Hello Adept Play community!
I’m Aldo, and I’ve been promising Ron that I’d start posting here for at least a year. Online spaces are not very intuitive for me, however, so it took me a while to figure out how to do this. Indeed, this is a test to see if I HAVE indeed figured it out! If this goes through as intended, I’ll follow up with a series of posts about the Champions Now game that I’m currently planning.
All the best,
Aldo (TGI-Dragonfly on Discord)
6 responses to “Greetings: On My Way to Champions Now”
Since that first post worked, let me go on to reflect on the two statements I chose to ground the campaign and some of the potential challenges I perceive to running a successful Champions Now game.
My Two Statements
1) Weird powers, wondrous technology, and two-fisted justice blaze in the shadows.
2) Fighting depression and supremacy in late 1930s NYC.
I designed the first statement to open the door to various power types and to connote my favorite Golden Age comic books’ dark (some might say gothic) aesthetic. I like the idea of a hero’s actions illuminating pervasive shadows in terms of both the societal outcomes and the artistic effects on our imagined comics page. Fleischer studios’ Superman shorts are a non-comic book example of what I was going for. I’m not 100% sure I nailed it with these statements, but so far, the results have been good (even if only because I imagine what the players have given me in a certain way, irrespective of how they interacted with the statement).
The second statement aims to revisit an old premise in a new way. Among my most successful games ever is the Golden Age Champions game I ran for several years, starting in 1992. We had eight players and nine characters in that game and had a lot of fun, but in retrospect, I’m bothered by the fact that seven of the heroes were wealthy socialites, eight were white, and the societal problems of the Great Depression were nowhere to be seen.
That being the case, I decided it would be interesting to revisit playing 1930s superheroes twenty years after that original game, with an intentional focus on the issues I want to explore and the greater attention to history and place encouraged by Champions Now.
While I’m excited about the above, I also perceive challenges, in terms of both ethics and play.
The ethical challenges have to do with the fact that we’re dealing with very grave real-world issues. I don’t want to trivialize misery by playing it for fun, and yet superhero comics (and the games inspired by them) are supposed to be fun. Walking that fine line between honoring and exploring the issues and having satisfying action sequences where we get to confront their attendant problems is something I’m used to doing. Still, the degree to which we succeed depends on how mindful we are that it is challenging to do so.
One specific example of this involves one of my villainous factions: the Silver Legion of America, a real-world, fascist pro-Nazi group founded by William Dudley Pelley in 1933. A spiritualist, the real-world Pelley claimed that he could levitate, see through walls, and have out-of-body experiences at will. I want to use the Silver Legion of America in my game. Most of my players don’t know about the organization, so weaving it into our game will uncover the historical underpinnings of many current-day realities. However, giving in-game Pelley (or someone like him) such powers feels creepy – as if I’m affirming Pelley’s narrative about himself and heightening his importance. Then again, the heroes are a similarly elevated opposing force, so I don’t know. I have to do more thinking about this.
BTW, Pelley operated from Asheville, NC. I am still determining how much of a direct connection he had to similar operations in NYC, which takes me to my second challenge – getting overwhelmed with historical research to the point where it starts to get in the way of gameplay. The danger is twofold: 1) If I jump too far down the research rabbit hole, I’ll never get around to prepping material for play, and 2) I need to make sure that gameplay itself doesn’t become a lecture on 1930s social and cultural history. Again, the trick here is balance – do enough research to have a robust sense of groups, ideologies, locations, experiences, and events available for gameplay, but let those recede into the background until players activate them through their heroes’ actions or until I choose to activate them to create a specific situation for play. Once they are activated, I suspect the best practice is show, don’t tell.
Anyway, there’s much more to say about this, but those are the basics of what’s bouncing around in my mind as I delve into this game. All comments are welcome.
Hello Aldo! Let’s see if I can strike to the heart of one of those concerns.
I don’t think anyone can pre-determine the outcomes and thematic content of play, not if the group is really playing. It’s not possible to ensure that the fiction-as-created will be shining at the knife-edge of “provocative content” + “perfectly coherent and insightful.” Arguably, even the expectation to do (or fear that we won’t) is notably bourgeois, devolving into people-pleasing, over-determined pre-play, and forms of control. All one can do is bring it, then play what seems best and most personally authentic in the moment for the things one may do in play. Whatever is made, collectively, will be self-informative or reflective.
As for comics being fun and not about socio-political or emotional crisis, I’m pretty sure you know my views about that, from both the game and Comics Madness. From age 9 to 14, I learned about heroin addiction, clinical depression, battlefield fragging, the need for prison reform/abolition, corruption in the national security system, and white supremacism, among similar things, in detail – and often shocking depiction – from newsstand comics featuring muscle-y heroes in skin-tight outfights. Superhero comics have always gone there, despite the exceptions managing to claim that they are typical or most representative of the form.
