Sunday, May 18, 2014

Champions: REBIRTH - Editor's Notes

Before continuing with my first session recap, I wanted to point out and detail some elements of this initial adventure that may not be clear to the readers out there.

In some cases, it's just a matter of clarifying what I wrote and in others, it's more about those very special intangibles that happen when people role play.

Let's start there shall we?

A number of the players making up the group for this particular campaign are excellent role players. They are all, so far as I can tell (two of them are brand new to the group), good gamers, but a good portion of them really get into their characters heads and act accordingly.

As such, some of their actions may seem strange, as noted by a commenter on a previous post, to not only those reading this blog, but also to their companions. In truth though, the other players and their PCs get to benefit from in-character and out-of-character player dialog, so they quickly learn each others personality quirks.

You gentle reader, well, you had to be there.

Yet you weren't, so, I'll try to explain...

Unknown asked,

"If everyone was trying to take the plane down, why was MB (Master Builder) trying to help it? Because Vanish was on board? How did he know?"

The cloaked jet plane belongs to an at first unknown enemy, later identified as Terror Incorporated. Basically, this is a Supervillainy outsourcing operation working for the true villain who remains a mystery.

Master Builder was a superhero in England prior to coming to the USA, but he botched up a mission badly and was all but disowned by his family. He was banished with the stipulation that he not return until he understood what it truly meant to be a hero.

It is largely this reason that motivates him to try and save the people in the Terror Inc. plane. He wants to capture them and take them to prison. He had no intention of killing them, and likewise doesn't want them to crash into the ground and die.

I've noted before that this is a common mentality when playing Supers often missed by those more accustomed to the murderhobo play style of games like D&D.

"And if IMPACT threw MB, isn't he then going to plummet to his death?"

Yes. It's just that, he has a plan.

I should point out, Dave the player doesn't have a plan. IMPACT does.

Dave is playing IMPACT as a 14 years old boy who has incredible superhuman powers. This kid transforms into a hulking pro-wrestler who can run at 255 mph and lift 100 tons. He is protected by a force field that sends attacks rebounding back at the assailant.

IMPACT believes himself to be indestructible. Dave knows his character is not. Dave still plays IMPACT using IMPACT's mind set, not Dave's.

So when IMPACT throws MB, IMPACT isn't worried about falling to the Earth like a fleshy meteor. He's a Superhero! He has Superpowers! He can lift a Space Shuttle! He'll figure something out.

Incidentally, this is not something new to me. I've always felt that the Old School D&D default play-style lends itself to overly cautious players and PCs. Superheroes, Star Wars and other more romanticized, cinematic genres and settings seem to encourage bolder actions on the part of the PCs, such as leaping out a random window to avoid an overwhelming number of enemies, or running full bore at an oncoming AT-AT.  

(Yes. Those two things have happened in my campaigns.)

More on topic, some players play themselves, and others play an invented character. Let me point out, neither is better, or worse than the other if they are done well.

A player who is playing themselves isn't literally playing themselves as their in-game character, but rather all the characters they play have the player's gaming personality.

For example, one of my players, Jeff, has played a number of different characters in a number of different campaigns I've run. While they have all had different goals, powers and origins, they have all been very much Jeff. He is the guy in the group who researches the setting in-game, and learns all it's secrets. He is going to bravely and boldly meet the challenge of bigger and badder opponents to help his selected dependent group (innocent civilians, his family or species, his crew). He is going to be the badass peacemaker. That's Jeff.

Dave is going to create a character, and while they may have similarities, they each have very different personalities and ways of thinking. Dave actually played IMPACT a few years back in a Mutants & Masterminds game I ran, and that IMPACT was quite different from this one. In the original incarnation, IMPACT's secret identity was only 12. He was much more of a fan boy of the other heroes and of being part of the superhero community. He was a bit more careful with his powers, as he didn't really know the extent of them. The current version is less impressed by his peers, a bit more sure of, and even full of, himself and is portrayed as having been around fighting crime for at least a year or so.

Dave isn't really playing Dave when he plays IMPACT. He is playing IMPACT.


I hope I clarified Vanish's ability to keep up with the Gravity Module Shuttle and pursuing Terror Inc. jet plane (*See the comments in this post --- Adam). There are a number of minor and not so minor abilities that the PCs have that I didn't go into. My goal was to introduce the characters to you so you know who I am talking about when I recap the adventure, not to give you a full on Marvel Universe Handbook or DC Who's Who entry.

If you have any specific questions about any of the characters please let me know. I love questions! Ask as many as you like.

