[WGP] Marvel Fanfare

Started by James_Nostack, August 10, 2009, 12:45:26 AM

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As discussed in this thread, I'm running a long-form With Great Power... game.  We had our first session of play this week, and had a blast, and I think I'm beginning to understand Simulationist play priorities for the first time.

Let me begin with a confession: I'm a madman on the subject of Marvel Comics circa 1961-1986.  One of my fears is that, when I'm 70 years old, I won't remember my own children but will remember the Binary Bug.  I don't seek out this knowledge; it's like my brain is just wired to soak it all up with perfect recall as a child.  And I've wanted to run a game in the Marvel Universe for about five years, with a preference for the Silver Age.

Luckily, Josh and Adrian are as insane as I am.  So this game, using a set of rules specifically designed to handle Silver Age Marvel comics, is sort of like a grand planetary alignment that will probably never happen again.  And we're determined to jam as hard and as long as we can.

QuoteAdrian: You're not going to be a stickler for continuity or anything, are you?
Me: Me?  No, no.  (pause)  No.  We have free reign to overturn anything if we need to.  (pause)  But it's, say, July 1964.

(I'm reporting this as a joke on myself.  The point being that all that continuity nonsense is there only if we decide to use it.  The default assumption is that it's an influence but not a straitjacket.)

This passion for the source material hugely influenced our enjoyment of the game.  It felt like the ol' Marvel Universe was another player at the table, proposing scenes, suggesting details, setting up jokes and one-liners for us. 

For comparison, consider how the usual "campaign setting product" works in most other RPG's.  Dude buys the campaign setting, reads it cover-to-cover, gets enhused about it.  The other players are fairly interested in the basic premise ("D&D, but on a desert planet full of mutants?  Sounds good!") but never really give a damn about which city has which politics, or what happened at Such-and-Such 146 years ago.  And no matter how much the GM assures the players it doesn't really matter, he can't help but feel disappointed.  It'll never be as good as he dreamed it would be. 

In this case, everyone involved had memorized the dang setting book.  Everyone was wildly in love with everyone else's characters.  Everyone was committed to the narrative quirks of the genre.  It was the most passionate commitment to the Shared Imagined Space I've ever seen, and an enormous amount of fun.

This devotion to the genre conventions "interfered with" (or rather, corrected) my play at one point: I retroactively modified the GM's stakes in a conflict to better match the genre.  In one conflict, I'd declared one side of the stakes: Reed Richards's Interzonal Displacement Aperture explodes, killing the newsmen covering the event.  Because I ended up winning the conflict, I had to narrate that outcome!  Instead, I reduced the consequences to "lots of people are hurt."  Though the other players had fought long and hard to avoid my deadly stakes, they didn't blink an eye at this substitution, because innocent people never die in Silver Age comics.  "People get killed" is automatically parsed as "people get hospitalized," and we weren't really conscious of that until we'd run into it in play.

So, some quick questions:
1.  Is what I'm describing a type of Simulationist enjoyment?
2.  Is there a quick explanation for why Simulationist-style and Narrativist-style priorities clash?
3.  Other than Dead of Night, what other Sim-style indie games are out there?

In a day or two, I'll throw in a plot summary for a player who requested it.


Hello James,

Ron is a 1000 times better at diagnosing GNS play priorities from AP reports than I am.  Though I would like to add that mere enthusiasm for source material is not sufficient for Right To Dream play.  In fact, I would say that it's down right required for some forms of Story Now because that shared enthusiasm can create a focusing effect for really *nailing* the Premise.

For example right now I'm playing a Sorcerer & Sword game with people who only have some vague notions about the genre.  I keep having to stave off ideas like one player attempting to create an almost Harry Potter-like school of bright eyed children who proclaim, "Gee Mom, I'm going to be a SORCERER some day!"  Similarly, I've played Dirty Secrets with people who are more familiar with cop dramas like The Shield or The Wire and thus the game has circled the issues inherent in those shows as to the more classical issues found in the noir genre (turns out the game works quite well for the purposes).  My point is that strong genre enthusiasm can be a fantastic support beam for Story Now.

The question is, did your enthusiasm become devotion?  Your switching of stakes post-resolution might be an indicator that it did but it might not.  I would at least need more information about the fiction.  But like I said I leave actual diagnosis to Ron.

To take a stab at answering your second question.  Story Now and The Right To Dream clash when addressing the Premise at least runs the risk of "transcending" the source material.  There's a great thread where Ron talks about running Lovecraftian Sorcerer.  In it he talks about the fact that basically, "I own Cthulhu and he serve my agenda" has to a live and viable option despite the source material having no such example outcome.  Ah!  I found the post here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=7480.msg78483#msg78483

I recently read the Patrick Kenzie novels by Denise Lehane which are unmistakably "hard-boiled detective" fiction.  However, Patrick Kenzie, the central P.I. has a partner, who is also a woman, who is also a significant and steady love interest.  Indeed I think exploring that relationship within the usual context of moral corruption found in the genre is a significant literary contribution by Lehane.  However, I know many a GM that had I sat down at the table and said, "You know what?  I want my P.I. Gumshoe to have a partner... and you know what?  We're in love but have a hard time acknowleding it," they would have simply responded, "You clearly don't understand the genre."

As for other strong Right To Dream support games I firmly put Spirit of the Century, The Committee For The Exploration of Mysteries, and Serial Homicide Unit here.



I cant add much to Jesse's excellent post, I think he's pretty much bang on.  The only thing I'd add is your talking the talk but did you walk the walk?  Put up that plot summary and maybe we'll have a better idea of what happened at the table.   What were the ramifications of Reed Richards machine injuring people?  How was that dealt with over the long term and how did the players interact with each other and have their characters react to it beyond this intial scene where it happened?   


