Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Character Death in Comics

FAIR WARNING: There will be Spoilers below dealing with the Batman and Captain America histories. So if you're waaaaaay behind in your reading of those titles and don't want to have anything ruined, you'd best just skip this post.

I mentioned in my last post (and in my post about how I plan to use Batman in my MSH setting) that I'm not a fan of DC's decision to bring Jason Todd back from the dead and that I found Marvel's handling of the Winter Solider to be much better, yet still annoying. I wanted to touch on that some more.

My first real superhero comic was Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. It was the issue in which Supergirl dies in Superman's arms after the might of the heroes of the DCU storm the Anti-Monitor's fortress. Up until that point the closest I came to superhero comics was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I was still reading a lot of Disney comics back then also. I knew about Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk and alot of other heroes thanks to Saturday morning cartoons, but I never asked mom or dad or grandma to buy me an issue until I saw that iconic cover.

I took one look at that cover and thought "Wow! I've gotta read that!" It still stands as my all time favorite single issue. I read it and re-read it over and over. Even though I was hopping into the middle of an important storyline in the DCU (at that time) and didn't have a clue who most of the characters were, I didn't care. Supergirl's sacrifice. Her dying in her cousin's arms. The memorials held by the other heroes on the various other Earths. It damn near brought the 8 year old me to tears. That issue set me on the path to a lifetime love of comics. A death story did that.

Cut to three years later and what I consider to be two of the best Batman storylines ever were released: The Killing Joke and A Death in the Family. The Killing Joke featured the paralyzation of Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl at the time, and set her down the road to becoming Oracle, an overall better character than she ever was as Batgirl. However, in A Death in the Family, Jason Todd is brutally murdered by the Joker. His death dealt a far worse blow to Batman than any cleverly conceived deathtrap ever could. He was overcome with guilt at the loss of a boy that was not just a comrade, but in many ways a son to the Dark Knight. It made an otherwise lackluster character into a cornerstone of the Batman mythos.

Then in 2005, DC just had to bring him back from the dead. Now there's a new guy in town who is nearly as good as Batman and Nightwing, only he's willing to use guns and kill the bad guys! In one fell swoop they erased the weight and meaning of Jason Todd's death. A death that still carried weight nearly 20 years after it happened. Especially in the DCU with their near constant retconning and rebooting of the universe, that was a big deal.

So why do I make sure a big deal about DC bringing back Jason Todd, but not with Marvel bringing back Bucky? Both were rather goofy characters. Jason Todd was introduced to Batman readers when he was boosting the tires of the Batmobile for crying out loud! Bucky was a rather lame sidekick in a time when just about every hero was facing certain danger with a young boy at his side...yes, that also deserves a "for crying out loud" as well. In all honesty, I really think it has a lot of do with not having much of a connection at all with the original Bucky. I knew who he was through references in modern Captain America books, but the original was hokey, like a lot of comics back in that day. Ed Brubaker, who returned Bucky to life, wrote a great storyline to reintroduce Bucky into the Marvel Universe and updated his "death" from 1940's sensibilities to something more modern. None of the weight of Bucky's loss was destroyed. It actually added something to the Captain America mythos rather than just adding another angsty anti-hero to the rosters.

Bringing characters back to life has always annoyed me a bit. It can be done right and can further a storyline without diminishing the hero's initial sacrifice, but oftentimes it just feels lazy and that the writers have run out of ideas. Jean Grey of the X-Men has died and been reborn more times than a soap opera starlet, but it at least makes some sense thanks to her connection to the Phoenix Force. These near-constant deaths have left their mark on the flame-haired mutant, and have actually added to the character. Character deaths should mean something. The Death of Superman was a great moment, but they brought him back before the body could even get cold. Sure, he's a cornerstone of the DCU and one of major pop icons of the last century, so there wasn't any way that DC was going to leave Kal-El dead, but he was barely dead long enough for the tears to dry off of Lois' blouse before returning. It took what was, what should have been, a high-water mark for DC and tarnished it for the blatant money grab that it so obviously was. 