If I understand you correctly, I couldn’t agree more on both counts.
I certainly don’t want to pre-determine outcomes and thematic content (or anything, for that matter). You put it perfectly when you said that “all one can do is bring it.” My concerns are less about what the players will ultimately do and more about what decisions I make about things during prep. What happens to those things when they encounter the PCs is anybody’s guess, and I’m okay with whatever ultimately makes sense in the moment. Indeed, I’m excited to find out what that might be.
That being said, I’m curious about whether or not you see my understanding of the two statements deviating from your own. For me, the two statements don’t DETERMINE themes, but they DO ask players to focus their attention in specific ways. The statements are, as you once reminded me, not incidental – they are what we’re playing about. The statements for our Mars game, for example, centered play on the red planet, new technologies, and old problems.
The beauty of the statements, of course, is that players have free interpretive range, so we (as game masters) never know what we’re going to get – hence the lack of predetermination and control. Once I put my statements out there for the NYC game, I was totally cool with receiving whatever the players sent my way, even if they went the way of the first campaign, with wealthy, white socialite heroes. However, I was pretty sure that whatever they sent me would have SOME connection to the statements and that this would be enough for me to work with. I was also certain that the statements would focus my OWN prep, in terms of a few factions, villains, and situations that I generated prior to receiving info from the players. I look forward to seeing us drop all that we generated individually on the table and figuring out where it takes us during play.
For me, the two statements and three corners approach is a departure from what I used to do when starting superhero games, which was to say “make whatever you want, and we’ll see where the magic takes us!” I had some definite successes, but I probably had more false starts and flops due to the magic not happening on its own. I feel like the Champions Now approach stands a better chance of success by providing players with a few general concepts, while still preserving the diversity of approaches that they bring to the table. In short, they help us to “bring it” and provide a general direction for us to “bring it” toward.
All that said, I did wonder if “Fighting depression and supremacy in late-1930s New York” was too specific a set of centering concepts, but I felt better when one of my players thoughtfully stroked his beard and asked, “What do you mean by supremacy?” My response was, “Who cares? That’s the beauty of this approach. What matters is what YOU think it means and what you want to do about it!” (I also added that he shouldn’t talk to the other players about it until we were ready to compare notes.)
As far as learning about serious issues through comics, I had similar experiences, about a similar range of issues, and with the same types of comics, so I think we see eye-to-eye on the possibilities.
However, reflecting on this part of your response makes me loop back to your initial point about play. I’m relatively confident that I don’t attempt to control my players, but reading my own words forces me to concede that I AM, apparently, concerned about how I might depict certain things in play. There IS a concern there about being “correct” or “responsible,” which may indeed be “notably bourgeois” and may be affecting my authenticity and the way I play. I must admit that the idea of relaxing such unconscious, self-imposed constraints feels right as I type this. Food for thought! Thank you for that!
All the best,
Let’s get concrete with the “gift” concept. It’s useful to think of everyone as equivalent, in terms of providing situational things for play (maybe even the GM as a bit junior).
What has been supplied to you, for specification and developmen, from the players’ three-corner preparation? For purposes of focus here, a simple and possibly incomplete list is better than a big analysis or any plans/development you may have.
This is important for me as well because I am terrible about overdoing my content, and I need to let play rely more on the web of player-supplied input.
I just wanted to add that I like the statements for this game; they seem pretty evocative to me in setting up a pulp hero kind of vibe both in terms of character trappings and the sorts of villains and dangers they’ll face. Using a real-world American fascist as the basis for an in-game antagonist, with his own unbeatable evil organization name (“Silver Legion”!) is very cool in my book. To my mind, that’s something that you could give the player who wondered about “supremacy” as they were creating their character: “Well, there’s an organization called the Silver Legion that believes in a ideology of white supremacy, and they’re starting to show up in the city.” Do you see that as a point of contact for players to engage what you’re trying to offer? Like: “Is the Silver Legion something your guy might care about?”
Thanks for the feedback on the campaign’s two statements and the use of a real-world fascist group as a villain organization in the game! The statements seemed evocative to ME, but I wasn’t sure how they would play on the minds of others, so I appreciate your comments.
As far as sharing the Silver Legion with my player when he asked what I meant about supremacy. I really didn’t want to do that early in the process, because I wanted him to develop and respond to his OWN sense of what that term means. My hope was that showing GM restraint at this point in the process would leave the door open for ideas, factions, and elements that I hadn’t considered and therefore enrich the campaign. I’ll share a bit about how that turned out in an upcoming post, as well as why I’m thinking that I’ll continue to show restraint mid-point through the process.
The upcoming post will be a response to Ron’s question about “the gift,” but I need to prep some images to share first. I hope to get that done by week’s end.
All the best,