Monday, May 31, 2021

Fresh Eyes - Range

I'm doing a broad strokes skim through of the rules right now, looking at it with fresh eyes. This is very helpful. I'm asking about some of the foundational things - it's not that I'm looking for things to change, but I'm asking if things are in there that don't need to be. Basically, what is there because it's necessary or adds appreciably to gameplay, and what's there because I have some sort of default assumption it has to be? It's a relic of 40 years of familiarity with this system? (Yeah. It's 40 years. I started with the 1981 edition of B/X, so you do the math...)

Range is one of those things. At first, it seems to make sense - the range of Hawkeye's arrows is going to be shorter than the range of Iron Man's repulsor blasts... right? I mean, it doesn't 'feel' like it in the movies; we never have dramatic moments where Hawkeye cannot target something but Iron Man can - where Thor can hit it with his hammer but Cap cannot throw his shield. I mean, it's not a dramatic thing - it's just not a super-heroic problem.

If we are concerned with the effective difference between assault rifles and sniper rifles, then things like range become important distinctions. But for supers? Meh. I mean, we could easily have a few different range categories; people are on one, tactical weapons are on another. Yes, your laser-guided missile is going to have more range than Cyclops' eye blasts; but his eye blasts and Magneto's magnetism are fundamentally the same in terms of range. We can go with a standard range, but then add limitations or enhancements to shift range in certain circumstances. For example, we could go with: 

  1. Short is up to 50' (no modifier)
  2. Medium is 51 to 250' (-2)
  3. Long is 251' to 1,000' (-4)

Part of the fun of fantasy games and spells in general is the tactics of how certain spells work; you have to be so close to the enemy, and the fireball has such-and-such area of effect, and how do we measure this to keep from frying the party too... but supers gaming has a different vibe. It's much broader strokes. I don't see the benefit of worrying over the individual range of every power. It's one less thing to track, one less thing to log, one less thing to add as a layer to every power; it's either range or it's not. 

Then you could add limitations and boons; a ranged power that only works at short range, or that takes no range penalties at longer ranges. 

The other thing is always, for me, is this something I cared about when I was twelve? That's my default assumption. I cared a LOT about whether Thor or Wonder Man could bench press more (like, cared about this wayy too much) but I never thought about how far Spiderman could shoot his webs, and whether this was farther than Human Torch could fire a bolt of flame. It was always 'hit a guy over there' and that was good enough for me. I want granularity (or the feel of granularity) in many places; the difference between your armor skin and my armor skin matters; who can fire their bolt of lightning farther is just not on the list.

Supers Design Thinking

I keep tinkering and jumping from idea to idea. I work on something for a bit, then feel meh, then move on. This week, it's back to supers! Don't know what if anything will come of this, but I thought I would share my thinking. That's kind of the point of my blog after all :)

A few months ago, I decided not to work on a revision of Sentinels, because basically it would be mostly cosmetic - a tweak here and a modification there. However, in the last week or so, I've thought about some foundational things that would change the basic game engine in some not insignificant ways. Here are the first thoughts:

1. The basic modifiers would borrow from Tales of the Splintered Realm. This scales back the numbers a little bit, and gives a little more wiggle to each of the rating categories. Now, 'monstrous' would be a score of 20-22, a +5 modifier (the old FASERIP 75 which is my go to for when I'm thinking about superhuman bricks - the Thing and Colossus both ended up at Monstrous, so it's my default thinking for PC bricks). It's a tweak, but it has a ripple effect across the whole game.

2. The basics of the setting would shift. This is the big one in my mind. I would basically turn the clock back twenty years - instead of being a fallen age after the death of the major heroes, this would be the silver age, when peeps are at their peak. While I liked writing the game after the fall, I liked setting my own writing and characters earlier, during the silver age. This would set the game during the Stalwart Age (and that might be the title, or subtitle - maybe Sentinels of Echo City: The Stalwart Age, or just "The Stalwart Age". Not sure yet). The vibe is Incredibles, but almost the first ten minutes of the first movie - it is the height of the heroic age. This solves a big problem I've had - the 'big stories' are already told (from my point of view), and the player characters are now taking the place of the fallen heroes. I liked that from a RPG world design view, but not so much from my own perspective. I kept wanting to create locations that were destroyed or overgrown or lost. Backing the game up twenty years allows me to share these things at their height, but also hardwire the conflict that leads to their eventual fall into future releases. Basically, I had been creating the game post Thanos snap - now I can go back to the first Avengers movie timeline wise and build from there. This would be a hard reset on the game world and characters - I would not be beholden to any continuity I had established in the previous game editions, and would basically be new 52-ing the whole thing (although hopefully better than that).

