitting atop the Principle Building, but this time watching in the windows of the top floors. 

      I love Presence Drain as a tactic. Such a great image, paired with good soliloquy. 

    • I’ve been surprised at how

      I've been surprised at how consistently well the two-statements, three-corners concept works. It's vastly more effective than those long, tedious, multiple-comics-title reference discussions or documents I used to do. In the San Antonio game, the shared thematic match-up is a little scary, as the characters are diverse in powers-concept yet so nicely tuned to generate solidarity-in-diversity with one another.

      I developed the technique for Sorcerer, as I included in my annotations for the 2013 version, and as I think is pretty well demonstrated in the Sorcerer Musik game (first of several posts) and the Praying is Too Slow game. Using it, or a version of it, as the framing device to play Champions is a pretty easy fit since so much of Sorcerer was developed from extensive Champions experience anyway.

  3. The casually religious character, a rare breed

    A side issue in the video, but I have noticed how rare it is for a character to be casually or incidentally religious; just a part of who they are and not particularly underlined or emphasised, but still visible in play. (Same with sexual minorities.)

    Old religious traumas from the Christian persecution, or maybe general resistance against Christianity (because that is the only relevant religion in such a conversation) from scientifically and technically minded people?

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