This is how – Champions Now, Beta

Whew – and here we launch into game design, for me an uncharacteristically scary moment, because this isn’t just anything, this is Champions – and playing what is undeniably either my elevation or profanation thereof.

I have a bunch of Beta playtests beginning, and this one got going first, with Frank and Alan. I sent out the two statements to them, in this case authored by me without discussion. I already knew that both lived on the U.S. west coast, so my choice of location was not arbitrary.

  • Powers are bright, fun, and hopeful.
  • Long-term history and politics, and fraught personal lives, on the Left Coast.

I was quick to curtail the inevitable email conversation that began then, preferring them to work separately and to meet one another and me with in-development concepts in hand. We ended right where we should, with the players revising and composing their to-play versions with no sense of anxiety, indecision, or confusion.

How we did that, in the video, may appear to you as a casual conversation – it’s not. I’m working the three-corner concept all the way, taking what they did with the initial statements, riffing on it with associations or suggestions of my own, bringing up rules as concepts available for use. I’m bringing all the strengths of the game to bear on exactly what we’re doing in this precise instance, without leading them toward any point of my own making. By the end, we have something a’borning which is very much ours, on the edge of play.

I’m particularly happy with what’s mine: Doctor Darius Darkstar, the original Power Star’s history, Mike’s idealist brother, Mike’s ex and now brother’s wife who owns the restaurant he founded, the super-cave with its Tesla coil and its network of tele-portals, the Dark Cohort, the nosy journalist, the lovely possibilities of Higgs space, Advance’s former history, Vince’s energy research and career, Vince’s wife (who is obviously one cool ol’ broad), some vile villain of Advance’s past … it is all I can do to keep from disclosing my scribbled list of super-names I plan to use for this one. It’s blazing off the page.

One of the characters is located in Seattle and the other in Humboldt County. I’m looking forward to a multi-location context for action throughout the region, with lots of visits to interesting energy concerns which can implode or explode spectacularly.

The title came to me the next day, maybe not of the duo, who knows, but certainly the name of their alliance, and of the comic itself: Legacy.

Attached you’ll find Alan’s character sheet, after he reworked it following the session.


21 responses to “This is how – Champions Now, Beta”

  1. I mainly want to say this

    I mainly want to say this sounds loads of fun and I'm looking forward to seeing future sessions. Especially as there seem to be a lot of interesting contrasts with the Defiants game – ages, geographical range, maybe tone though I imagine that's a bit more emergent.

    • Thanks! It’s totally a

      Thanks! It's totally a different comic, for sure. I especially like the way that group after group is discovering the power of two-statements, three-corners.

      As the only person involved in both games, I'm finding the shift to be pretty drastic, especially in thinking about villains. I found myself gravitating toward really horrible bastards for this one, just because I liked the idea of the original PowerStar and Advance in his heyday both being really great heroes. Thus they needed heinous foes … and that still makes sense. But then I realized that I was deviating sharply from the first statement, such that the villains would be effectively in a different comic from the heroes, something I've observed to undercut the quality of actual comics more than once.

      So I put my developing visuals for Devour, Apocrypha, and Coil Killer away in a mental drawer, to use in some other game, and will be sticking with very fun powers, names, and visuals for my villains here, while still playing them as truly evil threats. The most sinister name-and-appearance among them will be the Dark Cohort, the group and concept introduced by Alan.

    • Just tagging along to ditto

      Just tagging along to ditto Ross' enthusiasm! And a bit of envy as well — I was visiting extended family in the Tahoe area a few weeks back (technically on the Nevada side, but it felt very Norcal to this Texan), and I kept envisioning Champions Now amidst the tall pines and bear boxes.


  2. PowerStar before and after

    Ron asked me to comment on my design thinking between the version of the character I had before our discussion and the one afterwards. Overall, the difference arose from thinking about how to put several different variations on teleport into a multipower in a way that still left points for other multipower attacks in tandem.

    In version 1 I thought of the multipower a way to have various different attacks each with the full active cost of the pool committed to them. Those attacks were all ranged, so my teleporter with the ability to float in the air could teleport up and shoot down. Martial arts was an afterthought to give Mike something he could do when the "only in hero id limitation that represents his powersuit comes into play.

