Daydreaming About Superhero RPGs

Mutants&Masterminds-HerosHandbookThe first thing I ever became a “fan” of was comic books. I remember being about 3 years old, going grocery shopping at the A&P. The magazine stand was right inside the from door. I’d get to pick out a comic or two, get deposited in the little seat in the shopping cart, and read until we checked out and it was time to go home. Then I’d read the comics again and again. Week after week, I got new comics, and slowly built a collection. By the time I was a teenager, and had my own money to spend on things, I bought comics.

All of the comics I got were DC. It was surprisingly hard to find Marvel Comics titles where I was living back then. I wish that I’d had access to Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four. In kindergarten, one of my classmates came dressed at Captain America for Halloween, and I had no idea who he was supposed to be. Add to that the Adam West Batman TV show, and the George Reeves Adventures of Superman, and you can see why I still have a very Silver Age mindset about a lot of things.

My first exposure to tabletop gaming came via comic books, too. In letter columns, I discovered fanzines. I remember the first two zines I ever wrote away for. One was devoted to the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the other was for the Justice League of America. I want to say that in the Legion zine I first saw an ad for the original White Box Dungeons & Dragons. I wanted it, but for some reason I never sent off for it. I do know that, some time later, when I went into a hobby store to buy model rocket engines and saw my first D&D boxed set, I knew what it was because of that ad in a comic book zine. I bought it instead of the engines. My best friend, who was with me to buy a new rocket, got sucked in as well. D&D killed our model rocketry hobby.

I played Champions a few times, when the first edition came out, but had a hard time finding a group that didn’t disintegrate after a couple of session. I played the original TSR Marvel Superheroes game a few time, but with the same group-integrity issues. It wasn’t until the Mayfair DC Heroes game came out that I located a stable group, and we played the hell out of that game for years.

These days I don’t even own any comics any more. My primary exposure to superheroes, like most mainstream people, is through the movies. I love how Marvel has built up their movie universe. I sort of tolerate the X-Men movies, because my wife is a huge X-Men fangirl. If I ran a superhero game, I think it would be structured more like a film franchise than a comic book series. Make it a team, for obvious reasons of game group logistics, but focus on one character’s story arc at a time, while building up to the team’s collective big bad.

And I’d use Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition. I played the first and second editions a little bit, not as much as I’d have liked. I enjoyed it. I found character creation simple, and the rules streamlined and easy to run. I’ve looked at a lot of other systems, and this one feels right to me.

Campaign Design: Pondering E6

campaign design logoMy primary game group has been playing Pathfinder for over 3 years now. As much as we enjoy the system, we periodically end up rebooting the campaign, finding reasons to create new characters. Once we hit about 7th or 8th level, the bookkeeping for both the players and the gamemaster becomes burdensome. Leveling up becomes a bit more time consuming, keeping track of all our characters’ abilities becomes confusing, and preparing encounters gets more challenging (and not in a fun way).

Somehow, I’d never heard of E6 until recently (Google it; it’s available for free all across the internet). It was originally written and released toward the end of the original 3rd edition era (counting Pathfinder as the “new” or “current” 3rd edition era). The premise is that characters really hit their peak at about 6th level, and everything above that just starts to get a little silly. Its based on an early Dragon magazine article that set out to demonstrate that Gandalf was really a 5th level wizard, and most fictional fantasy characters don’t translate to high-level game characters.

With the E6 method, characters shot leveling up at 6th level. After that, you get to select a new feat every 5,000 experience points. It essentially transitions from a classes/levels game system to a point/buy system. Rather than gaining new spells and class abilities, you use feats to hone and broaden the utility of the things you already have.

As much as I like the concept, it does beg a few questions. The first being, if you’re going to transition into a point/buy system, why not just start with a point/buy system? Why are you playing D&D/Pathfinder, and not Savage Worlds, Fantasy Hero, GURPS, or any number of other systems?

Also, why aren’t you simply controlling the XP economy rather than installing a cap? If you want a long campaign using the same characters, but you don’t want rapid power creep, why not use the slow advancement track? Heck, you could even create a slower advancement track, and get stingy with the award of XP on top of that. You can stretch out character advancement so that reaching 6th level could take years to accomplish, even for a group that meets and plays regularly.

What I really wonder, though, is what you’re trying to achieve by setting a cap. What’s the goal? There’s a need to control power creep, reduce bookkeeping, and speed up play, yes, but what about the game itself? Do you want to run a really long campaign using the same characters? If you’re not invested in the characters themselves, why not just design campaigns that run to 6th level, then declare it over, the players “win”, and begin a new campaign?