If it becomes necessary to go into greater detail to tell a recap story I certainly will do so.


I like to keep some aspects of my campaign universes vague and mysterious, giving the PCs the opportunity to learn the hidden truths and uncover the dark secrets that can have major impacts on the games story and setting. The key of course is having players who are interested enough to investigate these secrets, otherwise they simply lie dormant.

As noted above, Jeff is that kind of fellow and to keep him interested, and keep both he and I on our toes, I often give him clues or perception rolls that seem to have no bearing on the current plot. This sometimes manifests as my telling him his PC just sees something interesting, and at other times, I will give his character a cryptic vision that Jeff must figure out the meaning of before he even begins to have his character check into it.

For an example of this, in my first recap post I note that Jeff's character Equilibrium uses his Cosmic Awareness ability to search for threats to the passenger shuttle  he is on. While a possible threat is revealed, it also gives him a vision of "a small, but intensely bright, blue camp fire burning somewhere in the distance. Moths of many different shapes and sizes fly toward the fire as if in slow motion."

This, like the enemy jet aircraft that he eventually detected "swooping in like a great carrion bird" is conveyed via metaphor. Jeff still doesn't know what the blue camp fire and the moths represent, but it has him intrigued and really, that's all that matters.


Questions, comments, ideas? Let me know. As a matter of fact, I'd love to do a monthly feature for this campaign like the 'Letters Pages' from old comics. I'll compile all the questions or notes you guys make and answer them once a month.

Sound cool?

Barking Alien


  1. You are correct re: the D&D kill-and-loot mentality. It is incompatible with so many other games. I almost said genres, not games, but even other fantasy worlds (Tolkien, Xena, what have you) would not work with that murder-and-grab mindset.

    1. Thank You!

      I thought I was the only person in the world who noticed that the primary inspiration for modern medieval fantasy, and therefore D&D, LORD OF THE FRICKIN' RINGS, does NOT feature the kill-it-rob-it mentality of old school RPGS. Where did that come from? A creation of Gygax and Arneson perhaps?

      It could be argued that the Hobbits stole from the Barrow Wights after their encounter, but that was a somewhat unique moment in the trilogy and had a very different feel from what we usually see in D&D. (Ah, you thought just 'cause I don't like medieval fantasy I never read Lord of the Rings, right? Heh. Wrong-O Boingo!)

      Few fantasy novels and stories do actually feature this approach actually. At least, there aren't many I remember that utilize the murderhobo mentality. It's not unheard of certainly, but it really isn't the norm.

    2. Players want to get stronger gear and to survive. If a GM makes it clear that they will get all the equipment and food they ask for at the next castle, they probably won't loot the bodies. If the characters of Lord of the Rings hadn't had royal support at so many major locations, I bet they would have been more inclined to loot too.

      It also doesn't help that too many weapons and armors are considered interchangeable. If Legolas had tried to pick up any of the bows he found on the battlefield, he wouldn't have been able to use it as well no matter how much stronger it was.

    3. I haven't read a large number of fantasy-type books, but of those I have read NONE are about raiding a dungeon, killing its inhabitants, and looting the corpses. It's quite odd that people accept that as the basis of a "game." of course, I have never played D&D that way simply because that seems incredibly repetitive and boring to me. As well as amoral.

    4. To be fair, OSR fans often cite works like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (citing the only one I have read) and the like as a much bigger influence for D&D than Lord of the Rings. I don't think that is entirely true, but those characters are indeed thieves and adventurers who would kill for money.

      However, I too find that the cautious aproach to adventuring classic D&D favors gets boring pretty quickly, especially when you are the GM ("It's just a door, for goodnes sake! Open it and go ahead!"). But, then again, I was schooled in Star Wars instead of D&D, and jumping from moving vehicles was quite normal XD.

  2. On that same note, I hear many complaints from D&D players about "Why should I spend my karma/hero points/XP in-game? I'm saving them to increase my attack/damage scores!"

    Oftentimes they just don't get it.

    1. Why should they indeed?

      If neither the system mechanics, nor the average D&D DM, encourages or rewards non-combat activities, who gives a damn whether their character does anything, or can do anything, but fight and kill stuff well.

    2. Isn't D&D as written all about "kill, loot, level up, repeat"? XP is awarded for killing and for how much treasure you get.

      I never understood why on top of getting the gold you deserved an additional reward of XP. Or why being lucky and rolling high for ability scores should entitle one to an XP bonus: it always seemed to me it should be the reverse, as the character with lower scores has to work harder/smarter.

