Saturday, December 16, 2017

Setting Material I'd Like To See

SYSTEM: Almost any superhero setting


Over on the ICONS Facebook group, I started listing setting material that I'd like to see for a superhero game. Obviously, these ideas might not apply to a game with a very different setting, but are assumed for a Big Two kind of environment.

Warning that this might be highly idiosyncratic and others won't care.

For this post, I've collated them and added reasons why they'd be player-facing, rather than just cool setting details...because if the players can't interact with them, they're better off as one-line descriptions that you can steal for your games.

I mean, I'm going to write these if no one else does, but it would be much easier for me to just buy them. :)


  • The religious group that quite literally worships supers, though they've had a schism: most think that supers are blessed by God, and the others think that supers are gods.
  • Nine Realms I picked nine out of a hat: the idea is multiple descriptions (somewhere between three and ten). None of these are huge descriptions—maybe a half-dozen pages, plus some npcs. They fall into two groups: The PCs might go there, or the realm might launch an invasion.

    Places the PCs might go:

    • So you'd have the three hells as one realm
    • the Astral Plane (if you can find a way to make it interesting: you can make the Astral Plane also the realm of the Lost Dead Souls)
    • the Dreamworld

    An invading force:

    • Urbtech, the realm of computers and logic, where magic doesn't work
    • a dimension that, like a shark, must conquer other worlds or fall to the rot within
    • Maybe an invading dimension random generation chart

  • The Darwins is the organization that helps people who have just discovered their powers; it helps them get adjusted, learn to master them, and integrate back in the larger society. But some people suggest that they have a hidden agenda. Like maybe they're behind some accidents that cause superheroes? Maybe they're rooting for the mutants to take over. Maybe they're trying to foster human-mutant cooperation, but like the famous intervention experiment in the 1930s makes things worse.
  • Hoodlums is a chain restaurant decorated with a superhero/supervillain motif, where all the waitresses wear skimpy versions of costumes, and which has a structure that leads to a certain number of them having supervillain groups on the payroll.

    The inspiration for Hoodlums is a friend of mine (James Nicoll), who included this gem in a bit of backstory for his character, a villain turned hero who at one point discovered that the heroes don't care if you've clearly labelled the porn featuring actors in their costumes as "a parody" and beat you up anyway. Which, combined with thoughts on sexism in comics, made me think of a restaurant that quite literally uses and institutionalizes that sexism.) The real question to me is how to make it player-facing. Oh, you can drop stuff in as a setting detail ("We went to Hoodlum's last night") but how do you make it personal for the players? Well, if their costumes are on display without their permission; if someone else is using their Hoodlums costume while committing crimes (I mean, no one is going to think the player did it, but it still looks bad). Maybe a particular restaurant is a front for, as James had, pornography using the player characters' costumes. (That could be very trigger-y or, with the right players, it could be funny: imagine playing out the discomfort when you discover that your cis hetero hero is a gay icon, and that the actor wearing your costume has starred in a successful series of films.)

  • One Percent An action group that is trying to paint supers as being the actual privileged as opposed to people who just have most of the money. Clearly funded by a group of wealthy people whose private motto is, "Being rich is the best superpower."
  • The place or person who handles medical needs for heroes/villains/vigilantes, which may or may not be the same as provides medical needs for mutants or aliens. This is mostly a practical need, but it might tie into the database mentioned under "Supers fight club," below.
  • The Ark, a living facility for supers with special needs for living, started by some member when he or she realized that the available choices were a government institution. With help from some acquired lost Thulean gold, the Ark was built. If there are diplomatic relations with the Atlanteans, they might rent part of it out with water as living space. Other rooms contain red sunlight generators, maybe gravity generators if your tech is wobbly enough, atmospheric containment and such-like. The kitchens are a nightmare.
  • Supers fight club, but I’m trying to think of an angle that isn’t Roulette or Unlimited Class Wrestling. The intent is to give players an excuse for fights and fight training. Tying it in with some kind of “heroes database” would be useful, because then you have a rationalization for bad guys who know your player character “tells”. If it's set up as coercive, maybe the players could rescue someone from it, or from an abusive manager. It might be where newcomers and has-beens go, the former to learn, the latter to recapture a bit of fading glory.
  • A list of gigantic world-ending threats that the other (NPC) heroes in your setting have to deal with, so your players have to deal with the threat that's "only big."
  • I have been thinking of a hero group. They're in a band. (This was partly inspired by seeing the Good Lovelies in concert last night.) Tickets sold with a disclaimer because there is a non-zero chance of a supervillain attack during the concert. I don't think they'd do a lot of superheroing, but they've done a bit, and accumulated some bad enemies. Heh—you could drop individuals into a campaign by introducing them after the band has broken up. And someone is trying to kill them...a celebrity stalker or a cape killer? (This might be better done as an adventure.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

No Drop-In this week

SYSTEM: ICONS

I have to go in to Toronto tomorrow so that eats up the time between 5:45 AM to7:00 PM. if I’ve just got home at 7:00, I can’t start a game at 7:00.

