*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
April 20, 2014, 05:28:21 AM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 21 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Author Topic: [With Great Power ...] Brief but strong play in Sweden  (Read 4957 times)
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« on: July 30, 2010, 06:24:18 AM »

During our recent three-weeks-plus visit to Sweden, my family and I enjoyed a six-day stay at a summer house by a gorgeous lake near Mellerud, in Dalsland. Peter Nordstrand came up to visit for an evening and in between kids-and-fun activities, we were able to take some time to mess about with With Great Power. As with my previous contact with the game, it made me extremely hungry for more.

In fact, I curse the universe, in the manner of Dr. Doom. This game is absolutely made for long-term play and I keep getting mere tastes! Reading it over with this in mind yielded significant realizations for me.

1. Color-first is key
Here's a quote from Michael S. Miller from our older thread based on playing WGP at GenCon a couple of years ago:
Quote
WGP characters are quick to make as long as everyone is on the same page. The first thing we did was discuss the type of comic we wanted to make. After some discussion of street level supers generally being loners, we settled on what Ron termed “Cosmic Zap” style comics. Y’know, the Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel, Kirby’s New Gods, Thanos, Darkseid, Galactus-kind-of-thing. Next up was the Stuggle. We decided on Community versus Glory.
All right, this is a big deal, because the game text is wonderfully explicit about exactly what to do and how to play ... but I think something is missing. The game rules say "Struggle first." But here, we did a step before that, a crucial one, what Mike was calling "on the same page." What is that, substantively? This is something I know a lot about. Back when I played the bejeezus out of Champions with several different groups, often simultaneously, I put a lot of effort into what might be called orientations prior to play. I stress that Champions of that time was a build-your-own, setting-less game, and it was notorious for game groups coming to grief because they couldn't get on the same page about what their comic-to-be was supposed to be like. The fact is that "super-heroes" is a rotten starting term for such an orientation, because it appears to be a creatively-unifying concept but in practice is not, offering literally nothing solid for mutual understanding.

This is one of the things that my incomplete Color-first threads in the Endeavor forum were intended to dissect. Although the rules of With Great Power are absolutely explicit that the group arrives at the Struggle first, clearly there is something else which we need to do before that. Something that terms like "Superheroes!" or "Four-color superheroes!" won't do. Something that what you see in a lot of game texts (although not WGP to its credit), vague abjurations to arrive at a "character concept," won't do it either. This missing thing must be concrete, inspiring, and communicated clearly, among everyone involved.

A couple of months ago, I did a thought-experiment using Codeflesh as the model, which was very helpful in organizing my thoughts about it. I'll go into that in detail later in the thread if anyone is interested, but for now, here are my thoughts on what to discuss prior to talking about the Struggle. To be clear: this is not a required, one-by-one checklist, but a list of possible starting points for a brief discussion to get on the same page. I doubt that more than one or two would be necessary, and it'd be up to you to decide which one or two were most important for you as game organizer.

- look of the clothes and superheroic imagery

- the economics and subcultural identity of the book-as-item

- look and content of action

- the edgy content (which may be found across many possible topics, and I like to distinguish between fake-edgy and genuinely edgy as well)

- specific artists, specific titles, specific characters, specific time-periods of a given title

2. Scratch pad vs. character sheet
I only recently figured out that the primary character sheet for WGP isn't the carefully organized and formatted document that would ordinarily be called the character sheet. It's the Scratch Pad, which does have an official Incarnadine version, but might as well be exactly what it sounds like, a piece of paper with scribbles on it. That's what persists as a character is played through Story Arc after Story Arc, with some items never being used as formal Aspects and game mechanics, and some items being used and "returning" to the Scratch Pad unchanged, and some items being either altered significantly via Devastation/Redemption or Transformed through villainous Plans.

Since every Story Arc has its own Struggle, that means that such a character would develop, over time, an emergent larger issue or theme that cannot be anticipated. I find this very, very attractive, and it's clear that my thinking about the game to date has been hampered by focusing on a single Story Arc - exactly the conceptual block that I often discover in others when discussing Systems and Creative Agenda relative to a given game title. My comments about the fruitful void in the Cosmic Zap thread are still valid, as I see it, but they are I really did not grasp WGP's real reward cycle until now. I have a lot more to say about its nuances but will save that for when I have more direct experience with it.

3. Our game: Color-first worked its magic
One on one is out of the text's recommended range of three to six players, but I think it offers some potential for powerful play. I don't have enough of a feel for the math/mechanics of the game, through one Story Arc or multiple Story Arcs, to say whether such play is limited in those terms. Perhaps the deck mechanics will be less "bouncy" with just one person on each side.

Peter stressed that he didn't have an encyclopedic knowledge of comics, so from the Color questions, I asked him to consider the look of the clothes, providing a contrast between tight form-fitting costumes vs. baggy-ish clothes as a seeding point. If he'd been a comics-nutjob like me, I might have focused instead on titles or artists. He thought a bit, and came up with very baggy or swirling clothes, including cloaks, zoot suit pants, and hats. Lots of hats. We talked a little bit more, resulting in a kind of retro 40s or even 1920s look and feel. A key part of that discussion was the idea of technology that at that time was still exotic, and I posed an "electrogun" as an example power. That led to Peter being excited about a character based on a battery of some kind, and he started talking about the guy's big hat. I thought I might be feeling this. Does he have goggles? I asked, and Peter instantly knew that his guy had to have goggles. So we were on the same page now.