      The total absence of any skills unrelated to killing and looting says a lot about what the game is about.

      Clearly D&D as written is not for me.

  3. Well there are precedents in the fantastic literature for the D&D "tropes" of adventurer/looter/killer, from Satampra Zeiros in Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea tales, to Fafhrd and Grey Mouser in Leiber's Lankhmar, to Howard's Conan. Sure enough, it's never only "enter the dungeon and kill," there is always something else going on, but the action many time focuses on acquiring some treasure, facing some adversary, and more often than not, fleeing. The guidelines in the D&D basic rulebook were quite specific about the creation of an environment and a "raison d'etre" for the dungeon.

  4. I forgot: in D&D (at least Basic and AD&D) the most XP is from treasure, not killing; the latter should only account for roughly 20% of the total XP gained (Mentzer is quite explicit about this 80%/20% divide.)
    Also, there are plenty of mechanics not tied to killing: from the thief abilities, to reaction and morale, to demihuman spotting abilities, and finding of traps. On the contrary, combat being quite simple, there's really not much to it.

    1. XP for treasure = a reward for getting a reward. Never made any sense to me. XP should be for, hmm, maybe experience?

    2. The treasure you gain is a practical measure of how successfully you faced the dangers to get that treasure (the highest the danger, the bigger the treasure.) How do you translate this into character experience? Simply map the treasure to XPs. It makes sense to me.

    3. I never thought it made any sense. It seems arbitrary, a game mechanic that translates into rules and not how one feels or thinks.

      If I find a gold piece on the ground I get one XP. Do that enough and you raise a level.

      So my improved ability in combat and my increase spell repertoire was achieved through looking down. Genius.

    4. not to mention the ridiculousness of "the higher the danger, the greater the treasure." I forget: how many gold pieces did Frodo and Sam collect while taking the ring to Mount Doom? "Sorry boys, you haven't experienced anything worthwhile since you didn't find any money."

    5. OMG Matt! You just gave me such an idea...

      Two players have their PCs go on an adventure at Table 1 at a convention, and their two friends go on an adventure at Table 2. Afterwards...

      Table 2 Team: "How was your session?"

      Table 1 Team: "It was OK. The story was good. We had to take this magic ring that appeared to be just a ring of invisibility, but was really this all powerful artifact that spelled the end of the world, and drop it into this seriously scary volcano."

      Table 2: "Sounds cool. What did you fight? What magic items did you find?"

      Table 1: "Well, some of the guys fought some Orcs and there was a run in with some undead wraith-type creatures, but Frank and I just snuck into the mountain, had a few scrapes and such and then got attacked by this weird goblin who bit off Frank's finger and fell into the volcano with the ring."

      Table 2: "Harsh. No magic items? No gold?"

      Table 1: "No. We didn't even get close to leveling. How about you guys?"

      Table 2: "Slew a bunch of Orcs, two Ogres and a Roper! Set the Roper on fire with a flask of oil and someone's burning hands spell. Anyway, GM randomly rolled all the treasure, and I got a +2 Axe and a Cloak of Elvenkind. Steve got a Flaming Sword and a Ring of Spider Climb. We split all the gold we found and got almost 1000 each. Some of it was in a trapped chest, and some of it was in another trapped area. The thief in the group detected and disarmed them. He was rolling hot today! We got to second level easily."

      Table 1: "Man. Wish we'd been in your game."

    6. Ha ha ha...sadly that pretty well sums up why I rarely bother with D&D. For one thing, I can't create Sinbad or Conan or Gandalf, even low-powered versions, due to the class-and-level stuff, but even more because that's the mentality I run into nine times out of ten. I'm not really into the "murderhobo" style...I want my character to have some reason and goals aside from, respectively, avarice and power-grab...some wrong to right, some quest to fulfill, some vengeance to seek, some duty to uphold even against seemingly insurmountable odds.

    7. Couldn't agree with you more Matt.

      If you're ever round my way (New York, NY), let me know. There is a Champions game with your name on it just waiting for you.

      Alternatively, my personal variant on D&D (D&D AD, also known as D&D-But-Not and D&D-For-Those-Who-Don't-Like-D&D), is very much in the vein you describe.

    8. Yes, when I reas some of your game write-ups I wish I could play in them. I'd play pretty much any genre or scenario if it sounds well done. For instance, I'm not that big on fantasy RPGs, but Pendragon or Bushido I could get into with a good GM. Sadly, I am unlikely to be in your neck of the woods anytime soon. Between work and kids I haven't even been out of the county in almost 3 years!