    During the session with Ron and Frank, the discussion suggested a few changes: first, that PowerStar could be a "blink" fighter — pop into hand to hand range and hit. The second was the idea of long distance teleport, so PowerStar and Advance could be based in distant cities and still act as a team. 

    So when developing the multipower for version 2, I started with a slot that had the minimum 30 points that teleport requires. Then I tentatively set my pool at 60 points, so I could run two slots of 30 points at the same time. Then I thought about what attacks I could do with 30 points that fit the special effects concept.

    This second version of the character put martial arts forward as PowerStar's primary way to do damage, instead of as a backup. The multipower attacks (such as flash and entangle) now were ways to make targets more vulnerable. This does make the attack slots of the multipower smaller, which led me to get more creative with the one slot — it adds 1d6 flash and 1d6 High Impact (increased knockback) blast to martial punch — this reflects a time-space disorientation effect delivered through a powered glove: it disorients the target and knocks them back 1", in addition to any effect from the punch. I grin evily when I think of how annoying this little nuance could be.

    I note that the one slot that is still ranged, the flash slot, is only ranged because of the requirement to maintain a 5 point minimum real cost for multipower slots. Adding a limitation to the power would take the slot real cost below 5. Otherwise, I might have kept with the theme of attacks at hand to hand distance. 

    Expanding on teleport, I wanted to play with the idea of forcibly teleporting others, so I added that slot. Sadly, I couldn't afford the points to combine this with some nasty side effect of forcing someone through with me. Maybe later. As it is, I can force a change in the field of combat.  

    Finally, I wanted to use teleport over long distances, but only through teleport pads, so that became a slot with expanded scope, increased mass (to take a friend), and the IAF limitation. It had to be a seperate slot because the active cost is 50, which sucks up most of pool and doesn't allow for one of the 30 point attacks to also be active in the same phase.

    Outside the multipower, I bought 3 memorized teleport locations with the focus limitiation. This represents teleport pads at various secret locations up and down the coast. I imagine "discovering" new teleport installations if I can buy more with experience points. 

    • Here’s the first version. I

      Here's the first version. I see a big difference too, shifting from away from the idea of a Multipower as a bandolier of attacks. I really like the notions "I'm a teleporter," and just as much, "I use Higgs Space," get expressed as a bunch of manifestations which the character applies as a tactical array. It can still be a 100% effective array, but it's now fictionally grounded and rich with unexpected implications for anything that might crop up in play.

      I have decided to break fully from Champions tradition regarding Multipowers: no more battalions of attacks. Someone who wants that can pay through the nose, allowing for an Elemental Cost break, like everyone else. Multipower is basically going to become the new Multiform, whether for fully distinct sets/types of powers, or for actual body/self forms at the most extreme, i.e., big.

      The theoretical reason for that goes back to my One Thing to Rule Them All for this version, that is, Endurance. As I've constructed the game, you're already trading off among Endurance costs for, say, movement, protection, and attack. The whole allocation, zero-sum concept that was supposed to be at the heart of the Multipower is fully present (and literally, accounted for) via the raw energy expenditure – paralleling that via character points is totally unnecessary.

      I say that's the theoretical reason because no one really did that anyway, especially since everything was built on 1/2 or 0 Endurance (or Charges), and I frequently observed people ignoring the allocation part of Multipowers and just using everything at all-use, all-the-time.

      Furthermore, the most common use of the Framework was, as I say, a battalion of entirely separate ultra-slot attacks which could not be used in any kind of allocated, trade-off way, just chosen one at a time. So the nominal point of a Multipower, that it imposed a resource-base trade-off, was bypassed. I'm getting rid of that entirely – not just through decree; it will be mathematically impossible.

      What you've got in V.2 is very close to what I'm aiming for, rather big chunks that are either fully alternate or can be combined in certain simple ways, all readily identifiable as "different modes." I hope you'll see what I mean when play begins.

  3. Character development — seperate or together?

    In the intro to this post, you wrote "…preferring them to work separately and to meet one another and me with in-development concepts in hand."

