Thursday, May 31, 2012

After 35 Years, What's Next?

Recent posts by others on the blogosphere got me thinking about this...even though they weren't really all that related. Funny thing the mind.

I have a lot of RPGs in my collection.

While it's not anywhere near the height of dragon hoard infamy it once achieved, it's still a pretty impressive library if I do say so myself.

What is most impressive about it to me is not it's sheer volume but rather that the vast majority of it includes games I actually play and sourcebooks and supplements I actually use.

At present, I am running Champions and I am using the 4th Edition Rulebook, my 4th, 5th and 6th Edition Villain sourcebooks (with modifications of course) and a smattering of other supplemental materials and books as well.

When I ran Mutants & Masterminds 3E not long ago I used something from almost every book in the line including material from the previous editions.

My next campaign (it has been decided) will be Traveller and I am currently reading through a bunch of the original LBBs (Little Black Books), issues of the Journal of the Traveller Aid Society and various sourcebooks from Digest Group Publications' MegaTraveller material to products produced by the games' Japanese distributor.

Is there room in my collection for D&D Next?

Let's say it comes out and it's awesome, the perfect blend of the old and the new. Would it matter? Would it get played?

I rarely run Fantasy and when I do my players' first request is my D&D homebrew (25-30 years in the making). My own preference is to grab Ars Magica. Beyond those two RPGs there are a host of Japanese TRPGs I'd love to run (Make Your Kingdom, Dragon's Egg, etc.). If I am feeling more nostalgic (which is usually the only emotion or state of mind that drums up a desire for D&D), I still have my 1st Ed. AD&D books and all my 3.0 and 3.5 material.

So just doesn't interest me. As a long time RPG game hobbyist I am curious as to how it works and how it's release will effect the fan base but as an actual member of that fan base, a gamer who loves to game, it's of absolutely no concern. Of my current group of 4-6 regulars, only one seems to really be following Next's progression and then only because he works in a store that sells games. When he plays D&D (with me of course) he plays Pathfinder.

After 35 years of RPG gaming...what is D&D Next? Just another game. One of thousands that I will likely try once or read once to say I did and be able to engage in an informed conversation.

Want to get me excited about a game? When is the next official Star Trek RPG coming out?

Barking Alien


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Pace of Change

I actually have quite a bit to write about but time is limited as my work schedule has changed slightly. I will get around to more recapping (as we've played at least two sessions since my last recap I think) soon but first, an interesting situation has come up that has me pretty jazzed.

Without further ado...

Humans, by and large, do not enjoy or handle change well when it's first presented to them. Gamers and those in related arenas of geekery even more so. I am guilty of this myself in the field of comic books, though I like to think it's because I hold a higher standard of quality for the Superhero genre in my mind that many modern comics simply don't live up to. I'm sure we all think that way about our choosen field of interest though. So, sadly, my original observation still stands.

I have learned that in order to get my current players to accept change or try something different, I must introduce it slowly and carefully. I've been wanted to get back to Science Fiction/Space Opera gaming for some time now and I think this group will really enjoy if they can just get past the fact that, for some of them at least, it's not what they are used to.


A couple of weeks back I first made comments, in a joking fashion, that some of the guys were driving me a little crazy with their in-game antics and, "Maybe we should switch to something else until you calm down."

A week later I mentioned that I am actually giving some thought to ending the Champions campaign, at least temporarily, in August to coincide with my 35th Anniversary in the hobby. I don't intend to end it in a planet destroying, we-can-never-revisit-this-campaign-world fashion (though this is Supers...that could happen) but rather in a last-issue-of-the-maxi-series kind of way.

Discussions came up of what we would follow Champions with and Sci-Fi came up among other things.

This week, after a pretty awesome session of Champions on Saturday, which I must say renewed my faith in the campaign and the group, we taked about getting together to game on Memorial Day/Monday. Originally only one of the players was free.

By Sunday night, I had two players. Early Monday afternoon, as we sat ready to play I one shot I was thinking about, a third player showed up, having gotten off of work early.

What did we end up playing?

Yep. Old School Science Fiction Role Playing at its, well, I won't say 'best' or 'finest' but it definitely laid the ground work for getting the group interested in long term SF campaigning.

During the game, other Science Fiction games were mentioned (most notably Star Trek and Traveller) by both myself and a couple of the other players. One of my players, prior to playing Champions and Mutants & Mastminds with me, has only ever played D&D.

Poor guy.

Anyway, now that the groundwork is laid, I think more dicussions on the subject of Science Fiction gaming are bound to reveal what the group likes and doesn't like about it and what kind of Sci-Fi is right for them. I am hoping it is Star Trek but I have a feeling this is more of a free wheeling Traveller group.

The pace of change may be slow but I'm feeling like it's worth the wait...

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Somebody Save Me

Following the successful saving of both person (The cosmic interdimensional vagabond known as The Wanderer) and property (An innocent Sunday School in Arkansas), the heroes return with their new arrival to their main base in New York.

