Sometimes there are people doing or saying interesting or important things that you just want to share… So I want to promote a couple of pieces of work by others today that I think are worth sharing and reading/exploring.
First, a great editorial by Greg Rucka about the new Man of Steel movie (well, not about it precisely). I appreciate what Mr. Rucka has to say here. I think that Warner/DC could take a lesson from this – and from what Marvel has been doing with their movies. Not that Marvel has always had perfect movies mind you… but they realized that superheroes are fun. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America – all the way to the Avengers – didn’t tell their stories with a sneer but with a smile. The laughs in Thor were what made that movie work, more than anything else… and Thor is a pretty solid candidate for straight-man of the Avengers if ever there was one.
But Mr. Rucka is saying something important… Superman does not need to be “dark” or “realistic” to have merit. Superman needs to be inspiring… and I am hoping more than anything that this new movie achieves that.
And I don’t think there is anything wrong with comics/stories about superheroes that are not all about “fun.” I enjoyed The Dark Knight Returns, I enjoyed Knightfall, and probably some of my favorite Batman stories of all time came out of Greg Rucka’s time on Batman writing No Man’s Land. But what always makes Batman work for me is completely lost in the newest set of Nolan-verse movies. I realize it is not a popular opinion but I absolutely hate Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. I feel that they weren’t very good movies – but even more so – they weren’t very good Batman movies. I’ll move on.
Just take a moment with Mr. Rucka’s editorial and see what you think.
The second thing I wanted to point to was a recent collection effort by Wrath of Zombie. I’ve always enjoyed the heck out of his blog and I love what he did, asking people to put forth what they think is their best. I’ve been tripping slowly through the list and there is so much good **** here that I really do not know when I’ll find the time to get through it all. I regret only that I couldn’t come up with anything I felt right enough about to share with his list… so I’m doing my part by giving it a little extra press.
Check out this post – it is a great idea and brings together too many great ideas for me to even explain – you have to browse it for yourself.
So, this is a post that is going to probably upset some folks. I’m taking a dissenting opinion on a topic of great interest to the gaming/geeky community right now (or so it seems to me). I want to explain that I am not taking issue with anyone in particular and that I’m not even going to go so far as to say that my opinion on the topic is fully fleshed out… more that this post is an exploration of my feelings to try and make some sense out of the topic for myself. I hope to be respectful and I hope to be careful in what I express here… and if you disagree or would like to help me explore my feelings, I hope you’ll comment.
This is not what I meant to post about today. This is not what I wanted to post about today… but it’s been rattling around in my brain for a while (ever since the explosion of “women in reasonable armor” images/posts a while back). I decided to write today after seeing this pop up all over my Facebook the last few days… “Drawing the Impossible? Fully Dressed Superheroines“
Now, don’t get me wrong – the art is cool – and this guy did a good job of making sure to say that his intent was in no way to push a moral code. Bravo to you Michael Lunsford, I really do appreciate your work here. I think my problem stems from the fact that the discussion (look at the editorial comment at the link I posted) and many of the Fb shares of this are exactly that – trying to extract a lesson out of all this. And that may be as simple as my disdain for these efforts gets – I’m upset by the smugness I often see accompany these images and memes – the idea that if you disagree you are sexist, or you hate women, or you don’t welcome women into the culture/subculture…
So maybe that’s really what upsets me. But I’m still exploring so bear with me please. I’m a gamer and a guy. I don’t really identify as a geek. I like things that others have decided are geek things, like gaming, but I haven’t really faced a lot of social stigma because of those things because, well, one – I don’t self-identify as a geek and two, I don’t really give two tugs what a portion of intolerant people think of me or my way of having fun. I will admit, I have been subjected to harassment over the nearly thirty years of my gaming life by people in my extended family, workplace, and personal life telling me that gaming is evil, that it is a tool of the devil, and that I’m a tool of the devil if I do it, I just never let it bother me. Since my mom sat me down at a young age and let me watch The Last Unicorn and bought me books on mythology alongside my first D&D Basic Set I feel like I know that I am secure as a gamer.
