Ah to be young and heroic

It took about four sessions to arrive at a title, but we did, and Rod provided this fine logo.

It’s been seven sessions, and I am afraid it’s slogged quite a bit, paying off a bit later than I'd hoped. There’s no one reason, but a perfect storm of details which conspired to turn play into very long sessions.  I’ve edited out a lot so they’re bearable at all for watching, but even with that, I had to split this one (the third session) into two. I don’t ordinarily like to do that, preferring to retain the naturalism and not-actually-trivial human interactions and sideline conversations, but in this case, I want to focus on events of the fiction. I think I’ll make a montage later of “teaching Champions in play” moments though, which could be valuable.

We are seven sessions in, at the time of this writing, using the Alpha version of Champions Now. That Alpha is not much changed from the first-generation rules (specifically the 3rd edition core book and the supplements II and III), but it’s philosophically highly-directed toward one of the directions that was supported by those rules. I wanted people to playtest at this level first, to experience and arrive at a number of things that were supported by the older texts – basically, so when I said I was recovering a lost strength and in many ways even a lost game, they’d believe me.

It’s been a good strategy. Only playing the Defiants could have broken me out of purist mode and generated the rules that have now entered playtest as Beta. And others’ readings and play have really mattered as well, including the conversations you can see in Seminar and a few grassroots play-groups, e.g., Graph Paper Games.

So what’s up with our heroes here? You may recall that the two starting statements for play were:

  • Super-powers are subject to IP law
  • Young-adult economic crisis in San Antonio, Texas

Which brought us the Oblate (Michael), Crawl (Finn), and Silverbeak (Brian) – two of which would undergo name changes, but not in this session yet. You might want to imagine one of those intro/recap page spreads with all the supporting cast standing around and introducing themselves, because it’s huge, busy, and collectively opinionated. For this sessions, you need to know Michael’s wife Amanda, his colleague and advisor Cheryl, his ally Father Ochoa, his boss Dean John Weylunde, Brian’s ex-girlfriend Jennifer Powers, her current boyfriend Matt, his father Robert, his supervisor Gardner, and Finn’s buddy Jennifer Edwards and brother Liam.

Plus the unpleasant and looming presences of Myrmidon Inc featuring the hero Myrmidon, Immigration and Customs Enforcement including the super-group Ghost, and AmyBiota, friendly green business face of the Brooke Army Medical Center, all of whom factor into this session as well. My prep notes look like a wall of crazy full of loops and squiggles and arrows pointing every which way.

Part 1 for this session may bore you to tears because even though I began by pointing out that we should have begun with all the heroes already and associated and active as such, but we promptly failed to act on that point. It features no super-combat or indeed any violence at all … but stay with us, OK? The spirit of Chris Claremont cradled us in its big talky hands, apparently, as the payoff for every emotional or relationship detail in this session turned out to be incredible later.

Besides, the second half of the session gets most entertainingly violent indeed.


17 responses to “Ah to be young and heroic”

  1. I think the cool new comics kids call this decompression

    But yes we do go on a bit! Ron, did you cut stuff out of the restaurant conversation? In my memory it’s even more rambling than in the video. However, watching this back knowing we do later build on this is fun, and this is also where a lot of, for want of a better word, the supporting cast  really start to come alive. Whatever other things we stumbled into over in play they have been a consistent joy to interact with and see develop. I also really liked that, as starts in this session, they got brought together rather than being three separate strand (tentacles?) hanging off the  individual “heroes”.

    I wonder if part of the trouble we had as a group, that led to the long rambling sessions, was not being prepared / having the skills to let the talky bits set stuff up but then leave it to be resolved later, maybe in the context of a fight. At various points you can see us trying to resolve “what do we do faced with the alt-right” at the restaurant table, when maybe all we needed to do was pose the question, define initial positions and then let that inform / challenge / problematise actions in some putative future scene. Of course I’m sure this has nothing to do with how, the minute we took our eyes off a given problem., it came back to bite us, hard. 