What followed was an attempt to determine what to do next which resulted in...I don't know how else to put this...superhuman brain farts.

The assembled awesomeness of Project: UNITY, heroes that previously defeated the likes of Paradigm Shift, Dr. Helix, The Golden Marauder, Think Tank and Gigaton, were completely stymied.

Simplified, the situation is this:

Ishtara Dys'Dayn, conqueroring 'Empress of a Billion Dimension', has discovered the existance of Dark Seraph, an seriously evil fallen angel bent on taking over or destroying Heaven, Hell and Earth. She has decided he is so interesting, exciting and unique that she is going to free Dark Seraph from his imprisonment in The Abyss and, y'know, see if he wants to hang out.

The key phrase above is 'going to'. She has not yet reached him.

Their main approach to the problem was to get help from one or more of The Wanderer's fellow cosmic beings, The Extrastentials. The focus of their plan was to convince these reality spanning entities to fight, trap or otherwise stop the trans-universal power couple of Dys'Dayn and Dark Seraph from kicking this dimension's quantum butt.

When I asked, "How are you going to convince them to do that. Why should they help you?", the players largely responded with the most trivial of reasons. Dave had Silver Sun (though it is in character for Silver Sun I suppose) say something like, "You see this technomagic nanotech skin I have? This is the most incredible thing I have ever encountered. If this universe is destroyed than this unique thing won't exist."

Really? In all the parallel worlds of the multiverse there is nothing like this? There are no parallel Silver Suns? This is made even odder by the fact that we actually mentioned a parallel Silver Sun earlier in the adventure. Also, your own power is the most amazing thing you've ever seen? And you say this as you talk about the coming of a fallen angel and the extradimensional wicked queen who has the hots for him to a glowing green guy in a cape and toga who is on a walkabout through different realities? Self absorbed much?* / **

What should the heroes do? Tell me what you'd do.

Barking Alien

*I am teasing here Dave. It did strike me as odd though. I know Silver Sun is young and inexperienced compared to some of the other heroes but it just struck me as odd. To me it was like looking at your hand, thinking it was incredible and saying, "Hey, isn't my hand incredible?" to a Giant, Glowing Hand.

**My current batch of players, and I've noticed this for some time now, remind me of MMO players who don't team. You're in an online world with thousands of other people and you solo like you're playing a single player game. It's like the other players and their PCs aren't that important. They are playing next to each other but not with each other. Very weird.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Power Creep

One of the players in my Champions campaign is starting to depress me.

Originally awesome, he is now sort of obsessed with increasing or at the very least diversifying his personal power.

That does not bother me in and of itself. What bothers me is his reasoning and somewhat childish approach to why he wants to be more powerful.

Recently in the campaign, two other PCs and a number of NPCs solved one of the unsolvable subplots of the campaign setting.

There exists in the setting a Meta-Disease, a virus with super powers if you will, that has afflicted a select few (very few) NPC heroes (and possibly villains) but which ties into the background of numerous supporting characters and their relationships to each other and to the PC heroes. It's all very complicated but the heroes made strides into solving the mysterious connection surrounding them all. They did this by curing this incurable illness.

I was duly impressed by the whole session. The role playing was superb. There was some Oscar quality dialog going down. OK, Emmy quality at least but still very moving.

A major (if not 'the' major) villain of the campaign came to help when word of the situation got out. It was like those issues where Sue or Valeria is sick or injured and Doctor Doom shows up to assist. The dialog, ranging from heartfelt to challenging to snarky between the villain and the PCs heroes was just awesome.

The PCs applied their superpowers in really creative ways. The players used their own ideas and knowledge, both of comic book science and real science, to make the whole thing work and make sense. In the end they were successful and it is, quite literally, a game changer.

Only one PC did not participate. He hasn't participated in a couple of the major cool moments now. He is sort of playing a solo campaign with other people there.

Today he contacts me asking why he can't apply his powers this way or that and how come these other guys can do this but he can't etcetera. He mentions reading on the Marvel Wiki that people with the same power he has can do XYZ and how come he can't.

I never get pissed about this stuff. I got a little pissed.

I am not used to this in my games or gaming groups. I have never really had a power gamer or a player go cry baby on me like this. I didn't lose it but I did tell him straight up...

First, they are them, you are you. You guys have completely different powers.

It's Champions. You want a power? Buy it. Nothing comes free with another power. This ain't a two for one sundae sale at Friendly's.

Instead of whining about what other people have got, worry about what you've got already and aren't using well.

Get involved. The other PCs saved a Space Station and a dozen astronauts. The other PCs teamed up to save a long time fellow hero who was suffering from an illness that would kill her in a few years or less.

You didn't join them. You didn't pitch in. You had other ideas and 'another agenda'. Now they are getting the accolades and you aren't. They seem to be able to do more then you can because they are doing more then you do. They are actively deciding to do something. Participate. Try being a hero.