I don’t know what it is like to be a female cosplayer who gets groped and insulted at conventions. I think it’s ridiculous and awful that such things happen and I fully support efforts like CONsent and I wish them the best of luck in raising awareness – and I’ll be more aware too when I want to take a picture at a convention (heck, I’m super nervous when I ask a cosplayer for a picture anyway, I always feel like I’m bugging them no matter how nice they are about it). But reading what the CONsent folks had to say, as well as the article they link to, is good information to know. I also realize that there is this whole “fake-geek-girl” thing and this weird backlash against girls in gaming in some quarters… To those people I can only ask, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Why would anyone take all the time, energy, and money to craft a costume, be brave enough to wear it, and spend their weekend at the freakin’ convention if they didn’t want to be there just as much as you did? (I’ll admit, I wish I was brave enough to cosplay – I follow several cosplayers online and find them completely inspiring.) I’d hazard a guess that many of them might want to be there more than you… they are committed in a way you wish you were.
But I’m digressing a little. I’m always bothered by the discussions of how women are depicted in gaming… mainly because the conversations seem very one-sided and most involve groups of people who only want to vent into their echo chamber and god forbid you have the temerity to disagree. And as a guy who identifies as straight – I’ll say this with no shame at all – I don’t really understand people’s beef with skin, male or female. Heck, show it all off if you want, as long as you are respectful of the opinions of reasonable people in public places, of course. I don’t particularly feel the need to cater to the fringe or the unreasonable – but I accept that there are wrongs committed in gaming and comic art in some people’s eyes, and as long as they are reasonable in their discussion I think we should all keep listening and learning.
I just don’t really see how the “women in reasonable armor” or “fully clothed superheroines” discussions are in any way “helping.” I much prefer to see someone who comes out and says, “you have the right to dress however you want and no one has the right to abuse you for it.” [Please note: this video could include triggers and the part I'm interested in here kicks in at about the 3:40 mark.] That’s the education we need to give in this discussion – not changing appearances, but rather, changing attitudes.
But let’s really get back to the discussion of fully-dressed superheroines for a moment. First of all, my spell-checker doesn’t like the word superheroines and frankly, neither do I. I prefer just to call them superheroes and move on with it (can I be silly and call them metahumans?) Anyway…
So, my wife loves Tomb Raider (at least the old Tomb Raider, the verdict is still out on this new reboot). She loves the old games, she’s read the comics, she even likes the movies… I give her a bit of a hard time for liking the movies… I’ll admit. And Lara Croft is often a poster-child for the supposed ills of depicting women in fantasy/scifi. But I always get a laugh out of this because that’s not the first thing I notice about Lara Croft. The first thing I notice about Lara Croft is the fact that it seems highly unlikely to me that someone that thin would be able to do the extreme adventuring she does. Where’s the muscle mass, the fitness, the fat reserves for endurance? Right, no where to be found because she has to be drawn like a Victoria Secret model. You want to get into a discussion of drawing reasonable or realistic women in comics? I’d love to see a version of Alex Ross’ painting of Batman, covered in the scars of his life that depicts the Huntress or Black Canary in the same way. You know how many times the Huntress has been shot, stabbed, clawed, burned, electrocuted, and just plain beaten up? Draw me a superhero who looks like she lives the life and that’s something I can believe in.
Something that caught my eye when looking at the superheroines in full clothing was that I noted the only one who seemed to have a costume that closely echoed her male counterparts was Power Girl. I love the costume he created for Power Girl by the way and I love that he kept her muscles and her toughness right up front in the picture too, but I wonder if those muscles didn’t prompt the costume to seem more like her male counterparts? I could be wrong about that. It was just an immediate thought that occurred to me as I viewed the images.
Ultimately, I feel like my takeaway is that I’m glad that there are more females in my little corner of the subculture… it means more people to game with. I’m thankful that I’ve always had the opportunity to game with and enjoy the company of excellent females – geek or not – and I’m thankful that there are more high profile female geek icons. This awareness is a truly wonderful development in our hobby and whenever I have the opportunity to welcome another female player to the table, I’m happy to do so. And I’m appalled at some of the ridiculous examples of idiotic behavior that belittles or outright abuses women for being a part of our culture (and frankly, more than women, anyone who has to suffer in a group they have chosen to identify with). And there is nothing at all wrong with art projects like the one depicting the Fully Dressed Heroines… (except when paired with stupid tag lines like “Drawing the Impossible”). My crisis with these types of things, when they pop up, is the smug bandwagon effect that seems to accompany them. I’ll admit freely, maybe that’s just that I get my news and reactions from the wrong sources… I hope, more than anything, that we continue to educate people to be more mature, more open, and more accepting in all phases of life. I may not particularly identify as a geek (despite running a gaming blog, right) but I love being a part of a thriving community of gamers, cosplayers, artists, and writers who are sharing wonderful imagination with each other and I would hate to lose any of the voices because they have been shouted down – no matter which side of the aisle you are on.
