Monday, June 28, 2010

Where Legends Live

I'm not entirely sure when DC Comics used the title of this post as their company slogan or for how long but it has always been one of my favorites.

As you can probably tell from my posts, I am a DC fan.

To put it more accurately, I am a superhero comic book fan who loves the DC characters the most. Unfortunately, this hasn't always been easy.

As a kid in the late 1970's and early 80's, liking DC wasn't especially cool compared to liking Marvel. I even remember saying to my friends that I liked Marvel better. At the same time, if you asked me who my favorite superhero was I would say Green Lantern. Ask me my favorite team book and I'd likely say The Legion of Superheroes or the Teen Titans.

"I thought you liked Marvel?", my buddies would say in an accusing tone.
"Oh yeah I do," I'd reply in defense, "Overall."

It was in high school that I figured out that since I wasn't trying to fit in with the majority in any other aspect of my life, why should my geeky choices be any different. So for Adam, who loved comic books and role playing games, it was 'DC For The Win' and 'Death Before D&D'.

I first heard rumors of a DC RPG using Mutants & Masterminds mechanics nearly 5 years ago I believe. As a matter of fact, while I was working in the comic book industry (in a manner of speaking) about 4 years ago, I had the rumor confirmed by some people working at DC Comics. For whatever reasons, the project was abandoned or placed on the back burner and I for one was really sad. I love DC and I believe M&M to be the best Supers RPG on the market. The combo would be nothing short of Reeses mixed chocolate and peanut butter. Awesome plus Spectacular.

Now, in but a few short months that could not feel longer, the rebirth of this comic book gaming geekgasm will be a reality. DC Adventures! Compatible with and showing off Green Ronin's Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition, this is the game I've been waiting for.

But what to do with it? I only have a quintillion ideas. I need to focus, bump the list down to the millions at least. There is my Legion Unlimited idea, my Earth-A.C. idea (what I think should have happened after Crisis on Infinite Earths), my Earth-2 alternative idea, my Earth-3 alternative idea, my alternate modern DC Comics concept...ooh, I just thought of ten more.

Of course, running a Supers campaign set in a popularly known setting is tough. It would be like running a...Star Trek game. Hmm. I can do this. I just have to solidify the background of my particular campaign's take on DC.

So the question is...Which Legends Live?

Barking Alien

Monday, June 21, 2010

This Looks Like A Job For...?

I'm gearing up for my next big RPG campaign and in the process of doing so I've run a number of one-shots with different groups to see which Superhero RPG is my favorite.

Now normally this wouldn't be a big question for me. Seeing as how I've been running Superhero campaigns since 1982 or thereabouts, I've pretty much tried them all. I already know which ones I like and which ones I don't and while I love trying new games I'd rather spend my free time jotting down ideas and doing illustrations instead of worrying about mechanics. Actually that could pretty much be said for every game project I've ever worked on and ever will. Bottom line, Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition is my favorite - more on that later.

All that said, there have been quite a lot of new entries into the superhero comic book gaming genre of late and I thought I owed it to my players and myself to at least read through a few and test out ones that caught my fancy. Bet you didn't know I had a fancy.

First off was an old game actually rather than a new one, Golden Heroes. I remembered liking this game but don't recall playing often. It is long out of print but a free download of its 'sequel' Squadron UK can be found on the internet.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with this system that some minor houses rules wouldn't cure, the game feels a bit dated. It is relatively easy and rules lite but I wanted something meatier. Still, we did have fun with it and the plot for that particular one shot was quite good.Next I tried the very disappointing ICONS RPG by Adamant Entertainment, created by none other than Superhero gaming genius Steve Kenson. Steve is to Supers RPGs what Reed Richards is to comic book super science. Because I believe this so strongly, it pains me to say that I just don't like ICONS.

Its fast, simple, rules lite and has many aspects I should love. It is also way too limited. The mechanics are reminiscent of the TSR Marvel Super Heroes game, a game I felt was too childish and not expansive enough when it first came out in 1984 and I was 15. The limited number of ranks, none of the powers really feeling different from each other and the difficulty in determining exactly what should be a stunt and what should be part of the more vague power descriptions makes it fun for a one shot but not well suited to be the system for my next long term campaign.

