Just what the inheritor of the century-old superheroic powers and the sixty-year-old superhero-veteran need: a barely-legal vlogging celebrity hound who claims to be the Bay Area’s’ own indispensable crime-fightin’ hero guy. Meet Komodo Dragon! (and thanks to Rod dropping by to be our entirely enjoyable guest player)
I am also pleased to present not one but two educational spots on the current energy grid of the state of California, especially the remarkable supervillain Disneyland otherwise known as The Geysers. Not fiction. Wow.
For you fans of Darius Darkstar, you can see him again, as well as enjoy PowerStar’s mad martial arts – the latter is a big deal because it showcases Mike, the guy, rather than the inherited and arguably not-too-well-fitting superpowers. Also, here’s Rod’s great picture of Advance as he appeared in the 80s.
This session provides a lot of room for discussing basic action framing: how do we know, how do we get there, what do the answers mean for the circumstances of the confrontation, and more. Quite a bit of Champions play simply turfs it to the GM, which is functional but goes a long way toward the mode of play which is merely the Autoduel Champions skirmish of the week.
I’ve been leaning my play so far to stay away from it, and tweaking rules and procedures to arrive at a more functional form. This session’s procedures may not be the solution but they do raise all the right questions, especially since you can see the players trying to work with me.
Part 1 is below as the embedded video. Part 2 is the fight itself. I think I may have missed one instance of the Basilisk’s deadly aura hurting someone upon being hit, or maybe I didn’t. I tell you, though, those two missed grab attacks hurt me.
After you check out the videos, I would like to discuss the gendering of an important character in the session. I went back and forth on it during prep, settling where I did in a fashion I think was the best decision, but also potentially prone to a specific trope I’m not pleased with. So why I went the way I did bears commenting.
24 responses to “Reptilian cosmic magma culture war”
Forgot a feature
Oh shoot! I only just realized I forgot to include a bit that I'd hoped to do every time they visit Darius Darkstar, to see what odd science fiction he's reading, and to have him briefly philosophize about it in some way that's relevant.
Anyway, here's what it was supposed to be this time, or to put it differently, here's what was on my list to include.
I find myself enjoying how Darius would be reading this stuff, from his perspective, and how he'd find it significant regarding these heroes interacting with him. I could imagine writing reviews or position pieces about them from his point of view, as a regular feature of Legacy.
Man, I’d so love it of you
Man, I'd so love it of you did that!
That cover is really something. So weird. And so 80s I can't believe it was done during the actual 80s, instead of being a callback.
Oh you have no idea …
Oh you have no idea …
Getting crazy on the waltzers, but it's the life that I choose / Yeah sing about the six blade, sing about the switchback and a torture tattoo / And I´ve been riding on a ghost train, where the cars they scream and slam / And I don't know where I'll be tonight, but I'd always tell you where I am
… on acid in a rainy black city night, when we thought it was important, and at the same time, that nothing mattered any more.
Hey, I read that book! Hey, I
Hey, I read that book! Hey, I had that album!
More substantial post to come, I promise, I'm still plowing through the videos. The session is still pretty fresh in my mind, but actually watching the playback helps to clear up misconceptions, selective-memory issues, etc.
You can see the thematic difference from the Defiants…
… Because you used the phrase "venture capitalist with a good reputation" and nobody laughed!
It's been really fun to follow along with Legacy, so a bit sad that, like all the best comics these days, its getting cancelled so soon.
The discussion at the end about about Secret Id's was interesting. I feel like we went a bit of a different way in the Defiants where it seemed more that the disadvantage would be trouble because somebody you didn't want to know (scorpion) would find out who you were. And we did keep edging into worrying about / failing to actually – cover our tracks, make up alibi's, and work out what to do about heroing with a mobile phone. Which, if the others had wanted to do more of then fine I guess, but does seem like yes, don't be really stupid about it, but if you took the disadvantage then its going to be a problem, no matter what you do and wasn't that what you wanted?
Likewise it was fun seeing Mike squirm in the previous session and Frank getting vexed about memes in this one.
I’ve been thinking the most
I've been thinking the most important point about formally taking Secret Identity is that it can't be fully outed, at least not as easily or automatically as the hero is trying to avoid. If "everyone will know" is a hero's fear (and stated that simply, that's not necessarily the case, but some version of it is), then you're getting 15 points not for the risk of it happening, but for the fear itself.