It is after all, a superhero game.

Sorry to vent but I needed it.

More then ever, I think we need a break, a change of pace. I need to begin working on my next campaign. Not Supers I think. Need to clear the palette.

Barking Alien

A Lotta Years

In August I will be celebrating 35 years in the hobby.

35 years.

That's a lotta years.

I have known the owner of my FLGS since I was 14. I am now 43 (though still boyishly handsome).

That's a lotta years.


But a Dynamite 35 years I've got to say.

That kind of milestone has me thinking about the future...

I am loving my current Champions campaign, even with the occasional minor detours and speed bumps but starting at the end of August or beginning of September I would like to start something new.

We are currently somewhere around the 30th session (roughly) and I think three more months is more than enough time to wrap up many of the current plots and subplots. Many mind you but not all. I am not aiming at ending the campaign by destroying the world or any such nonsense as I love this world and want to be able to go back to it at some point if we feel like it. At the same time, the last story arc will likely be pretty apocalyptic and if the heroes fail to stop it...well, they will certainly be playing a very different kind of campaign if we return to that setting.

So what's next on the agenda?


Well wouldn't you know it but in talking with a couple of my players (still haven't had the chance to talk to all of them about it) the desire to have me run my fantasy game/setting came up. Of course it did. Everyone loves my D&D-But-Not game but me, well, I would rather run something (pretty much anything) other than fantasy.

Science Fiction of the Traveller, Star Trek or other, like minded, space exploration, star-spanning variety is definitely high on my list. At least one player is up for that. Hmmm.

Another Supers game? Seriously? Aren't you sick of Supers by now? Actually, no, I'm not and it surprises even me. I have an idea for a sandboxy take on a Superhero campaign that I haven't really done before. It would be quite different from 'The New Age of Champions' and therefore certainly worth exploring.

Other ideas are swirling about as well but none as solidly as these.

Oh the possibilities. I wonder...

Barking Alien

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Love In The Time of Multiversal Armageddon

Finally returning to our Champions campaign recap (before talking about something else completely different - I've got gamer ADD, get over it), we find the heroes, both PC and NPC alike, summoned, organized and positioned by lab-research-scientist-suddenly-turned-emergency-operations-field-leader Professor N (Ray), ready to receive a glowing, green extradimensional entity who is just now heading for a less-then-graceful crash landing into a Sunday School in Arkansas.

As noted, our semiconscious, unintended guest was not alone as he careened toward the innocent edifice. A gaggle of salmon-pink imp creatures, surrounded by sparks and crackles of similarly hued energy, chased him or clung to his form.

As he burst into our dimension and zoomed through the clouds on a rapid collision course with Sister Nadine and her young charges, Professor N had NPC hero The Messenger, local hero and evangelist, direct everyone in the school to safety and personally fly stragglers out of the building (such as a janitor and a school bus driver getting coffee).

Using his teleportation powers, 'anti-grav walking' and 'Nth Blade' (he has the ability to extend a blade shaped area of N-Space out from a piece of debris that was part of the experiment that gave him his powers - whew!), Professor N appeared in the air high above the crowd of heroes in an attempt to attack the creatures clinging to and pursuing the mysterious interdimensional entity. The being and the small creeps attached to him past by the Professor too fast for him to get a good shot at them but he was able to fend off two others that were in pursuit.

Arcane (Lee), managed to alter the gravity in the area to slow the entity's descent, while simultaneously creating a spatial warp/distortion designed to hurl the imps back into the air. Silver Sun (Dave) flew into the air and went after the imps all up close and personal, hitting one of them so hard with a move through that he sent it back to its home dimension (or the dimension it most recently came from a least). True to form, Dave played the wide-eyed young hero as pretty impressed with himself.

"Did you guys see that? I punched a guy so hard he went to another dimension! Damn, that was cool."

Eventually, the combination of Professor N's Nth Blade, Arcane's gravity/space manipulation and Silver Sun's solar powered beat downs got rid of the imp-like invaders. They disappeared back into the flotsam and jetsam of quantum reality and alternate universes. Nice.

Messenger, having taken care of the civilians, flew back and actually caught the emerald entity with the help of Arcane and NPC mystic Lady Sapphire.

The entity, finally identified as The Wanderer, is a member of a group of cosmic beings known collectively as The Extrastentials. They include but are not limited to: The Wanderer, The Examiner, The Warlord, The Architect (sometimes called The Builder) and The Dreamer. These individuals are similar in scope to Marvel's Galactus, Watcher, Shaper of Worlds and
Elders of the Universe
or DC's Endless (Death, Dream, Destiny, etc.).