    I note that this seems to contrast with a comment you made in a previous post about having players show up to a Champion's 3e game with characters designed seperately. I don't recall exactly, but you seemed to say this created some kind of clash. 

    Yet, in our Beta game, you did not want Frank and I to brainstorm with each other.

    I'm guessing that your intent to is use the two statements as an anchor that moderates the sort of clash you saw when just jumbling independant visions together. 

    I can guess and speculate, but I will restrain my natural impulse to try to anticipate the lesson and be the star student. Would you like to say a bit more about that? 



    • I need to dissect what you’re

      I need to dissect what you’re seeing as a contrast and display its parts. There are very big differences among these three phenomena.

      • Unconstructed preparation among all parties, such that that the players make up whatever and the GM preps whatever, and we all “just show up” to play. This practice presumes that we all know what “Champions” is and that we’re all committed to doing that, a presumption that carries very big risks of its own, because there isn't a "Champions." When those don’t cause trouble, i.e., when it works, you get the kind of grab-bag fun that often characterized the biggest/main superhero groups like the Justice League or the Avengers, but which in each case pretty much obviated all but the most episodic plots and the original tensions/issues of the individual characters. In role-playing, especially since you’re not relying on at least one cultural IP touchpoint (Superman, Captain America), those flaws can be very keenly felt, as characters are “greyed out” so the episode of the week can occur.
      • Brainstorming before character creation and indeed before anything else, usually resulting in a shit-ton of minor “not” statements, a number of comics references, a lot of super-alternate history, and a detailed set of origins and how-we-mets. As a whole, this is not play or prep for play, it is its own process of fiction production which drains play potential and removes actual individual creative contribution in favor of an editorially-acceptable blend.
      • Finding common ground/goals and inventing what’s minimally needed to conceive of upcoming play as a comics title, after making up three-cornered characters using the same two statements. This discovery is astonishingly easy and effective. It also generates world-building through ongoing prep and play which focus on the characters’ specific tensions, so that we end up with a “Bible” rather than beginning with and referring to one. This is exactly how the classic Strike Force was generated.

      Briefly, #1 can indeed be a problem especially given the interesting mythologies within comics fandom that came into being during the late 1980s, but it’s not automatically fatal. It was perceived as enough of a problem in role-playing that #2 was the widely-adopted, widely-accepted solution throughout the hobby, in which genre compliance and faith in GM guidance were placed front and center; no surprise that this also accorded with serial publishing of canned adventures and with highly IP-oriented settings.

      I consider the cure to be worse than the disease and have offered, in different ways in different games, versions of #3 instead. So I stopped you from doing #2 so that we could productively do #3, which I think has paid off well. I have never seen it to fail to do so as long as people do not yield to the siren call of #2.

      Your presentation in this comment – if I’m reading correctly – poses #1 as the problem that I’m trying to solve, which I’m not, at least not as much as I’m shutting down #2. I would like to address your reference to my concern with a #1 type problem, but it’s going to be really difficult unless you can help me pin down whatever you read me to be saying, somewhere. Without that in mind, I’d have to spitball a little, which I can do, but would like to make sure my points above are clear first, and discuss those if need be.

  4. I don’t feel a need to dig

    I don't feel a need to dig into an apparently contradictory statement of a past post (as I remember it). That really wasn't what I was looking for. Rather, you responded by clarifying what I had a glimmer of — that there was reason for approach #3 — to enliven play. I'm always looking for the procedure and cognitive framing that can reproduce a result.

    One of the things that really stood out for me in Sorcerer and Sword was the observation that the writers of the original pulp adventures did not start out with established settings and back story. Those elements emerged as needed with each story written. I can see that in the Marvel comics of the 60s (as you've mentioned elsewhere) — the creators made something for the current issue and it became cannon. The idea that one could develop a roleplaying melieux the same way maked sense ot me. I think this is part of your idea here: the heroes paint the world as they walk through it. 

