Monday, April 30, 2012

School of Thought, addendum

Two items.  The first is, no sooner that I published the School of Thought article that Cartoon Network aired an episode of Young Justice that changed the landscape of the series entirely.  The series jumped ahead five years!  It was a bold move, and for GMs it gives them the option to run a game during those missing five years.

The second is I omitted a possible alternative to the X-Men games last week in my other post and thinking back on it I felt I should give my reasons.  The property in question is Marvel Comics…

Young Avengers

Brief answer.  I do not like the series and never have.

Long answer?  It comes down to the characters.  Young Avengers is rife with characters I simply do not like for one reason or another.  It comes largely down to their origins.

Patriot:  Eli Bradley is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley the Captain America before Captain America.  There was an African American Captain America, one of many guinea pigs the Super Soldier serum was tested on before Steve Rogers got the dose.  So Captain America’s abilities are based upon atrocities committed upon fellow Americans.  I find this retconning of Captain America’s origin to be horrific and any property that references it in any way, shape or form (including the Captain America comic itself, a comic I have not purchased in years due to one terrible creative decision after another.) is one I cannot endorse.  It was unnecessary and added a darker element to Cap’s origin, especially in light that black people were experimented on so the Aryan looking Super Soldier could be created.

Oh, and what is the initial origin of Eli's powers?  Performance enhancing super drugs.  Sounds borderline racist to me.

Hawkeye:  Meet Kate Bishop, rape victim.  Of all the origins they could have given one of the two females on the team, this is what they decided to go with.  It was a cheap and easy cop out for the writers and editors and I think they could have gone in another direction.  Daughter of a murdered cop, for example.  But rape?  Tasteless.

Wiccan and Speed.  The Scarlet Witch’s two children, reincarnated.  How old is The Scarlet Witch, anyway, if she has teenage sons?  How many years have gone by in the MU?  Kitty Pryde is only, what, nineteen? She was around well before Wanda’s kids were born and Wanda’s kids are older?  Were the kids’ souls sent back in time?  It’s magic, bitches.  We don’t have to explain shit!

Wiccan and Hulkling.  Okay, look, I will admit when it comes to social issues I am pretty much middle of the road.  I have always felt everyone was entitled to the same opportunity to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness I am…provided they do it legally.  So when it comes to homosexuality I don’t have a problem with it.

It does not mean I want to read about two principle characters in a comic and their relationship woes.

Hulkling: And Hulkling's origins are jut as problematic as the Scarlet Witch kids.  If Captain Marvel slept with Hulkling's mother and he is a teenager, then it flies in the face of logic as some Marvel characters like Kitty can be so young yet others so old.  How old is Peter Parker? Going by this logic he should be in his mid-thirties at least if the three Young Avengers are teenagers.  For God's sake, The Fantastic Four's Franklin Richards is still ten years old and he is the oldest kid in the Marvel Universe, publication wise!    Unless Skrulls age faster than humans?  Which means Wiccan is having sex with a ten year old...


So the only character I liked was Stature, and guess which character they killed off in the Children’s Crusade mini series?

So all around I find Young Avengers to be a lousy comic based on the treatment of the characters alone.

The writing is competent, but I think the editors gave writer Allan Heinberg way too much latitude.  He is a Hollywood screen writer without a firm grasp of comics and instead of giving him strong editorial oversight Marvel pretty much let him write whatever he wanted and to hell with any logical fallacies in his stories.

Still, if someone wants to run a Young Avengers game, I suppose that is an option they can pursue.  I consider it just one step above running an X-Men game, hardly an endorsement from me.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

School Of Thought

I have made my disdain for X-Men games well known here and I stand by what I have said.  If anything my contempt for these games has grown over time.  And part of my growing...

...consults thesaurus... growing scorn originates from the fact that there are other options out there, if GMs bother to look and work at cultivating them.  So today I thought I would provide aspiring GMs...or moderators...with options.