The Wanderer explains (in a sort of riddle filled, hippie-speak) that the other entity the heroes originally detected (and which he, The Wanderer, attempted to intercept) is none other than Ishtara Dys'Dayn* (the latter part pronounced as 'Disdain'), the self-proclaimed 'Empress of a Billion Dimensions', a reality invading villainess who's tried to conquer this Earth's dimension on several occasions. Apparently she is searching for the villain Dark Seraph*, who was trapped in The Abyss by the heroes of Project: UNITY approximately two years ago (give or take).

Dark Seraph is bad, bad news himself, a fallen angel bent on conquering Heaven, Hell and Earth. It seems that Dys'Dayn, learning of Dark Seraph and his boundless hate and ambition, has become completely enamoured with him. She believes herself to be in love with (or at least in lust and intrigued by) him and seeks to free him from his imprisonment in the Abyss and make him her Emperor.

Not. Good.

More to come,

Barking Alien

*Several of the classic villains of the Champions RPG 'canon' appear in this campaign but significantly altered or retconned. Dark Seraph is very different from his traditional appearance and write up in the Champions villain books. Likewise Ishtara Dys'Dayn was heavily inspired by Istvatha V'Han but is certainly not the exact same character.


Frog In My Throat

I was too late to post this on the 16th as I should have but I could not let it come to pass that I didn't post anything at all.

March 16th, 1990 was the day we lost a little bit of our collective, creative soul.

In Memory of Jim. Miss you.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Character Improvement In A Comic Book World

What I am about to say would seem to go against the accumulated genius of two of Superhero gaming's brightest and most experienced minds. I could be looked at as a fool, a heretic or simply a madman. This is nothing new for me. I disagree with genius all the time. Just ask Zak.

Today is different though, for today I openly disagree with not just Genius but Super-Genius! And not just one Super-Genius mind you but two Super-Geniuses!

Steve Kenson is, for all intents and purposes, a living legend in the RPG industry and a master of the Superhero RPG in particular. At 43 (as of this writing - the same age as yours truly), he was worked on nearly every major Superhero game system out there including Aberrant, Champions, Marvel Super Heroes and Silver Age Sentinels. He is the creator of both Mutants & Masterminds for Green Ronin and ICONS for Adamant Entertainment.

Cam Banks is the Creative Director for Margaret Weis Productions and the creator of the innovative and awesome Marvel Heroic Role Playing Game, which uses a version of MWP's Cortex System.

I want to begin by saying both of these men are brilliant. These guys have talent up the yin yang and I love their work.

Deep breath now...

Both have noted, at one time or another in the recent past, that in the Superhero genre...actually...specifically in comic books, Superheroes rarely increase in power or improve in the way most role playing game players expect. That is, unlike a typical D&D character who gains more hit points, new abilities and better skills as they raise in level, the comic book Superhero really doesn't change that much over time.

Oh sure, they may dramatically change for a short period of time, such as gaining a new costume or receiving an alternate set of powers because of the current storyline but generally speaking, character improvement of the type we gamers come to expect is rare. Characters seem to change horizontally but they don't often climb vertically.

This is reflected in ICONS to some extent but much more so in Marvel Heroic. There really aren't major rules for improvement of a character's abilities, although there is definitely experience point awards as obtained through personal or plot generated 'Milestones'. These can be used to buy new powers sets (swapping out an old one for a new, alternative one) or make certain minor improvements.

After all, Spider Man, Superman and Iron Man haven't really changed since their first appearances.

Spider Man always spun webs, had spider sense and was pretty bright.

Superman always flew, had super strength and heat vision.

Iron Man's armor hasn't really improved or changed in capacity in the last 45+ years.



Spider Man failed to save Gwen Stacy when she fell from the George Washington Bridge because the way in which he attempted to catch her (webbing her leg) was insufficient to prevent her neck from snapping at the height and speed she fell from.

These days, we've seen Spidey (numerous times recently) spin massive web 'nets' and catch literally tons of falling debris to prevent it from crushing the citizens below. It would seem he has become more adept at the use of his webbing. He is more experienced and skillful.


Initially, Superman couldn't fly. Rather, he leaped tall buildings in a single bound. His massive jumps were pseudo-scientifically explained as similar to a Grasshopper or other insect leaping many time it's height do to his vast strength and gravitational differences between Earth and Krypton.

Created in 1938, Superman would not have heat vision until 1949. His X-Ray vision was used in one story to melt ice. By 1951 he gained heat rays from his eyes dubbed heat vision that were clearly separate from his X-Ray vision.

Super Breath, Ice Breath, Super Hypnosis, Super Ventriloquism - For a time it seemed like Superman had a new power every issue. When I one brought this up to my friend and Champions mentor Will he explained it quite simply, "He was saving up his XP. Then he started spending it and he bought new powers."


Iron Man's current armor has a force field. I have been an Iron Man fan since the David Michelinie/Bob Layton days (beginning 1978) and when I saw this recently I was like, "Wow." His armor was also unaffected by the magnetic powers of Magneto in their recent tussle in Avengers Vs. X-Men. I remember them meeting in the past and Magneto messing up the Golden Avenger.