The logic here being that if the secret identity were well and truly blown, then you wouldn't have the Disadvantage any more. So in many ways, the only real meaning of the Disadvantage is that the hero cares about it. They may have good reason to care in within-fiction terms, but the character does not know that he or she is in a story, and thus does not know that we, the authors, are not going to let a perfectly good dramatic torture device such as a Secret Identity get blown – we'd rather torture him or her indefinitely instead. So the Secret Identity is always at risk but somehow will never really be blown in the fashion that the hero cares about. What matters are the relationships which are affected by the associated behaviors, deceptions, trusts, et cetera.
Now, let's say in-play events simply end up with the Secret Identity being revealed far and wide. To use more GURPS-ish logic, which in this case is not a bad thing, one could say, well, there go the points, the hero is now 15 points more expensive than they were, and that's that. That option doesn't quite exist in classic Champions, the closest equivalent being voluntarily spending 15 experience points (!!) and buying it off.
My solution, which comes from play experience, is that a player who considers the secret identity to be no longer fun enough to play, or who considers (perhaps with GM's opinion involved) that it's been revealed too widely to merit such a designation, shifts the 15 points around to something else. Maybe a new Hunted, maybe a new Psychological Limitation, either one reflecting in-play content that was associated with the changing fictional circumstances of the former Secret Identity. Or maybe something unrelated that the player thinks is better suited to the hero now.
Having finally finished part
Having finally finished part 2, I allowed myself to read all comments without fear of being spoiled. Like Ross, I really liked following Legacy, and I hope you guys play another session soon.
About Secret ID, I'm on the fence – a big component of my play as Silverbeak was me being paranoid about the secret mental powers, and the secret use of all powers outside the University. To the point where Ron suggested it as a Psychological Limitation for the character. On the one hand, I feel it'd have been a relief to know I didn't have a reason to worry as much as a player, I feel it'd have helped me to play better. On the other…
Nah, I think it's cool, come to think of it. I was going to say it was fun, for instance, that Brian was worried about being charged more money, while I was worried about Monsanto experimenting on him. But that and all sort of other related things actually become cleaner with the new rule.
I still wonder, though, would that mean that Monsanto couldn't find out about the extra powers? I'm thinking about examples from the comics, where the hero is worried about, not really the general public finding something out, but especially the villain. But all that comes to mind are Bane's and Ra's al Ghul's knowledge of Batman's true identity, which is a different situation altogether because they're not going to tell anyone and Batman doesn't really worry about it.
Secret Identity means the
Secret Identity means the public at large, which may or may not be easily related to specific individuals. Nearly every superhero with a secret identity includes a few people who know about it, across the entire spectrum of deadly foe to closest ally.
As long as that public knowledge is kept out of it, then who knows, and what they do about it, is a matter of play-events, or authorship, or "the plot," or whatever you want to call it. The rules don't care if Monsanto knows about the secret powers, and you can bet that if they knew, Brian's life would be full of fresh hell.
The logic or understanding of these dynamics isn't difficult at all, and we have plenty of material to use as guide and inspiration. Comics are surprisingly fine-tuned to the distinction between secret identity in general vs. villainous foe who knows or who wants to know the secret identity.
A good example comes from Spider-Man, in the intersection among (1) Secret Identity, (2) Hunted by J. Jonah Jameson (to smear/condemn him, to a ruinous degree), and (3) his interactions with the Green Goblin, who for these purposes we will consider to be a Hunted too, who discovers the secret identity. (I'm basing all of these strictly on Lee-Romita, not Conway, so there is no "death of Gwen Stacy" in these points; it's all about Harry)
It's not hard to infer that Jameson would love to know who Spider-Man is, as part of ruining his public image and conceivably destroying his life entirely. But that desire is wonderfully thwarted by the Secret Identity, so the story parameters include terrible problems with Spider-Man's image, as Jameson is frequently successful with his smears – but not actually finding out, because Jameson's discovery, as a newspaperman whose whole presence in the story concerns mass messaging, would 99.9% certainly violate the Secret Identity.
The point is that Peter is safe from Jameson as far as that specific bit of information is concerned, specifically and only insofar as it relates to public exposure.