I've ran many super-hero campaigns over the years, and I've seen my share of character death. Most were ignoble deaths due to stupidity or simple bad luck, but some were great moments in my gaming history. I'd never dream of returning one of those heroes back from the dead...well, I shouldn't say never, but I'd never return a hero as an angsty anti-hero unless he already was an angsty anti-hero that is...It would take what was a great moment, one of those rare times when a game had the right combination of players that were fully invested in their characters and the story and their great roleplaying, and then flush it all away because I couldn't find some other comic book cliche to exploit for that night's adventure.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Captain America and Some Random Comic-Related Thoughts

I finally got around to watching the preview for Captain America: Winter Soldier. I'm really looking forward to it now (not that I wasn't before, but even more so now). I was never a big fan of Cap back when I read comics religiously. His solo title in the 80's and even much of the 90's felt so hokey, too boy scout like. It was like Cap took Superman's "aw shucks" and patriotism and turned it to 11. Even going back and re-reading some of the comics from that time those feelings are still conveyed, but I like them a lot better now. Back when I was reading comics as a kid, I leaned more towards the grittier books or books where the characters were outsiders. Punisher and the X-Men drew me in a lot more than Cap. Even with Cap leading the Avengers, I liked him more, but he still felt far too "Pollyanna-like" for me. So when the first Captain America movie came out, I went into it thinking that would likely be OK but it would fail to satisfy. However, while Captain America is still very patriotic the Pollyanna is wiped away. Now, I won't get into the sometimes jarring CGI to make Chris Evans into a frail-looking weakling in his pre-transformation form, but I thought the movie was well done other than that. Cap felt more human, more real, and overall more inspirational than he ever felt to that 8-16 year-old me that was heavily reading comics.

Cap's transformation in my mind was further expanded by The Avengers. Steve Rogers really felt like a man out of time, a guy still reeling from losing everything he had known and being thrust into a situation of global proportions alongside literal gods. I had my doubts that they could pull off Cap being a leader, but they did a great job of it and showed what I always wanted to see out of Cap: a born leader and a man that, while flawed, exhibits the qualities that we want to see in ourselves.

Granted, I'm being a little harsh on the comics. It's hard to keep the core of a character on display issue after issue for decades without the message overshadowing telling wildly divergent stories. To do so would make the core message a ham-fisted sledgehammer that would only serve to drive readers away. Movies, with their smaller time set and greater focus, can to that so much better (though many movies fail to deliver or end up being ham-fisted in their own way). Thanks to Captain America and Avengers, I'm more of a fan of Captain America than I've ever been before.

That all brings me to Winter Soldier. Now, most of us that read comics know who the Winter Soldier is. However, unless they do some serious retconning or outright ignoring what happened in the first movie, I don't see how they can mimic that in the movie. (By the way, Marvel's handling of the Winter Soldier, while still somewhat annoying, was way better handled than DC's bringing back Jason Todd, who in my not overly humble opinion, should have stayed dead with a capital D, but I digress.) Still, even possibly losing that emotional element, this promises to be another great Marvel movie.

Why is it that Hollywood can do such great stuff with Marvel properties (X3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the two FF movies, and Daredevil aside), but nothing can seem to be done with DC properties that aren't Batman-related? (Really, until the last three Batman movies all but two of those have been absolute stinkers.) DC has some great IP, so surely a good movie can be found there? I haven't seen Man of Steel yet, but the reviews have been so mixed that I don't know what to expect. Green Lantern could have been good if they would have stuck to an origin story for the first movie and built up to fighting Parallax in a more natural progression instead of mashing two movies into one.

