Sunday, July 14, 2013

Clear and Preference Danger

I intend to get back to the subject of Anime and Manga gaming right after this, but I wanted to add some clarification to the comments I made in my last post.

My favorite subjects upon which to base role playing game campaigns are Star Trek and Superheroes. For those who know me or frequent this site, that's old news.

Now, I'm a pretty laid back, flexible, Hakuna-Matata-Type guy. I am always willing to give different systems and approaches a shot, even if I haven't found them to my liking in the past.

At the same time, we all have our preferences and given the chance to run what I want to run and play what I want to play, I am going to go with my preferred style, settings and systems.

I have played games of Marvel Super Heroes (TSR) that I've thoroughly enjoyed. I have had a blast with various one-shots and the short campaign I ran at the Study Center of Marvel Heroic (MWP). Unfortunately I can't say the same for ICONS. I ran it once and it wasn't to my liking, though my players seemed to think it was OK. Still, after three sessions we all voted unanimously to switch to Mutants & Masterminds. I never played ICONS myself as a player.

While I am a stickler for the tropes of whatever genre I am running, in order to ensure in feels right and different from my other games, I try to find a happy medium between the genre in question and making it a functioning RPG. This isn't always easy but I find not breaking the fourth wall too often helps.

Now what does that mean?

Well, when playing Star Trek, it's inevitable that someone will joke that the ship is a model on a string or not to worry about an avalache since the rocks are made of styrofoam. It's a game set in a universe based on a TV show. Yet, if one does it too many times or references that characters as actors, you are entering a meta-thinking area that can take you out of the buy-in needed to take a game of Star Trek seriously.

Neither is the wrong way to play but the two styles of play are very different in my opinion. Are we role playing characters who live in the universe we've seen over the years on Star Trek or are we role playing characters on a TV show with cheap (though effective) special effects?

I love comic books and have since I was a very young lad. When playing a Superhero comic book RPG, I don't mind 'being in a comic book' once in a while, as that can be a lot of fun. A game where you are known and acknowledged to be a comic book character, whose actions have to fit in the space of a panel and whose abilities are not measured in how many tons they lift or miles per hour they run but whether their 'Awesome' Rays and better than their opponent's 'Fantastic' Field.

For a campaign however, a long term series of adventures with the same characters that builds it's own history and mythology, I want to have a system and an approach to Superheroes that is a bit more centered on the idea that the character are 'real people' relative to the world they live in. They may live in a comic book inspired world and follow many troupes of the genre but they are not comic book characters in a comic book. They are people in a universe.

I looked to the GNS Theory to try and make the explanation of my approach clearer and after reading the wiki I remembered why I don't usually use its terminology. IMHO, it's awful. So much of it overlaps and merges that it doesn't help me say what I am trying to say at all. If anything it makes it almost sound like the opposite.

In the end, I will say what I said in the comments of the previous post, which seemed to clear things up for some...

"What it boils down to is that while I do want the troupes of the genre, I don't want it to feel like the PCs are not living in a breathing, moving world. I don't want them to think of their characters as drawings in a storybook. I want to feel like these are people, struggling against evil, who could die.

I never get that feeling playing or running ICONS, Marvel Super Heroes or Marvel Heroic."

Barking Alien


  1. I know exactly what you mean. Referencing your previous post, Champions is the same for me. there are things I dislike (combat can drag on), but I have always loved the fact that I can create the character I want, exactly how I envision him. M&M comes close, but V&V, both Marvels, DC, Bash!...none have that level of...exactitude. And Stun/Body is awesome. :)

  2. Agree 100%.

    Sometimes I know I love something but I don't always know how to explain why I love it. Sometimes I guess I get it across.


  3. For me, it comes down to People with Powers as opposed to Comicbook Characters. The latter automatically invites the trope check list from the players. That makes GMing feel like I'm walking against a strong head wind to keep it "serious." I don't want to clamp down and ruin the fun either.

    I've always wanted to try Champions, but my players are intimidated by the math. We have played some great MEGS games and some fun MHRPG.

  4. One of the reasons it's hard for me to explain how my games work sometimes is that I feel like I have really good control over the levels of seriousness, camp, genre troupe, deadliness, etc. but it's difficult to explain these levels to others. That is to say, what levels I like and what works for my group(s) and I.

    Now the same levels don't work for every game or every group or even the same game with two different groups.

    Hmmm...did you ever see or have you ever been in a recording studio?

    You know all the levers and dials and buttons they have to adjust the bass, the treble, volume, etc. I imagine my GM skill is in working those controls until there just right.

    I will turn up the comic book cliches and it still won't feel like a comic book as much as a serious, living world because I will keep the ramifications and consequences of powers level. That sort of thing.

    I was just talking with a friend on Facebook about our old Ghostbusters game and how, yeah, it was funny and yeah, it was definitely 'Ghostbusters' but it made one player cry and spooked at least two on two seperate occasions. It was Ghostbusters with the comedic turned down a notch or two, the supernatural elements turned up three or for notches and the level of creepiness set just a bit higher than you'd expect. The tech and character elements were pretty much at normal volumes.