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.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Into the Marvel Universe pt 3

Missed out on wrting yesterday, but will try to regain ground today.

So, continuing on with my thoughts and hopes from the planned release of Margaret Weis Productions new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game I wanted to start by contrasting what I think and hope we'll see from the new game with the classic, but not perfect, TSR Marvel Super Heroes game (MSH).  One of the issues with MSH was a certain inflexibility in the resolution mechanic.  There was a universal chart and various abilities and powers were rated at fixed levels (good, amazing, unearthly, etc.) , and things had a fairly binary correspondence.  Breaking down a door required strenght, dealing with attacking ninjas required fighting.  There was not a lot of room to innovate and mix things up with the rules as written.  So, if you had an armored hero who wanted to break a door down by charging or flying through the door as a self propelled battering ram, it was not really clear how to adjudicate a rating for that.  The rules would tend to force a GM to either say "you can't do that" or to make up something arbitrarily.  Now all games have such limitations at some point.  Somewhere, the "physics" created by the rule system break down.

However, with a game inspired by the amazing and crazy things that can happen in the pages of a comic book, the farther off you can push that rigidity, the better.  This is one of the reasons I am quite pleased at the prospect of the Cortex+ system driving the new Marvel system.  From what I have seen of the impementation in Leverage, the manner in which creative description and flexible ability and skill categories can work together make for a powerful and fun system that has much fewer "you can't do that" moments, and many more pick up your dice and see how it turns out moments.  That is exciting to me, and I am really happy to get a test run of the game at my favorite game spot next month (Labyrinth Games in Washington, D.C.).

Now, I can still see some downsides.

First, the Marvel Universe, as much as it has produced stories and characters I have enjoyed, it comes freighted with a lot of crappy baggage.  One of many not great things from Marvel is their many mediocre at best "events."  The new RPG is going to have at its heart, a whole variety of the past events to sell additional products that expand the basic game and the defined universe (read lots of hero and villain descriptions and advice about running various places and aspects of the mainstream Marvel Universe).  I don't begrudge Margaret Weiss Productions this organizational structure, but I think it showcases the bland filler of the Marvel Universe along side its more positive aspects.  This is not to say that every event has been a failure artiistically as far as story (I'm not even competent to speak commercially), but as I have tried to go through back issues and from time to time follow through one event or another (and Civil War was the last one I seriously looked at (with disappointment)), I can't say that I love any of the big cross overs (and this goes back all the way to the Secret Wars craziness that perhaps began it all).

So, there is that which may weigh against buying much into the line of products.

Also, there is just a lot to dislike in the Marvel Universe.  Obviously, both big publishers have always had trouble in balancing their portrayal of women and minorities in the pages of their books.  While not bereft of success from time to time, on the whole, the comics of the Marvel Universe are targeted at the white, middle class, heterosexual, male reader who expects female heroes, when they get seen, to be seen as wish fulfillment fantasies first and their story, personality and intellect, if shown at all, are all secondary at best.  This is not a view I want to subscribe to or to have prevelant at my gaming table (on those rare occiasions I get to game).  So, in taking the mainstream Marvel Universe as the default field of play, I get stuck with a narrower world than I would like, and a lot of work to make it over into an image that I feel more comfortable in (and having my players, most likely including my children, play their stories).

And there are number of other things that have been woven into the Marvel Universe that just violate my worldview.  People in the Marvel Universe are really much worse and more banally evil than you find in the "real" world, for all its flaws and tragedies.  This comes out most strongly in the Mutant Menace trope of most X-Men/Mutant etc. books.  Its like regular people, at least if they are in an X-Men book (not necessarily a Spiderman or Fantastic 4 book mind you), have the super prejudice power.  It only activates normally if you are in an X-book, and then beyond all history, evolving social understanding, or ability for information to be spread and people being able to rise above their context, you always seem to have just a mob of "mutie haters."  It is absolutely incoherent and frustratingly so.  I mean, I know this is a super hero comic, so with flying people and blue people and telepathy and all, the threshold of the willing suspension of disbelief is pretty high.  Still, emotionally, most of these stories fail because there is not enough truth to them.  People are prejudiced and they do hate, and it has and will continue to lead to suffering, injustice and even genocide, but it seems like there is truth (in an emotional sense) to how it gets portrayed in the Marvel Universe.  The feelings come and go depending on what book you are in, and the story of prejudice just falls on its face because it almost never is told the way things really happen.  There are a number of other examples of things woven in to the fabric of the Marvel Universe that just grate against me, but ifyou are going to get Spiderman, Captain America, Kitty Pryde, et al, all the rest comes with it.

So, of course you can, under your own steam, create a completely different reality, as in the already mentioned World War G post by Fred Hicks.  Or, you could chose a slightly different flavor of Marvel by trying to use the Marvel related settings in other media, such as The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated show, or any of the Marvel super hero movies (Spiderman (1+2 but NOT 3) Iron Man (1+2), Captain America or Thor pretty good, first and second X-Men movie and X-Men first class also pretty good; Daredevil, Elektra, any of the Punisher, Ghost Rider or Hulk movies from bad to very, very bad), but I'm not sure where that really gets you.  Also, there is the "Ultimate" universe, which has some promise.  Unlike the old "New Universe" where Marvel tried to generate a whole new set of heroes in a new version of a super heroic universe (which did not last long), Ultimate, really starting with the well done early issues of Ultimate Spiderman, tried to remake the Marvel Universe by shifting, tweaking and reimagining its heroes.  They seem to have done a pretty good job with Spiderman.  But I tried to read the Ultimate X-Men books, and, for me, it was if they took all the dumbest plots from the last forty years of X-Men and found ways to make them DUMBER.  So, your mileage may vary.

In the end, there has to be a way to make a corner of the universe your own and have your players' front a center.  But deciding what to take and what to leave, especially when it gets all interconnected, can be a task, and I am not sure how I might take that on.

Wrote myself through another lunch, so, here's to blogging, unfounded opinions, and forceful statements without analysis.

Thanks for reading.