GameNerd: Super Hero Eras

Wonder Woman’s surprisingly enjoyable movie has me thinking about an RPG for supers that spans blocks of time.

Each PC has a character for each era, and for extra fun, you could rotate GM by era. You could possibly use something like the shifting stations in Night Witches to handle era shifts.

Everyone should agree on something like 3-5 eras. The simplest way to do it would be to start in the past and roll forward to the present, but I think there would be more fun in moving back and forth, so you can have a relationship established in the present, then go back to the 80s to work out *why* those two characters hate each other.

You could do the same character for each era, if your hero is long-lived/immortal, and show how the passage of time changes them. Or the mortal who ages out of the hero game and is eventually replaced by her sidekick. Or a chosen bearer of a power amulet in each era.

You could have stuff like:

WWI: Naive Wonder Woman leaves Themiscyra to come to Man’s World and experiences culture shock. A young Jenny Sparks/Spirit of the Century type runs away from school. An aged Sherlock Holmes leaves London after faking his death again. Perhaps a flying ace with a suped up plane.

WWII: Wonder Woman decides to stay out of WWII. Why? Is she horrified by what she saw in WWI? Or did she have a deep, meaningful relationship with a Weimar era lesbian that was destroyed by the Nazi rise to power, and she is either too heart-broken or consumed with more specific revenge. Also, her player is GMing this era. Captain America and Peggy Carter could show up here, too, along with the Howling Commandos, the Invaders (especially Namor – Imperius Rex!). You could drop in Magneto. This might be the first appearance of someone wearing the mantle of Dr. Fate or Green Lantern.

Swinging 60s: A de-powered Wonder Woman works for SHIELD as Agent Diana Prince, working for a middle-aged Peggy Carter with a young Nick Fury. Captain America is on ice while his player GMs. This might be a good time to pull in Howard Stark, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, plus folks like John Steed, Emma Peel, James Bond and the man from UNCLE. Spies in a world of low-key superheroes.

Radical 80s: Wonder Woman has her powers back. Batman shows up on the streets of Gotham. Nick Fury is running SHIELD as Peggy retires. Superboy flies over Metropolis is a 3/4 sleeve leather jacket and big sunglasses. Natasha Romanov leaves the USSR for SHIELD. Vietnam vet Frank Castle’s family are murdered by the mob. Janet Van Dyne has a crisis of conscience in the face of MAD and takes her scientific knowledge away from defense contracts and directs it to building a super gynoid called the Vision to fight crime.

The Present: Cap’s off-ice. Wonder Woman is a political figure, on the outs with the US government. Bruce Wayne has retired and mentors Dick Grayson in the cape and cowl. Tony Stark finds his old Dad’s secret files. Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…

I’d want to run this in something relatively rules-light like an Apocalypse World variant or something FATE-like. That way you don’t have to address power-creep or worry about balancing Peggy Carter with Captain Marvel (any of them). The aspects of the characters shift through the eras (look at the different versions of Atomic Robo in his FATE-based RPG) and you put a strong emphasis on relationships.

You’d need a set of unresolved time cards or something similar for questions raised – stuff like “Why does Diana hate Bruce in 1985?” so you can grab that back in 1963 and provide an answer. Some way to track the events implied by one timeline so you remember to follow up on them in another.

Gamenerd: On Site Game Creation

An idea I have had for an RPG, swiping ideas from FATE and Prime Time Adventures, but trying to cast it into a diceless modality, so that, among other things, it will work at Ambercon.

Like many indie games, it requires a pile of index cards, sticky notes and some markers. Also, something to use as counters, like poker chips or shiny rocks.

The setting gets created along with the PCs, collaboratively, by coming up with aspects.

To begin with , everyone agrees on a genre like “Space Opera” or “Epic Fantasy”.

Starting with one of the players, and going around the room one at a time, each player comes up with;

  • Something about themselves
  • Something about the world
  • Something about another PC, especially relationships with their own PC

 These become aspects of the PC, an NPC, the world, or “rules”. Rules are things like “magic is based on the five elements ” or “only halflings can be paladins”.