I've wanted to write a follow-up post for several weeks, but every time I try, I feel like anything I write would be redundant, and I simply don't have the energy to go into a moment-by-moment recounting of our play sessions.

But here are some highlights over our first two sessions of play:

* Peter Parker arriving at the Daily Bugle newsroom, hoping to sneak Betty Brant off for a quick lunch at the Automat.  Instead, he overhears half-a-telephone-call between Robbie Robertson and Mr. Fantastic about a new scientific experiment, which ends up "seducing" him away from Betty.

* The Thing is upset with the Human Torch for smearing his trunks with Adhesive X, and their feuding irritates the others on the eve of their big experiment to access "the Positive Zone."

* Loki, Norse God of Mischief, plans to become regent during the all-too-frequent "Odinsleep."  This precipitates a conversation between Loki and the Warriors Three as to who's better to rule Asgard: Thor, Loki, or Volstagg the Voluminous.  ("Cease thy prattling, Fandral!  Under the reign of Volstagg the Vizier, I shall open the royal kitchens and all shall enjoy a bounteous feast!"  "It is not a feast if it all ends up in thy belly!"  While Hogon smacks his mace into his palm and gives Loki the evil eye.)

* A pitched battle in the Baxter Building as the Thing and Spider-Man try to contain an army of Rock Trolls which bursts through Mr. Fantastic's Positive Zone Portal device.  The heroes are soundly beaten: the Thing damages the machine, causing the Invisible Girl to nearly burn-out her powers trying to contain the resulting explosion, and the reporters who were present blame Spider-Man for the mishap.

* A brief cameo by Thor, who tried (and failed) to stem the Troll invasion, before having to go battle Cobra and Mr. Hyde some more.

* The Thing ended up clobbering a bunch of the Trolls in a construction site, in the process saving Betty Brant from certain death as a Troll dropped her from a great height and he caught her in an elevator car by swinging it on its cable.

* Peter Parker falls for his new college literature professor, the Enchantress, who urges her class to seize as much power as they can, for fear that others would wield it irresponsibly.  The two end up in the library, trying to research a myth about the Rock Trolls (the Enchantress endeavoring to make Thor look like a buffoon).  When the Enchantress reveals she knows Spider-Man's secret identity, Peter discovers that what he really needs is a wise, older woman to help him figure out his life.

* When the Thing and Alicia are strolling through Central Park, they encounter Betty Brant, whose hero-worship of the Thing is a little too much for Alicia's liking.  As Alicia storms off, Peter confronts them and, stung by Betty's fickle feelings, calls her a "rat-fink."  (We decided this word is 1964's Comic Book Code equivalent of calling someone a whoring skank-bag, understood as such by the readers.)  Adrian devastated the Betty Brant aspect, which is fun but not part of the Villain's Plan directly.

We then had some problems figuring out the next scene, so we broke, to come back later on.

1.  I really don't like the orthogonal stakes system in With Great Power.  It's a drag to pause the game and figure these out.  Why is it in the system?  What does an orthogonal stakes system do, that simply opposed stakes couldn't?  We've generally been treating this as "opposed stakes" throughout, particularly because the orthogonal stuff ends up acting like Vincent's "fast-forwarding" style of play mentioned on his blog a couple weeks back: once you get into really juicy stakes, they almost can't be settled by in-play events.

2.  I'm also not keen on the Minor Conflict scenes.  Is every scene that's not a Major Conflict a Minor Conflict?  We've tried ignoring this too a little bit, but it then becomes difficult to see what the point of a scene is.  If you simply have an Enrichment Scene, and adjust cards in your hand but don't have a conflict, is that a "bob"?

3.  Selecting a cosmic-scale villain was probably a mistake: I think Adrian and Josh were a little frustrated in figuring out a way to take the battle to Loki.  I intend to change those circumstances shortly, but for now it kind of shut them down a little bit.

4.  The card mechanic looks like it might create a Death Spiral effect.  Josh, playing the Thing, has generally had 3 cards in his hand for just about 2 entire sessions.  In order to gain more, he's either got to declare a Major Conflict and forfeit immediately, or else lose a tediously long string of Minor Conflicts to build up his hand.

5.  I solved my "Am I Playing Sim?" question during the last scene.  I chose the stakes that Peter Parker basically calls Betty Brant a heartless, two-timing whore - in order to make Peter Parker the most disgusting hypocrite on the planet.  Rather than select negative stakes that would comfort everyone's impression of Peter Parker, I wanted to make it so that if I had my way, he'd be a dickweed and thus threaten fans' perceptions. 


We just finished our fourth session.

* The Thing lost a titanic battle against Ulik the Rock Troll in the Circle of Woe, and is now a war-thrall in the War on Asgard.
* Spider-Man was partially seduced by the Enchantress, mutated by the Norn Stone, and is moments away from a battle with Thor

But man, I can't shake the feeling that With Great Power... isn't quite tight enough, mathematically.  I don't see any way for the players to ever threaten me--two of my aspects are Risked (minor stress) and two are Threatened (medium stress) and I have a ton of cards. 

Spider-Man's player has devastated two of his four aspects, and almost devastated the other two--pretty soon, he'll be completely "stressed out."  Already he's been forced to go through an "enrichment grind," basically whoring for cards one at a time.  The Thing's player is in somewhat better shape, but he's also pretty screwed. 

Has anyone else had trouble with this?  I'm going into the "fifth chapter" and I feel like I've won every conflict and enrichment scene.  The players never stood a chance.