Not really a review so much as my initial impressions of the game, I wanted to take a quick tour of the new Marvel Superhero game from Margaret Weis Productions.
First Impression: Physical Appearance and Layout
The book is beautiful. Of course, I only have the PDF, but even so, it’s actually enjoyable to read on my laptop (as opposed to many game PDFs which I often find frustrating to read.) The presentation is clean, the colors are bright and enjoyable to look at without detracting from readability. The visuals in terms of presentation of game content and examples of dice pools, etc. are all well done and the superhero art is well chosen and improves the quality of presentation of the book.
Layout is often a consistent complaint for me with some modern games but the layout and design choices here all seem to enhance the reader experience rather than detract. Also, I haven’t read the book in minute detail yet, just two relatively quick reads for content but the editing of this product seems at first blush to be very well done as well. Poor editing in RPGs is a constant problem and MWP seems to have put in the work on this one to make it great.
Basic Dice Pool and Simple Mechanics Talk
I don’t want to overly analyze the mechanics until I have the chance to actually play the game but on the surface I found them — again, after reading the game — to be interesting and innovative without being divorced from the expectation of players of other RPGs. The dice pool mechanic is a little bit of a mix of a “roll and keep” system with an effect die (like Dragon Age RPG’s Dragon Die). The rolling of 1s on the die is also important to the system and generates dice for the Doom Pool — a collection of dice used by the Watcher in place of Plot Points (which villains don’t have).
The use of plot points can manipulate either of those (the pool/kept dice or the effect die) and in multiple ways. Plot Points are a vital currency of the system flowing back and forth between players and Watcher (the very Marvel term for the GM). In this way I am reminded of the use of points in FATE style games but without all of the baggage that always bothers me in FATE games.
The basic dice pool resolution (with application of Plot Points) covers the majority of actions in the system (including combat) and is easy to keep up with. Whether you make the same connections I did above or you are a relative newcomer to RPG play, this dice system should be simple but robust enough to remain consistently interesting in play.
Heroes, Character Creation, and Powers (and Stuff)
I’ll admit, I’m still learning the powers system. I get the way it works. I think it will work well at the table. But I’m not going to wax on about it beyond saying… I like it, I like how free form and open it is and the availability of crafting powers on the fly. This system seems to make it very easy to balance the game no matter what powers you give to the characters… I think at one point the book mentions that they system is very forgiving and it really is. I think the power system and the hero and villain profiles reflect the comics well. I was impressed with these.
Now, I’ve read a couple of other reviews (here and here) that mention the oddness of the character creation rules. But here’s the thing… if you read the book, there are no character creation rules. Or, at least, there are no rules for “new” heroes. The rules in the book (more like guidelines) are really there to suggest how to make a profile for an existing Marvel character you want to adapt. That’s what they are designed to support. Now, can you make original heroes with this? Absolutely. But it’s not what the book is set up for and if you are looking for any kind of “balanced system” that tells you “how many powers you can have, etc.” you won’t find that here.
This is my first Cortex system game (I played the Leverage Quick Start but that hardly counts). I had put off diving into the game because, as much as I love Firefly and Leverage, I knew I would never get to play them, so I had no impetus to buy them. But superhero games are an easy sell to me — and the Marvel Saga System (old card-based version of the game) is probably still my all time favorite superhero game. The best thing I can say for this game is that if it performs as well at the table as it seems like it will in the book, it will easily become my new favorite.
Except for one thing. I wish it had been DC. Because now I have another Marvel System I have to convert all the DC characters I love into because they aren’t here… Oh well, I guess I should get on that.