I migh have to find another night for this if Wednesday becomes a go-to—Toronto day.

Monday, December 4, 2017

That’s juicy

Reading about Fred King, the polygamous and abusive pastor of a fringe church near Chatsworth has me totally wanting to include an abusive cult in this adventure—should it be Fred King style, or Alison Mack style?

Decisions, decisions.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Side note: Dark vs Sparks adventure(s)

SYSTEM: ICONS

As I’ve mentioned before, I want to run a one-shot in the world of James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. Now, almost any generic superhero plot will work,, but I want to use the unique features of the setting. (Which might be a good rule of thumb for setting adventures in any specific universe.)

Let’s say we have a dynasty of Darklings. They might be up to almost anything—a Darkling dynasty is probably the same as a LexCorp or a Kingpin, with evil things that have plausible deniability and nothing that will hold up in court. The heroes can’t get at them directly, so the question is, how do the players hear of it?

No game starts until the players get involved, whether it’s the time-honoured technique of the bad guys trying to take them out pre-emptively, or a discovery of some clue, or a remit from a mysterious figure in an inn. So you might have a spiffy plot but if the players never find out about it (or they don’t find out about it until too later), then you don’t have an adventure.

Now, I have a gimmick in mind that uses features of the universe (which I haven’t discussed with Jim, so there might be hidden details in the universe that invalidates it). I speak no more of it.

Anyway, the gimmick will result in the murder of several Darklings, so I think that a new Darkling, embraces by the shadow as a response to the murders, will approach the heroes about this: the murders have confounded the police and the Darklings’ own Dark Guard. (The PCs are not demonstrably not involved.) The bad guy who’s killing is probably a Spark or a Darkling (though an unusual group of mortals can’t be ruled out).

In my brain, it’s a story like (but simpler than) The Big Sleep, with family and business problems. Now, the reason for these twists is only to provide motivation, not to create a logic puzzle. I plan for this adventure to be a superhero adventure, not a mystery.

As upholders of the law and the weak, the heroes have to find out who is killing Darklings.

It wouldn’t be proper if the Darkling dynasty weren’t up to no good, so the dynasty is planning on doing something that’s probably a little more exciting than rigging zoning by-laws (though that might be interesting—something that looks innocuous on the surface but as a side effect would make superhero bases illegal—but I digress. The question is, can I come up with a dynasty plot that triggers the killer to start, and somehow gives a personal connection to the PCs and give us two or three knock-down drag-out battles?

Obviously the petitioning newbie-Darkling (Dusker? Dusker who, if you like wordplay on obscure rock bands) has to approach the PCs at some event where the heroes are known to be, which means that there might also be other overt antagonists there. That would give us a chance to start in media res.

Think think think. 

Fortunately, the Darklings can be from anyplace; it’s the heroes who are constrained in space. Although Jim’s book covers Waterloo and a bit north, I could set my adventure in nearby Kitchener (because I was born here and currently live here), in nearby Cambridge—still part of the Region of Waterloo, which replaced Waterloo County—or I could go farther afield. I’ll probably stay in Canada; except for Kitchener, the cities I have lived in are claimed in the book. 

I could go for London, Ontario; for Calgary or Edmonton, in Alberta; or for either Victoria or Vancouver in BC. 

Or—oddball choice—Owen Sound, Ontario, in the Bruce Peninsula. That has a number of good qualities, actually: there are vacation homes near, though not as many as the Muskokas; there’s a chance for some angst if there’s a young hero(es) who want to move away but declaring yourself a protector locks you into the location (though I suspect not permanently). Muskoka would be a better choice demographically—more of a history of vacation homes for the wealthy—but I know (sections of) the Bruce Peninsula better. 

(Aren’t you glad that you now know some of the waffling that goes on in my mind?)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Okay, next learning step: soap opera

SYSTEM: ICONS

I think the Drop-In went well. I think I'm at the point where I can reliably put forth a three hour game session, where there's enough combat that doesn't overwhelm the players and force us to go to another session.

But the sessions have been largely combat. So the next learning step is soap opera.

Not a huge amount of soap opera, but a chance to bring in supporting characters. To a certain extent, this has been organic in that the players get to be dramatic with the NPCs as they investigate or prepare to fight, which is good.

What I want to try now is creating opportunities with appropriate supporting characters, and that requires either knowing who is coming (sort of difficult for a Drop In game) or building something in, like the base staff. I deliberately went for an environment where the base is superfluous, so that option was out.

So my intent now is to provide opportunities to interact with NPCs: Find a logical reason to include an NPC, preferably one who triggers a Quality, and see how the players respond. If they seem interested in anything, expand that character's screen time to create modular subplots.