3. XP progression bothers me. At the VERY least, I want to build in story events for when you level up. The GM has to come up with a story-based event that you have to finish before you can get the new upgrades for your next level. I almost want to merge character progression/XP with the resolve mechanics; you use character points to level up and to do special things. It would then be closer to Karma in FASERIP - you use these points to perform stunts, but sacrifice long-term growth for short-term awesomeness. I like the idea that you have limited resources and you are always being careful in spending your resources. It also makes character growth slower, which feels more superhero esque. It also means that when you do that amazing stunt, you are actually paying for it in some way. That also feels more heroic. This means that the system can also borrow from Karma in having more character-based 'good guy doing good stuff in good ways' rewards. It also makes death unlikely; you can always spend some hero points to keep from dying, but you are never going to get any better if you are always treading water to just stay alive.

Of course, I'd be tightening up and cleaning up language throughout, and the whole thing would be formatted like Tales, in maybe a 64 page book with staples that can lay open on the table. After the ease of working with that book, I don't think I'm going back to the 6x9 book format. I think the setting would be presented similar to Tales of the Splintered Realm as well - the whole world in a handful of pages with broad strokes, so I could justify a city book later on. This would be a core rulebook with a foundation for a setting, but it would be intentionally incomplete so that there's a lot of room for later expansion.

That's the other issue - I want a format that will lend itself nicely to supplements. I'd like to create a format that I can release a regular game expansion/update/adventure to keep the game alive. I am good at releasing quality games to a modicum of fanfare; I am terrible at following through and continuing to support games in the long term. It would be great to get better at the latter.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Seymour and Sadness

First of all, no apologies necessary if you don't keep up with my blog. I post like once a month, so I kind of bring it on myself. I am not going to say I have writer's block or a lack of ideas or any of those sorts of things - I have a lack of passion for a project. I will work on something for a bit, tinker and noodle and sketch, rough out a few pages of ideas in a Google Doc, and then run out of enthusiasm. I haven't found anything that grabs me. So I post nothing, because there's no significant progress to report on.

And to be honest, I have fiercely avoided autobiography on this blog for a long time. I wanted my creative self to be presented in a certain way, and for the rest of me to remain tucked beneath the ocean all nice and cold and icebergy. But maybe that is the thing that is actually putting a limit on my potential. I don't know.

I thought maybe I'd work through it with you.

I was talking with another member of my department this week (at the school where we have both been teaching high school English for 20 years), and we were talking about creativity and enthusiasm and where art comes from. I quoted something I had heard attributed to Lorne Michaels - comedy cannot come from anger. I have been sort of simmering in anger for some time now over a few issues in my professional life. I'll just summarize it this way - I have been on 35 interviews for school leadership positions, and I have 20 years' experience and a doctorate (along with two master's degrees), pristine qualifications, and sterling recommendations. I should have landed the first position I applied for. I almost never make it past the first interview.

But I also have a hole in my head from brain cancer. And it scares people. Not give them nightmares scares them, but it makes them... uneasy. They try not to look at it. They politely avert their gaze. And then they send me an aloof letter saying they are 'going in another direction' or 'found someone better suited to the position'. 

Sorry, but no. Those are all code for 'someone who doesn't have a hole in their head'. My friends have all argued that it cannot be that. Maybe I just said a wrong word in my interview. Maybe I should be more professional. Okay, maybe less professional. Okay, maybe talk less about myself. Okay, maybe talk more about myself. Okay, maybe name drop. Okay, maybe don't name drop. 

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Maybe don't have a hole in my head.

And I have anger. I see less capable people beat me out. Over, and over, and over again. I know that I'm not the first person to face this (I assume that this has been the story of pretty much everyone who is not a white male in the history of the Western world) - but it's frustrating nonetheless.

And the worst part is that it has made me assume I cannot make creative stuff well. I have too much anger and frustration right now to make art. I need to wait until I'm in a happy place, where I have peace in my soul and a song in my heart.

And then I started the Little Prince (also on the recommendation of the same colleague). I'm doing the airplane in the air approach and reading it for the first time with my honors classes - I'm not reading ahead, so I genuinely am not sure what's going to happen, and I'm sharing in the class discussion as we try to build meaning in the text together. It's fun and challenging to have no secret insight that the students don't have. Teachers always stack the deck in their favor. I generally know the answer to the question before I ask it. Not this time.

The text is innocent and angry and sad and scared.  I don't think it's going to end well. I like stories that don't end well. I like stories with messy endings. The Lord of the Rings - there's peace, but there's a huge cost, too. You have to earn your peace.

And I read a smidge about the author. He was a combat pilot. He died in combat. His marriage was a mess. This was not a happy guy writing art from a position of rainbows and unicorns. He was frustrated and scared and trying to work through it.

The last time I was this unsure of myself in general was when I created Seymour. I was in high school, and had no idea who I was or what I wanted to become. And he kind of helped me. He got me through some stuff. 

I doodled him today. I think he might be offering to help me again. I might take him up on it.