Recently, I finished reading Mastiff: The Legend of Beka Cooper #3, by Tamora Pierce. She writes for the YA genre and I have been a fan of her books since I was ten years old and discovered the world of Tortall in the stories of Alanna. I could go on and on about how Alanna was the first fantasy crush I ever had, or how many times I made stats for the characters from the book in various games — but I won’t…
Actually, wait, that’s exactly what I want to talk about… the experience of imposing stats on book characters. I’ve been thinking about this for a while — and I’m certainly not the first to bring it up — but I realized the other day that: 1) it works on my mind more than I’d like to admit, and 2) I have only partial answers to how I feel about it.
What finally inspired this post though? Farmer Cape inspired this post. Master Cape is a mage in the Mastiff story who has an interesting and somewhat unique ability for mages in his setting (and the next line contains some spoiler’ish type stuff so if you are reading or planning to read this book or you think you might ever read this book then I’d advise you to just quit here and I’m writing this overlong disclaimer for a very small spoiler just so you don’t see it by accident…)
It is difficult for me to play some games. Mostly because, in my opinion, those games have skewed views of player expectation. I’m not (necessarily) saying that the problem is with the players — I’m saying the problem is with what the players expect from the system.
Mostly, I don’t like bribes.
Okay. I admit. I’m not publishing anything right now, certainly not working as a professional author. So, when I criticize the work of another, I feel bad about it. I try not to be a critic if I don’t have a good reason.
But that said, along with my admission that I’m not working for a publisher… I wonder if Catalyst Game Labs would like me to work for them?
Recently, Catalyst released two books of short stories for their Shadowrun and Battletech universes.
These two books are both edited collections, but suffer severely for a lack of editing. To the point of being distracting from the reading. For example, just on pages 100-101 of the Battletech collection, there are four serious editing errors in just those two pages. In the Shadowrun collection, editor’s notes were left in the text of a story that went to final print…
I realize that proper editing is something deemed less important than other tasks by many gaming companies, but the level of editing errors in these two collections is far worse than many amateur publications. I can forgive the odd misprint, or grammatical error — so what? But when sentences just plain don’t make sense, or editorial notes are left in the final versions, or you have multiple errors on a single page… that’s poor craft.
As for the stories themselves, well, this is more subjective — so I don’t want to say too much, but I, personally, was disappointed by the content of the Shadowrun anthology. I don’t want to include any spoilers so I’ll keep it simple, but for some reason, all of the stories were very fringe. They touched the edges of the Shadowrun universe with little interest in the “meat and potatoes” of what would be of interest in a typical Shadowrun story. The Shadowrun book also has a very, very strange trend. Pretty much the three things you can count on any story including at least one of — and sometimes more — are dogs, technomancers, and old, retired shadowrunners… so it’s basically a Shadowrun country and western song… I guess.
Anyway, like I said, the quality of the stories is subjective — so others may enjoy them more than I did. But the actual quality of the books is poor. Seriously, Catalyst, I’m happy to send a resume anytime you’d like to hire an editor… just let me know!
As always, thanks for reading.
PS — I just finished the Shadowrun anthology, hence this post. I will get the next part of my discussion of adaptation up Tuesday. This weekend, off to Marscon!
Between grad school, general life interfering, and working on Madicon, I just haven’t been able to post as much as I’d like to in the last few months. I’m going to try and post more often again, but I’m not making any promises – I’d hate to lie.
One thing I have been doing during this down period is spending a lot of time over at the Mutants and Masterminds forums. I’ve been posting builds to the Roll Call – mostly DC characters (because I’m just not happy with the official versions) – but also Astro City and original characters. It is an interesting task to adapt and model characters from comic books into game statistics. I’ve written before on the idea that ‘games as math’ is often why games don’t work for me. The adaptation of characters is an interesting place to look at this concept, as well as adaptation in a more general sense.
The Good Stuff!
I mentioned the last time that I had a love/hate relationship with Complications. That last post discussed some of the “hate” side and now I want to discuss the good.
As I mentioned previously, one of my worries with complications is that it can create rulings issues for GMs and they’re groups. Because complications are not mechanical — even though they are a game mechanic — they can be problematic to make rulings on.
If a game master makes a ruling that a player is not fond of — such as a lasting injury — it is hard to reconcile that with just “getting a hero point.” Of course, these sorts of suggestions are also exciting because they can be put in the players hands. If a player gets hit repeatedly with critical hits then it’s a perfect time for a player to step up and “hey, GM, I want a concussion, can I have a concussion?”