  5. Intuitive continuity vs emergent plot

    I think I GM in the grey zone between these a lot. Sometimes, Most recently I spent maybe 15 sessions GMing Dungeon World, which is a powered by the apocalypse game. Following examples in the Gauntlet Podcast, I relied as much as possible on asking players provocative questions to fill in the background or answer their own questions about the world rather than starting with anything defined. In retrospect, I see that I did establish a number of fronts and pursue them aggressively, but I also threw in intuitive continuity fairly often. 

    For example: One of the things I like to do in this system is use a failed roll (a "miss") as an opportunity to throw something unexpected in. Sometimes it would come from my ideas about what a given front would be doing (this is actually formalized in the rules as a GM move called "present a grim portent." But sometimes, the complication emerged from whole cloth — the PC failed a roll to bash down a door before being crushed by giant block — instead of crushing him, I invented the door itself as a trap — the door flipped him into chute that led into a pit. The block trap was existing part of dungeon planning. The chute and the pit were not. Escape from the pit, however, I then connected directly to the big central room (already planned) for the final conflict. So they got railroaded to that room anyway. I know I sometimes make these decisions, especially near the end of a session, because I'm tired and I don't feel like trotting out the logical consquences for an extended conflict. Sometimes, I'll reduce the intensity of a planned move from an established front because I'm afraid to really stick it to the PCs. I think this latter is what I'm currently working on as a GM.

    Anyway, what I just wrote suggests to me that there's a big morass to play in.

    • Alan… I’m interested in the

      Alan… I'm interested in the "vs." you posted there… as it seems to me that intuitive continuity and emergent plot go hand in hand, but maybe I'm missing some formal, agreed upon definition of these. (If so, can you direct me to those definitions?)

      Your description of the "altered pit trap" and your motivation to do so, rings very true to me, as a GM. I am, and try to be, attuned to what the players are "leaning in" to at the table, vs. what causes them to "lean out"… sometimes literally.

      I'm beginning to wonder if there needs to be first, a clear discussion about "plot" and how we define that word in the context of role playing. I get the sense that Ron dislikes it, as it implies a "predetermined set of events and outcomes where the players are just along for the ride." That has never been the case for me, as I prefer to set certain NPC/world actions in motion… then the game goes based on the PC actions and reactions. If they totally ignore something, ok, what DO they focus on, and we'll see what happens there. They ignore the crashing plane, but really are watching the Pachinko parlor because they swear it is a cover for the Yakuza?  Ok… we are going with the Yakuza as the eventing… but guess what, that plane still crashed, and their NOT going there may have repercussions down the line.

      I'm ok with all of that, but from a general view, this is both "intuitive continuity" (there are logical results from in play events) AND "emergent plot" which is that the Yakuza become a bigger deal and a focus of play, because that is what the players "leaned into" at the table.

      Your pit trap being modified, on the fly, to a non-lethal "railroad" right to the place you wanted them… personally I find that clever and acceptable, assuming the players are enjoying that direction. The GM gets to have some things happen that he wants, not just the players. Obviously, if it felt forced and caused player eye rolls and "whatever, we have to fight the big bad" when they clearly were pushing things in a different direction… that is bad. I'd be interested in how this was perceived by the players/play group… did it feel natural and fit their emergent eventing, or did they find it to be rail roading in a bad way? 

    • Emergent plot

      Hi Neil,

      My comment was in response to the video answer Ron posted above. If you missed it, I urge you to watch it.

      I am still working out exactly what he means, so any comments I make here are still under development and may not be what Ron means. That said, I believe there are a couple of important elements or distinctions:

      1)  Intuitive continuity may involve the GM running in front of the PCs laying encounters, events, places from whole cloth with no regard for elements he has already prepared. One key part seems to be the desire to create drama and conflict whatever the PCs do.

      2) I think a certain amount of that kind of action happens in any GMed game.

      3) For many of Ron's games, his rules include GM prep, escpecially around relationships and agenda's of PCs and NPCs. I believe his objective is an RPG system that lets these agenda's come into conflict and unfold in moment by moment play — without the GM anticipating or "laying track" toward a particular outcome.