Another player can’t start assigning aspects to a PC until that PC has a name and at least one aspect already, and the player can always refuse an assigned aspect, though it’s more fun to go with it.

The GM doesn’t come in until the second round to give the players a chance to find their feet. If a player is stuck, something like Background Cards or PTA’s random idea generator should be on hand. Tarot cards and a book on interpreting them isn’t a bad idea either. 

Players should have a few aspects along the lines of:

  • A Concept Aspect like “Space Mystic” or “Ascetic Swordswoman” that sums up the basic idea of the character in a few words. Every player should probably have one of these.
  • Relationship Aspects like “Carl is my baby brother. I’d do anything to keep him safe”, “MacDubh murdered my father” or “Secretly in love with Betsina”
  • Trouble aspects like “I can’t say no to candy”, “I never back down from a challenge”, or “I’m a coward”
  • Power aspects covering stuff like skills, gadgets and powers. So things like “The Singing Sword of Saragund”, “The Power To Cloud Men’s Minds”, “Seven Pointed Star Praying Mantis Style Kung Fu”, “My Strength is a Thing Out Of Legend” and the like.
  • No more than one absolute aspect. If the player feels it’s important to the concept, there’s the option of choosing an absolute aspect. For example, in the TV series Leverage, the  show bible had a rule that “Elliot never loses a fight”. This worked because, among other things, the thrust of the show wasn’t fighting, and fighting was that character’s niche. These aspects should be used carefully – there’s a big difference between niche protection and trying to make a character who’s immune to the story. Only one character should have this kind of aspect for a given niche.

While going around, the players and GM keep coming up with stuff about the characters and setting. The players grab index cards for things that are aspects for themselves, and the GM can use index cards or sticky notes to write down setting, rule and NPC aspects. I think for PCs it might work better to put each aspect on a single card, but the GM probably wants everything for an NPC on a single card. Rules and setting aspects might work better as sticky notes up on the wall where everyone can see them.

After a few rounds, stuff should start to come together . If the PCs haven’t set up antagonists as a result of their relationships with each other, then the GM can start adding in some things like “Wicked Vizier who was responsible for framing your father” or “Incorruptible Sherriff McCabe” so the PCs have some opposition.

The GM should be able to tell when things are solid enough to get started. Give every player some points. Probably something like one per player present? The GM will have a budget per act.

The actual game system runs on aspects and point bids. Since I’m trying to diceless, the simple conflict resolution is positively tapping an aspect wins, unless the other side is doing the same. Similarly, a negative aspect tap (something like “Can’t Turn Left” in a pose-off) loses, but nets the character a point. If no one is tapping an aspect, or everyone is, it comes down to bidding points. Whoever spends the most points gets to decide how the conflict gets resolved. All points spent go away. The resolution shouldn’t invalidate anyone’s aspects – this is where it goes tricky. If Player A picks a fist fight with another who has an aspect of “never loses a fist fight”, and Player A wins the bid, she needs to come up with a way to resolve the conflict that doesn’t involve the other character losing the fist fight.

Game play goes around the room with players in turn calling a scene and asking for players to join in their scene. Other PCs can spend a point to join a scene they aren’t invited to. The GM also gets to call scenes, and should use them to try to move the action along. The order should be fluid – “who wants the next scene?”

The Gm can add aspects to anything other than a Pc as needed. PC’s can add an aspect to something by spending a point. A player can only add an aspect some someone else’s character with permission.

To steal from Fiasco, there are three Acts. Each Act gives everyone a turn to call a scene. The Gm’s point budget resets each Act. I will need some play testing to figure out if the PC’s point budgets should, too. TODO: try to figure out some way to nudge the game into the classic screenwriter’s Three Act Structure (Introduction, Rising Action, Conclusion)?

The idea is that the whole game can be put together and run in a few hours in a convention slot. For a longer running game, later sessions could skip the initial setup and just go right into the three Acts. The GM might want to plan out a Season with spotlights ala PTA in that case, so the plot can come from different PC’s arcs each session.