I also tried BASH, Supers and a few others but nothing really hit that sweet spot held by Mutants & Masterminds. Most of these games are too simple for the Superhero comic book RPG fan whose looking for something a bit deeper in their save-the-universe-from-costumed-criminals experience. Champions, while another favorite of mine, is too complex and for the GM too time consuming (especially if, like me, math is not your forte). M&M falls into that area of near perfect balance that is really rare to come by with any game system.

So its settled right? What's that? Mutants & Mastermind THIRD EDITION?! And an official DC Comics game USING THAT ENGINE?!?

Great Caesar's Ghost.

Barking Alien

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Secret Origins - Part III

From the first game I ever played in August of 1977 until the summer of 1978, I only got the chance to game a dozen times or so. Between school, family and, well, being 8-9 years old, I really didn't have a lot of control over my time. It wasn't until I started summer camp again in early June of 78' that my passion for RPGs would kick into high gear.

My good friend David Pollack brought the Basic Set of D&D to camp. Although I don't recall which version it was, I do remember it looked different from the one Tom had used to introduce me to the game. When David asked if anyone was familiar with it I said I had played it a bunch of times.

"Great," David said, "you can be Dungeon Master".

Once I was on the other side of the process, creating adventures, characters and worlds, I realized that I had found my calling. I DMed constantly after that, with more and more friends wanting to join the games I ran. Soon, having 7 or 8 players on an adventure was normal for me.

Between 78' and 82' I would play a ton of D&D. I finally got my own copy of the Basic box (Erol Otis cover) in 80' or maybe 81'. In the later half of 82 I began a campaign that would last about three and a half years of real time. I have used, reused and modified that world setting ever since I still run games in it to this day. I also discovered other games like Boot Hill, Gamma World and Traveller. While they were fun, I stuck with D&D for the most part, adding in superhero style abilities and adventures to a world quite unlike medieval times.

In the early fall of 1982, my friends and I made the sojourn from distant Brooklyn to New York City to find a store we had heard about called
'The Forbidden Planet'. A true adventure as harrowing as any we had rolled dice to conquer, we finally found the place after getting lost and walking a mile or two to get there.

For those unfamiliar with the place, its a comic book store, book store, game store, model shop, toy store and much more all rolled up into one. Its older location, the one I am describing here, even more so. I would end up working at its now long defunct but thoroughly awesome Midtown East location from 1989-1992, serving as Asst. Manager at one point. Man those were fun times. Anyway, back to the story...

While at the Forbidden Planet I came across a game called
'Villains & Vigilantes'. It was...could it be?...a Superhero Role Playing Game?! I couldn't believe my eyes and read over every inch of the box at least twice. I reached into my pocket and realized I only had half the amount needed to buy it. I called over my friend Martin Lederman and read him the back of the box, which was illustrated to look like a page in a comic book by the awesomely awesome Jeff Dee. For good measure I read it in my best Ted-Knight-Superfriends-Narrator voice. Once he stopped laughing, Martin agreed to split the cost and we purchased the game.

V&V was very D&D-like, which helped us to understand it and convince others to play. The more I played however, the less I wanted to go back to D&D. It was not long after this that
I discovered the Star Trek RPG and largely said good bye to Dungeons & Dragons as my mainstay game.

I guess the reason I wrote these three 'Secret Origin' tales was to give both myself and the reader some perspective on why I write what I write and how my view of things in gaming got to be the way they are.

My motivations and those of my players were not hack-and-slash but based on the heroic fiction we were exposed to at an early age, namely Silver Age comic books and Star Trek. We also understood the dangers of crime and the cold war mentality much easier than we did medieval society, which was essentially alien to lower-middle class, city dwelling, pre-teens of the 70's and 80's. We lived in NY and therefore had easy access to lots of players so big groups and 'splitting the party' was normal and necessary. We didn't focus on the rules but on the fun and creativity of gaming so rules lawyers and a love of crunchy systems was rare. Once we found games stores like the Compleat Strategist and Forbidden Planet and could get there easily by train we spent our allowances or pay on games by the score. Playing lots of different games gave us a different view of what worked for us and what didn't.

I hope you've enjoyed taking this little trip down memory lane with me. Now that the foundations are out of the way, I intend to use the next few posts to illustrate some (hopefully) cool ideas I have for Superhero gaming. Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Barking Alien