I’ve used that line with a GM before so, that’s why I picked it. And hey, this time around, I do get a Hero Point that gives me more options later. Of course, this still requires GM oversight, but it really gives players a chance to insert themselves into the storyline creating problems for their characters. This I can definitely get behind.
Another really exciting thing I’ve noticed with Complications is the ability to really mix it up and define interesting aspects of a character in a way that mixes story and mechanics. For some characters, like many of the Astro City characters, their complications are almost more interesting to write than their powers. I had particular fun with stat’ing up Winged Victory and was really happy with her complications, because I can imagine seeing them in game play.
Overall, still love/hate. As most readers know, I’m not a big fan of FATE style games, and Complications in M&M fill a similar role to certain parts of the Aspect rules, and I have a similar frustration.
But that’s my take on Complications — what do you think?
Thanks for reading — and looking forward to next week — I’m finally going to weigh in on D&D Essentials… and you might be surprised by my opinion.
I’ve been spending a great deal of time over at the Mutants and Masterminds forums lately. Since grad school has been really intense this semester I’ve been gaming little and since forum posting is easy and entertaining (sometimes it’s practically a full contact sport) that has been how I’ve been staying in touch with the gaming community (or at least, a corner of it).
As I initially had some dislike for DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds 3e, I really have been taking the time to get to know the system well and to work on a lot of character builds, designing with the effects and re-writing some of the book versions of major DC characters. I’m also running a DC game for some friends and it’s getting into full swing soon.
But I have one major issue with the system that continues to plague me – more than anything else about Mutants and Masterminds – and this was a problem in 2E, but for 3E I find it to have become even more pervasive as a part of the system.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with these little mechanical creations. Because they aren’t really mechanics at all – but then again, they are. I intend to explore the bad stuff first and then I’ll talk about the good. Basically, the point of them is to try and recreate some of the “genre” elements of superhero gaming, and as a way to have a different reward structure for “flaws” that is not front-loaded. Complications have become an incredibly important part of the game because they are pretty much the only way to get Hero Points, the all-important resource of a Mutants and Masterminds campaign. (In DCA/3e the Luck trait no longer gives hero points.)
Where this becomes weird though is that the game talks specifically about the writer’s disdain for front-loaded design. But then they still included front-loaded design in some cases (such as devices) that could just as easily be handled as complications (at least the regular Removable level) – but that’s not really the problem. The problem is that the argument that there is only so much screen time in an adventure to cover things like, say, a character’s problems, is going to be just as much of an issue with Hero Points as it is with front-loaded “disadvantages.” If a player chooses ‘poorly’ with their complications – by which I primarily mean chooses roleplaying complications that don’t have a chance to come up often, they simply won’t earn Hero Points.
I was looking over Superman’s complication list and honestly, in the course of a routine night’s gaming, I don’t see Superman earning a single Hero Point – unless it involves kryptonite or taking his powers away. And the main downside to the “pay-as-you-go” approach is that it’s also much, much more difficult to “balance” complications. Looking at Superman’s complication list – if he does have one of them trigger, he’s probably in huge trouble – except for his supposed vulnerability to magic, a complication in name only, since his toughness not being impervious is pretty much no disadvantage at all under the new rules. I mean, the guy has an 18 Toughness – any power that his impervious would have stopped anyway is highly unlikely to have any noticeable effect on him anyway. So how are these equal? Even though the reward is equal for each of them? The simple answer – they’re not.
A larger issue as well is that Complications create a possibility for all kinds of ill-will at the table. A GM has to be very careful in adjudicating complications or they’re going to have players annoyed at them all the time. Lasting injuries – well, who really decides when your hero has a concussion or not? Really, you gave my guy a broken arm? Really? Or, as is so often mentioned in the rules of Superhero games – villains escape. Apply hero point balm and get on with the story. Of course, I don’t know about you but most players I know don’t consider that a fair reward for, “you got trashed – but hey, here’s a hero point.” It feels like plot-hammering. Again, a careful, thoughtful GM will have already thought out the villain’s escape to make it plausible and allow the hero’s to feel good about themselves – but the book simply suggests – “The villain leaves, here’s your HP.”
All that said (and I could say more), there are also some really good high-sides to Complications as well. I’ll talk about the good stuff that comes with Complication mechanics next post.