I once read somewhere on the net the big difference between Marvel and DC that I think plays into why DC movies tend to, well, suck (that aren't animated, seriously DC animated movies have been quite good). Bascially, this user said (and I'm paraphrasing here): in the Marvel Universe it's men pretending to be gods and in the DCU its gods pretending to be men. That's a big difference. Even in the case of characters like Thor, who is literally a god, he is a very human and flawed being and therefore more connectible and believeable. Superman is a god in every sense. He tries hard to blend in with humanity, but he just so good, so pure, so much better in every imaginable way that it's tough to write a storyline that doesn't end up being too cliched. I've heard that Man of Steel tried to up the angst, and it's been a regular complaint about the movie because it's so far off the mark for the character. (I guess I'll find out for myself once it hits Redbox.) It's almost like the writers for DC's movies can't wrap their head around how to make a movie revolving around characters with so much power that will still be interesting and connectible.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Phantom Hits

This post is about some behind the scenes stuff, so bear with me. I had over 500 hits on this blog the other day, and over 400 the day before. After the initial "WOW!" factor wore off, I checked my stats to see just where in the hell these hits are coming from and found some really questionable traffic sources. I've seen a few of these before and after a cursory search found that I shouldn't check out those links. Now, this is something that Blogger users have been wanting Google to fix for a long time now. It was just surprising that my little blog was blitzed all of a sudden.

Well, now, I'm seeing a much more believable level of hits from sources that make sense. I don't know what happened, whether those spam sites were shut down or Google blocked them, but I have a much better idea of just how much my ramblings are garnering.

So whatever the case may be, if Google blocked those obvious spam sites that were artifically inflating my blogger ego or whatever, I'm happy to see it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Gamer Profile

So this has been going around recently, so here's mine:

My RPG Profile

I'm currently running (at home): Nothing

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (at home) include: Nothing

I'm currently running (online): Nothing

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include: Nothing

I would especially like to play/run: Swords & Wizardry, Stars Without Number, Alternity, My own house system, Marvel Super Heroes

...but would also try: FATE, Star Wars Edge of the Empire, Numenera

I live in: Kansas City, MO home of the world's best BBQ

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like:  Rogue Space, Mutant Future, Blood & Treasure

2 or 3 novels I like: I tend to read more series than just one-off novels: Stephen King's Dark Tower series (The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower), Chris Claremont and George Lucas' Shadow War series (Shadow Moon, Shadow Dawn, and Shadow Star), and Bernard Cornwell's retelling of the Arthurian legends (The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur)

2 or 3 movies I like: Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner, Big Trouble in Little China

Best place to find me on-line: Google+, my blog

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: old school or sci-fi

I really do not want to hear about: storytelling games or politics (though I have strong opinions if the door is opened)

I think dead orc babies are ( circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....): Problematic. They aren't worth any XP, so it's a waste of time slaughtering them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Reaper Bones II

The Kickstarter for Reaper Bones II is in its final day. I missed the chance the first time around and it looks like I'm going to again this time as well unless I get an instant infusion of a large sum of cash. Since that's not likely to happen by late tonight I'll just have to sit back and watch others unbox their new figs later on next year.

You know, I'm OK with that.

It's been a couple years since I last dragged out my tackle boxes of pre-painted minis for use. Yeah, a couple years. It's been over 5 years since I last painted a fig, and I've got a vast army of unpainted and terribly expensive metal figures sitting on shelves in my man-cave. Why on Earth would I want to add hundreds more to the collection that may never see the glory of even a "tabletop worthy" paint job? Coolness factor I guess. There are some really great minis in the Bones II Kickstarter. That said, I've got hundreds of minis ranging from D&D to Star Wars to Heroclix to Reaper to Rackham to Games Workshop and on and on and on. Other than generic sci-fi figs, I've got my bases pretty well covered. In a pinch, I can always print out cardstock stand-ins for anything that I don't have covered.

Still, I'm sure there will be this nagging feeling of regret when the kickstarter ends, and another round of intense envy upon hearing people getting in their orders. At the end of the day though, I'm covered, and that's money that I can use on things that my boys can have fun with now as opposed to a few years from now (if they follow their dear ol' dad into the gaming hobby that is).