    Anyway people have been complaining there’s not enough action in conics since forever. People may be interested for example in Andrew Rilstone’s blog – http://www.andrewrilstone.com/search/label/SPIDER-MAN?m=0 where he’s been commentating on early Spiderman, including noting how the letters page regularly had readers complained about the attention given to Peter’s live life etc. 

    • I was planning to warn

      I was planning to warn viewers of our "Robert Altman gyros joint" episode, defined as ambient social noise and the various small noises of many people eating as the characters carry out naturalistic, i.e. partly incomprehensible dialogue (ooh – like this). And yes, I did edit away more than one detour or distraction. But I didn't rearrange, artificially connect, or otherwise mess with the genuine fictional content of what the characters said or how they interacted. I'm probably more surprised than anyone that what remained was so coherent and individually characterized. (that keeps happening throughout our sessions, I'm finding as I continue to edit)

      As for the supporting cast, yes and double-yes. It's been sort of a personal mission for me to make sure the two Jennifers are different people, for instance. My next post will include your great portraiture too.

    • If people are really lucky

      If people are really lucky they’ll get to see Rod’s amazing artwork, I can only do stick figures. 

      I wasn’t suggesting you had recut / rearranges the conversation, but I do recall a bit of going round in circles that can happily hit the editing room floor. Bit of a shame that this also seems to mean losing the regular weekly dose of Santiago going “America – WTF!” though. 

      Actual substantive point left till last – I’d forgotten about those presence attacks in this session, some of them were pretty brutal / fun. I know you love these rules, I do too, but do you think maybe they could use tweaking to work better in these sort of outside combat situations? It often seems that the fact of the roll, and the consequent spotlighting of the interaction, is more compelling than the actual rolled outcome, outside the context of combat where hesitation etc. makes a concrete difference to what happens going forward. 

    • Rod’s portraiture. Not actual

      Rod's portraiture. Not actual person confusion, I swear.

      Anyway, I have been tempted to collect a montage of the America-WTF moments. My favorite so far is the question about whether campus guards would carry guns, answered with a brief description of genpop concealed-carry on Texas campuses. Close second being the two U.S. citizens' envy regarding what Argentinan students and activists do when they feel like making a point.

      Regarding the Presence Attacks, it may surprise you how much they have affected how I play many of the NPCs based on the strict quantitative outcomes. They go far to shape interactions all the way through a scene and even into following sessions. Sometimes it's positive and sometimes it's negative, as if the NPC had been successfully "attacked for real." As of the session presented here, Brian has especially done that twice, once to Vorsky and once to Ruiz, with significant plot outcomes in each case. In later sessions, Crawl's Presence-heavy interaction with Tina/Myrmidon has gone a long way to keep her from finking you guys out to her bosses (note that her treatment of Amanda occurred before the two of you met).

      Explaining how to do that, and how to keep them significant rather than just being "shut up," "no you shut up" moments, is something I need to work on.

    • It’s been fascinating to see

      It's been fascinating to see how Presence attacks do so much of the lifting for generating the moral/emotional intensity of comics storytelling. In particular, I've found myself wondering if a PC-on-PC Presence attack here and there could have turned some of our "what do we do now?" deadlocks into productive drama about clashing personalities, instead of, um . . . actual clashing personalities? Certainly, by our final session I was trying out that kind of move.

      Other notes: "Oblate Investigations" is pretty frustrating to watch, as it's a lengthy diversion propelled pretty much entirely by a rules blunder on my part. (I don't know if I make this specific error again during play, but it caught me up numerous times between sessions when I was trying to come up with cool powers for the Oblate/Scarab's VPP. )

      The bit at the end about putting all my XP into DEX reminds me that at the time, I was fixated on the oversized impact of DEX in the 3rd ed. rules, to the point of near-swearing that I'd never make a character with DEX under 30 again (I'd be surprised if I was the first Champions player to ever have that thought). Rebuilding the character in Alpha (stay tuned, true believers) broke me out of this, and I happily went back to 18 DEX and put the XP somewhere else.

    • Prompted by the above, I’ve

      Prompted by the above, I've been reviewing all our Presence Attacks, and one thing that doesn't happen is player-hero on player-hero. Is that good or bad?