(A story that explored that 0.1% is conceivable. It would be interesting and possibly quite good, but no one has done it to my knowledge. One might infer that Robbie Robertson, like Captain Stacy, figures it out sometime in the #80s or #90s, but unlike Stacy, this is not stated outright or as strongly implied.)
We're still on solid ground when the Goblin discovers that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, because the Goblin is utterly unconcerned with "exposing" Peter Parker as Spider-Man, he's focused instead on avenging what he sees as an attack or betrayal against Harry.
The point is that Peter is not safe from the Goblin as far as that specific bit of information is concerned, because the discovery does not entail public exposure (it might in Peter's mind, but Peter's mind is hardly the most emotionally-together place).
(I strongly recommend clearing your mind of all movie versions; they do not reflect the comics I'm talking about at all)
Just finished Part 1. You really do make it sound like California's about to blow up, Ron! I love how focused Legacy has been on energy this whole time. Even when introducing a new character and his nemesis. What strikes me the most is how none if it was part of the original two sentences – I gather it's just the interplay of the region, the choices Alan and Frank independently made for their characters, and what interested you. Right?
Also, loving the new appearance of Doctor Darius Darkstar! I even love spelling/prononuncing the name.
I was so surprised to see Rod there! I loved the character concept and his nemesis – could you show us the character sheet? I wonder how the super strength, regional flying, energy awareness is built.
The focus on energy is
The focus on energy is completely coincidental, and as far as I can tell, both players arrived there independently, or at most, finalized their characters accordingly. Alan brought in the Tesla background and the Higgs-Boson jargon, and Frank brought in the slightly surrealistic version of Growth, i.e., Advance's primary power isn't just literal biological-mass growth, including its bizarre duplication-breakdown, as well as Vince's energy company entrepeneurship.
So a constant focus on science fiction energy seems appropriate, and it's almost uniquely suited to the multi-state, binational, highly politicized development of alternate energy sources in that region of the world. Furthermore, it's just right for the same region's strange cultural crossover between high-tech and mystic interpretations of the word "energy." No true Left Coaster bats an eye when cosmic rays stored in the Space Needle are equated with a mystic ancestral Indonesian dragon: of course they're the same thing. Whereas anywhere else in the world that would be completely silly.
I like to think of it as doors. The two statements seem like they narrow the collective options for what to do with the concept of superheroes, but once you go through that door, you're in a very rich space of options. And then, the GM gets to go through the doors that the characters' concepts have now opened for him or her.
It doesn't really matter whether a given highly-recognizable, highly characteristic feature of play was defined by the first door or the second. Going through both will get you to those features, and thus to a highly-charged setting which an observer would swear had been conceived or "intended" from the start. The timeline I've included with this post is a good example.
Thanks! All very clear.
Thanks! All very clear.
Now that you’ve said that, I good one more little thing. I must’ve missed the part about Advance’s growth type/special effects, if it was on video. I’ve already asked Rod if he can put up his character sheet, would it be too much to ask the same for Advance’s?
Typo: “I got”, not “I good”.
Typo: “I got”, not “I good”.
Hi Santi — at long last,
Hi Santi — at long last, here's that character sheet you asked about. Fingers crossed this doesn't break the format:
KOMODO DRAGON Jake Drake
POWERS & SKILLS
Awareness (Flow of Energy): Non- ordinary, Analyze, Perception vs. Concealment/Flash, Regional Scope, Conditional (partial loss): Large power sources “wash out” nearby signals
Flight 12” with Regional scope
Dependence: Intense meditation/workout ritual
Psych Limit: Playful (common, functional)
Psych Limit: Looking for the Show (common, irrational)
Unusual Looks (8-): Self-Impressed Vibe
DNPC: Elaine Liu, Mother, Venture Capitalist (Psych Lim: Craves Visible Social Success)
DNPC: Chase Galván, Boyfriend, KomodoLife Media Director (Psych Lim: Perpetually Overbooked)
Hunted: The Basilisk, superpowered alt- right/techy Youtube personality (individual, super, manipulative)
Hunted: Project: Beyond, US govt. exotic energy project (organization, super, manipulative)
RATIO: 107 (257/240)
Comments: As you can see, the strength is just strength. I strongly considered making some kind of "Dragon Energy" VPP which would include most of his power concept, including strength tricks (tunnelling, the sonic boom hand clap, that thing where you whip the pavement like it was a carpet). Ultimately, I decided he made more sense to me as a guy who just has what he has and does what he does — like, could I picture him flying towards an energy signature he's sensing, while carrying something heavy? Yes, I could picture him doing that — and in fact, he basically did.