For myself, encyclopedic comics nut-job that I am, the mental imagery was inspired mainly by the 1970s superhero and Dracula art by Gene Colan, Bruce Timm's art directing for the early 1990s Batman: The Animated Series (skim the PDF for the cityscapes on pp. 33-43), and Mike Mignola's Hellboy. (The final link is probably superfluous, but I want to single out this work as opposed to other Hellboy illustrators and the movie.)

Then I asked him further about imagery, specifically actions and situations. I phrased it carefully - One kind of superhero illustration which has always bugged me a little is what comics artists call "the floating hero," which is to say, in the absence of any background or anything else. And related to that, what I call the "fight with nobody," in which the heroes are facing the reader and all yelling and blasting away, and the bolts are zapping to the reader's left and right ... but you have no idea of whom they are actually fighting or why. I explained these, and then asked Peter, if the character were illustrated by a great artist (like Colan or Timm or Mignola, I was thinking), then who would be an appropriate opponent? I provided the contrast between something huge and otherworldly, vs. a human person who clearly operated in the same sphere of action or genre as the main character. He very emphatically stated that he saw his character opposing someone very much like himself.

As you can see, I only used two of the questions I listed above, during our dialogue. Privately, I added a third, which I didn't think would be useful for Peter but which helped me a lot.

Scratch Pad: while doing this, Peter talked a lot about how the character had turned his back upon being a profiteering, powerful person and was now utterly marginal

Asset/Power: Battery pack (Personal)
Asset/Origin: Formerly wealthy
Asset/Identity: Janitor (Personal)
Motivation/Duty: Protect youth from the abuse by the powerful
Motivation/Conviction: Personal gain is not enough (Municipal) (I quite liked the increased Scale on this one)
Motivation/Duty: The son I never had (this might do better as Asset/Identity, or as a slightly abstract Relationship, or it might not - whatever Peter wanted would be fine)
Asset/Identity: Ex-Omnicorp

(Note a bit of mis-play: I didn't realize at the time that all three major categories of character Aspects are supposed to be included, and the Negative's scratch pad lacked Relationships.)

I asked Peter whether a name had come to mind, and it hadn't. We entered into a kind of free-associative dialogue, focusing on the oppositional elements of a battery, polarity or circuit or something like that, or positive-negative ... "The Negative Man!" I said, and Peter kind of batted it around and arrived at simply, the Negative.

As Peter worked on his scratch pad, I came up with my Rogues Gallery:

i) Swift Justice - vigilante cop, a Dirty Harry stereotype* but with powers
Obsession: "Gotta take down the punks to clean up the streets"
Asset/Power: speed-shifts (I wanted a kind of super-speed that wasn't Flash-like, and thought more in terms of rapid, short-lived actions)
Asset/Identity: hero cop
Relationship/Romantic, sort of: a prostitute he idolizes

ii) the Devourer - rich occultist, corrupt and profitable, power-monger
Obsession: "What I want is all that counts"
Asset/Power: dimensional surrealism
Asset/Origin: extraordinary wealth & influence
Relationship/Lieutenant: enslaved hot cosmic babe

As with the hero, I came up with the names well after working through the other information.

4. Our game: Struggle and story
I asked Peter to come up with the Struggle. He decided upon Truth vs. Compassion, and moved onto choosing the relevant Aspects from his Scratch Pad. I asked that we stick to the minimum number, three, and he chose the Janitor Identity (Compassion), the Battery Power (Truth), and the "Personal gain is not enough" Conviction (Compassion). I mused upon Swift Justice as the possible villain in question, thinking that he might be a fine candidate for a Truth obsession, but then Peter chose the Strife Aspect: the "Personal gain is not enough" Conviction. Instantly I realized that the Devourer was the right villain for this Story Arc, and although it took me a few tries to arrive at how the Plan relied upon transforming this Aspect, I eventually came up with the very satisfying transformed version: "Power is enough."

I'm not explaining that quite right - choosing the villain and arriving at the Transformation of the Strife Aspect were more-or-less synonymous acts. I tried to stay true to the text's advice that the Plan chooses the villain, not the other way around.

I further specified the Devourer a little bit, by adding the idea that he'd seek to Transform the Conviction by taking whatever the Negative accomplished and twisting into some form that was "better" and more suited to the Devourer's powerful grip upon the lives and wealth of the city. It was obviously important that he could not simply treat the Negative as an obstacle to be crushed, but as something to be subverted; effectively, he was seeking to make the Negative into another lieutenant because he could not simply destroy him.

As you can see, we did the Scratch Pad and Rogues Gallery before identifying the Struggle, which seemed to work better for me. As I see it, the Color-first step is strong enough to sustain pre-Struggle creativity.

