Monday, May 31, 2021

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.

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