X-Men games are unique because there are potentially two aspects to them. The first is the team of active super heroes, the other students.  In my experience, in the few X-Men games I have been involved in, I have seen that combining the two can be...problematic because you have some players running bad ass canon characters, others inexperienced students.  Coming up with ways to have them team up on adventures without getting the latter murdered can be the sort of scenario to give any GM fits.  I just think it is more prudent to keep both scenarios separate.

But when it comes to angst in general X-Men comics, movies, television series and games are not unique, and today I am going to provide GMs and moderators with options for student oriented super hero action, where all the PCs are (usually) kids rather than adults.

Sky High

Released in 2005, Sky High is a Disney action comedy about a high school for teenagers with super powers.  I thought the plot was a bit predictable but I really liked the characters, especially the teachers. Lynda Carter, Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald are all fantastic in their roles.

Rather than playing the students seen in the movie, a GM/moderator could run PCs as new students in a freshman class.  PCs could role play standard student problems with peer pressure, homework, budding romances and dealing with bullies.  But like the movie the students could also deal with super villains out to recruit minions, or aspiring heroes could possess a thirst for adventure and decide to become secret supers.  There are different options to pursue, a GM/moderator can even slip a little teenage angst into the game.


If you are wondering where the idea for Sky High came from, one major influence outside of X-Men had to be PS238.  Created by Aaron Williams, the comic tells the story of elementary school students and teachers with super powers.  It is a very well written and fun series and was begun back in 2002, three years before Sky High's release.  One of the principle characters was a poor kid who was the son of the world's greatest heroes, devoid of super powers and forced to go to this school.  Sound familiar?  Part of the same plot of Sky High.

Many of the plots used in a Sky High type of game could apply to PS238, along with the added idea of having players run members of the staff as well as many of them possess super powers.  A potential major stumbling block is since you are playing kids more often than not adult supers are going to constantly get in your way.  This could be a serious deal breaker with players who do not want to be constantly harassed by authority figures.  And if you think playing angsty teens is tough, imagine how much tougher it would be to role play grade schoolers!  PS238 is potentially more fun, but at the same time it would be more challenging for players and GM alike.

Avengers Academy

Avengers Academy was the logical next step from Avengers, The Initiative.  It is a Marvel comic about teen paranormals being trained by Avengers Hank Pym/Giant Man and Tigra.  The plot is The Avengers raided Norman Osborn's files and discover this collection of teens possess the greatest potential to become super villains, so special attention is given to try and insure these kids stay on the straight and narrow.

If GMs/moderators do not want players running canon characters (And I always recommend GMs encourage their players to play original characters) they could easily have the game run in New York as East Coast Avengers Academy.  Or Chicago, or Miami, or whatever city they are most comfortable having the game take place in.  Taking place in the Marvel Universe, there are a rich landscape of stories and characters to choose from, not to mention the opportunity for GMs to create their own villains.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun

A Certain Scientific Railgun was a Japanese manga and anime series, that as it turns out was a spin off from another series, Toaru Majutsu no Index.  Both series take place in Academy City located in Western Tokyo in a world where super science and magic exist.  The principle characters are super powered students, some of whom also act as auxiliary law enforcement officers (When on duty they slip on an arm band).  Plenty of plot ideas here, from mundane student drama to alien invasions.  It is anime, the possibilities are nigh-endless and potentially weird.

Ninja High School

Ninja High School is a comic book parody of numerous anime themes.  It takes place "somewhere in the midwest" in a town called Quagmire, with the action centering around Quagmire High.  The characters are all anime-inspired characters, from the space princess to the ninja, to the sorceress to a boy inventive genius to "Ramen Rider", a parody of Kamen Rider.

Tongue firmly in cheek, Ninja High School is an environment rife with possibilities.  Sadly for the emo crowd, NHS is not meant for much whiny drama.