We moved straight from there into play, starting with Enrichment Scenes.

i) Peter's first scene aimed at Priming his Battery power. He began with the Negative in a basement somewhere, furiously cranking the Battery to re-charge it. I made the situation problematic but placing it in a building threatened by some kind of life-sucking void hovering over its roof, slowly killing the people sleeping below. To be clear, this wasn't a conflict scene and success against the void-thing was not at issue; the question was whether the Battery would itself cause some kind of disaster under such recharge-and-use stress. (The void was playing the same role as the thugs in Noir's Priming scene, in the book's example.)

I should re-phrase that: eventually I stated all that stuff. This was preceded by serious flailing on my part for a couple of minutes. I even started describing some other sort of super-character, and I couldn't decide whether it should be Swift Justice or not and so my description was lousy. For one thing, I was still a bit wrapped up with Swift Justice in my mind, and I was trying to avoid making too abstract an opponent based on Peter's earlier statement.

I probably should have realized that I could have used Peter's scene to Prime the Devourer's dimensional sorcery then and there, but I wasn't too quick with the options for Enrichment yet.

ii) My Enrichment scene primed the Devourer's lieutenant, now named "Agnetta" (I asked Peter for a Swedish name not commonly used in English). I described his scary study/laboratory in his mansion, at the top of one of those semicircular tower-type corner structures, and how he was baffled by the failure of the void-thingey. He asks Agnetta who that could be, and she, standing there all stiff-like, impassively says, "I do not want to tell you." Ooh, hinted back-story! The card-draw concerned whether he forces her to tell or not, and he won. So he raves horribly, and her head snaps back so her mouth faces upward, and he does this kind of drawing-out gesture above it. Unwillingly, she tells him, "This is the Battery, and your powers are as nothing to his." Which of course kicks off his Obsession big-time.

This scene could have Primed the dimensional sorcery too, if it hadn't been already, and probably should have.

iii) Our single Conflict Scene

Cards & Aspects: Peter stated the Negative, in full Janitor get-up, was infiltrating Omnicorp to investigate its records. He Readied (Primed) the Janitor Aspect, which he later brought to Risked for more cards during the conflict. I opposed with Extraodinary Wealth & Influence too, Priming it, and later brought in Agnetta, Assessing her to Risked.

The conflict began with the Negative in disguise, making his way through security and safeguards, then changed into more of a sorcerous-scary personal confrontation with Agnetta. Ultimately, Peter yielded, bringing Janitor to Threatened.

Card-play itself: Although I fumbled a bit of the card-movement rules (see below), for the most part this went quite well. We used Escalation and Changing Style without any trouble with the concepts. I eventually realized that, for a given Page of Conflict, that the conflict will only include four specific combinations of the Style options. I really like that! It makes every conflict just constrained enough be unique in pure visual terms, and still broad enough to make robust card-play possible.

Peter yielded the Conflict, eventually, and said that the Negative is now trapped in Limbo/whatever.

Narrations and Suffering: As I saw it, by the end of the conflict, the Janitor Aspect was conceptually brought to the point of being a pose or affectation. In visual terms, it means the clothes and tools were blasted mostly away. The Risked status for Agnetta, at the outset, let me think in terms of playing her as very obviously dichotomized in her words and actions. Although her actions were all about zapping and capturing the Negative, her dialogue was curiously non-hostile.

I take the text's advice to really make Suffering matter very seriously. As I see it, narration that increases Suffering can do horrible things to Aspects, because the only pre-Devastation constraint is that they can return to normal later. So to me, "Threatening" an Aspect isn't just having the villain go "Ha ha, I shall steal your power" ... it means the power, for the moment, stops working, or is totally impotent in this fight, or anything equally nasty, up to apparently being destroyed (like armor shattering). At this moment, in this game, as I see it, the reader should realize that the Janitor identity really is threatened as a possible story outcome.

I forgot to mention the Story Arc at this point in play, but it seems reasonable that Peter might have wanted to advance it after yielding this conflict.

As I see it, the next scene would obviously be a two-participant Enrichment scene, and I also would consider including two Aspects for the Devourer, both Agnetta and the Plan.

5. Some mis-plays and other reflections on procedure

1. Obviously, since the Negative has no Relationships on his Scratch Pad Relationships resulted in no in-play Relationship Aspects. Upon looking over the book the next day, I discovered that the Aspects chosen for play need to include one of each of the three main categories.

2. We used one of Peter's cards to oppose mine during GM enrichment scenes, instead of flipping the top card from my deck.

3. I really, really should have Primed the Interdimensional Surreal Sorcery as well as Agnetta in the GM Enrichment scene. That stuff just couldn't be kept out of the story in that scene or in the following Conflict scene, and it wasn't even Primed yet.

4. We both had a little bit of trouble regarding Pages and Panels, but although I didn't understand it 100% at the time, as it turned out, we did it reasonably correctly after all.

5. We mis-played discard/keep during Changing Style, partly because we weren't using a Conflict Sheet, partly because I was a little iffy about discarding in general (see below). Fortunately I understood the ranking card rule well enough and our conflicts were simple enough (one GM, one player) to do everything else without trouble.

(more in the next post)
Logged
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #1 on: July 30, 2010, 06:24:31 AM »

6. Procedural questions

i) How does discarding work?