These aren't just isolated examples. While some characters might stretch the point more than others, I think it's both apparent and relevant to say that there is considerable evidence within comics to show that Superheroes do indeed improve. Therefore, a desire and need for them to improve in a role playing game is not outside of the genre as it is presented in its source medium.

I would also point out that we are not creating comics, we are running games. Gamers, more often than not, like to see rewards for their efforts. The feel and atmosphere for a Supers game should definitely reflect what you get from your favorite comic books but in the end it is an RPG. The PCs don't often get paid, they don't kill Capt. Cold and steal his Ice Ray Pistol or anything like you'd expect to get points, magic or specialty items or similar rewards for. Experience points are pretty much the one and only key way of saying, "Thank you Super Person! Job well done."

Barking Alien

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I've Got A Lot To Say

Actually I really do have a lot of stuff I want to post today but time is limited so I will simply start with this small, low content, largely just for fun post and get to the really meaty stuff later.


Anyway, today is the birthday of two very creative, very clever people who have been major inspirations to me throughout my life.

The first is L. Frank Baum, the imaginative writer of the Oz books. The second, yet by no means coming in second, is my Mom. Happy Birthday Mom!

I still need to continue the recapping of our recent Champions adventures but I'm in less of a rush since this coming Saturday I will be get a break. I am handing the GMing reins over to my friend and player Ray (Professor N in our Champions game) who will be running a one shot Marvel Heroic RPG Event. All I know is that it involves a very particular period of X-Men history, takes place in New York City and somehow involves Spider Man and the Morlocks. Woohoo! I am actually excited to play. Who'da thought?

What else, what else...oh this coming August 25th marks 35 years that I've been gaming. Thirty-Five. Wowzers. I want to do something special and I have an idea but it's not full fleshed out so stay tuned for more on this story as it develops.

That's all the time we have for now. I have this idea for a post I've been wanted to write for a few days now and I think (I hope!) I will get the chance to post it tonight.

Til then, have a great day everybody!

Barking Alien

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Champions Vs. Champions - Who Would Win?

Sorry for the recent delay in my continued recapping of our Champions game but I have been busy with a number of side projects both real world and gaming related. It irks me even more to have slowed down again, even for just a bit, as we have already played the session that follows the one I am still describing.

I promise to catch up and soon but first I could use a bit of assistance from those stalwart heroes who fight for truth and justice wherever villainy rears its ugly head. I am talking of course about those players and GMs who run Supers games. Specifically, Champions.

I have a conundrum. My questions are...
If you have played or read through 6th Edition and at least one prior edition, which edition of Champions is your favorite? Why?

Would you recommend 6th at all and if so why?

I have been considering checking out 6th and giving it a good run, possibly converting our current characters over to it or using it for my next Supers campaign. Worth the effort? Forget it and stick to 4th/5th?

I could really use your help. The world is counting on you...well...a world is counting on you...

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Infinite Crisis Management

Recapping our last session (this past Saturday) in the continuing saga of 'The New Age of Champions', Omni (Major NPC in charge of the UN sponsored superteam Project: UNITY) visits the heroes to get a sense of how they are doing. Everyone is really tired, low to without power (Endurance in HERO System speak) and well aware that the recently defeated villains (escapees from the setting's Super-Max security prison) were on their way to a meeting with whoever staged their premature release.

Omni spends quite a bit of time talking to The Power, the only one on the team who took any real physical damage. This turned into a heated debate over what the heck he was thinking, which turned into a heated debate between the Players and I when Marcus (the Power's Player) tried to turn it all around to make it look like the rest of us, especially one other PC, were grandstanding and showing off instead of rescuing him once they realized he was in trouble.

Now, he was mistaken but that is not what really got me and the others a bit miffed. It was that, simply put, if you make a dopey move, man up and say "Damn that was crazy. What a dopey move. Sorry gang." We all do stupid things in games. Own it and move on.

As it started to waste serious game time I eventually let the two players directly involved in the discussion, Marcus and Dave, work it out amongest themselves and, I am happy to say, they did. Meanwhile, Lee/Arcane and Ray/Professor N, refocused on a subplot/background issue that's been going on through the last few sessions. A dimensional disturbance that moves from plane to plane and parallel Earth to parallel Earth.

Professor N is something of a Reed Richards type character specializing in Dimensions and Quantum Reality Physics or some-such other odd super-science area of expertise.

Arcane is...well...hard to explain. It's my friend Lee's character and Lee sometimes (usually) over-thinks and over-explains his ideas, resulting in said ideas being harder to understand. The basics are that Arcane can control Electromagnetic Energy and Manipulate Weak and Strong Nuclear Forces. He can use these abilities to control energy, warp space, sense things through the Earth's magnetic field and a number of other tricks. He can also communicate* (sort of telepathically) with alternate Earth versions of himself who form a team to prevent evil Arcanes from forming or from travelling to a world where they can do serious damage. It's actually a very cool idea but one that comes with a lot of baggage and added elements that you have to sift through to reach this very cool concept.

