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Platonic Solids
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Lies, Damn Lies, and RPGs
Lies, Damn Lies, and RPGs

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GameTasting!

I ran across this term from the Transneptune crowd (http://games.transneptune.net/2011/05/15/game-tasting-week/) last year.  Here's the pitch:

Since many of us are no longer kids (meaning in high school or college, with highly flexible schedules and expansive free time), and the commitment of regular 4-6hr sessions multiple times a month are rough on many we instead agree to come up with a game day where we selectively taste games.

So once or twice a month we show up for 1-2 sessions of trying out different games.  No commitment (you can come or go as you please each month as long as folks are on-count for groups playing).  No oppressive social footprint (look at me using fancy designer speak).  Just a great gettogether where folks run 'new' stuff in short-format to give everyone the atmosphere, theme and aroma at the heart of each game.

Then folks compare impressions and if possible make a Taste Note (a written account).  It's like wine tasting but with less time called off, and travel plans.  It's a con experience at home!

There might be 2 groups doing this locally (both can be blamed on me pitching the idea).  One's taking a bit to organize, but will be a potluck and games day.  My Tue crew is doing a bi-weekly game tasting group too.

First up?   #DungeonWorld ! (because I've ranted about it enough)

Next in queue are Lady Blackbird and Danger Patrol.  Stay tuned :) Taste Notes incoming!
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Why look here! Harkening back to the original FASERIP system (Marvel Super Heroes from 1984) we have random super generation tables. /fake stan lee/ MAKE SOME HEROES TRUE BELIEVERS!

http://goo.gl/Z6BD5
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Mind Control and XP

Designers have known for a while that reward systems can control player behavior.

The oldest example in RPG’s I can think of harkens to the difference between the XP systems in original (0ed) D&D and the newer versions. In the original game, XP was gotten for gold. So with a highly lethal combat system, the players had to play ‘clever’ to out-think traps and monsters and make away with maximum loot for minimum risk. With the advent of XP-for-monsters, combat became the mainstay with rules, splatbooks and entire rulesets being devoted to that end. Not only did the playstyle change, but the game itself evolved in a completely different direction.

Even the non-geeks are catching on with buzz words abounding. Marketing companies talk about ‘Gamification’ of products and providing ‘positive feedback’ for actions.

Closer to our point though, communicating the essence of a superhero isn’t just about getting his powers just right (which is important, and is next on the writing block). It also isn’t about nailing the distinctions (although that too is a great way to communicate outlook and style). The hardest part of communicating a superhero is getting the player to play like them. Not just shouting out key-phrases (It’s CLOBBERIN’ TIME!), and using named attacks (Unibeam!) - but actually understanding the motivations that drive a character, and acting the way they’re supposed to act when the going gets tough, and the decisions get tougher.

Marvel tackles this with a system called ‘Milestones’. Let’s take a look.

What are Milestones?

So Milestones aren’t actually a new concept. The first game that this idea appeared in was Shadow of the Yesteryear and was called Keys. Many games (seeing the simple brilliance of the system) have re-used this, of which most notable is probably the free Lady Blackbird.

So what’s a Milestone? Well lets take a look at a well known one for Reed Richards (aka Mr Fantastic of the Fantastic Four):

For Science!
1xp when you reveal a new stunt associated with your Medical, Science or Tech Specialties
3xp when you succesfully eliminate a threat by targetting it with your Medical, Science or Tech Specialties
10xp when you either ignore a critical situation in order to finish a project or abandon a critical project in order to help a family member or teammate.

In Marvel, each of the tiers is referred to as a ‘trigger’. When you ‘hit the trigger’ you gain the XP for it. You can hit a 1xp trigger as many times a scene as you like. The 3xp trigger only once per scene. And 10xp only once per act, and this caps out the milestone, completing it (i.e. You can gain a new one at the beginning of the next act or even focus on this one again if applicable).

So, unlike the usual XP gain for killing monsters (or defeating villains) Reed Richards only gains XP if he makes stunts using science (not specifically combat prowess) and uses the gadgets or tricks to suss out an enemies weakness. And he only gains the 1xp tier for NEW inventions and gadgets. This means, that if a player wants to gain XP and advance - they play like Reed Richards. It drives roleplay, it drives motivation, and it helps correct emulation of the heroes. The 10xp tier in particular usually requires a difficult choice and often leads to some good RP moments.

One of the twists that Marvel adds to the usual Keys (aka Milestones) fare is not only having personal milestones, but also Event ones. Events are a narrative organization (referred to as Story Arcs, or short Campaigns in other RPGs) that helps organize a story into two or more Acts. Any giant summer crossover is an event in comics, but they can certainly be more subtle. Events come with Event Milestones that usually change from Act to Act.

Event milestones are that niggling clue that heroes pick up, or tasks within a story that they pursue. Alot of times a team gets sucked into an arc because only one of it’s members stumbled onto something, or they are simply supporting a teammate. At the beginning of each Arc you decide if you’re pursuing one or two of your personal Milestones, and slot an Event Milestone in the spare slot.