I guess what I need is a full, ground-up explanation. Let's say there are five people at the table and I am the GM, and it's relatively early in play so I have a primary deck and two auxiliary decks, and the four players have one deck each.

We run a Conflict scene and everyone participates. Where does each person discard? A single pile? One pile per player? One pile per deck? Do you sort the cards by deck for discard purposes?

I think I remember something about this from the con game ... when a deck runs out, you shuffle a discard pile and it becomes the deck, right? ... but where did that discard pile come from? How does that relate to the GM having multiple decks, or later, the players having multiple decks?

It may be that all of this is explained in the book, but I'm not finding where. Michael, if you're reading this, or anyone else with solid canonical experience with the game, please help me out. At the moment, this is my main stumbling block to play.

ii) Is my explanation in Assessing for new GM cards WGP correct?

iii) Struggle first: in long-term play, characters are to be taken through multiple Struggles, with Aspects chosen anew from their Scratch Pads. So if you go by the rules, you come up with a Struggle and make Scratch Pads for characters inspired by that, but in later episodes (and assuming you stay with these characters), you are working with existing Scratch Pads as you make up new Struggles. I guess this isn't a big deal because you can always jot down whatever you like on the Scratch Pad, and you can always start a new hero if you like when a new Struggle is decided. But I want to make sure I'm understanding correctly that if you stick with a given hero through several stories, then Struggle Creation and Scratch Pad reverse their order after the first time.

7. Follow-up
A day or so later, I found myself sketching down two more members for my Rogues Gallery:

i) Life Force - an artificially-energized dead guy who nevertheless can wield and channel shockingly powerful life-energies, both as physical feats and miraculous cures or explosive releases of energy. Scale: Personal.
Obsession: "I'm still alive, no matter what."
Asset/Power: The life force (Municipal)
Asset/Identity: Already dead (Personal)
Relationship/Family: Horrified but loyal son (Personal)

ii) the Numan Corp - oldie but a goodie, robotic replacement conspiracy, clunky industrial version, strong influence from 44. Scale: Municipal.
Obsession: "Humanity has failed; its heir's turn has come."
Asset/Power: Replacement of human targets (Municipal) (note: this looks like Minions but isn't)
Relationship/Lieutenant: Quisling politician (National)

It's been a long post, but it has merely scratched the surface. I have reams and reams of commentary, notes, musing, and questions about this game, with some stuff that I don't think has been well-acknowledged in discussions. I hope this post sparks a lot of interest. I think that along with Nine Worlds, With Great Power heads the list of outstanding games which were unfairly dropped from intensive play and discourse in 2005-2006.

Best, Ron

* By "Dirty Harry" stereotype, I am referring to the way the name is now used in casual conversations and references, definitely not the content of the original film.
Logged
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2447


WWW
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2010, 10:41:18 AM »

The game rules say "Struggle first." But here, we did a step before that, a crucial one, what Mike was calling "on the same page."....This is something I know a lot about. Back when I played the bejeezus out of Champions...I put a lot of effort into what might be called orientations prior to play. I stress that Champions of that time was a build-your-own, setting-less game, and it was notorious for game groups coming to grief because they couldn't get on the same page about what their comic-to-be was supposed to be like.

Is this an invitation to talk about pain?

Back in the 90s a group of us did a lot of talking about gaming, and some planning for games, but actual gaming was pretty rare. And there was a standing rule for one specific friend that you never agreed to character creation before he had done any groundwork or prep for a game he was pitching to run. This because you'd done chargen for so many of his proposed games before and he almost never followed through with the work of prepping and running anything.

Well, me and two other recruited players broke that rule early one Saturday afternoon when this friend was proposing to run Champions. He insisted he needed characters before he could create a scenario. So we got together in his basement and started talking character concepts. First we started riffing on team names. Not a few of the suggestions were silly: "Piss & Vinegar". And of course Piss would wear a white leotard that had a brilliant yellow stain on the front from navel to mid-thigh. This went on for hours, with the prospective GM getting more and more irritated.

Ultimately he had sequestered himself at another table with his rulebooks and you could cut the tension in the basement with a knife. So us three recruited players decided to go out for ice cream. We invited the prospective GM, but he was in no mood and declined.

Well, at the ice cream shop we had an awesome creative conversation. We came up with an idea: Cthulhu mythos-derived heroes! A secret government lab was doing stuff like extracting ichor from Nyarlathotep and injecting it into people to transform them with surreal powers, and then sending them on dangerous missions. Cthulhu meets Alpha Flight. It was a pretty exciting idea and all three of us easily came up with cool character concepts. My guy had submitted himself to the program in exchange for the government fixing it so the court granted him custody of his daughter instead of his crazy ex-wife. But of course the injections of blood from Y'golonac were now making him a pretty unstable dad. And how do you comb your daughter's hair for school when your hands have creepy, bony guillotine cutter things embedded in them?

So we went back, worked at patching things up with the dubious prospective GM, and spent the rest of the evening in the basement making our characters.

And you can guess how awesome the game was, right?

