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17 May 2011 @ 06:25 am
The Hoard Potato: Core Stories in RPGs, the Superhero Version  
Well, Mearls started it:

This is a placeholder to remind myself to talk about core stories in my next post, particularly as they apply both to superhero RPGs and to the comics themselves.

Notes to Emphasize:
  • Different characters (and teams) have different core stories.
    • Batman's Core Story is not the same as Superman's.
    • The Fantastic Four and the X-Men have similar core stories based on familial connections.
    • The Hulk has a very different core story.

  • Core stories change over time.
  • Heroes get dull and predictable when writers forget their core stories and replace them with "Bad guy acts, heroes react, there is punching."
  • Most superhero RPGs assume "act/react/punch" is the core story.
  • What core story am I going to use for Gateway City?

Feel free to provide commentary while I'm gone. Talk amongst yourselves; I'll steal your ideas for the full post.

ebony14 on May 17th, 2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
You might also add that there are sometimes core stories for superhero settings or locations in those settings (e.g., Attilan, Wundagore, Genosha, Latveria [although its core story is basically Dr. Doom's core story]) that influence how heroes and villains from those places behave.
one in a billionsiege on May 17th, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
The core story for a superhero RPG, in my opinion, would be "Your character has been given ability and drive to commit justice/villainy on a larger scale than most humans can (backstory). While there are enemies out there waiting to be attacked, in general as a hero you have to start with evidence of something bad, track down who's behind it, confront them and/or their minions, and stop the bad thing (whether that means cleaning up the local gangs, or stopping a toxic waste operation, or taking out the mastermind whose many schemes are destroying things you support). Then you go back to your home/HQ and wait for evidence of another bad thing."
one in a billionsiege on May 17th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, I think you're right, most superhero RPGs focus on the big, flashy combat and not so much on the investigation and social work.
Paka: pied crowpaka on May 17th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC)
It occurs to me that with superhero comics, fights are big and flashy, investigation rarely features without including action of some sort (Batman's a real exception), but there's a lot of social activity, usually between members of the same team, and closely tied to that core story concept. What I worry about here is that a lot of the interesting social dynamic might have characters in opposition to each other, which isn't necessarily the best thing in a superhero game. (Eg; does anyone really trust Emma Frost or Magneto as team members, and what does that person think of them? What happens to the team when Charles wanders off to be a villain - which has happened several times in canon.)
Your Obedient Serpent: hoard potatoathelind on May 17th, 2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
Batman USED to be an exception. Post-Crisis Post-Miller Batman has increasingly been downplaying or outsourcing the investigative side of things in favor of punching. Even Morrison has only partially reversed that trend.

Yes, Adam West was a better detective than Post-Miller Batman.
Your Obedient Serpent: big ideasathelind on May 17th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
Note that your core story as stated is still essentially adversarial. Superhero comics that haven't fallen into the "punch things" trap involve exploration and rescue missions and confronting natural disasters that don't necessarily have a Vincent Von Luthor behind them.

I think that the core stories of any of the classic Fantastic Four runs (Lee/Kirby, Byrne, Waid, Hickman) actually has some similarity to the D&D core story: explore exotic and dangerous locales, encounter weird menaces, resolve the conflict, repeat next month trade paperback.
Stalbonstalbon on May 17th, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
You'd probably enjoy Peter David's run on X-Factor, then. It's a superhero detective agency, complete with all of the things you've just described above, in addition to loads and loads of inner monologuing by Madrox himself.
Reverend Raffertynormanrafferty on May 17th, 2011 05:58 pm (UTC)
Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
As superhero comix become more and more about "Using our stock IP" and using words like "IP", they become more and more about big battles. So many comix, especially recently, are about how "THIS IS THE BIG BATTLE" and try to emphasize that with violence. Both CRY FOR JUSTICE and ULTIMATUM have the same structure:
* Introduce heroes really quickly.
* Don't show the first big fight, for some reason.
* People die off screen.
* One really big kick-ass fight that does get shown.
* One horrific act of violence with lots of post-Code blood.
* Finale fight.

This structure is really like a role-playing game. You could easily lay out a tactical map, put all the figures on it, and play it out. It's not that much different from HEROCLIX or the like. If you were rolling dice, these battles would be compelling from their strategic value. (What power do I use? Will my HP hold out? etc.)

This sounds more like "hero punching". Good for die-rolling, not so much for the stories you wanna tell.

