Sunday, 12 January 2014

Supermen, an adventure idea

I had an idea for an adventure but I don't think I'll get around to running it any time soon so I'm putting it out there for you to use instead. Use whichever system you like but for the sake of this discussion I'm going to use FU.

Create Characters
These have to be ordinary people with no powers and no special occupations. No special forces or police, no security guards. Accountants, plumbers, shop assistants, and the like are all good candidates. The one thing that each of them must answer is their opinion of Superman. Is he a hero? An alien who can't be trusted? A god? A freak that should be registered? Any opinion is good, and it's even better if your group has a diversity of opinions about it.

For the FU version of this, create characters as normal but only allocate one Gear slot for something from that character's mundane life.

Share Powers
Something happened to Superman. Our player characters don't know what it was, let alone who did it. Maybe it was Brainiac, or maybe Lex Luthor. Whatever it was, Superman has lost his powers and can't be found. His powers aren't gone, though. They've just found new homes in the bodies of our player characters. Assign the powers randomly to the player characters but each character gets only one of them. I like to think of Superman as having the following.

  • Super strength
  • Super speed
  • X-ray vision
  • Heat vision
  • Flight (also super speed)
  • Invulnerability
You might end up with unallocated powers. Create NPCs for those.

The characters have a psychic link with Superman. From time to time they get flashes of what he's experiencing. This should be enough to give them clues as to his whereabouts.

For FU, each of the powers counts as two Gear slots.

Make the characters aware of time
Without Superman around, the super-villains are starting to rise up. They're more bold. The rest of the JLA is good, but Superman has always been the heavy hitter. GM, get the villains to start affecting the lives of the individual characters in some indirect way. That is, the villain won't come after the character, but their employer might have a factory which now has to be retooled to make war robots, or the villain declares an independent nation and this affects civil liberties, or a host of other things.

Secondly, give the players the feeling that the power transfer might be permanent if not negated soon. You decide what "soon" means. A day, a week, a month. Tailor it to the speed of play. The point is to help drive the characters to action.

What's this game about?
It's about a couple of things. The characters will have to figure out if they even want to help Superman, or if they would rather have one of his powers for themselves. If they want to help, they'll need to go find Superman and then figure out how to give him his powers back. If they don't want to help, they'll either keep their powers quiet (and boring) or they'll attract attention from somewhere. Will it be from the police, from criminals, from super-villains, or from the JLA who want Superman back?

Ultimately this story is an opportunity to explore what the ordinary person would do with just a glimmer of sudden power. The story ends when you want it to, but probably if Superman actually gets his powers back and (like most super heroic comic stories) everything is restored to the way it was.

If you play Supermen, leave a comment here and let me know how it went.


Sunday, 5 January 2014

Two Drivers for Magic in your Setting

I've grown up with the standard approach to magic in fiction: pseudo-mediaeval society, before the industrial revolution, with knights in plate armour, and wizards in towers. This is the kind of setting where magic seems to be the domain of the few with the exception of the player characters. I understand why this makes for a good story, but what would happen if we add a revolution into the mix?

Before I go any further, I want to say that I haven't googled any of this so I don't know (a) if anyone has done this before (probably have) and (b) I'm not so fussed about that because if I don't get this written down it'll go around and around in my head until I'm a crazy old cat man. Now back to the speculation.

When I think about the industrial revolution I think about how clever engineers devised machines to increase productivity by saving the amount of labour required to produce commodities. I'm thinking about machines like the steam engine, the archimedes screw, and the cotton gin. Machines like these dramatically increased the output of factories and made the industrialists rich.

In the classic fantasy tropes, magical knowledge was available only to a few just like engineering knowledge. On the other hand, from the little fantasy I've read I didn't see people turning it to labour saving uses for the masses. Wizards seem hellbent on keeping the knowledge to themselves, to benefit themselves. So let's imagine that a fantasy nation, from as early as we can imagine the combination of magic and invention, doing what actual humans have done in history.

Invent machines for war and work.

War is the easy one to imagine. Fireballs, lightning bolts, golems, and enchanted weapons are just the tip of the iceberg. With a magical arms race in full swing by major economic powers, the possibilities for magical warfare are diverse. Our modern warfare has bayonets, small arms, grenades, anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines, rockets, bazookas, mortars, tanks, artillery, fighter jets, bombers, spy planes, intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear warheads, chemical weapons, computer hackers, and drones. Plus other things.

It could be added to the setting in two ways. One is to just make magic versions of the same devices. And that's boring but serviceable. The other is to make a magic weapon that does something functionally similar. An ICBM is a long range explosive. Imagine a magical weapon that traverses continents, hits a target with reasonable accuracy, and explodes. Or would it simply be a teleported fireball? Or a remote earthquake spell?

The point is that warfare drives part of our own technological innovation (GPS, radar, etc.) and it should also drive the development of magic.

The other one to imagine is work. Imagine if a Merlin type character, in a post-Roman Britain, worked for a merchant or an agricultural lord rather than King Arthur. There's no need for serfs to till the soil if a spell can do it for less bread and in less time. So the serfs move on to other occupations, including magical studies. I think about it in the same way that today there are countless more people studying engineering (and other industrial disciplines) than there were before Stephenson built the Rocket. Instead of farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and so on, imagine a myriad of schools of magic where students learn how to use it for civilian purposes.

Today's economy includes products and services, for consumer and industrial markets. What would a magic economy produce? What would the market demand? If all this development took place a thousand years before the European industrial revolution would our ancestors have been interested in iPods and smartphones, albeit the magical equivalents of them.

If it really happened in history, it makes for great story fodder. I think that the political and economic drivers of war and work would significantly change a fantasy setting if only the wizards could be turned to those purposes.

Which fantasy settings do you know that use magic this way?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Wait til you see what most people clicked on in 2013!

The last couple of years I've started the new year with some stats about this blog. I'm sparing you this year, gentle reader. 

But I'm also thinking about titling every post with clickbait techniques.