If I sound like between the lines I am venting a little frustration I apologize, not just to my readership but to my players as well. The campaign is going great but sometimes we hit little snags that turn into bigger-than-they-need-to-be snags. Originally I had two or three players trying to tell a good story. Now I have five guys who, while telling a good story, sometimes like to push or one-up each other. That's fine and it makes for an exciting game but don't let it take over the session. Dig? Righteous.

So where was I? Oh yeah...

Anyway, with the help of dimensional sciences specialist NPC 'The Legionnaire', the PCs are able to better track the anomaly they'd been watching and soon discovered a second similar one. It appeared the two were on a collision course with the expected fallout placing the new anomaly on a path toward our dimension. And by fallout, anomaly and path I mean that a large and muscular, plane travelling humanoid entity was about to pierce the dimension barriers and crash at Mach 2 into a school in Arkansas.

Now Ray, normally content to be a less active, background or at least support character, really took charge in this scenario. He went from Prof. Reed Richards to Capt. Crisis Management in the blink of an eye. It was awesome. He called the right characters into play in the right positions, figured out exactly when and where the entity would fall and where he himself needed to be to be of maximum use and effectiveness.

As it turned out, the entity did not come into our dimension alone. A number of strange, salmon-pink, glowing imp-like creatures where attached to him or flying in pursuit, trying to drag him back into the infinite multiversal ether. Neat huh?

To be continued...

Barking Alien

*I originally wrote that Arcane can 'control' alternate Earth versions of himself. That is not the case. He can communicate with them to gain advice and insight into situations that may have transpired already on their worlds. He knows that there may be differences in the events, participants and key details on these parallel Earths.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Where The Wild Things Go

Sad to report the passing of one of my favorite creative influences and a true artistic 'modern master'.

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012).

"And he sailed off through night and day

and in and out of weeks

and almost over a year

to where the wild things are."

Barking Alien

Monday, May 7, 2012

An Abundance of Heroes

In my last post I was talking about the lack of NPC superbeings in the setting of my current Champions campaign and how, for me, this is the exception and not the rule.

Usually my Superhero campaign worlds are practically overflowing with heroes and villains (or at least there's a lot of them).

I seem to be in the minority with this approach to Supers world building as evidenced by some of the responses to said post. It seems a more popular way to go about things, based solely on the responses I've seen, is to make the PC heroes either the only game in town, the only game at all/first game in town or the only ones who fight evil in their chosen venue (they are the Mutant team or the Street Justice team or the Space Team, etc.).

That my worlds are pretty much chock full of superhero NPCs would seem to complicate things and maybe, potentially, steal the PCs' thunder. The focus is always on the PCs I assure you, though the reason for that focus isn't always obvious.

The primary thinking behind having our Supers
game universes full of heroes is, quite simply, it reflects modern comics. Both Marvel and DC (at least Pre-New 52) seem to have as many Supers per square mile as New York City has Starbucks. In an attempt to create a sense of continuity and a more unified setting, these heroes team up, join teams and generally guest star in each others book far more than ever. Certainly this trend has resulted in more year long events and crossovers then I recall seeing as a kid. This is the type of Superhero universe my players and I have become accustomed to.

The question is then, "How do you have a game setting chock full of costumed crimefighters and still have the PCs matter or stand out?".

A great question. Here are some possible answers that have worked for me...

New Jack City

The players are the newest heroes in town. Their specific niche is that the old guard is getting old and trying to assemble and train the new breed of young supers to take over for them so they can retire/move on to other projects.

Perhaps a well known psychic or sorcery based hero has foreseen the future and knows that these new heroes will be destined for greatness. This is very effective in Champions and M&M. While the PCs gain XP and become more effective and powerful, the established heroes seem to remain the same. A great in-game excuse for why the PCs improve while in most comic books superheroes don't really seem to get more powerful over time.

Filling Out The Ranks

Possibly viewed as a variant of the above, this next approach is evident in my current Champions game and my previous M&M campaign 'Dynamos Unlimited'. Here, it is assumed that while there may be superheroes more famous and powerful then the PCs at the beginning of the game, they are few and far between.

For example, as I have noted before, New York, the metahuman mecca of most Superhero Comic Book universes, has only about 1 dozen heroes in my Champions setting. New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Wyoming share about 5-7 heroes. The state of Georgia has three or four. Only California, Illinois and New York have a decent number of heroes, with the LA Based Protectors featuring about 5 members, two or three of which are of significant power. Arkansas has one hero but he's really powerful.

The international scene is similar with the majority of European heroes living in England, Italy and Germany. Even then, Britian has about 7-9 heroes, three of which are very powerful, while the rest have 5 medium to low powered supers at best.