For instance, Gold Tiger has essentially the Tony Stark collection of Qualities. I could certainly include a session from the major domo or HR person about these people who get hired, or I could bring one of them back. Diriel as a Demon of Justice is a bit harder, but I could certainly do next session about some occult threat and introduce an occultist. New character Lum will need to have a counsellor developed, and there's an opportunity there.

Nothing big...my grasp on timing is still tenuous so I don't want to blow it out of the water.

And I want to respect the players' wishes, too: if they want it to be mostly tactical, or mostly soap opera, that's the direction I should go (at least so far as I'm comfortable; I count, too).

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Dark vs Spark one-pager: a draft

SYSTEM: ICONS

Here's my one page world for players in the world of All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault, including the ICONS rules that I suggested. Comments welcome (especially if it turns out you can't read it*).

https://drive.google.com/open?id=13nGPEDhhZefhPYQzaHIxGXD02byMEYwN

*Since I accidentally sent an empty zip file yesterday, mistakes are fresh in my mind.

That went...well

SYSTEM: D&D5E

Okay, ran the young'uns through part of the opening bit of Sky King's Thunder—you know, the free part. I made a couple of changes to the setup (I put the temple farther away so they had more opportunities to fight goblins before the bells were quieted). We didn't do nearly as much as I had expected, mostly because I had forgotten just how fragile first level characters are in D&D: I didn't fudge any die rolls but characters were dying left and right, due to fumbles and such-like. As a result, the goblins got even stupider and the pair of worgs behaved like my dogs: fierce one moment, timid the next.

Now, I intend for this to segue over to Temple of Elemental Evil (sort of; I found someone's conversion notes to fifth edition, and a description of the module elsewhere, and that's pretty much all I need to make stuff up). I'll have to gin up some connection between Nightstone (which now takes the place of Hommlet) and the abandoned moathouse in ToEE, but the presence of a festering ancient evil is all I need to make work most of the other plot threads I dropped in. So that was fine.

But after years of playing and running competent superheroes, I had forgotten that it can be a lot of fun with a group of characters who can't cross a drawbridge stealthily, are unable to hit the goblin up by the top of the windmill, who are >this close< to dying after a single arrow shot.

And it was, frankly, a joy to watch delight in the students' faces when they pulled off the impossible arrow shot to work the drawbridge mechanism at a distance (necessary to keep somebody from dying). I don't think I'd want to listen to somebody tell me about their campaign or character (so I'll shut up after this, unless there's a point to be made), but certainly we can have fun playing our own adventure.

From looking at the conversion notes for ToEE, the author of the conversion (I'll find the name and post it later) talks about some of the differences between D&D then and D&D now, not least of which is that it was originally written for 5-8 adventurers, and this group is four only because I have them an NPC meat shield. (Who I should have made second level, but at first, the barbarian is as bad as the rest of them. Still, in this group the barbarian takes the position of Character Who Will Press The Big Red Button.)

They say they want more, so I'm guessing this will continue for a bit.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Last minute cancellation of Drop-In

SYSTEM: ICONS

My wife's folks are staying with us for a few days before they do the snowbird thing and head to Phoenix for the winter. And they're going to take us out.

I can't refuse, and I know there's no way that I'll get back before 8:00 pm, so the only sane thing to do is cancel (or delay).

My apologies.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A possible change

So the perils of young love: my godson stopped dating the GM for his and my daughter's D&D group. She asked me to step in for a session or two (or three or just the one; depends on how we all like it: children can be fussy about parents being around). In the mean time I will be glad of the Drop-In on Wednesday, because I get to stop thinking about how the hell I'm supposed to run D&D5E. (I have never run D&D.)

So you might see more D&D content as I try to figure stuff out.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Superheroes don't miss

SYSTEM: ANY

Having watched Thor Ragnarok and Justice League on two successive days, this morning in the shower I came to a realization:

For the most part, superheroes and supervillains don't miss.

Oh, they fail to do damage...but they rarely miss. They catch the thickest part of the armor, or hit the magical bracelets, or hit the suddenly-manifested shield, or fail to hurt someone because they are invulnerable, or their omniforce field disintegrates the bullets before they hit.

When they do miss, it's part of the hero or villain's schtick or niche: lots of foes miss against the Flash or Quicksilver, because a big part of his thing is being so fast that he moves out of the way. Batman frequently can't be seen (but his foes tend to be more in the human range than the supervillain range.) Spider-Man is so agile that foes miss him.

This is just a narration thing, but I suspect it will give much more of a superhero feel to things. A failed roll doesn't mean a missed shot. For some heroes or villains it will, yes: figure out who that is. But for everyone else, figure out a list of reasons why the super's attack failed to do damage.

(I'm sure I've read this advice before, but coming to it myself makes it more powerful. I'm going to try it at the Drop-In on Wednesday. Of course, those who go to the Drop-In and read this will know I'm trying this, but that shouldn't matter.)