Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Heart of the Matter

Okay, so I started rambling about symbolism and iconic heroes… so let’s ramble some more.

I guess we have to start with what makes a character iconic? It seems like the simpler the better for iconic characters, and in many ways that is true. You want to be able to describe a character in one sentence, and have everyone get it. That’s great. However, I think that the reason iconic characters resonate and endure is because of something beyond simplicity. I think the answer is conflict.

The most iconic characters represent conflicts between opposing forces by their very natures. Superman endures in part because he was the first superhero. In part, he endures because his basic power set (without all of the extras) is pretty simple: he is strong, bulletproof, and can fly. Everything else is gravy; those are his powers. You take away heat vision and he’s still superman. You take away strength, and he’s something else. But, he’s also a character who embodies a wide range of conflicts. How can you be both impenetrable yet sensitive and caring? How can you be both a farmer and a big city slicker? How can you be both an alien and a human? You are immune to everything, but one green rock that glows makes you the weakest person in the world. You are brave and daring, but your alter ego is bumbling and awkward.

And this extends to your foil characters. These are part of the mix. Superman needs Batman to be in full balance. He is light, Batman is dark. Superman is hope, Batman is grim reality. Superman is above the dirty details; Batman makes that his wheelhouse. Superman relies on his own abilities; Batman has a veritable armory he carries into battle every day.

It’s his villains, too. Superman is strong; Luthor is smart. Superman pushes aside fame and glory; Luthor craves these.

So, you don’t create an iconic character like Superman by taking superman and filing off the serial numbers. You have to get to the heart of the matter.

For Marvel, this character is Captain America. And, we see a different but equally effective parallelism happening; Is Cap in the past or the present? He lives in the fringe between idealism and reality. His American dream comes directly against the tyranny of the Red Skull. His dogged belief in the good of the individual and trust in your own two fists comes directly into conflict with Iron Man’s need to keep tabs on everything and rely on increasingly powerful battle suits. Cap is a poor kid from the Bronx; Iron Man is one of the richest men in the world. Heck, they are born out of different wars: Cap comes from the World War that most clearly defined good and evil. Iron Man comes from the war that generated profound disagreement about what was good, and who would decide.  

The first character needs to be designed with his or her primary foil. They need to balance. They are the first team up, and they need to set the gait. They are brothers in a very real sense (and maybe literally… we will see).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Soft Reboot

Since I had a little time in the last two weeks between classes and projects, I pulled out the good ‘ol Echo City rules and rolled up a few characters for fun. And then, as they always do, the wheels started turning. As I was reading through, I realized that I really, really, like this game. Sure, it’s got a small wart here or an odd turn of phrase there, but by and large this is a great little game.
Sentinels of Echo CityHowever, the area where I was less pleased with the overall game was in the presentation of the game world. For every solid character with a great background, there is a weaker character or (worse yet) a character who is simply a surrogate from a well-known property with the serial numbers filed off.

In thinking about the game world, I have two competing schools of thought.

1) The game world should provide a rich roleplaying opportunity for the players; the setting’s characters (especially the heroes) should fade to the background. Games are about the PCs, not the system’s default heroes. This is one of the problems with playing in established universes; why is my level 3 hero needed when the Justice League is literally living in a bunker around the corner?

2) The game world is defined by the main characters. This one is trickier. Gotham City is not just a setting for comics… it is an extension of Batman’s entire persona. You have to understand Batman in order to really understand Gotham.

While I want #1 to be true, I think you have to embrace #2 at least in part for the setting to really pop.

In effect, we are talking about the inherent symbolism of characters, and what they can communicate. The best characters carry powerful symbolism with them, and that symbolism extends into their adventures, their adversaries, and their environment. If you want to create an iconic setting, you need to create iconic characters who inhabit it. So, if I’m going to reboot the world of Echo City, I need to start with the characters who live there. So, I’ll be posting (as time permits) my thoughts about Echo City’s characters, rebuilding them from the ground up.

In effect, I get to play a fun minigame for the game… if I am designing a cinematic universe for my own unique superhero world, what goes into it, and why?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Does This Thing Still Work?

Logged in today to see that it has been over a year since my last update! And, I realized this week it has been two years since I released Sentinels of Echo City. Wow... um. Time flies and all that good stuff. School goes well and my march towards certification as a school administrator continues unabated... but I always have some gaming stuff turning in the back of my head.

I saw a picture of Doc Ock fighting Spidey the other day, and I realized that I never really solved a villain like him in game terms. Yeah, you can have multiple attacks, but he doesn't really have a multiple attack so much as a barrage of attacks at one time. In fact, this is something that I had not successfully resolved for any hero or villain that can pummel you quickly with a series of blows. Speedsters do this. Doc Ock does this. A big tanky guy could take this as his sort of signature. Instead of landing one big attack, he is always peppering you with quick jabs. I present to you, the barrage attack for Sentinels of Echo City:

Barrage Attack (self). You land a series of blows every time you attack in melee. Roll 1d4+1 for the number of attacks you can take every round. Roll 1d6 for the base damage from your attacks: 1-2 = 1d4; 3-4 = 1d6; 5-6 = 1d8. On each attack you roll, you roll a total number of 1d20s equal to your barrage attack rating (adding your total modifier to hit to each roll). For each attack that succeeds, you roll one of the appropriate dice from barrage attack. Add your STR modifier to the total damage (not to each individual die). For example, Professor Squid is level 5 (+3 attack modifier) has STR 14 (+4 modifier) and has barrage attack 4 (for his 4 robotic tentacle arms) with damage of 1d6 for each arm. He attacks a hero with AC 17. He rolls 4d20 each time he attacks. If he rolls 5 (+7=12; miss), 12 (+7=19; hit) 13 (+7=20; hit), and 20 (allowing him to double the die) on an attack, he lands 3 of the 4 attacks this round. He rolls 3d6 for damage, adding +4 (from his STR) to the total damage this round, and doubling one of the 1d6 results (he should roll this die separately before the other two 1d6s). He could potentially deal a large amount of damage this round... or he could roll a series of 1s.