What does this mean? It means that some players focus on a specific aspect of their character, and specific plots. It means that there is XP in running through the story, and it’s not the story that generates the XP (by throwing random monsters/villains in the path for example).

A number of event milestones will even conclude in one arc, and continue in the next, keeping players hooked, and the objectives changing as the story progresses.

Why is this better than the usual fare?

Well for one, superhero games aren’t necessarily always focused on beating monsters. While Villains certainly drive the genre, often times it’s the things that drive the characters that are the most interesting.

This is also a unique way for players to tell the Watcher what they want to see in a game. By taking specific milestones the players are essentially showing what triggers they’re hoping to see in scenes for them to play off of. It gives a very concrete message to the game’s GM as to what’s hoped for in terms of construction and play.

It also means that while certainly all the heroes can be on-task and focused (even having the same Event milestone) most of them will still have at least one personal one, and play very differently, often stressing methods of thinking and play not found in your usual Supers game.

How does this effect play?

I’ll provide a couple examples here from our bi-weekly game.

(Note: First I’ll plug our game’s wiki: http://wiki.nuncheon.net/Renegades for any stats, backstory or milestone notes you might need. We swapped after game 6 from ICONS to Marvel Heroic Roleplay when it came out.)

First Example:

Iron Maiden (our solo butt-kicker Wolverine type) was abandoned as a child, and raised by the spirit of the City. We’re in game 10 and though all of us have cool backstories, very few have come up in-play (as we’re usually hunting down mysteries or anomalies). However with the change to MHR Milestones got put into play, and Iron Maiden consequently had the trigger of ‘3XP when you choose to aboandon the team to seak out information about your own history’. So guess what she did?

Player interest was high. She was focused on it. We got to hear an awesome story as she narrated a bit of her history and enlisted a law firm with significant resources to help track down her parents. Then she got jumped by villains at the restaurant (“Stay cool hunny bunny!” “I’m not staying cool!” /Flamberge ignites on fire/ “Ok stay cool everybody, this is a robbery!”). The point being though, that the scene pursuing her origin was badass even before the villains appeared. The player was really into it (her quote was: “I’ve been thinking about this all night!”) and we as fellow players got cool info on her backstory we hadn’t had before. Moreover this was very comic-appropriate, fun out-of-character and made for some good roleplay.

Second Example:

Doctor Poseidon is a genius, but he's also considered a bit of a crackpot. He needs money to pursue his Gadgeteer style powers, and it’s a major piece of his personal story, thus it’s made it’s way into his Milestone. ANC Corp provides that money currently in trade for some of his research. A few games ago we find out they're using his hydraulic theory to do super-violent fracking (the water, ground, crude-oil profits kind, not the BSG kind) which was destroying men-mole's homes. Tau (who can summon alternate versions of himself from other timelines) actually got a 'digger tau' who turned out to be a complication rather than an asset as he was a men-mole version of Tau! So Tau actually fought on the side of the men-moles, and went to prison briefly over the guerrilla response to the problem.

Dr P has two motivators. He took the 'Dig Dug' event Milestone where you get xp for helping the men-moles and working on that plotline. He also has a personal milestone of securing funding.

Tau took only 'Dig Dug', so his loyalties are clear (his personal milestone is mostly about finding a place in this timeline and on this team).

Dr. P was trying to make peace by trying to curtail the abusive use of his technology through further research. Tau was making peace by batman-style threatening ANCs chairman. I'm going to paraphrase the discussion that occurs after Tau is released on bail.

DrP: "Tau don't worry about it. I'm cleaning up their act. Their groundwater will be clean. It'll be ok."
Tau: "The water destroyed their [the men-moles] homes. It's stealing the oil from beneath them. The corp is willing to commit genocide for profit. We don't need to clean up their operation we need to stop it."
DrP: "The corp has a private military in their guard force. They won't go for just stopping without any benefit. It will only escalate. This the best route for peace."
Tau: "You sound like one of the ANC Lawyers."
DrP: "The problem is too many profits are on the line. There is no other way to broker peace."
Tau: "No Doctor Poseidon. The problem is they want to commit genocide, and establish reservations for a native species. The problem is that I will not abide."

Note we both got XP for helping in different ways. We both went with our motivators (his with profit AND help and 2xp for it, me just with help). I’ll also comment that this was a distinct shift from ICONS where we felt like a Silver Age group of supers, to a more character driven story where we feel like people who have superpowers.

Upcoming

Now that we know how to earn XP keep an eye out later this week for how to spend it. And on the horizon - dice pools, why they are awesome, and finally some math. (woo! math!)



#MarvelRPG #MHR #RPG #MarvelHeroic
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First up! Marvel Heroic Roleplay.

Lets start with some basics

What is it?
This is Yet Another Marvel Game. It is preceded by Marvel Superheroes(TSR 1984) aka MSH, Marvel Superhero Adventure Game (TSR 1999) aka Marvel SAGA, Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game (Marvel 2003) which was diceless (and generally faded to obscurity).