      You mentioned possibly using them as a way to resolve conflicting character commentary, especially in our open-discussion scenes. I'm not sure if that makes much sense unless someone says outright that they're dominating the conversation over everyone else, and looking at the scenes, I don't think anyone was trying to do that. Especially having just edited the enormous almost-all-NPCs group meeting at Michael's apartment in session 6, it seems to me as if the length of play came about less from player vs. player and more from … well, from me carrying on without anyone telling me to shut up because we're trying to play here.

      I'm open to anyone pointing out a specific instance for discussion, whether "that looks like a Presence Attack, there should have been a roll," or "that Presence Attack should have had more effect," or whatever.

      More generally, not so much about our own game, the question becomes quite important. I think players in all the games I've played practiced a no-exceptions hands-off with Presence as a direct behavioral influence, even in situations where one hero punched another. There seems to be a social contract line there which matters a lot, especially in a game where one's character's behavior can go off the beam due to non-rolled (Psych Lim) and rolled (Enrage) effects already, let alone Mind Control. One more kind of transgression of this does seem unacceptable to me – it's as if our heroes, as a readable group, are defined by the fact that they don't bring out the bazooka of Presence on one another, no matter what degree of conflict/disagreement they're in.

    • Okay, I had to think about

      Okay, I had to think about what I was thinking about in order to figure out where I'm trying to go with PC-to-PC Presence attacks.  It turns out that the utility-based break-the-deadlock language I was using is ancillary to what I'm mainly interested in, which has to do with characterization and advocacy. I actually fire-tested my nascent intuitions about this in our last session when I had Michael Presence-attack Finn — the point being, in that case, that Michael's warning about the danger of taking custody of Liam (I forget the exact words I used) was serious and valid, and I wanted it to feel impactful, with the weight of Michael's force of personality behind it. I initiated the Presence attack knowing that a strongly compelling result was very unlikely, but possible — and also that I could have made it a hell of a lot MORE possible, if all I wanted to do was have Michael get his way, but that wasn't the point.

      I may have further thoughts on this but I'm struggling to articulate them and have to run to an event, so I'll leave it here for now.

    • Oh right! That’s a whole

      Oh right! That’s a whole different situation, and as it happens, almost unique. Cortex had Drained Finn’s Presence and, with another attack, Drained his Intelligence too. So Finn was pretty much doing anything he was told, especially since Cortex was pulling on the brotherly “help me” heartstrings and not telling Finn, for example, to attack his friends. Your Presence Attack was the equivalent of “snap out of it!” or at least a countervailing force in terms of game + rules + plot. I saw it very much as Strength vs. Strength, as if Scarab and Cortex were seizing something physically and trying to take it to two different places.

      The point being that the situation had nothing to do with player vs. player desires or ability/right to speak, so bypassed that whole concern. It also happened to give us the fun outcome of Cortex and Scarab rolling a tie for effect, with the result being that – for a moment – Finn could actually do what Finn wanted.

      That result also meant we didn’t even have to consider any implications of what it meant for a player-character to Presence Attack another successfully, which remains an unknown zone in the original rules. I suspect the practice of never doing so was so deeply found/felt in the social contracts of play that it never occurred to anyone to mention it.

      So you’ve raised two issues here: one is the rules in question itself, Presence Drain, i.e., a sideways version of Mind Control; and the other is player-on-player Presence Attacking. I’m wracking my brains through unguessable hours of playing, as GM or hero player, and I can’t find any examples of the latter.

      The former is rare in those memories too, as the only other time I’ve seen it was against my player-character Nocturne in the late 1980s, admittedly a strong contender for Presence Wins role-playing. In that case, he was Drained, Presence Attacked, and forced to flee – basically finding an “energy blast” against a character who was almost invulnerable to ordinary attacks and all too smugly proof against just about anyone’s Presence. It was one special villain who could do it, which made perfect sense, and as a player I was gobsmacked (as I was at least as smug about Presence Wins as my character was) but handled it in good order, “you got me.”

      If I'm straying from the points you wanted to raise, please redirect me.