I apologize that I’m getting into gamist-narrativist-simulationist theory here. If you’re designing a campaign as a story to be told, like a movie or a novel or a trilogy of movies/novels, you can create new characters for each story. It is, be design, finite. If you want the never-ending saga, like a television show or comic book series or certain long-running novel series, then your character options and character design goals are going to be much different. Is the goal to create characters that fit the story being told, knowing that at some point the story will end, or is the goal to give characters to level up all the way to 20th (or beyond) and create encounters that afford them the opportunity to do that?

In many ways, I think my Pathfinder group falls into the former category. I think that the pursuit of XP, the game system goal, sometimes gets in the way of roleplaying our characters in a meaningful way. I know that I’ve made decisions that were tactically the “right” thing to do but mildly or wildly out of character. We get sucked in by the XP, and the promise and hope of that new spell, or new ability, or extra hit points, that we’ll get at the next level that will make our lives (and, in theory, the character’s) a little easier. I think that E6 would take some of the pressure off of the gamist goals, and allow us to engage in some more roleplaying, making decisions based on what makes the most sense for the story and for the character. It’s a hack that tries to turn a gamist game into a more narrativist or simulationist one, but it really seems like an attempt to hack an apple into an orange.

Why FAE, Rather Than Fate Core

TYCHE LOGOA few folks have asked why I’m going with Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE), rather than Fate Core, as the game system underlying both Starship Tyche and Kaiju Patrol. It’s a design decision that I put a lot of thought into. Here’s my rationale as to why FAE is a better fit.

  • There are a ton of people writing and designing around Fate Core. There are far less playing with FAE. It seems like a weak reason, but it’s a reason, albeit the least of them in my decision-making process. I like FAE, and I don’t want to see it totally eclipsed by Fate Core.
  • I’m more interested in writing settings than rules. I’m just being honest here. That’s where the interesting, role-playable stuff is. Setting tells you want you can do, mechanics informs how you so it. The less complicated the rules, the easier it is to adapt them to the setting. With deadlines in place, I can spend more time fleshing out the world, and less time fiddling with additional bits of mechanics.
  • I think the selling point of both games is the setting rather than the mechanics. While some people will come at it from the perspective of “I love Fate, and here’s a game that uses it”, my gut tells me that more people will be thinking “This looks cool and I want to play it, and oh, it uses a game system I’ve actually heard of”. The game system is important, but they’re the support system for the setting.
  • I’m hoping that the settings will appeal to new, less experienced gamers. I’m not saying that Fate Core is particularly complicated, but the way I see it the fewer moving parts a game system has, the fewer points of confusion there are for newbees. Plus, with Aspects, there is plenty of room for experienced players to exert their creativity and tactical urges to create precisely the type of character they want.
  • If you really prefer Fate Core and/or you’re a more experienced gamer, you can easily add those elements (mainly phases and skills) in yourself.

Pathfinder RPG “Everything” Bundle Only $19.95! Ends June 15th!

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Pathfinder RPG No Sleep ’til Finland One with Everything Bundle!

Asparagus Jumpsuit co-owner Katie Kinsman will begin pursuing her Master’s degree in Education at the University of Jyväskylä this September, so over the summer we’ll be moving from New Mexico to Finland! To help raise some extra money for moving expenses, we’re having a ridiculous, over-the-top, limited time sale on our current Pathfinder Roleplaying Game compatible releases!

We’ve put together a special bundle containing all 22 Character Workbooks, all 12 Monster Hide supplements, all 3 Instant NPC collections, and both Rules Hacks supplements. That’s over 1,400 pages of gaming goodness, 300 NPC stat blocks, 60 monster, and rules variants, over $150 worth of Pathfinder resources, and it’s on sale for only $19.95!

This is a limited time offer, so act now! Available exclusively at DriveThruRPG and RPGNow!

Battle Giant Monsters with Kaiju Patrol Zero!

kaijupatrolzerocoverKaiju Patrol Zero is the revised version of Kaiju Patrol, the original, systemless Official Series Bible setting where you battle Giant Monsters and Evil Aliens with science!

Kaiju Patrol is currently being expanded into a complete game, powered by Fate! This is simply a preview of things to come!

Get Kaiju Patrol Zero for FREE at DriveThru RPG and RPGNow! And subscribe to the Asparagus Jumpsuit Newsletter to find out more about the full version of Kaiju Patrol coming this summer!

Character Workbooks Wave 6

This week we release the next wave of Revised Character Workbooks for the Pathfinder RoleplayingGame! Samurai, Ninja, and Oracle add to the list of base and alternative classes covered in the series. Each is 48 pages, and walks you through character creation and character advancement for that class, all the way up to level 20. We’ve already released all of the core classes and most of the other base/alternate classes! If you’re new to Pathfinder and just need a little help finding your way around character options, check them out at PaizoRPGNowDriveThruRPGshop.d20pfsrd