All of the above suggestions involve games that would have a school theme.  But perhaps you want to play teen heroes without the school drama?  Not a problem.  Here are some alternatives:


Imagine you discovered your parents are super villains.  What do you do?  Do you join them, or do you run like hell?  And after you run, what do you do then?  Do you keep running, or do you decide that your parents have to be stopped?   This was the premise of Runaways, an ambitious and fun series from Marvel Comics.  The series' characters were not normal super heroes in any sense of the word.  They did not wear costumes, not all of them adopted code names, and they were hunted as much by the authorities as they were various villains.

The good thing about the series, from a GM's point of view, is that PCs do have the option of playing original characters as well as canons.  The team line up has changed over the years as members have died or moved on.  And the series premise can be adapted for an original game either taking place in an established comic book universe or an original one.

Teen Titans

While X-Men had been the first super hero book involving teen heroes, Teen Titans in my opinion was the one that perfected the formula.  It was very much about legacy heroes trying to make their way out of the shadows of their mentors, which provided a different sort of teen angst from the world-hates-us fare The X-Men was providing.  Over time original and under utilized characters were added to to the line up, which gave us the outstanding run provided by the team of writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez.

Teen Titans has seen a variety of incarnations and with DC's recent creative shake up GMs have a wide variety of options. They can go with several different eras, even choosing to adopt the cartoon series.  Original characters are always an option; look at the above pic and you can see there are two original characters, and others were also introduced later on in the new comic, like Bunker.

Young Justice

Man, how I love this series.  Like the Teen Titans cartoon, I was very leery about the concept but the execution so far has been spot on.  The plots are deep, the action intense, the characters outstanding.

And yes, there is always an option for players to create their own.  Just because every character on the show is canon, has appeared in the comic, there is no reason why players cannot be encouraged to try their hand at making up their own.  Even creating unique legacy characters (i.e. Hawk Boy, or Kid Tornado) might be fun.  My advice, though, is really to wait until the series is over before starting your own.

And finally...

Make Your Own

I won't lie to you, creating your own universe can be a time consuming chore and when you are done the game can still fail.  I have really lucked out where my game is concerned, but even though The Vindicators has succeeded, many other spin off games have failed.  Two failures were The Dynamics, which was a game about the Federal government wanting to take a hand in training the next generation of super heroes (Run some years before Avengers, The Initiative, I might add.) and The Neo Phyters, which was to me a very fun game where the teen PCs discover an old super hero base full of artifacts long left behind.  The artifacts in one way or another provide the kids with super powers, with varying results.  So the kids had a base of operations, some outdated gear and some sub plots in place (Not all the super powers were necessary beneficial; Beholder had blaster goggles fuzed to his face).  The game petered out when it descended into me having to come up with ways to introduce new characters, leaving no room for actual plot development.

So yeah, all that work I put into those games felt a little bit like a waste of time when they folded.  And I won't lie, I resented the players a bit.  But no one twisted my arm to make those games.  No one promised me they were going to stick it out regardless of how bored they got.  And if players did get bored then it was my fault as the GM for being unable to stimulate their imaginations.

And honestly?  It was fun, making those games, creating the background.  And if you did make a game and it failed who is to say some of that material could not be recycled later on?  Not all failures are total failures.  Neo Phyters was more successful than The Dynamics because I learned a great deal from my mistakes.

And there you have it, a wide choice of alternatives to X-Men games.


I can understand how the above suggestions may not satisfy the angsty tone X-Men comics provide.  and perhaps you as a GM/moderator would much prefer to have players run adult characters.  In the next installment I will provide some ideas that may provide you with some viable alternatives you might find useful if you wish to run a game of adults PCs.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Comfort Zone

So last week I wrote a post which covered several subjects.  I posted a song of the week, discussed anime night at Oakland University during the nineties, and I made an honest assessment regarding the state of PBEMs today.  I attempted to post it on the RPG Posting Sanctuary.

Hours later I was booted from the Sanctuary by the moderator.