The resulting effect on the setting is that each individual hero feels more important. Sure, Superman may exist in your world but he lives in London and is busy fighting Fomorians when Dr. Madness attacks a small New England town in the USA looking for a lost book of Cthulhu-esque power. Now let's see, where are our heavy hitters? Hmmm...Ms. Mystical is still on the injured list, Capt. Freebird is helping Rebel Star in the South, we need Freeway (the Captain's niece) to stay at the base on monitor duty since she's the fastest and can get to a new problem in no time. That just leaves...the PCs! Good luck gang!

The Right Tool For The Job

Another variant on the above idea is to create the setting's NPC heroes after you build the PCs. So, if no one made an Ice Guy or a Telepath, the Player Characters can easily come into a world whose main team has Snowman and Mind Maiden. You feel me? There are already a number of established heroes but none of them have the PC heroes power sets. This may also may the PCs in high depend. The various Super teams could want the PCs to join them to cover areas they feel they are deficient in.

The Powers That Be

In most Supers games, the PCs start out at a medium power level roughly equivalent to the 80's-90's X-Men or the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans. However, many games also allow the players to customize their campaign power level by playing starting characters who are slightly more or less powerful then those made by the default character creation rules.

So, start the players slightly more powerful then usual. These guys and gals aren't up and coming superheroes, these are The Avengers and the Justice League. The PCs begin the game as the currently recognized "World's Greatest Super Team". Just be sure to adjust accordingly to maintain the campaign (if long term campaigning is indeed your goal). Slightly less XP per session may prove helpful. Much bigger threats then normal are a must.

These are just a few ideas I have on the subject but I think you get the general objective. Creating a gaming universe that feels like a comic book universe can be tricky but it's not really what I would call hard and it's far from impossible to have your cake and eat it too.

More Super Stuff Coming Up, Up and Away!

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Superhero Scarcity

Less Is More...Is Less

Usually when I start world building for a Supers game, I get to thinking about the other superheroes in the world other than the PCs. Marvel and DC have hundreds of Superhero characters and so do I, so I want the PCs to meet them. Also, other heroes round out the setting and make it feel like you live in a universe.

Unfortunately this can backfire on me. If the PCs are in big trouble they are going to call for reinforcements. Sure the other heroes could be busy but all of them? Think about the Avengers or the Justice League. Not only do they have a dozen or more active members, they are on pretty good terms with the vast majority of the major and minor heroes of their respective universes. If someone drops an Infinite Crisis or Secret War in their laps you can be pretty darn sure everyone from Animal Man and the Teen Titans to Nova to Fantastic Four are getting a phone call.

So when running my current Champions game, it's been quite an effort on my part not to create lots of NPC heroes. A low number of super powered individuals worldwide and a lack of Superheroes compared to Supervillains (Villains outnumber heroes roughly three to one in this setting) creates a very interesting dynamic that has made this game feel quite different from many of the other superhero campaigns I've run. Each hero is more important. Keeping yourself and every one of your allies alive (since the setting is also a tad more deadly then the standard 4-Color Comic Book milieu) is a priority no matter what else is going on.

In the case of our current situation, what do you do when most of your heavy hitters are out of energy/Endurance, the rest are at half power, every body is pretty fatigued and you just found out the mystery villain who set recent troubles in motion is about to show up at location X. I mean, the look on the players faces was awesome. There was this heroic and self sacrificing need to go forward, to nab that bad guy, knowing full well they don't really have the strength to do so. Fantastic.


How do you handle it? Is your Supers universe teeming with heroes or are the players the only game in town? Something inbetween? How does it effect the challenges in the game?

Really curious to see some responses to this.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

No Rest For The Weary

So the situation looks pretty grim for The Power, with no one to blame but himself. Yet it's actually even more dire then it first appears.

Allow me to explain...

When Corey's PC, the hard light armored archer named Ballistix, determines that the train rocketing North East is not only moving at incredible speed but hasn't made any of it's scheduled stops, he suggests the escaped super criminals from the Stronghold prison facility might be on board and using this as getaway plan. Since The Power is on that train and a few of the villains are pretty serious customers, he asks for back up.

Here's the kicker...The last three sessions have occurred over a period of no more than 10-12 hours in game time. During that time the PCs and many major NPCs have battled a number of villains, tried to out hack a genocidal artificial intelligence and have saved the international space station in Earth orbit and the dozen astronauts contained therein. Following that was a 1 to 2 hour break to get food, coffee, etc., a short debriefing meeting and then the personal meetings that resulted in The Power being let go.

So pretty much every hero capable of fighting the escapees is either asleep or is really low on Endurance. Some are also otherwise occupied, like the NPCs Microcosm (who went to NASA Mission Control to drop off the astronauts) and The Ultramarine (who flew back to England with Silver Sun tagging along).