Some other things to try:
* BIG DISASTER: some sort of event happens that is so huge, it threatens lives. (Old Super Friends episodes are great for this sort of thing.) Our heroes must coordinate with local authorities to stop something. (Perhaps an anti-disaster device must be taken to the epicenter, and only a superhuman is tough enough to do it. Or we need miracle engineering only a genius can provide. Etc.) Criminals take advantage of the disaster -- some rob banks, some start riots, some destroy property to help the disaster along, etc.
* SINS OF OUR FATHERS: As a legacy game, there may be unfinished business lying around from previous heroes and villains. For example, a trophy in an abandoned lair might be unstable or toxic, and thus needs disposal. (And where?) ... A former institution or neighborhood was ruined by a super-on-super fight, and the people live in poverty and hopelessness. Can our heroes use their resources to help? ... The children of former super-beings want to live a normal or straight life, but can't because of some stigma (or physical deformity). Should our heroes mentor them, advise them, or stay out of it? Are they watching a villain slowly emerging? ASTRO CITY and POWERS comics are good for these stories.
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on May 17th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
Part of the point of the Gateway Legacy game is, like any fanfic, for me to take a stand against the trends I dislike in today's comics, of course.

"Disaster Response" is high on my list -- in fact, the opening scenario is going to be the PCs responding to a disaster (jailbreak!) while the Justice League Unlimited is in Japan, dealing with a combination of disasters so over the top that it HAD to be a comic book.

As for "Sins of Our Fathers" -- there's a great big crater in the middle of where Los Angeles Coast City used to be, and another one in Topeka. A core premise is that These Things Don't Just Go Away, and that's because they have Plot Hooks all over them.
ab3ndab3nd on May 17th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
There's also stuff outside of the DC/Marvel universe where the heroes actually decide to make a better world, instead of reacting to stabilize the status quo.

The prototype of this is Grant Morrison's run on The Doom Patrol, particularly the arc where they "fight" the Brotherhood of Dada. The brotherhood is weird, but not actually doing anything illegal. As a result, The Doom Patrol can't really act against them, because the act/react/punchings narrative isn't in place, and that's the narrative The Doom Patrol acts in. Eventually, the forces of the status quo murder the entire Brotherhood of Dada because, well, they're weird.

The Authority (Initially a Warren Ellis joint) had a lot of this. The heroes had an absurdly large spaceship that could open teleport doors into anywhere, and spent a lot of their time leaning on corrupt politicos and dictators, when they weren't just evacuating entire populations or ending wars by showing up and telling people to quit. The point was that if you have near-godlike power, you don't just have to foil Dr. Destructo's plan to tip LA into the sea, you can also proactively make mere humans stop being such utter shits to each other.

Planetary (Warren Ellis again) has a superteam fighting a parody of the fantastic four to "keep the world weird". They act as mystery archaeologists, finding and revealing the oddities and advances that the status quo have been keeping to themselves and using to increase their own power. The core stories are more a race against time to find the weird stuff.

In this case, the core story becomes "A group of fallible but well-intentioned people, each with a concentration of power roughly on par with a nation, decides that the way things are currently kind of sucks, and sets out to change the world for the better. Hijinks ensue as the mid-level ostensibly good guys (e.g. the US government) find that rules apply to them too."
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on May 17th, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
...you can also proactively make mere humans stop being such utter shits to each other.

Primarily, from what I've seen, by being even bigger shits to them.
ab3ndab3nd on May 17th, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
Unfortunately, comics about policymaking, economics, and education turned out to be unpopular with the 18-35 male demographic, much like the subjects themselves.
Your Obedient Serpent: Captain America 01athelind on May 17th, 2011 11:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
You know, sometimes making the world a better place doesn't involve policy-making and economics.

Sometimes, it's just about being willing to lend a hand.

It sure doesn't involve the top-down might-makes-right espoused by The Authority, which differs in no significant way from our current Becausewecanocracy.

The best way to stop human beings from being utter shits to one another is to be a human being, and not be an utter shit.
McGuffinhitchkitty on May 19th, 2011 01:24 am (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
When I think of "A group of fallible but well-intentioned people" that "sets out to change the world for the better", I think of the Squadron Supreme miniseries.

And yes, for those that need a more contemporary reference, the Justice Lords.
one in a billion: Coyotesiege on May 17th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
Like a big storm, followed by a tsunami, followed by a nuclear disaster?
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on May 17th, 2011 11:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
Got it in one.
Your Obedient Serpent: clawathelind on May 17th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Watching old SUPER FRIENDS episodes...
I should also note that one reason I posted the link to this idea was that I was pondering the core story to Ironclaw, particularly in light of your frequent complaint that too many RPGs focused on "roles, not goals".

The Core Story paradigm is that elusive "what do you DO?" factor that so many games -- especially "darling" games -- just leave out.