The Sage Welcomes You

So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Into the Marvel Universe pt 2

Hi all (?)

Continuing on from yesterday, and just to complete my last thought, the thing I found from playing our someone ongoing MSH game first was that a good Supers game has to make space for the player characters.  Unless you are playing a deliberately ironic "third string" kind of capaign, you can't have it where Superman or the Avengers, or whoever are lurking just off scene to clean up the players' mess or to steal the players' thunder.  So, you have to have your own universe, home base, or something that gives the players' Supers center stage. 

If you go the established heroes route you have to avoid devolving into a space where you spend more time arguing over "Spiderman would never do THAT!" etc.  One way to do that is mapped out well by Fred Hicks in his World War G post.  Basically, you let the players reimagine things, so whatever they do as Spiderman, etc. is exactly what that character would do, because the character has ownership.

Character ownership is another issue we dealt with in that first campaign.  As I recall, one of the things that was weak in old MSH was the character design piece.  It was all to easy to default to the random tables, so beloved by us for AD&D, but really often a terrible way to design a character (okay so your powers are the ability to move through earth, water breathing and an enhanced sense of taste, what are you going to call yourself?  Stupid Powers Man?)

My first character's first incarnation suffered from random creation, as did his background (another kind of clunky thing that the game did).  My fellow players were more forcefull in making character driven decisions to put together their characters, but from our old school background, that design almost feld like cheating.  Gaming has come a long way in that respect.

The lesson, I think, is that since the game is supposed to be the story of the characters, you want to give a lot of creative space for the players to make interesting and creative choices to design characters they want to play.  The system has to have bounds, but good players tend to make good choices so that a well designed and thought out character does not break the system, but instead is the best expression of it.

I think that is one of the things I most look forward to in seeing the Margaret Weis Productions new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game.  Having read through their Leverage game, it seems to me that the company and authors really know how to customize the Cortex+ system to maximize player ability to creat interesting fun characters that are nonetheless well in-bounds for the system to handle.  I am interested in seeing how the system handles the various power levels that you find within the Marvel Universe.  I am pretty confident that they will be able to balance the game so that you can deal with everything from the Punisher at street level to handling Galactus and the Beyonder at the cosmic level.  However, the devil is always in the details, and I will be interested to see how the design handles these issues.

I think a real challenges that any implementation of a universe, like Marvel, is to comprehensively handle the power levels so you can use the same system to reasonably run and resolve issues where you can have teams where the power levels can really range from the Expert human to the cosmically powerful (think the contrast between someone like, say, Hawkeye and Thor).  I think this was something that was not so well balanced in the old MSH.  As a number of smart people have observed (e.g. Ryan Macklin and Rob Donoghue as recent examples out in the blogosphere) game mechanics and the "physics" they set up,drive play and decision making.  I think the old MSH, for me, made it very hard to have the flexibility to have mismatched hero/villain battles, despite those being a feature of comic book storytelling.

For example, you could definitely have an issue where, say, Captain America had to go one on one with Dr. Doom or Loki.  However, the MSH did not really provide creative mechanics for making a match up like that fun or interesting.  A good GM could make it work, but I think without support from the rules.  I think this can be different in the latest iteration a Marvel RPG, and I look forward to what it looks like.

I also look forward to what it does for character creation.  The publications all center around major Marvel events that allow for attractive and exciting releases of collections of villains and heroes that can plug into scenarious drawn from the huge comic history (though mostly recent) of the Marvel Universe (I would totally buy an event based on Walt Simonson's Thor run, but I don't see that in the immediate offing).  In any case, while they must, as a matter of course, give us pre-made heroes from the mainstream universe, there has to be a way to create new characters.  How that is done and what freedoms, constraints, tools and guidelines exist in the rules are reallly likely to make or break the game.

Since it is both a feature of the source comics and my past roleplaying with MSH, I also hope they will address, at least eventually, the transformation of a hero (i.e. how to trade in old powers for new).  Obviously there needs to be some story driven justification on a change (although Marvel has set the bar pretty low (Psylock needs to be hotter, and Asian)), and the mechanics are probably easy enough as far as trading around dice etc., but it would be nice to see some process set out as it is 1) something seen in the genre, and 2) a way to give new life to a character that might be needed to inject new life or fun into a capaigm  (then again, it might just be a gimmick, see Psylock above).

Well, wrote myself through lunch again.  To your delight or horror, I promise more tomorrow.