    • Following on from my previous

      Following on from my previous post, I realize there's a piece of information I'm missing — did anyone else feel that the aforementioned Presence attack added worthwhile interest/impact to the scene (or could have)? If it was just superfluous procedure, or an outright nuisance, then there's probably no point in following up the idea.

    • Oh dammit, cross-posted with

      Oh dammit, cross-posted with Ron — okay, I'll digest that for a little bit.

    • I’m catching up! I’ve decided

      I'm catching up! I've decided to join the conversation even if I don't have the time to watch all the videos. Let's hope my memory serves me well.
      I really really liked that double Presence attack scene, for what it's worth. And I thought Ron did a really good work of explaining us what was on stake, and what the tie meant, at the time. 
    • Hey – that Presence Drain and

      Hey – that Presence Drain and double-Attack situation occurred in session eight, and the videos in this post are for session three.

      A little bit of call-forward is welcome in comments from the participants, but this dialogue is getting way too detailed for that. Plesae hold off on more discussion of it until it's visible for others, OK? There are lots of things in the present ones to reflect on, and …

      … well, OK, a little whining now. The Defiants videos are a huge trial to edit, upwards of seven working hours each, and more stressful than any others I've done. I don't expect anyone to have to watch them all the way through, but if you could at least familiarize yourself with what part of our saga is represented in a given post, that would go a long way toward the necessary small bit of emotional return I need to keep going.

      Whining's over. I do want your thoughts.

    • Okay, understood. I’ll be

      Okay, understood. I'll be keeping Presence in mind as a topic for discussion as the remainder of the sessions go up.

  2. Presence throughout

    It'd be good for me to go through all nine sessions to compile the complete Presence Archive for our game, although also a bit terrifying to contemplate. We use Presence Attacks a lot for a lot of things; its frequency of use is probably in first place for this game, even above rolls to hit. The very first roll in play used it for a casual, non-confrontational bit of conversational jockeying in a romantic couple. Right now I'm editing a bit of session 7 in which Finn's Presence Attack parallels Michael's Detective Work as they negotiate the police/military context of Liam's disappearance.

    Too often, used too widely? Maybe. I was purposely stress-testing it, affording or interpreting things as Presence Attacks as generously as possible, to see whether a certain historical claim that they are too powerful is true. Looking at them as I edit, I don't see that effect, as long as one acknowledges that they are supposed to be at least influential or meaningful, and that often is better than rare. I do see that when the circumstances warrant lots of extra dice, it's almost always very satisfying, as the textual dice modifiers are beautifully constructed … but when the opposite is the case, and the hero should be penalized or at least gain no bonus dice, I'm a bit of a weenie and let him roll too many. I need to be harsher about that so that the outsized impact of the right-thing-at-the-right-time is appreciable.

    • Not to volunteer anyone for

      Not to volunteer anyone for anything, but it seems like some of that work could be split up. I can write down timestamps as well as the next man.

      I don't really have the context to know how much Presence-attacking is "normal" in a Champions game, but I don't remember ever feeling that any particular Presence attack was tedious or too much — I'm all for the generous approach.

  3. Presence is AWESOME!

    As I posted in other threads, and whether Champs Now or published Hero… Presence and Presence attacks are always good things. A very straight forward "social combat" mechanic. We use it a lot (though I traditionally have PRE be the attack stat and EGO be the defensive state, but will be ok with PRE being defensive as well.) In my experience, PRE attacks usually do a really good job of bringing the personality of the character to the fore… actively engage psych lims and simply in play "This is how I read the situation…" moments that create dramatic shifts in tension and direction.

    It can be abused, as a zero phase, area effect, always hits Mind Control, if bought high enough… and I've seen people comment about that on the Hero boards, but I've never had actual play issues with that happening. (I also rule that PRE attacks (in my Hero games) do take time. They are an action/attack, and use your action like any other attack/movement/action.


    • Hi Neil, I appreciate your

      Hi Neil, I appreciate your comment — you put words to my enthusiasm for Presence way better than I've been doing. I'll be paying attention to your session posts and will no doubt have some questions for you about your Presence attacks.

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