      It seems that an important part of the game is the collision of GM created prep with PC action — so if the prep isn't used, the collision doesn't happen. On the one hand you have the creation of conflict whereever the PCs go, which may or may not develop what I would call a thematic focus — and on the other hand, what I think Ron is driving at, is what I would call a collision of intentially created elements that put the PCs in the position of acting on a theme — in the moment of play.

      Again, my words and my understanding. I think Ron and I think differently about terms like "theme."



  6. I loved this video. I’m still
    I loved this video. I’m still parsing out how much of character creation is done with our without the GM present, and it’s been a lot of help. Also, fun to watch! I became invested in these characters right away. I especially wanted to see more of Advance and of the interaction between PoerStar and Darkstar. I’m halfway through the folow up one, and was really pleased.

    • Also: one of my players is
      Also: one of my players is creating a hero with teleporting powers add well, and this gave me a few ideas.

    • I’m glad you liked it.

      I'm glad you liked it.

      For purposes of Teleport, please see the options listed in the 3rd edition rules and a couple variant options in Champions II. I need to work up my own version of that substructure, but for now, using those point costs and distance rules will serve for playtesting.

    • Oh! Then perhaps I should
      Oh! Then perhaps I should have clarified it’s a guy who can teleport things around his vecinity. Not necessarily teleport himself, we’re still hashing it out. Does that advice still stand? Anything else to keep in mind?

  7. An important clarification

    Looking at the text of the post, I want to point up something about the paragraph that begins

    I’m particularly happy with what’s mine:

    That phrase, and the entire list of what follows, refers to what I did not make up, but rather was given from the players' work as you can see in the video. Such material may be relatively fully-conceived (Mike and Michelle), or it might be a key concept that remains to be fully clothed (the Dark Cohort), or even nothing but a name. But once given to me, it's fully mine, and as this list demonstrates, is incredibly rich and fun, easily four-fifths of what I need for satisfying and high-yield preparation.

  8. Emergent plot–a second look

    Hi rewatched Ron's video answer above and have noticed some things I overlooked before. First, I'll say that he doesn't mention the idea of "theme" anywhere — that is just my injection into the "why aim for emergent plot" question. And it's probably best left out because "theme" is a fuzzy word.

    To summarize what I heard Ron say:

    He presents three approaches to GMing and running a roleplaying game.

    Prescripted events. The GM plans a bunch of scenes and uses various techniques to have them unfold in actual play.

    Intuitive Continuity. (First let's acknowledge that "intuitive continuity" might mean different things to different people. For argument let's stick with the definition following.) The GM may or may not prepare material. In play, he responds to player action but putting something interesting the players way regardless of where the player goes. He might draw from prepared material or just create on the spot. After following this process for some time, the GM then conceives of a concluding scene and presents that. Thus the outcome becomes heavily framed by the GM. 

    Emergent Plot. The GM prepares nonplayer characters and other forces that have agendas the players care about — I'll call these "fronts." Then, in play, the GM consults the fronts either to respond to player action or to just drop a next step in the front developing it's agenda. After the PCs and the fronts have interacted significantly, the GM revisits the plans of the fronts and adjusts them based on their established personality and agendas. Repeat.

    Here's how I see this applying to Champions Now. The players create the initial material the GM will use when they create their character. The material is their description of their character's person and problems and the disadvantages — particularly DNPCs and Hunteds — on the character sheet. After character creation, the GM takes over all this background material and builds on it to create "fronts," giving each a personality and some ideas about what steps they might take in the near future and how they might respond to interferance. Play then happens. The GM frames scenes that start to bring the various fronts into the PC's lives, then gives PCs a chance to respond, then furthers the fronts. If, as sometimes happens, the PCs get caught up pursuing some side issue, the GM might just progress a front off screen and inject information about, say the effect of the villains progress, after the fact, leaving the PCs to pick up the pieces. If the PCs head towards a front, then the front responds with it's resources. In either case, at some point, the GM pauses to reassess what the fronts — DNPCs, Hunteds, villains — think of the new situation and what plans they will take — and has new material to bring in as play unfolds. 

    A couple of elements stand out for me:

    1. Players create the seed of what the GM uses — increasing their interest when it shows up in play.

    2. The GM actually plays the agenda of NPCs, unfolding their actions from the NPC's purpose, rather than the GM's purpose of entertaining the players.

