Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wands and Wizardry

A quick note.  I saw The Avengers last week, saw it again yesterday.  I give it an 11 out of 10.  I have seen some vloggers talk about it not being a perfect movie.  I fail to see how Joss Whedon could have made it any better.  Some people have complained about "slow" parts.  Apparently those people suffer from ADD because the "slow" parts were parts where actual character development was going on.  Just an outstanding movie from start to finish, and I am looking forward to Avengers 2.  It will be interesting to see if new Avengers are added to the cast or if they want to stick with these six.

Oh, and Paramount?  Disney?  I want my Black Widow and Hawkeye movies.  Now.

Okay, now on to the article.

The past two weeks I have given suggestions for X-Men alternatives, so today I wanted to focus on another franchise that is (all too) often employed by GMs and moderators: Harry Potter.

I never really got Harry Potter.  I saw the movies and thought they ranged from decent to good, but overall I found the world did not make a great deal of sense to me.  What sorts of jobs were all those students being trained for at Hogwarts?  What did these people do with all that magical power?  Why didn't someone just bring a gun and shoot Voldemort?  And I am not alone in my confusion regarding this world; the Harry Potter franchise has spawned a great many Cracked articles, all of them not only funny but thought provoking.  Here is just one example.

These suggestions can also apply to the Twilight fans.  Seriously, twihards, read some decent books.

So anyway, let us look at some potential alternatives to the Potterverse.  Here is a list of popular contemporary fantasy novels, some of which could work as alternatives.  Among the most notable are Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, Mercedes Lackey's works, especially to me the Diana Tregarde series, and the works of Tanya Huff and Laurell K. Hamilton . 

Now you might say, "Tom, I don't want to play Harry Dresden!" or "Tom, many of these books center around a single person." Very true, not all these books would work well as canon worlds in which to run your campaigns, or some would work better than others.  However, I do suggest GMs should look at these fictional worlds for inspiration to create their own.  Anyone who has read my earlier articles must be aware by now how much I endorse playing original characters over canon and these fantasy novels are rife with ideas for making your own game universe.

Take the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series.  In it the principle characters are the children of Greek gods.  Imagine your players running characters who are the children of gods or are the reincarnation of gods, or like Neil Gaimen's book American Gods are new gods (i.e. god of the internet).  What if the players are like the champions of Greek mythology, aided and led by their respective patron gods?  Perseus and Heracles/Hercules were both sons of Zeus.  Imagine if you had a host of PCs who were all related, bastard children of the same god who have to team up on some quest?  I haven't even read the Percy Jackson series and just knowing the series premise has given me some ideas for a couple games.

Okay, now on to other properties:


The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is a government organization whose task is to protect normal men and women from supernatural threats conventional forces are not equipped to deal with.  The group's origin springs from the Hellboy comic, created by artist and writer Mike Mignola.  Like Doom Patrol and X-Men, the various members of the B.R.P.D. are societal outcasts who only belong in such a group.

While playing canon characters is one way to go, there is nothing stopping ambitious GMs from playing other branches, located in other cities across the world.  The movies suggest that 99% of magical stuff happens in New York for some reason but I can easily see B.R.P.D., London branch (called something more British, like the Magical and Paranormal Investigation Executive.  "Executive" seems like a very British word for organizations for some reason.  Or Investigation, Magic and Paranormal: IMP.  The Department of Unearthing the Magic and Paranormal: DUMP.)


Shadowpact was a DC Comics series that came out after their 52 series, it was about a collection of magical heroes who gathered together to handle mystic threats conventional hero teams were not equipped to deal with.  Written and illustrated by Fables writer Bill Willingham (who also created the awesome series Elementals), it was not a commercial success.  However, I think it was a fun series and it made excellent use of largely forgotten characters.

Justice League Dark

If at first you don't succeed...

JLD has a lot in common with Shadowpact, although writer Peter Milligan has a very different writing style than Willingham and he has decided to go with a different line up.  I am not a fan of DC's New 52 program but to me Justice League Dark is one of the few bright spots, and like Willingham Milligan has made use of some characters who have gone largely unused over the past few years.

Both series show just how many magical characters exist in the DCU alone, from mages to mystical beings to those who employ magical artifacts.  Marvel Comics has similar characters, from Doctor Strange to Morbius, the living vampire, to Ghost Rider.  In fact Marvel Comics had a series called Midnight Sons.  DC also had a series called Night Force.  The point is both comic companies have a wealth of characters to choose from.

And...of course these characters are fantastic sources of inspiration for original characters for players to create.

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Avatar: The Legend of Korra

Avatar: The Last Airbender, was not only one of the best animated series made in the past decade, it was one of the best series, period.  Outstanding voice acting, fantastic animation, a stunning series of scripts and a tremendous three season story arc culminated in one of my most enjoyable viewing experiences.  If you have not seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, I highly recommend you borrow it from a friend, check your local library or buy it outright.

The series is about a world consisting of four nations: Air, Earth, Fire and Water, and in this world people exist called "benders" who are masters of one of these four elements.  The Avatar is a master of all four and is unique, his or her duty is to provide balance.  The Fire Nation declared war on the other three nations and Aang, the last of his race, must find a way to master the other three elements and defeat the Fire Nation. There, that is all you need to know, now go watch the series because it is all kinds of awesome.  Just do not rent the live action movie because from all accounts it sucks about as badly as a movie can.

Avatar: The Legend of Korra is the sequel series currently running on Nickelodeon but if you have missed any you can watch past episodes on that network's web site.  So far the series has lived up to the first in terms of quality and I am enjoying it very much.

The great thing about Korra is how different the series looks and feels while at the same time making the viewer believe the action is still happening in Aang's world.  Technology has advanced as has the public's perception on benders, it borrows a bit from the X-Men world in that people without super powers fear those that do and I think the writers have produced a very valid argument for those fears.

I do not recommend GMs run games involving Aang and company or Korra.  Instead I would suggest they run adventures taking place in the 70 year or so gap between series with original characters.  Or more confident and daring GMs could run a game taking place another seventy years ahead.

And now for the most obvious alternative to Harry Potter:

Dungeons & Dragons

If there is any property out there that just cries out for use as a magical campaign, it is this one.  The versatility of the settings, characters and creatures PCs can run in to are almost overwhelming. The amount of material available in hobby stores and online are staggering.  You can find inspiration in low fantasy stories like Robert E. Howard's Conan to high fantasy properties like J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of The Rings. Dungeons & Dragons offers a tremendous amount of versatility, you do not even have to follow the stats system to run a PBEM.  You create or borrow a fantasy world, have the PCs meet somehow (the cliche is a tavern) and bang, you got yourself a good old fashioned dungeon crawl. Personally I found two approaches work better and I mentioned them both in one of my earliest posts.

So there you have it, numerous properties that aspiring GMs could use as alternatives to the Potterverse.  The options are there people, just waiting for you to take advantage of them.

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