Reading my post, I suppose I could see how it could offend some people.  I suppose the moderator felt he should play it safe and not allow the post to go out.  And being the article's author I would have disagreed with that but I can see how a moderator has to do their job, how they would have to make a judgement call.

But booting me from the list entirely?  And not even bothering to explain why?  That shows a considerable lack of class.

I still stand by my opinion.  I look at the PBEM landscape and I see a dearth of creativity on the part of game masters/moderators.  A majority of my peers run games lacking originality, instead going for safe settings like Harry Potter games, DC or Marvel games (especially X-Men, both comic and movie-verse) and games based on whatever movie is popular that month.  And I would not object to those settings so much if so many of them did not insist on canon characters.

I understand that GMs/moderators want to run popular games, and part of the way to do that is to run games people actually want to play.  So it is only natural that they choose subject matter that is well known and popular.  So you want to run a Potterverse game?  Fine.  Then give it an exciting twist.  Run it during a period after the movies, with original characters.  Have a new set of villains.  Or run the game during one of the world wars and show the shadow war between wizards during the global conflict.  What about a Victorian era Potterverse game?  That is why I do not include Star Trek games to my rant; some of them can truly suck but at least ST captains are running ships crewed by original characters rather than trying to get people to play Guinan or Neelix.

That is not to say most Star Trek games have other problems entirely, however.  Problems I have addressed in the past.

I feel very strongly about this hobby I indulge in, that is why I put so much effort into providing my players the best game possible, why I bother to write a blog focusing on how people might be better GMs.  And if sometimes I might offend, if sometimes I rub someone the wrong way then so be it.  People have to stop being afraid of potentially offending others and instead people need to grow a thicker skin and roll with the criticism, perhaps even learn from it.

Over the next few weeks I will be submitting articles about potential games GMs/moderators could play, alternatives to the normal, boring fare I have seen crop up over the years.  Hopefully some of my peers as well as some aspiring GMs will be inspired to step outside the comfort zone and take a chance.

Song of the week

Busy working on several posts, but in the mean time I give you the song of the week: Rhianna, Shut Up And Drive.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Long post covering several subjects

First of all, can you smell smoke?  Because my players have been on fire these past couple months.

As the unimaginative title suggests this post is going to cover some varied ground, so I have decided to break the post up into sections so if you wish to skip parts that do not interest you, that will make things easier.

Song of the week:

From the anime Macross Plus, a song composed by the amazing Yoko Kanno and  Gabriela Robin, performed in the Zentran language by Mai Yamane.

Self indulgent trip down Memory Lane and some recommendations

Back during the nineties when I was a student at Oakland University we used to have Anime Night once a month.  Dave Zyn was in charge of it and he would bring in an eclectic mix of stuff. I recall some of his choices were Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, The Enemy's The Pirates, Giant Robo and Macross Plus, among other things.  Sometimes his choices were a little weird and did not take.  Here Is Greenwood, for example, was just...Look, after watching a couple episodes of that anime I have decided I will never, ever understand the Japanese.  Some of Dave's choices were not popular.  One time he brought in one of the Super Sentai episodes that the Power Rangers series is adapted into for American audiences, it was the one with the giant SUVs.  It was fun to see the original product but some people were not amused.  He brought in the new Gamera movies and I recall a couple people just walked out, because damn they were just too highbrow to watch a live action movie with guys wearing rubber suits tearing up scale models of Tokyo.

Me?  I ate that stuff up and came back for seconds.  I loves me the giant flying turtle who coughed up fireballs.

Godzilla is Gamera's bitch.
Gamera, Guardian of The Universe is an outstanding movie.  It was a reboot of the franchise and the production values are outstanding.  But I guess since there weren't any animated tits in the feature some people just couldn't get into it.

So some of Dave's choices were unpopular.  I think Dave was just trying to show people there was more out there than the standard fare some anime clubs were showing.  He was trying to get the casual fan interested in other things.  That is part of the reason I have song of the week; listen to something new, maybe you will like it.