So why do we need another Marvel RPG? Well putting aside the more prosaic facts of the Marvel superhero movies doing ridiculously well at the box office. The Ultimates line still running strong in comics. New cartoons regularly hitting the air. The fact remains that while there have been many games of Marvel (specifically) and more than a few others (from the specific DC Universe, to Champions) very few of these have managed to strike the delicate balance between the source material, and simulation in play.

Who might like this?
Story Gamers, New Gamers, Comic Fans.
I'll stress that last one, Comic Fans as opposed to Supers Fans.

Why should I play it?
There's a slough of benefits to giving shiny new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying a spin. It's based on the MWP Cortex system, but it diverges from some of their other offerings. While no stranger to licenced properties, many of the trademark moves of their other games (Relationship Maps in Smallville, or Flashbacks and other tropes in Leverage) are replaced with a sleek sexy system that utilizes Cortex (and a few more modern twists) to create a very cinematic and comic book feel.

I want to put attention to that. Comic book. There have been two major approaches to Supers games. Champions (and consequently Hero System) and many later offerings (from White Wolf's Aberrant to Palladium's Heroes Unlimited) focus very strongly on Hero design. It's common for a system to model a hero very precisely (being able to clearly delineate their superstrength for example) but this causes them to fail what I call the Batman test.

What in brief is the Batman test? I'm glad you asked.
In the real world we have physics. Some of these games model this very accurately (yes, Hero system has specific rules for terminal velocity on re-entry). Comic books on the other hand have a very odd and specific set of suspensions of disbelief (which sometimes change per decade - or Age as many comic fans refer to it) incorporated into their internal logic and consistency. If we applied physics: a speedster (like Quicksilver or the Flash) would light on fire from friction. Or create tornadoes everywhere from similar thermal discharge into the air. Similarly someone with insane levels of superstrength (like the Hulk or for our example Superman) would with a single hit against a normal individual (such as Hawkeye, or in our example Batman) leave either a bloody mess, or a fine red mist. Yet they don't. Batman fights Supes repeatedly (Dark Knight Returns, HUSH etc) and because comics are not about accurately modeling physics: Batman can and will win against Superman (cheating or no).

In a Supers game, the godlike strength of Supes, his ridiculous speed, combined with his plethora of ridiculous powers (invulnerability, heat vision, hypersenses, lack of a need to breathe etc) would give Batman somewhere between zero and no chance to realistically succeed. But in the magic world of comics, this is not only possible, it's probable.

So how is it a game is supposed to mimic this? Well more recently we've seen a few 'Story Game' attempts at the system. Some notable examples are Truth and Justice from Atomic Sock Monkey Press and Capes.

These games often abstract very far out, and use nebulous Narrative and story control to advance the plot. Capes goes so far as to be GM-less, and having no set character for any player.

Although both interesting in their own rights, this far out zoom and high level abstraction often leaves Supers fans removed from the gritty of the action, and while it helps to simulate the correct flow of comics, it doesn't necessarily allow for the visceral and vicarious experience of being a hero in a consistent comic world.

Enter Marvel Heroic Roleplay. It's certainly closer to the narrative-stressing structure of T&J than the nitty-gritty simulation of Hero System, but it keeps the focus on the action, and player choices. It has the advantage of a strong writing and design team, and stresses cinematic comic-style flow, character and story-based choices, and provides a fun close-to-the-action comic experience.

How does it play?
We'll spend the most time looking at this in a series of upcoming articles. But in short:

The basic idea is that you assemble a dice-pool while describing the use of each die. Although more complex initially than the more common 'roll 1Dx' (where X = 20, 100 or 3d6) it uses this to generate narrative, and the rolls to generate Doom Pool which the GM (or Watcher) uses as a foil to the characters.

The base book comes with a bunch of Marvel characters, and an easy event to get started, but the system is pretty open ended and we had no problems making our own heroes with some unique powers, and some copied from the book.

Where can I get it?
The usual culprits.
Support your friendly local gaming store! Or failing that check out:

The MWP store: http://www.margaretweis.com/mwp-online-store/13-marvel
DriveThru RPG: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/99611/Marvel-Heroic-Roleplaying%3A-Basic-Game
RPGnow: http://www.rpgnow.com/product/99611/Marvel-Heroic-Roleplaying%3A-Basic-Game

Keep in mind that MWP has a preferred retailer program that lets you get a free PDF if your store participates (it's on their site: http://www.margaretweis.com/news/105-preferred-retailer-program-update)

Upcoming
Next up we'll take a look at XP, player incentives and goals, sample ICONS conversions (aka: why you want to do this). And stay tuned for some math behind character design (aka: the one big complaint and why it isn't).

Feel free to drop any questions you might have!
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Welcome to Platonic Solids!

This is YAGB (yet another gaming blog) where we talk about RPG game experiences, but also look at design elements that go into those experiences, and the math behind the games.

Like tabletop RPGs? Like Math? Like Game design? Feel free to circle us and check back frequently for updates.

Oh and we like comments and discussion. So go nuts! Circle us! And feel free to share your experiences on the games being discussed in the comments.

Hope to see you around!
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