Paul
Logged

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2010, 11:15:08 AM »

Hi Paul,

Considering that you opened your post to talk about pain, I'm guessing that the prospective GM was not especially happy that anyone but himself had brought creative meat to the table. But that's merely a guess.

I do think WGP is creatively and productively constrained in one fashion: the historical melodramatic content of Silver Age Superheroes. One problem with that is that those characters were massively commoditized over and over, whether 7-11 cups in the 1980s or zillion-dollar movies in the 2000s. Another problem with it is that later comics continued to transform the same characters well past the point of productive melodrama into ever-escalating layers of self-parody. The net effect of these trends has been to render even the phrase "Silver Age Spider-Man!" almost useless unless you're talking to people who coincidentally are cherry-picking exactly the same things from the nearly infinite heap of content and pseudo-content represented by it.

But getting past that problem is at least possible with some dialogue, and the game text does a really good job explaining its use of the term melodrama.

This leads to another point I've been musing about, implied by my mention of Codeflesh. There are many superhero comics which are definitely off-genre from what WGP does at first glance, but upon reflection, end up being very true to the same vision after all. If you go only by the specific history and conventions that the WGP text references, you might never think of using them as primary inspirations, but I think that they'd work well in terms of the melodrama itself and many of the same core issues.

My list includes: Codeflesh, Hero for Hire (specifically and only its first year, 1972-1973), Marshal Law (the first six-issue story only), Empowered, Suicide Squad (as written by Ostrander and Yale only), Nexus (1981-1985 or so), The Question (as re-interpreted by O'Neill in the late 1980s), The Liberty Project, Godland, and a few others. I don't want to spark a comics-centric debate, but I would not include The Watchman or Bratpack, nor the possibly more difficult to debate Hero Alliance or Invincible.

Best, Ron
Logged
Jaakko Koivula
Member

Posts: 61

Postmodern man-thing


« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2010, 11:29:43 AM »

Ron: Your character roster reminds me a lot about Doom Patrol! Starting with Negative's name (Negative Man was in the comic), the Devourer (surreal cosmic sorcery, pure Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, Brotherhood of Dada, etc), Life Force actually sounds a lot like how Negative Man was in the comic, etc. I wonder why I've never considered Doom Patrol and WGP together. Doom Patrol actually sounds like what would happen, if WGP was played on drugs.

I gotta test it. (Doom Patrol inspired WGP, that is.)

I can't remember having much trouble or questions with the mechanics, but I think it's been three years that I've played WGP, so can't really remember how we did all those bits. We might have just house-ruled the discard piles and not think about it that much.
Logged
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2447


WWW
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2010, 12:34:24 PM »

Yeah, the game never happened. Prior to the current era of sfx-driven superhero films the GM's idea of superheroes was Saturday morning Spiderman and X-men cartoons. He didn't know what to do with our characters.

Anyway, onto the topic of your "color first" prescription. I actually think there are two ways to address the problem. One is "color first," as you suggest, to get everyone on the same page, and the other is the solution of wiping the slate clean of preconceived notions the way we did with my device of a unique naming convention for the heroes and villains in our Theatrix game years ago.

Successfully wiping the slate clean has the effect of creating a conversation about genre via the chargen process. When I created a gadget-powered psychologist and PR agent to heroes in crisis, and Tracy created his troubled, sword-wielding knight, it forced Tom to make a superhero genre about those kinds of characters.

Do you think both work for With Great Power, or is there a reason to prefer "color first"?

Paul
Logged

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2010, 10:12:19 AM »

Hi Paul,

I perceive your naming convention as itself a form of Color, so to me, it all looks like another way to do Color-first. Phrased in general terms, it could be added to my list of possible opening discussion topics:

- State an original, unconventional, and/or provocative detail of superhero-ing to use as a starting point, which may have the added benefit of canceling certain assumptions aside

Best, Ron
Logged
James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2010, 03:01:30 PM »

Quote
This game is absolutely made for long-term play and I keep getting mere tastes!

With Great Power... is definitely a long-form game.  We did a full, slow-paced arc which was very satisfying, but took about 5 sessions.  Multiple arcs would presumably require 15-20 sessions.  That's a hard thing to arrange!  People can't even do it on-line, because the mechanics depend on swapping cards around the table.

Quote
The fact is that "super-heroes" is a rotten starting term for such an orientation, because it appears to be a creatively-unifying concept but in practice is not, offering literally nothing solid for mutual understanding

Agreed.  The really memorable super heroes are basically Powers + (Other Genre).  Batman = Powers + Noir, etc.  As a gaming pitch, "Powers!" won't do much because there's no context. 

Quote
I did a thought-experiment using Codeflesh as the model, which was very helpful in organizing my thoughts about it

Do tell!

Quote
Perhaps the deck mechanics will be less "bouncy" with just one person on each side.

Running a 1:2 game, I felt the GM's hand was extraordinarily powerful, even in light of the game's intentional imbalances.  I could have crushed them if I hadn't limited myself to devastating only one Aspect per scene.

Quote
I asked that we stick to the minimum number, three

This is probably wise.  When I played with six aspects, I never really felt pressured, because at least half of my sheet never came under stress.  On the other hand, playing a full, slow game with 2 players, limiting them to 3 aspects may have been too limiting.

