Friday, July 2, 2021

Supers Gaming and Solo Play

I opened the Solitaire Framework file yesterday, expecting to dust it off, give it a once-over for language, and then put it up on my Stalwart Age page as as support for supers solo play.

But as I tinkered, I realized that it's pretty good for fantasy, but not so great for supers gaming. One of the big problems is that the primary motivations for fantasy gaming and supers gaming differ. At its heart, the Solitaire Framework assumes you can run entire campaigns around the idea that your character is there to kill things and take their stuff. All you really need is to generate who the things are, where they live, and what their stuff is like. The environment is reactive; the heroes are making the decisions, and then the scenario, in effect, responds to those choices. Goblins gonna do what goblins gonna do. They sit there and stand guard over their loot until heroes show up to take it. I'm not saying it's logical - I'm saying it's game logical. 

I was reflecting on how superheroes are largely the reactive ones (at least in comics). Spidey is on patrol when he hears the bank alarm. Reed Richards is working in his lab when the dimensional status sensor goes off (there are lots of alarms and sensors in the world of superheroes). You can predict (in large measure) what Spidey is going to do. If the bank alarm goes off, he's going to investigate. He's going to foil the robbery so he can save the day and get home to Aunt May in time for dinner (or to school for the test, or to Mary Jane for the date, or to the Daily Bugle to keep his job...). That's usually what he's trying to do.

But what if the basic idea is that you are playing the villains? I mean, they have the active motivations - to take over the world. To rob the bank. To gather an army of mutant rats (and take over the world). To lure the hero into a death trap.

In effect, the paradigm shift is that you don't use the Framework to emulate the GM - you use it to emulate the player. It might be a 'villain of the week' setup. You KNOW who the hero is going to be (because you are leveling up Kid Zealot), but each time you play, you play a different villain, with different motivations, in a different scenario. You know that Kid Zealot is going to appear - you just don't know how or why when you start.

And now the choices get more interesting. Kid Zealot is not looking for a vat of acid to be pushed into, but Simian Junior (Simian Prime's rogue sidekick that you created - hey, it's your game) always has his radar up. Maybe this old factory has a vat of acid sitting around. I mean, it's worth rolling the dice to find out. 

Some excellent comic stories have taken this focus - you don't frame things from the hero's point of view, but you look at it from the criminal's perspective. I can randomly determine what the super is doing much more easily, because there are fewer logical choices. Since I am playing the villain, I can use the dice to emulate the environment around them - and now things can get CRAZY. 

The only problem I see is the motivation piece as a player. I mean, if my hero is Kid Zealot, I don't want the villain actually succeeding - because that would mean KZ dies. 

But again, this doesn't necessarily undermine comics narrative 'truth'. I mean, I know that Spiderman is not going to die this issue. I'm sure of it when I pick it up. The only thing I'm really reading is HOW he's going to escape this villain, or HOW he's going to overcome this obstacle. 

I guess that maybe the focus should be on generating conflicts. Yes, the villain is one of the conflicts, but heroes can face other conflicts, too.

I have this theory (I have a lot of theories by the way - I've been teaching ELA for 20 years and have had too much time to think about this stuff) that ALL conflict is actually internal. Any external conflict you face is really just a manifestation of some internal conflict you have to overcome. Dangers in the environment are really just battling fear. A foe is just a projection of something you don't like about yourself. Being hunted by the law is really just an opportunity for you to work out your personal issues with authority figures. If you are focusing on playing the conflict, you are actually doing some deep character development by proxy. 

Now, I'm playing the burning building. My motivation is to trap as many civilians as possible and to destroy the structure - I'm rolling to see how and where the hero intervenes to stop me. Meanwhile, the hero is working through their deep-seated anger, as reflected through the element of fire, and I'm just here to help.  

Yeah. I don't know if this is going to fit on one page.


  1. This is really interesting. It kind of sounds like a somewhat more "meta" version of a random scenario generator, but with more to it than that. I am very interested in seeing how this develops, especially since I don't have an actual gaming group to you know, play the game in :)

  2. I think it's got some potential... just have to work out the logistics.