Knowing his options are limited, S.I.M.O.N. (Third-in-command NPC back at the base) requests Silver Sun return to the states and asks Arcane (Lee) and Professor N (Ray) to stop what they're working on and assist.

So heading out to stop the villains and save The Power are...

Arcane - At about 60% Full Capacity
Ballistix - 100% Full Capacity
Professor N - Pretty much Full Capacity
Silver Sun - At about 50% Full Capacity.

Fingers are duly crossed.


Ballistix uses a power rarely encountered among superhumans called 'Reason' and decides to flip a manual emergency brake on the train track. Just in case this doesn't work he goes about 100 to 200 yards ahead of the brake and physically damages the track. "No matter what, this train is stopping", he tells me.

Unfortunately, one of the criminals on the train is 'The Grey Ghost', a villain with devices that can make himself, others or objects intangible to varying degrees. Attaching one of his gadgets to the Kinetic/Interial device that is speeding up the train, he is able to make the train pass through the brake stop.

That's when all heck breaks loose.

Silver Sun, whose powers are partially mystical in a weird science/cosmic/technomagic kind of way, is able to hit the ghostly train and rips open the roof of the engine car to get at the bad guys. He also fires superheated blasts at the wheels and track, hoping to melt the train into a stop.

Professor N waits for his moment and then slips onto the train with his 2D form, which makes him resemble a molecule thin sheet of paper. He gets into the front car where three of the villains and the unconscious Power are (the other three villains are searching the train in case The Power wasn't alone). He then returns to normal, grabs the accelerating/phasing machinery attached to the train engine and teleports it and himself away.

The train, now normal although partially fused to the track and the ground due to damage from Silver Sun's heat blasts and it's desolid/suddenly solid nature, finally strikes the part of the rails Ballistix had bent.

Derailing spectacularly, the train and it's occupants go flying. Think Tank ends up spinning through the air like a frisbee. Gigaton activates his force field and survives pretty much unharmed. Grey Ghost 'ghosts' through the wreckage and makes it out OK but frazzled. Mako doesn't do so hot. He ends up a mess, skidding across the ground at high speed. The last member of the group, the super strong Ogre, manages to crawl out and run for it with not much more then bumps and bruises.

Oh wait, there was one more...The Outsider. Originally disguised as a train worker, he attempts to escape by transforming into a crow and flying away. He is tagged by one of Ballistix's light arrows and taken down.

Now a battle ensues with those villains that remain standing...well...actually only Gigaton. Grey Ghost is kissing the ground, happy to be alive and Think Tank seems to either be down for the count or playing possum.

Ballistix takes a shot at Gigaton and misses. Gigaton takes at shot a Silver Sun who, I forgot to mention, taunted the Big 'G' to come after him. The blast from Gigaton probably would've put a mighty large hurtin' on ol' Silver Sun, had Arcane not used his Strong/Weak Nuclear Forces Manipulation powers to dissipate the attack down to a mere 2D6 Energy Blast. Very sweet.

In the end it was Silver Sun who took out Gigaton in a most satisfying way. Switching to X-Rays and turning invisible, Silver Sun ran up to Grey Ghost while Gigaton was distracted. He grabbed one of Grey Ghost's 'Ghost Bomb' grenades and made the ground around Gigaton intangible, causing Gigaton to fall into the Earth below his feet. Gigaton can fly and so he got himself out, flew over to Grey Ghost and grabbed him, ready to punch him in the face. "What's the big idea you bastard?"

Just as Grey Ghost says it wasn't him, Silver Sun puts his hand up to within an inch of Gigaton's face (Silver Sun is invisible if you recall) and lets the G-man have it with a full force, dump everything he's got into it blast. Threw the guy 65 feet through one of the wrecked train cars. Awesome.

Now at some point in the ruckus The Power woke up but was still down to practically nothing power wise. He tries to push himself, knowing it may knock him out again, to plant a suggestion in Think Tank's mind. He compels Think Tank to try and access the Mechanon AI program zipping around Earth orbit or contact someone who could do this for him (see last post for the, um, 'specifics' of his plan).

Bad news, it works but it's more like Mechanon discovers Think Tank trying to jack his program and he takes over some satellites and beams himself into Think Tank.

Good news, the heroes detect Mechanon's specific carrier wave (neutrinos are the key component) and use a trick of the rapidly tiring Silver Sun to deflect the signal. Mechanon's AI is sent packing back up into space while the heroes, pretty much running on empty at this point, capture all the villains. When a few of them go after the left over guy Ogre, the team uses bluff and intimidation to convince him to surrender. After all, they beat up Gigaton and they aren't even tired (wink, wink - since in truth they're all freakin' exhausted).

The very last thing to happen was The Outsider revealed that he'd been hired to break these guys out and take them to a secret meeting with their new employer. They are scheduled to meet at Think Tank's old base in...holy crap! About 4 hours!

No rest for the weary...

Barking Alien