Maybe next time, Reaper, maybe next time.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

House System Table of Contents

I'm knee deep in getting my house system (a hack of SWN, Alternity, and D20 Future) written up. As I was working on the Character Creation chapter I figured it would be a good idea to develop an outline of how I think everything should be organized. The main rulebook is going to be (hopefully) more of a toolbox with not much setting material. I just want to get the nuts and bolts finalized before I start adding on the paint and polish. Without further to do, here's my first draft of the Table of Contents for my House System:

1. Introduction
2. Character Creation

  • Overview of Character Creation
  • Ability Score Generation
3. Species
  • Standard Species
  • Hybrid Species
  • Player Generated Species
4. Skills
5. Perks & Flaws
6. Attributes
7. Equipment & Services
  • Weapons
  • Armor
  • General Gear
  • Basic Services
  • Medical Services
8. Systems
  • Combat
  • Character Movement
  • Vehicle Movement
  • Space Tavel
  • Space Combat
  • Skills
  • Environmental Effects
9. Psionics
10. Mutations
11. Cybernetics
12. Robots
  • Robot Creation
  • Robot Examples
  • Robots as PC's
13. Vehicles
  • Land
  • Air
  • Sea
  • Space
  • Mechs
  • Space Stations
  • Vehicle Creation
  • Vehicle Examples
14. Experience & Achievement 
15. GM Resources
  • Planet Generation
  • System Generation
  • Sector Generation
  • Alien Generation (Sentient and Non-Sentient)
  • Factions
  • Society Generation
16. Xenobestiary

The various examples will likely only be a few in each category. (So these rules won't sport all 60 base species available when I finally get a chance to actually play a game in the Galactic Concord setting.) Just enough to show off various techniques for creating aliens, vehicles, starships, and so on. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hybrid Races

I've been working on the Character Creation chapter of my "house system" and I've gotten to the point where I want to make a decision about whether or not beings from different species can mate and therefore determine if I need to write any rules to govern such beings without having to write a million and one hybrid races individually. In the case of the Asari, the answer is a resounding "yes", but they don't necessarily need to mate in conventional sense to produce offspring and all young born from mating with an Asari are Asari in most every discernible way. Star Trek gives many examples of different species that can produce offspring: Humans and Betazoids, Humans and Klingons, Bajorans and Cardassians, and so on. Such pairings are also found in other series like Farscape (although Humans and Sebaceans are so similar genetically that it doesn't stretch the imagination too far) and Star Wars. Plus, since this setting is very much in the space opera vein as opposed to trying for a more hard sci-fi angle, it's not too far out of the norm to draw upon fantasy ideas like the half-elf, half-giant, and the like.

I'm inclined to allow such beings as supported in the setting, and I think I have a decent idea of a relatively easy way to handle these beings. However, there would have to be limits like only near-human species would be genetically compatible enough for such pairings. So there wouldn't be any Dralasite/Vulcans running around. Species that are decidedly more insectoid (Verpine), animalistic (Wookiee), or just weird (Founders, Dhamrin) simply wouldn't be allowed except as some GM plot device. After all, who am I to say that some Gene-Splicer couldn't create some sort of hoary abomination to unleash upon an unsuspecting galaxy?) I'm thinking of adding in a section to the species details that states whether or not they are genetically compatible with other species, much like what I'm doing to state whether or not a species can have psionic abilities, has a sufficiently malleable genetic structure for mutations, or has a physiology incompatible for cybernetics. Sex isn't typically something that I cover in my games (the times that the "brown-chicken, brown-cow" has occurred, it's all happened "off camera") and it's a subject that can make some people squeamish for a variety of reasons, so I'd like to handle the issue as gently as possible without tip-toeing around it like I'm writing for a pre-pubescent audience that giggles as the merest mention of anything slightly adult in nature. I'm not sure if I'll end up adding such an entry to the background information for each species, but in light of possibly (well, very likely) adding of the hybrid races rules it makes sense. 

So I put the question to you, loyal reader of this rather haphazard blog, would such rules be a turn-off to a game even with the knowledge that the campaign is decidedly sci-fantasy (and even possibly a bit "gonzo" in spots) or would it still feel alright and keeping in the spirit even if the idea of different species mating and creating offspring is scientifically ridiculous? 