The regional flying, as you can see, is just a 1/4 Power Advantage. Ron described how he conceptualized it in the video — I was a little bummed I couldn't fly to Seattle on a whim. If the game was ongoing, I would seriously think about popping 6 XP into the power to make it planetary flying.
Similarly, the energy sense is built off the new Awareness power, which replaces the various "enhanced senses" powers in the original material, with lots of little modifiers and a limitation.
Thanks Rod! Simple is often
Thanks Rod! Simple is often quite excellent. I've been writing recently (in the manuscript) about characters with no Frameworks – that equivalent characters in the comics are all extremely iconic and bear the weight of representing larger cultural points of view.
I'm mainly commenting to point out mention that almost all the point costs for him, including some of the base values, are now artifacts, as I was adjusting them and redefining the Beta 0.1 constantly throughout the Legacy game. It's now up to 0.5 with a lot of revision to get there.
Whoa Rod, that’s some good
Whoa Rod, that's some good HTML magic! I bet Thoth helped you do that 😉
It's all much clearer now, and as a bonus I got to realize Komodo's mother is the one who's investing into Advance the company. Nice.
What I'd like to know about the regional flying is, does one, like, use the Scope flying out of combat, and the "X inches" flying while in combat? What's changed from the old flying rules, before Beta?
I thought you had the 3rd
I thought you had the 3rd edition rules – if you do, I'd appreciate it if you'd look stuff up there first, and only ask here if you can't find it.
They distinguish between combat and noncombat movement by saying the latter is always doubled.
This rule does not translate well to out of combat, long-distance travel because the role of the Speed Chart is ambiguous. Two characters with the same movement rate but different Speeds will travel different distances in combat.
Play-culture eventually produced rules-in-use for deciding how long it took for Flying Man to get from Timbuctoo to Tallahassee, but I have always thought that fine-graining up from "this fast in the fight" to "covering the aforementioned distance" departed very strongly from what the game was best built to do.
For my main reference, I went to the classic Flash from the late 50s, to find without any surprise that it's simply impossible to determine "how fast" he is. When he needs to get really damned far really fast, it's either a nose-bleed fatigue stress situation due to some immediate circumstance or because of a foe's special villainous heft, or he's basically a teleporting god. For any hero, when the latter is the case, it's not about how fast but about how far, i.e, the scope.
As was DC's wont, ongoing stories tended to creep the power way up simply to enjoy the extravagance and possible absurdity of running around the world over and over during a fight, and when DC underwent a dedicated effort to become Marvel in the 1980s, things got … well, "continuity" and "explanation" were simply not relevant concepts. Instead, for the Flash and for Superman, you find the authors simply busting the concept back or down, as Baron did by focusing on Wally West, and as Byrne did by rebooting (Miller is relevant here too). In each case, just as with "the" Batman of the early 1970s, the shift was never complete and the tensions that it introduced have defined fan interest in the character ever since.
To address your first question: the portrayal of our villain's body shape as hidden in the dark folds of a cloak and dark bodysuit immediately triggered my assumptions this was a woman. The alternative–that it was an alien being, didn't occur to me. I think the technique is pervasive, perhaps archetypal, and so easy to guess.
What questions did you have about our encounter with the shadowy villain that turned out to be a woman?
There were two issues which
There were two issues which occurred to me (or “I experienced”) during preparation and re-experienced during play.
First issue: our game, like the Defiants, and like the St. Louis game before it, is not only populated by male-only players, but features male-only player-heroes. I dislike imposing constraints at this level onto players, so I’ve been, I guess, waiting to see if anyone would stride forth.
Since that hasn’t happened, I find myself in interesting positions. In the case of the Defiants game, and as I mentioned to Rod in one of our conversations, I’m bearing the weight of all the “women in this story” characterization and activity.