So some members of the Order of Liebowitz decided they wanted to take over anime night, and they pretty much took over.  The Anime Junta, as I called it, kicked Dave out.  I don't know what happened to Anime Night after that because I stopped going and I largely distanced myself from the Order.  Eh, it was time to move on, anyway.

So while some of what Dave exposed me to was not to my taste (man, I hated Irresponsible Captain Tyler) some of the other shows utterly blew me away.  There was the aforementioned Gamera, but there were two shows that were unanimously popular.  The first was the aforementioned Macross Plus:

Macross Plus was about two test pilots and the woman they both love.  When they were teenagers they were all great friends, but now as men and talented pilots, Goa and Isamu, cannot stand one another.  What has caused the rift between them?  What event transpired in the past between them and Myung?  It was a wonderful story combining romance and action, with complex characters.  I remember we were watching episode three and the big show down was about to commence, and the song above, the one that played during the end credits, kicked in.  Many of us cried out in horror because damn it, we were getting this well crafted pay off and we could not stand the thought of waiting a month to see the finale!  We were collectively that drawn in.

And then there was Giant Robo:

Giant Robo is a masterpiece.  In the future Earth's energy problems have been solved by the incorporation of the Shizuma Drive, a clean source of energy that fuels everything from aircraft to cigarette lighters.  In this utopian society there exists Big Fire, a terrorist organization bent on world domination.  Only the United Nation's Experts of Justice stand a chance of defeating Big Fire.  Only now Big Fire has what appears to be a Doomsday device, a weapon that could destroy every single Shizuma Drive on the planet, plunging the world into a new Stone Age.

If you get a chance I highly recommend the Gamera reboot movies, Macross Plus and Giant Robo.  Yes, you might need to know a bit more before seeing Macross Plus as it is a sequel to the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross (later adapted for American television as the first third of the series Robotech) but I think it largely stands on it's own.

The part touching upon PBEMs

What made me think of these anime was a conversation I had with a new co-worker.  He is an artist and I have been loaning him my Giant Robo DVDs, and he thoroughly loves the artistic style of the series.  I mentioned to him Macross Plus and how much he might like that as well, and it got me to thinking about why I love both series so much above others.  I mean sure, I have seen other anime; I own Nadia, The Secret of Blue Water, and I will always have a special place in my heart for Project A-ko, and one of the first series I ever purchased was Dominion, Tank Police.  But I think what sets Robo and Macross Plus above the others was how I looked at them as a GM.  Both worlds possess immense potential for a GM to exploit.  In Macross Plus' case that world is rife for epic war stories.  And what player could resist role playing a pilot strapping on fighters that fly through space and transform into robots with giant guns?

If you don't think this is the least bit cool, stop reading my blog.
And Macross Plus showed how a game can be more than just blowing shit up.

And Giant Robo?  The Experts of Justice is a Japanese version of a super hero team and the "retro futuristic" setting looks awesome.  Players could be other Experts based in other parts of the world taking on factions of Big Fire or other organizations bent on supplanting them.

What we have here are two rich environments for a GM to exploit.   There is plenty of information online for both series if one wishes to do some work and find it.  Both shows are available to purchase on Amazon for very reasonable prices.

But what are GMs (or "moderators") running these days?  X-Men games.  Lots of X-Men games.  Or a Batman game where you get to play one of Batman's many members of his supporting cast or one of the Joker's minions.  In the former you get the same plots: world fears you, someone is likely trying to kill you, you are probably playing a very pretty mutant who bemoans the fact that you have rugged good looks or a nice set of tits as your secondary mutation.  In the latter you are playing a game where you get to play a sidekick in a story with a closed ending.  Where is the creativity?  Where is the originality?  There is an Avengers game that will start up the day after the movie comes out, so you get to play one of the Avengers shown.  No original characters, please.  Only canon characters.  We wouldn't want to challenge your imagination.  And yes, there is an Avengers game out there that gives you the option of playing original characters but according to the "moderator" that got back in touch with me about it you have the option of playing a Master of Evil, and I have all sorts of problems with games where PCs play good guys and bad guys both (and I will be writing an article about that later on), so I have an entirely different set of issues there.