There are also other species in the galaxy that can mate with other species similar to the Asari parthenogenesis or by means of genetic manipulation. The Satyrix (of Iron Kingdom fame) can mate with humans and other near-humans thanks to changes made to their genetic make-up to make up for the fact that they simply do not bear enough males in their society. The Valkyria (from the Savage Worlds setting, Slipstream) can mate with certain other species as well that are similar enough to their own genetic make-up. Therefore, there are instances beyond the Asari where other such beings can mate with others, but in each case the offspring is almost always the same as the mother. 

Anyway, that's what I was working on at the moment and decided that I'd write about it. Any thoughts?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

SWN/Alternity/D20 Future Hack Update

Well, it's back to work for me and I didn't get to post nearly as much as I hoped. However, I haven't been totally unproductive. I've got a lot written and I think I've got some solutions to issues that have cropped up with making changes to the skill systems. I should be able to be to a playtestable state here pretty soon.

I was home during my time off with my 1-year old son, so I spent most of my time trying to keep him out of everything. During the quite times, I sat down with Jeff Rovin's "Aliens, Robots, and Spaceships" making notes for items that would make a good fit for the setting. I've got a lot to work on just from that book once I get the system to where I want it. I've also been making notes on an updated timeline for the setting. I want to get the dates nailed down for the major events in galactic history so that the background info is nice and coherent. As things progress, I'll be posting more of these updated setting details.

Friday, October 11, 2013

SWN/Alternity/D20 Future Hack: Character Creation Overview

This is still very much a work in progress, so things will likely change several times before I feel like it's truly ready for full-on play.

Character Creation Process
1. Generate Ability Scores: Roll 3d6 six times and apply those scores to the six ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). This can either be done in order or by rolling the six scores and then assigning them to the desired stats to fit the player's vision for the character (this is, of course, up to the GM).

2. Select a Species: Choose one of the species available for play (if the campaign allows more than just humans, that is). Apply any ability score modifiers listed for the species, and make a note of the species' six free broad skills and any other special rules that may exist for that species.

3. Select a Class: Choose one of the classes available for play (Combat Specialist, Diplomat, Freelancer, or Technical Operative, Psions are also available for campaigns that allow the use of Psionic skills). Either roll for starting Hit Points, or apply the maximum (depending on which option the GM prefers for the campaign) to the HP total. Make a note of the class' Base Attack Bonus, Initiative bonus, Saving Throw bonuses, and Special Ability.

4. Determine Cybernetics and/or Mutations: If the campaign is making use of Cybernetics and/or Mutations and if those options are available for starting heroes, determine these options now and make a note of them and their effects on the character sheet. Characters that start play with cybernetics wave the cost in credits, but must still pay the skill point cost to ensure that their bodies are properly prepared for the installation of cybergear (see the Cybernetics section in the Equipment chapter for more information).

5. Purchase Skills: Starting characters have a number of skill points to spend on their starting Broad and Specialty skills based on their Intelligence score. Free Broad Skills listed for each species are considered automatic, so no cost is applied to those Broad Skills (though any Specialty skills will need to be purchased as normal). Specialty skills are capped at Rank 3 for starting characters. Make sure that if the character's species is one that allows a bonus to skill points or Broad Skill selections that you factor those into your purchase plan for the character. Also, make sure you note which skills are considered class skills for your character based on his class. Class skills cost one less skill point than the listed cost. Note that not all skill points need to be spent during character creation and can be saved for later.

6. Select Perks and Flaws: Starting characters may purchase (with Skill Points) up to three perks and select up to three flaws.

7. Select Attributes: Select one motivation, one moral attitude, and up to two personal traits for your character. These attributes help to define your character's personality.

8. Purchase Equipment: Each class has a number of credits (either generated randomly or by a preset number up to the GM) that they can spend on starting personal equipment.

9. Finish the Character Sheet: Make a note of the character's weapons and/or armor stats. Figure up the character's Defense Score and Attack Bonuses for their purchased weapons/attack forms. Make a note of the character's Psionic Energy Points, if playing a Psion or Diplomat/Psion. Name the character, and get ready for adventure!