I stress that I do not hold the view that person labeled A is disqualified from portraying or authoring label B – I do hold that doing so deserves reflection and extra emotional honesty. So my point for this issue is that I’m the one doing it, thus all the limitations or inspirations about women in our story are disproportionately influenced by me alone. I am OK that the limitations and inspirations will be informed by a given male player’s own views/history, but if that’s shared and distributed among us, I think the net effect might be much better than simply “Ron’s women again.”
In the case of our game, the main reason I wanted this host for the Basilisk to be female is that so far we lacked any such super-character in our story with a noticeable voice, unlike the Defiants in which Myrmidon was a prepped-and-relevant character from the start. Gemfire and Obsidian were cool as hell but they only “existed” as dedicated supervillain actors, not as people whose priorities were voiced and made relevant. (I hope it was indicated that both had such priorities but that’s as far as it went.)
Second issue: for better or for worse, probably for worse, fictional characters tend to be graded in “tragedy” value by audiences. Men have may what be considered the default, women are worth either a lot more or a lot less on an individual basis (but not the same), and children and nice animals have the most. For women, as well, age matters too, getting more value with decreasing age.
How is that relevant? Lots of ways.
I’d already decided upon the Basilisk being a possessor-type villain, or entity which blended its possessor features with its host personality. As I mentioned at the end, it would always promote the alt-right viewpoint and be invited by hosts who recognized that, but a given host was enough of their own person that they would express individuality as well. As a related point, during prep, I was open to the possibllity that Jake and Chase might try to figure out who it was, but that didn’t happen.
[I had a good handle on the personality concept over in GM-play-mind-land. Shelly was a lot like Jake – she liked the accolades of being a vlogging celebrity and was a real gloryhound, but she’d taken it farther than than Jake, to the point that she’d internalized this political viewpoint probably past the point that she might have in a more discourse-based context. If Komodo Dragon were a regular character, I might even have played Shelly in a personal sense before the big booms began, as one of several possible “suspects” or candidates for the Basilisk, and explored how a young person might go through a process to get to that point. Theoretically, too, that means that whoever is the Basilisk next might take on a very different angle from being Jake’s clickbait-rival.]
I’d decided as well that hosting the Basilisk carried a deadly risk: the same way that touching or being touched by a foe is toxic to the foe, being the host means being riddled with the very same energies. By the rules, it’s possible to survive, but sticking out a fight like she did is fatal – and you can see the exact moment in play when she chose to do so.
Which means even as I chose to showcase a very dangerous villain as a personalized woman, I was fridging her.
Furthermore, we’re talking about a lone, younger female antagonist being set upon by three men, and regardless of the heinous nastiness of both her views and her current villainous/destructive plan, that also flicks my own values regarding what is or isn’t in stories. To use my terminology, I saw a Line looming near.
Furthermore (“Upon horror’s head, horrors accumulate!” – Othello), and to get to the point of this second issue, I did not want Shelly’s value/presence in the story being confined solely to the “OMG – she’s a gurl! Just a little gurl!” effect, for the above-mentioned cheap tragedy point-scoring. My aim was to include a worthy opponent whom I enjoyed playing as a person, who happened to be female, and that aim would be badly undermined by the “tragedy points” effect, which is obviously as objectified as if she had been wearing a classic super-bikini for no reason.
[Just to stay with the clothing issue for a moment, consider the contrast that Obsidian does go around stark nekkid, and as far as I’m concerned this does not objectify her at all, but makes her “living statue” powers more impressive and freaking scary. I don’t know if you noticed that Darius referred to her as the former JoAnn Severin.]
I knew about all those issues going into play and had decided to live with them, having checked into my personal standards for “is this a real character, is this a real person, is this someone I might understand.” However, it was only during play that I realized that describing the Basilisk’s appearance could be misinterpreted as “gasp – you’ll never guess this is a woman” effect, as if I were hinting and relishing the upcoming big reveal.
That wasn’t my aim, and if it were, I would have made the possessor-effect more monstrous so that no “clue” was available, to save the shock-effect for the end of the fight. I wanted instead to enjoy the shadowed-body silhouette effect in visual terms because I like it, as art, and to establish the general point that you won’t be able to tell instantly who the Basilisk is, upon encountering it/them. In other words, in public terms, it will seem as if the Basilisk always looks pretty much the same and thus will “never die.” This also gives me more reason, as if I needed it, for the female character’s outfit to be more about the appearance’s ritual function than about showing off her body.