Quote
I tried to stay true to the text's advice that the Plan chooses the villain, not the other way around.

It's very good advice as far as letting go your preconceptions, but very hard to follow! 

The Plan is always going to be a ramshackle Rube Goldberg type of thing anyway ("I need . . . Pym Particles, Sif, and a King's Duty to Wakanda"), so really you could probably choose the villain first without doing too much harm, but that may a temptation.

Quote
The card-draw concerned whether he forces her to tell or not, and he won.

How did you play out the GM enrichment scene?  I handed the players control of the supporting cast and told them to play against me aggressively, but the text is quiet about this and I'd be curious to know how other GM's solve the "playing with yourself" problem.

Quote
I eventually realized that, for a given Page of Conflict, that the conflict will only include four specific combinations of the Style options.

I'm not sure I follow.  The suits have no memory. 

Quote
I take the text's advice to really make Suffering matter very seriously.

Careful, IME playing "nutball" with With Great Power... gets old fast, because you have to do it 9 freaking times to Transform the Aspect.

Quote
Do you sort the cards by deck for discard purposes?

That's how we do it, but the text isn't clear.  At some point, you're going to run out of cards in a deck, and you need to keep the decks distinct because they'll swap ownership.

Quote
But I want to make sure I'm understanding correctly that if you stick with a given hero through several stories, then Struggle Creation and Scratch Pad reverse their order after the first time.

I think that's right, with the proviso you mentioned about being able to re-start a scratch pad from scratch. 
Logged

--Stack
Michael S. Miller
Member

Posts: 856


WWW
« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2010, 06:24:19 AM »

Thanks for the great write-up, Ron. Glad you enjoyed the game. Gonna touch on a few of your many topics raised, but I'll have more time later in the day.

1. Color-first is key

You're absolutely right. While conceiving of the game and writing it, I used Struggle-first as my organizing principle. And while it works sometimes, it doesn't work every time. My play post-publication has only been reliable when Color or Situation comes first. Your suggested questions are great, and I'll likely incorporate some sort of Color-first procedure into the revision.

Quote
2. Scratch pad vs. character sheet
This is exactly what I conceived of when writing the game: The scratch pad as an evolving document, with the character sheet being a sort of outline for what parts of a character are "in the fray" for this particular issue.

I can't comment on how it actually works in long-term play. I haven't been able to sustain long-term play for a variety of real-life reasons.

Quote
One on one is out of the text's recommended range of three to six players, but I think it offers some potential for powerful play.
I think you're right that two-person play has a lot of potential. All the card decks make scaling up difficult, but I don't suspect that scaling down would be a problem. Personally, I'd miss the troupe-style playing of NPCs in Enrichment scenes, but that's one of my favorite parts.

More later...
Logged

Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2010, 07:25:48 AM »

Hi Michael!! I look forward to seeing your next post and developing the discussion.

I'd like to explain why I think the With Great Power rules, which allow for hosing your own character, do not violate my discussion of advocacy for one's own character in [PTA] Players wanting their PCs to fail?, for example. And the whole "Stakes" thing needs a good airing with this game, again, because I think the WGP rules function really well at the edge of certain risks. Annnnd, I have some very specific procedural questions for you about the Plan as an Aspect.

Also, so you know, I'm bringing my book and all the sheets to GenCon.

Hi James,

The trouble with a line-by-line response like yours is that it may generate even further line-by-line responses, resulting in an expanding spray of disconnected call-and-response, instead of a discussion. To counter that effect, I'm going to try to combine your points into paragraphs when possible, and set aside some of your points for later.

1. In our game, there was only one player-character and therefore only one Strife Aspect, so the Plan was pretty straightforward. Back in the Cosmic Zap game, which admittedly only went through a few Conflict scenes, I found that a Plan based on five Strife Aspects wasn't too hard.

In my musing about Plans, it seemed to me that, based on the rulebook's example, the whole thing in its entirety doesn't necessarily have be a plan in the villain's head, in part because it may involve more than one villain in complex cases. Mudslide's romantic ends toward Debris have literally nothing to do with Perjury's ends toward Pearl (Noir's Aspect) and the Stalwart; they're logistically linked only because Mudslide is working for Debris. Interestingly, that situational detail is not included in the book's presentation of forming the Plan, at least allowing the possibility that it's not required - which means a Plan as a whole may not be an in-game, in-fiction plan at all.

I'm curious to know about the fictional content of Plans, which is to say, yes, the GM will seek to Transform all the Strife Aspects, and yes, each one has fictional content in terms of a given villain's Obsession and the current Struggle ... but how often are the total/complete complex of sought Transformations someone's plan in the fictional sense, especially since clearly they do not have to be?

2. In my GM Enrichment scene, I didn't use the option of assigning the lieutenant's role to someone else (i.e., in this case, Peter). I think that might do better, in my mind, for later play, when the character's relationships and a certain amount of back-story content had been established. At this point, Peter was still finding his feet regarding his own character and the possible adversity he faced, so I didn't want to give him the job of inventing some of that adversity, at least not early on.

