The Avengers Assemble… in the Apocalypse World

Teaser image of Iron Man as The Faceless, by Melissa Trender (melissatrender.com)

I was thinking recently: someone could totally run an Apocalypse World game in which all the player characters were based on the Avengers.

I don’t mean a hack to tell Avengers-style superhero stories. There are already plenty of Powered by the Apocalypse superhero games that do that (Masks and Worlds in Peril, for example). Instead, this would use Apocalypse World‘s rules as written to tell a sort of What If…? story.

What if the Avengers were formed 50 years after the end of the world?

What do the Avengers (Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, etc.) look like in the blasted, lethal, psychic-powered Apocalypse World?

Does it work? Is it a good idea to even try? I don’t know, but I’d better get the idea out there quick before Avengers: Infinity War comes out and transforms the general population’s understanding of who the Avengers are! Especially now that the superheroically talented Melissa Trender has provided some fantastic illustrations! Read on for that if nothing else!

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Turning over a new leaf: A villainous Cortex Prime playtest

It’s 2018, hurrah! A new year means a new year for roleplaying, and I’m looking forward to a few upcoming changes in my roleplaying calendar. First, all three regular campaigns that I’m in are reaching their climactic finales, which will be an exciting if bittersweet farewell to some characters. Second, I’m hoping to play some more one-shots, particularly in systems I’ve never tried before. Third, I’m putting my hand to game design a bit more—unusually, I’ve been inspired to dip my toe into OSR gaming, so we’ll see where that goes.

Most immediately, though, there are two things that are dominating my early 2018 roleplaying thoughts: GMing my first new campaigns after a relatively lackluster 2017 in that area, and the Cortex Prime playtest draft rules.

These two things go together pretty well, it turns out.

Mick Rory (Heatwave) in Legends of Tomorrow season 3 episode 2,
The gif that inspired it all.

Right now, I’m running a Cortex Prime game of supervillains, whisked out of the toxic environments that enabled their iniquity to fight a greater threat, given a chance to do something good for a change. Something like Legends of Tomorrow, Suicide Squad, or Guardians of the Galaxy (only the last of which I’ve actually watched, admittedly). Can they reform and become better people? Do they want to? Can they save the world? This is Set a Villain.

Since I last blogged about Cortex Prime, its Kickstarter was fully funded with all of its stretch goals reached, and several drafts of an SRD have been released for playtesting. I initially used v2.1 of the SRD (released on 19 September 2017), but I plan to update this to the latest versions as they come out. Currently, that’s v3.1, dated 1 January 2018. Happy New Year!

In this blog I’m giving a rundown of my new campaign, including the Cortex Prime variant rules we’re using. Note that while I’ve been writing detailed feedback on the game so far and sending it to the developers, I’m not going to copy it out here. Cortex Prime is still a work in progress, and (I hope) any feedback I’d write now would be irrelevant by the time the game is finalised and published. The most you’ll get here (for now) are some general opinions. Onward!

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Fate of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Part 1: Introduction to Rocketeering

TMNT (2003 versions) and supporting cast (1987 versions). Print by Khary Randolph and Emilio Lopez

I have a big soft spot for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT). I grew up watching the old 1987 Fred Wolf cartoon (“Heroes in a half shell! Turtle power!”), and fell back in love watching the 2003 4Kids! cartoon. I’ll defend the 1990 Golden Harvest film as a cinematic gem until the day I die.

For years, I have been thinking about how I’d go about running a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles roleplaying game. I’m probably never going to run a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles campaign, since I only run games in person and I don’t know many roleplayers who are fans of TMNT. But that’s never stopped me from thinking about it and now, finally, I know how I’d go about setting up such a game.

In this series of blog posts I’m going to set out the process by which I would adapt TMNT to a roleplaying game. In this introductory post, I discuss game mechanics and explain why, for a shorter campaign featuring the four turtles as PCs, my prefered system is The Three Rocketeers, an aspects-only variant of Fate Core. In later posts, I’ll present character sheets for the turtles (part 2), lay out at one-shot adventure and stat up some major antagonists as NPCs (part 3), and talk about how I’d set up a longer campaign as a GM (part 4).

I hope that any GMs and players who are interested in a TMNT game will be able to follow what I’ve done and use it to play something that kicks ass. (And if any of my roleplaying friends want to play such a game, please let me know so we can make it happen!)

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A roll in the hay with Kagematsu

Cover of Kagematsu

Kagematsu is a roleplaying game by Danielle Lewon, based on a design by S.R. Knipe. The simplest, most obvious summary of the game would be to call it a romance game, but there are aspects to it that prevent it from being so easily pigeonholed. If you’ve heard of Kagematsu, you probably know it as the game that must always be GMed by a woman, and that’s important to its exploration of gender and power imbalance.

I have been wanting to play it for a long time, and I’m glad I have because there is so much to say about this game!

Here’s the highlight, though: I had a great time playing Kagematsu. I want to play it again. I recommend it, but there are things that I wish the game did better so I fully understand if it’s not the game for you.

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My (red) kryptonite: Mind control in Smallville RPG

Clark Kent (Tom Welling) with red kryptonite eyes, from Smallville via Wikia

Mind control is a staple of genre fiction. It appears in fantasy, science fiction, and horror. It’s used an awful lot in superhero stories. As such, it’s hard to avoid in any roleplaying game that tries to emulate any of these genres.

But mind control is rooted in the idea of removing someone’s agency, and playing a character without any agency is just not very fun. Ask anyone who has had their D&D character under the influence of Dominate Person for round after round after round…

Smallville RPG includes mind control, at least in part because it was based on a TV show that was chock full of mind control and other forms of mental alteration. Given Smallville RPG’s commitment to the concept that no player can ever dictate another character’s choices, mind control could have been a fascinating addition to the game. Unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s either so weak that it can be ignored, rendering it meaningless, or it’s so overpowered that it violates the game’s core principle of protecting player agency.

In short, mind control in Smallville blows harder than Clark Kent’s super breath.

In this blog, I will describe various ways that we could hack Smallville to make mind control work better, taking inspiration from some other roleplaying games. The different strategies are not mutually exclusive, and two or more could be combined in the same game. Maybe even all of them together.

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Cake and free invokes at the Mario Party

Mario Party 4 wallpaper featuring Peach, Daisy, Waluigi, and Yoshi (sadly not Red Yoshi)

Back in September, a friend of mine ran a one-off session of TinyFate based on Super Mario. It was, incredibly, his very first time GMing an RPG and he did a great job. He’d played in one of the TinyFate Monster Mash games that I ran, and liked the system well enough to use it himself. (TinyFate was designed for new players. Turns out it works for new GMs too!)

He also made some interesting tweaks of his own to it. And despite my claim previously that I would probably remove free invokes from TinyFate if and when I updated it, two of the main tweaks for the Mario Party game were both around free invokes.

These tweaks are very cool and they’re flexible enough to apply to pretty much any flavour of Fate Core. First was the two-sided game aspect to emphasise game focus; next was a change to the rate of return on free invokes for Create an advantage actions.

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