Just this past week someone advertised a Hunger Games game.  What.  The.  Hell.  What, exactly, are people supposed to do in a Hunger Games game, I ask you?  Hunt one another?  Mope around and angst over their fate?  I guess there is a market for that; there are Twilight games out there so I guess the sort of people who play those would love to indulge in that sort of whiny downer role playing.  Oh, right.  X-Men games, I forgot.  Well no, I didn't.  The number of X-Men ads never lets me forget they exist.

If you are running a game then you should be fostering a feeling that the players have options.  Options in what characters they can play.  Not just canon characters someone else created, but encourage them to make their own. There are players out there eager to create their own characters.  I have the extreme pleasure of running games where my players run original characters.  Sure, original characters pose challenges and it can be frustrating, but in the end I find it very rewarding.  Over the years I have been blessed to see some wonderful characters, and to run players playing them.

And what about the world, the environment your games takes place in?  Yes, you want to attract players and do to that it is easier to run a game with an established, well known universe.  But that can also be a trap because not every fictional world works for a PBEM.

Hunger Games?  Really?

If you are running a world make it one that is unique or one that has seldom been seen, and one that provides you as the GM with a wide variety of options in regards to plots and adventures.  So your X-Men game takes place in the future.  Same fucking problems the X-Men face in the present, nothing new.

Are you as a "moderator" lazy?  Is it that you do not want to work at creating your own world?  Or that you do not want to take a risk and choose a world that has not yet been exploited?  Or that you lack the creative juices to create you own world?  Do you think that once you choose a pre-established world that all the hard work is done?  Not likely.  Or are you afraid of all the hard work a unique world would entail?  Sure, that is always a risk.  I ran a game called the D-Police, extra dimensional cops.  I created a lot of background.  The game failed.  Twice.  I was terribly frustrated.  But I chose to take that risk, there were no guarantees that it would work.  I tried, I failed, I dusted myself off and tried again.  It's like the Monty Python joke from The Holy Grail, where the owner of Swamp Castle talks about how every time they built a castle it sank.  Finally he built a castle upon the remains and it was the strongest castles in all the isles!  That's what I do.  I keep building, despite the occasional sinking.  Because it is fun for me to do.

Unused pre-established worlds are out there, you simply have to have the will to look for them and the courage to take a chance and use them.  Unique worlds are difficult to construct but I see them as fun to make.  Canon characters are easy but it is the unique character where the creative payoff lies.

I hope you enjoyed the song of the week, were not too bored by my nostalgic indulgence, found interest in my recommendations and were more inspired than insulted by my observations.  Peace out!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Song of the week

Van Halen.  Man, when I think rock and roll this is the first band that comes to mind.  Yes, I grew up on The Beatles but as weird as this may sound when I think "rock and roll" big hair, wild guitar riffs and screaming vocals all come immediately to mind.

Yes, I am a child of the eighties.

I suppose if I am choosing a Van Halen song it should not be a cover but I love this song for the nostalgia the video produces.  Yes, I know earlier with Florence and The Machine I chose a video that focused on the lyrics.  It's my blog, I can ignore the rules at will.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Quick update...

First of all, I wish everyone a happy and safe Easter.  Second, my output here is going to be slowing down for the foreseeable future.  My Vindicators game has picked up steam and for a short time the Neo Phyters rpg has made a come back.  So with all the player activity I want to focus more on being a GM rather than writing about how to be a better GM.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Song of the week

Saliva, Badass.  I heard this song used in the Lockout trailer, and while I have low expectations for the movie (although Guy Pierce looks like he might be hilarious) I dig the song.