There you have it, the Character Creation Process for my "Frankenstein's Monster" of an RPG system. A few things that I want to point out: the system of advancement for characters is the Alternity system. Characters will gain 1-3 points per adventure with a possible 1-2 bonus points depending on GM fiat based on in-game performance (clever play, great roleplaying, etc...). Once the character has accumulated enough Achievement Points, he/she can then spend those points on skills or bank them for later. Upon reaching an Achievement level, the character rolls for additional hit points, and may see an increase in one or more Saving Throw Bonuses.

There are three Saving Throw categories: Fortitude, Reflex, and Willpower.

Attacks are rolled against the target's Defense Score, which is 10 + Dexterity Modifier + Armor Modifier. If an attack rolls is equal to or higher than the target's Defense, damage is rolled. If the target is wearing armor, the Armor Score is subtracted from the damage before it is subtracted from the character's HP total.

Purchasing skill ranks conveys a +1 bonus to a skill roll using that skill. Broad Skills do not convey a bonus, but instead allow the character to use their Ability Score modifier on a general skill roll. For weapons and martial arts skills, ability score modifiers are always applied, but having a Broad Skill allows the character to use his Base Attack Bonus to modify the attack roll. Therefore, a character using a blaster pistol who does not have the Ranged Weapons Modern broad skill would only be able to apply his Dexterity bonus to the roll.

Most everything else will essentially stay as written in SWN except where it needs to be tweaked to be brought in line with the skill system.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

SWN Hack Thoughts

I started looking back over what I've done with hacking up SWN to better fit what I want out of a sci-fi system. I'm thinking of switching gears to make the "house system" more in line with Alternity. I'm thinking of using the Broad/Specialized skill structure and cost per skill level as Alternity as well as the level benefits. This also means that character creation would likely end up being more point-based and may also see the inclusion of Perks and Disadvantages. Since the underlying system will still use SWN/OSR mechanics (although I use Ascending AC), I'll still need to work out some of the finer details, but I fully expect to keep things like Cybernetics and mutations pretty much as they are lined out in SWN and Other Dust.

One other change I'm considering is applying Alternity's Low Impact/High Impact/Energy damage resistance models. That means that a character's agility would be the primary thing keeping them from getting hurt with armor lessening damage. I've always liked that idea better than armor making a character harder to hit, but I've typically balked at using armor that way since it's more bookkeeping. It's something that I'm batting around and may likely change back as I test the changes.

I don't know that I'll ever be truly happy with the house system or find a system that fills most of my want list from a sci-fi system, but I hope to get the character creation and monster creation systems down in the near future so I can start in on statting out species and creatures and get down to the really fun part of world building for me, which is fleshing out the galaxy and overall setting details.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Some Things to Check Out

First off is Reaper is having another massive Kickstarter campaign. Check it out HERE if you haven't already. Really, as quickly as this KS is drawing in cash, I doubt that many of you haven't checked it out. I've been hearing that they hit their initial funding goal in 2-3 minutes and crashed (or at least wreaked havoc on) Amazon's servers! Amazing! Much like the last Reaper Bones KS, I'm not taking part and it's killing me. I just can't justify spending on it...unless I hit the lottery tonight, and then it's backing time! In all seriousness, if you are in need of a ton of figures at an amazing price, this is the project to back.

The second thing I would like to draw your attention to is The Vaults of Pandius has put out the first issue of a new online magazine devoted to the world of Mystara called "Threshold". You can download the issue HERE (link goes directly to the pdf). This first issue covers the Karameikos region in the Known World. I've only had a chance to glance through the first issue, but I'm loving what I'm seeing and I hope that this mag continues on for a good long while.

(Semi) Regular Transmissions to Resume

Thanks to the government shutdown, I'm going to be a stay-at-home-dad for the time being (unless a new employment opportunity opens up, that is) and so I'll be able to devote some more time to the blog than I've been able to of late. I'm not sure yet what I'll cover, but since I've been in a sci-fi kick of late (once again) I'll probably focus my efforts there.

Stay tuned!