Anyway, that’s the ambiguity I was referring to: realizing in play that despite my reflections until that point (and acknowledging the tough or risky aspects), there remained some messaging or story-tactics content that could be misread and difficult to justify to myself.
I didn’t think of an alien
I didn't think of an alien either, most likely because the villian was an internet personality and if it was an alien, they would be a very smooth mimic type that would be very unidentifiable.
In terms of women NPC's and villians, Ron is doing an amazing job with the ladies! The Basilisk inhabiting a woman, feels like it enhances the corrupting force of its will. I don't know the stats, but I would guess that women are in the minority in terms of alt-right membership. It's already a small (but vocal) fringe group and to my knowledge has no "high profile" female leaders.
I’m not sure how the alien
I'm not sure how the alien option came into the conversation, unless it was just Alan's brief mention above. I'm certain it didn't come up during play.
Anyway, I don't know if vocal female membership plays a role in today's self-designated alt-right, but I have witnessed and done some reading-research about women's roles in different hard or radical right movements, especially in the U.S.
Without getting into the differences or debating whether "that's different" regarding specific movements, I was thinking about two examples: the first composed of two people, Ann Coulter and Pam Geller, in today's more-or-less mainstream neoconservative circles; and the second based on the Moral Majority in the late 1970s.
The latter is especially interesting because neither Pat Robertson nor Jerry Falwell were pleased at sharing the podium or policy-making with women, but had no choice because Anita Bryant and Phyllis Schlafly were very effective at broadening the collective reach. So they turned out to play pretty significant leadership roles, and historically, may have established more memes and more direct connections to local groups than the male leadership, who usually only managed to capture their respective designated bases.
So it seemed plausible to me, even likely, that women "faces," i.e. vocal opinion-leaders and name-recognition, could well soon be found among today's alt-right, if they aren't there already and I just happen not to be informed enough to know.
(editing this in for thought-provoking purposes, and acknowledging that the article is embedded in the online discourse-war: Lipstick Fascism: Lana Lokteff and the women of the alt-right; see also Tara McCarthy and Lauren Southern.)
Having finally watched it all
Having finally watched it all, I gotta say – the character didn't get to appear much as a person, so she being a female can seem kind of random – perhaps a good thing. To me these are the relevant points:
The Basilisk always hides the
The Basilisk always hides the host appearance and identity, at least to the extent that comic book art can provide the illusion of anonymity. No matter who the host is, the Basilisk presents as the same being as before. The vocal distortion is gender-neutral but as you have demonstrated, it's easy for a listener to code that as male.
As a vlogger or otherwise vocal political person, prior to becoming the Basilisk, Shelly may or may not have practiced internet anonymity; I haven't really concerned myself with that. But as the Basilisk, and specifically in opposition to Komodo Dragon, she/it/whatever did so for the same reason as with the appearance. You may think of the Basilisk as practicing "I have a secret identity" very seriously.
This idea may change slightly now that the Basilisk has a broader base, and now that Shelly's involvement is public. I'm not going to worry about that either, because I suspect that the supporting subculture will find some way to martyr Shelly and to perceive the Basilisk "living on" at the same time without much need for logical explanation.
The two most relevant powers are built as follows:
So no, Shelly did not get "killed by the Basilisk." It was very much her decision to jack up the Presence Attack by a substantial number of dice by staying in and dying dramatically. Whether that decision was made in tandem with the Basilisk deciding similarly, or if that question even makes sense, shall remain unknown to the viewer, specifically in light of Vince's failed science-thinky roll in session 4.
Just dropped by to share the
Just dropped by to share the following: the other day I was thinking about Doctor Darius Darkstar, and this old Spanish proverb came to mind. "As much as the Devil knows from being the Devil, he knows more from being old." He really does give me that vibe.
I feel exactly the same way!
I feel exactly the same way! The game terms help us here too, because he's a DNPC rather than a Hunted. And the neat thing about those terms is that motives aren't locked down – you can have a DNPC who really hates you or is evil, and a Hunted who's well-intentioned. But we know that Darius isn't necessarily aimed toward bad outcomes for PowerStar … which leaves that part of things open to play, requiring only what "DNPC" really means, someone whose (difficult) welfare the hero attends to.