    3. GM prep comes in chunks which evolve in response to what happens at the table.

    4. Arriving at any kind of climax can then be the result of an interative process of give and take between PC and NPC agendas. Any escalation may arrise from the increased investment and escalation of PCs and NPCs in trying to achieve their ends. Ideally, this leads to a natural climax, rather than one the GM decides on. In fact, I have had this happen in my Dungeon World game — a big confrontation came about because of the actions of a front colliding with the PCs. I had not planned it as a final climax, but when the dust settled it was obvious that it was. 

    • Thanks for the re-watching. I

      Thanks for the re-watching. I think your paraphrases are accurate, and they’ll allow us to get a little deeper.

      I’ve got two things to try that with, and one minor point too.

      First, I want to tease apart two variables: who initiated a particular bit of content vs. how it is used in play. The focus in the distinctions I’m describing here is on the latter. The question is whether resulting plot came from intuitive continuity or from bangs’ outcomes, and it doesn’t matter whether the cowboy’s name, motivations, past, or eventually-revealed secrets were invented by a player, by the GM, or different bits from each.

      Those features’ origins are a matter of interest for design and play, but I’ve noted a tendency, especially among self-designated indie role-players, to be too simplistic: “if the players make it up themselves, they will care more.” I’m heading that off here, especially since that debate is entirely separate from our topic, which is how such things are brought into play.

      That means that yes, a group can practice intuitive continuity mutualistically or democratically, i.e., different people lay down track at different times. This is often mistaken for innovative or alternate play (“GM-less!” “story gaming!”) when it’s the same old convention-play optimizing at the expense of the medium, merely shared-out across the table. It can also degenerate fast into consensual storytelling and its inevitable outcomes, splatter or single-GM-after-all by coup.

      It also means that bangs-type play does not necessarily rely on a single GM who makes everything up, i.e., I agree with your points about player-GM-player-GM creativity. I suggest that this back-and-forth occurs often in play and always has, even when it’s not acknowledged. It especially applies to developing a player-character’s outlooks and goals through a series of events, which often feels very inadvertent and organic, but is also often the single most “solid” or “real” feature of enjoyable play.

      Second, ongoing improvised or inspired creativity is intrinsic to the medium, and in many cases, a participant leaves room for it in his or her prep. I do it both as player and GM, having learned to recognize when I’ve done enough for some event or character in prep that “it may rev” in play, and to stop preparing it. Then, later during play, sometimes the "rev" happens with little or no prep at all, thus taking me by surprise, and connversely, sometimes the feeling in prep turns out to be mistaken and the character or feature of play isn’t very interesting after all when we get there (even if I want it to be). That’s just how it is, exactly as in other creative media.

      Therefore when I talk about the improvised major plot components in intuitive continuity, I’m not talking about that ongoing adaptive inspiration that accompanies nearly all role-playing.

      Furthermore, it is possible, in terms of design and play, to designate certain moments of “and now we [or a designated person] make up the thing” as a procedure of play itself, to develop and intensify the prepped or established material, which therefore can be minimal as long as it is very compelling, exciting, provocative, or even disturbing. This may be thought of as extracting the utility from intuitive continuity and repurposing it within the bangs-type play, and I cite my It Was a Mutual Decision, Spione, Shahida, and S/Lay w/Me, as well as in-development Vigil, Amerikkka, and the religion games, as an extended foray into it.

      Minor last point: the terminology was invented by someone else, as I cited in the video, and my concern is not with the label, but with the thing/activity that’s being described. What any such term may mean to a viewer or reader, on an intuitive or reactive level, including myself, really needs to be abandoned in discussion. To repeat: this is never about what it means for Ron. I’m starting from the point of an identifiable thing or activity, and whatever term may be used for it is strictly a matter of local utility.

      That’s why I really need to get over people insisting on Vincent’s terminology of moves and fronts, which are at least partly derived from mine of bangs from Sorcerer and stakes from Trollbabe (furthermore, the latter was immediately and irretrievably distorted into a resolution topic, not by Vincent or in his games). But it’s hard.

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