As with #1, this is mainly what I'd like to discuss, the legal diversity of applying the rules. I'm finding this game's rules to be quite open to the social and creative needs of moment, much more so that I'd thought upon my initial reading.
3. Really interesting things I'd like to understand better through examples of others' play.

i) I have no problem with conceiving of real Suffering at every step. Inflicting Suffering is my pride and joy when playing supervillains, and I never run out of ideas for it. My current thinking is to establish the nature of a given Aspect's Suffering early, and then concentrate on conceptually reducing its ability to recover as we go along, which after all is the actual threat being imposed by Devastation and then Transformation.

So if anyone can talk about how they narrated the steps of Suffering, especially all the way through Transformation for a Strife Aspect, that would be excellent.

ii) I think one of the most important elements of play is how the Struggle, the Obsession(s), and the Conviction(s) interact, especially when the latter are Strife Aspects. I was thinking about classic comics stories in which not all of these are hyper-stressful all at once in the instance of any single Story Arc, but sort of trade off in terms of which are the most fraught as Story Arcs rise and fall in succession. The main one which came to mind was the long and exceptionally story-stuffed Lee/Kirby run on The Fantastic Four. There are times in which the Obsession is much more thematically charged than any hero's Conviction, and other times when the reverse is true.

It seems likely to me that instead of working obsessively to make every single With Great Power Story Arc put every one of these elements up to 11, it'd be more functional to allow each combination of them, per Story Arc, to take on a unique identity regarding just where the thematic tension is coming from. That's one of the main things I was thinking about in terms of fruitful voids, too.

My tentative ideas about Codeflesh will have to wait for later (and hence is part of #4 below), but it's definitely a subtopic of this point. So I'd like to learn more about various combinations of these exact mechanics that others have used in play.

iii) That Scratch Pad again - here's my thought, for which I'd like experience-based feedback.

4. Ideas to discuss later - please don't follow up on these at this point.

i) Regarding the combinations of suits and various Styles, I may not understand the Page of Conflict as well as I thought; I'll hold off on further discussion until after I get to play through some serious ones.

ii) I'd like to talk more about GM power and the Plan vs. Heroes later. I'm a little surprised at your comment about being able to destroy them, but you have the experience with the game, and I don't yet.

Best, Ron
Logged
Nathan P.
Member

Posts: 590

emotional game design


WWW
« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2010, 07:26:25 AM »

I'm assuming the Color-first has a particular meaning in context of With Great Power... (which I haven't read or played), but it immediately reminds me of a really fruitful technique I developed during my playtesting of Darkpages. After determining which Imprint (which covers tone and general style of the game-to-come), but before going through the whole character generation process, I would ask the players "Ok, so I pick up your characters comic off the shelf. What's the cover look like?"

I found that this was really effective at both getting the players thinking in terms of color and image (which is really important in Darkpages), and also at cluing me in to their comics background and preferences.
Logged

Nathan P.
--
Find Annalise
---
I design | ndp design
I blog | Games, Design & Game Design
I tweet | @ndpaoletta
James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2010, 08:09:58 AM »

Quote
I can't comment on how [the evolving scratch pad] actually works in long-term play. I haven't been able to sustain long-term play for a variety of real-life reasons.

This is one of the spots where the text isn't very clear.  The GM can only change an aspect once he or she drives it to the maximum level of stress ("transforms it").  Presumably if play ends before the GM can transform that aspect, it resets to normal at the start of the next series.  

After playing 3 one-shots and a long-form game, I've never seen the aspects get transformed.  We've come very close in one game*, but only on those aspects which were extremely significant to the plot ("strife aspects").  The other aspects were only moderately stressed.  This suggests that the long-term change of characters will be pretty slow if not undetectable.  Naturally players could re-jigger their own scratch pads to reflect whatever they learned during the adventure, but I gather we're talking about changes compelled by the conflict rules.

Michael, what happens when the game ends, and there's an aspect sitting around that's been captured by the GM but not yet transformed?  It resets to normal, right? 

* = Obligatory disclaimer: that game may not have been representative.  In that game, the players had trouble understanding some of the rules and therefore weren't playing optimally.  Either as a result of their poor play or imbalances native to a 1:2 player long-form game, I crushed them so horribly and so persistently that by the last session I ended up playing sub-optimally, so that they would have a fighting chance.  For reference, at the end of the game one player had devastated all of his aspects; the other player had devastated everything except for the strife aspect which had been left untouched. 
Logged

--Stack
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 17707


WWW
« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2010, 08:37:52 AM »

Hi James,

My understanding is a little different. It hinges on the difference between Devastation (which is the same as Capture) and Transformation. I'll phrase it like I see it.

A Devastated Aspect, and at any of the post-Devastation stages save for Transformation, can be regained by the player by winning a single conflict against the GM, which returns the Aspect all the way to Primed. This is called Redeeming an Aspect. However, it will be permanently changed by one or more of the various features listed in the text (Scale, et cetera), and if I remember right, the change is up to the player.

A Transformed Aspect is permanently changed by the GM in accord with the Plan.

Actually, these are the second and third forms of what can happen to an Aspect, so I'll list the least extreme for the full picture. As I implied above, an Aspect which Suffers but is not yet Devastated can change drastically in the fiction, but as long as it remains un-Devastated, later narrations to bring it back to the way it was, given reductions in Suffering, are permitted. Also, such an Aspect is not permanently changed even if its Suffering is still high at the end of an Arc; it just "bounces back" at that point.

I'm not sure whether (i) we understand the rules differently or (ii) we are saying the same things and running into a little terminological/phrasing confusion, so let me know.

----

I may still be a little bit confused about one thing: you refer to Aspects coming close to Transformation which are not Strife Aspects, and Strife Aspects are the only ones which may be Transformed, or so I thought. Michael, do I have that right? Can any ol' Aspect in play be taken through Capture and further stages up until Transformation? Maybe I was thinking too close to the Plan, which relies on the Transformation of Strife Aspects, and anticipating focusing on that end when I play in the future.

Best, Ron
Logged
James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 726


« Reply #13 on: August 02, 2010, 05:34:39 PM »

Hi Ron,

Quote
As I implied above, an Aspect which Suffers but is not yet Devastated can change drastically in the fiction, but as long as it remains un-Devastated, later narrations to bring it back to the way it was, given reductions in Suffering, are permitted. Also, such an Aspect is not permanently changed even if its Suffering is still high at the end of an Arc; it just "bounces back" at that point.

Yep, we're saying the same thing.

Quote
Strife Aspects are the only ones which may be Transformed, or so I thought. Michael, do I have that right? Can any ol' Aspect in play be taken through Capture and further stages up until Transformation?

Pages 59-60 strongly imply that the villain can transform any aspect, not just the extra-special strife aspect.

I'm divided as to the strategic value of really trying to nail the lesser aspects.  Once I capture your strife aspect, I really don't have time to screw around.  As a player, you can declare, and then immediately forfeit, as many conflicts as necessary to force me into Endgame, which allows you to either redeem the aspect or wreck my plan (which, in effect, also redeems the aspect).   Either way, my time is limited and I've got to transform the strife aspect while I still can.  There's no reason to fool around with the lesser aspects, except to divide your attention. 

Quote
a Plan as a whole may not be an in-game, in-fiction plan at all.

The completely disembodied and unintended plan is a curious idea--sort of like an inescapably tragic Situation--and I wonder how well that illusion would hold up given the degree of antagonism inherent in the game.

I do have some notes from our Silver Age Marvel game last summer regarding degrees of suffering.  I'll try to post them but it'll probably occur while folks are at GenCon having fun.
Logged

--Stack
Michael S. Miller
Member

Posts: 856


WWW
« Reply #14 on: August 03, 2010, 03:32:57 AM »

Yesterday did not go as I had hoped. But today's a new day.

Cardplay issues
In 1-on-1 play, I don't see any problem with the player offering up the card. The main reason for the "GM plays versus a random flip from the deck" rule is to avoid the situation where one player must weaken their hand to oppose the GM's Enrichment scene. It seemed like that would mechanically penalize one player for stepping up and being engaged.

Discards simply go into separate discard piles for each individual deck. That's why I recommend different card backs. We tried some other discard schemes, and they all proved to be wasted complexity. Even discarding one of the cards onto the Story Arc to advance it, and having it locked there for the rest of the issue, is a rule that brings more complexity than useful gameplay.

As for whether there should be only four styles of conflict in a particular scene, James has the right of it. As written, Spades can be "striking/punching/kicking" on Noir's sheet, and "persuasion/threatening/gloating" on Debris' sheet. And, if Debris changes style with Diamonds to "grappling/tacking", she can later change back with Spades to "using a power" or whatever. She doesn't need to go back to "persuasion/threatening/gloating." The suits never "lock" to a particular style. The only choice should be "keep the style the same" vs. "change to any different style."

I never considered locking them in to just four styles for a given conflict. Keeping track of which suits represent which styles is another element of complexity in a game already burdened with it. Perhaps it will be a fruitful constraint. I'll have to give it a test run for the revision.

Devastated Aspects
As written, the GM can attempt to Transform any Aspect that the player Devastates, not just the Strife Aspect. As James points out, it doesn't help The Plan, but sometimes you take what the players offer. This can occasionally produce play where what a player originally claimed was their Strife Aspect sees no suffering at all. Maybe the player is turtling, maybe the player thought they were going to have more fun with Aspect X, but in play they find that Aspect Y is more fun. My wife Kat actually runs a variant at conventions where she asks the player to change their Strife Aspect to the one they're obviously interested in, and adjusts her Plan to match.

Quick notes, I hope to come back to later in the day, but you never know:

The Plan is primarily an organizational tool for the GM, not for the fictional villain. If it can do both jobs as an in-fiction nefarious scheme, and as a metagame reminder of "this is the flavor of adversity to offer up", then great. But, particularly with larger, disparate groups, I need to use the Plan to keep my Stakes and my particular attacks consistently tuned to each player's needs.

I won't be at GenCon again this year. Hope you have a good time, Ron.
Logged

Pages: [1] 2
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.16 | SMF © 2011, Simple Machines
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!