Update 43

by David Meadows 3. February 2018 00:39

This week's story is issue 21 of Heroes: SAMURAI. Last issue we glimpsed the Chicago mob boss POWL THE SAMURAI, but this isn't his story -- it's Jerome's, and we finally learn a bit more about the man who claims to be from the 17th-century (but may be just a figment of Paul's imagination... you decide!)

The bio pages are a bit uninspiring this week. I've got a lot of characters (112 at last count) who have only appeared or been names once in the story, and they're hanging around on my character list like loose ends. So I'm going to try to get some of them written up and on the site. I've started with three who I'm reasonably confident will never be seen again (one is dead in the current Heroes story), and you'll find them under RECENTLY ADDED in the sidebar of the Who's Who index page. There isn't a lot of detail on any of them, simply because they were never designed to be detailed characters, they were throwaway names or faces needed for the plot. But I hate loose ends, so they have to get pages.

Hmm, at three a week it's going to take a long time to get through 112 characters. I might have to re-think this...

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Update 42

by David Meadows 26. January 2018 23:12

Something unusual this week. The Strikeforce chapter (Chapter 20: Panther Trap) is a "solo" adventure of Nightflyer, and it's by a guest writer, Stuart Forster. 

I never planned (or expected) to use guest writers, but Stuart is the the original creator of Nightflyer, so this chapter is as authentic as anything else in the Strikeforce story. After all, Stuart knows how Nightflyer really thinks and feels; I only pretend I know.

And just so it looks like I've done at least a bit of work this week, I've written a who's who entry for the first Greywolf. The useful thing about writing about characters who have died in the story is that I don;t have to worry about ever updating them as new information is revealed.

Talking about updating, I've made a slight amendment to the Strikeforce encyclopaedia entry to add Astra as an associate member. Will she ever be promoted to a "full" member? You'll have to keep reading...

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Update 41

by David Meadows 19. January 2018 23:55

Weekly updates are still on track (it's a miracle!) but only a couple of pages this time.

The main one is the next issue of Heroes, #20: Chicago Knight. This follows on directly from issue 19, which was published so long ago you'd better go and read that again first.

Chicago Knight introduces a new character, Knight Owl, who is bound to become a big star, so you've basically got to read the issue or you'll feel as silly as those people who didn't buy The Incredible Hulk #181.

The only other new page is a bio of Supernova, but it's a really long page because Supernova is one of the key characters of the universe, a founder of the Defense League and (before Strikeforce turned up) the man considered Earth's mightiest hero.

Update 41 is still on schedule for next week.

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Update ... 40, I think

by David Meadows 12. January 2018 22:00

Months overdue. No excuses. I'll aim to get back to a weekly schedule, but it might be a bit light until I build up a decent reserve of content. Next week should go ahead as I already have Heroes #20 ready, but I'm not sure after that...

So, this week we've got a new Strikeforce chapter, chapter 19, "Major Changes", called that because ... well, you'll see.

The other content is a bit light. I want to flesh out the Defense League of America (seen in Strikeforce chapter 7 and scheduled to recur several times) so I've started with the Green Knight. And I want to build up more of the immediate pre-Strikeforce history, so there's a timeline of important events in 1986. I've been thinking of a complete revamp of the history section because the format doesn't quite work, so this might be the last timeline update for a while while I work on a new look and architecture for it.

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First test with players

by David Meadows 18. September 2017 19:41

I have a handle on how the combat rules work from my solo test, and the next step was a test with the players. I created some simple characters for them to use, and set up a simple situation against some typical enemy forces.

This has two benefits: first, it teaches them the rule mechanics. Second, it lets them see first-hand what a character can and can't do, what he's vulnerable to, how the game treats the balance between weapons and defences, how effective different skills are at different levels, and so on. When they come to create their own characters, they'll have a better idea of how to create someone balanced and effective.

To cut a long story short, the test was a great success (at least from my point of view). It went slowly, because I did a lot of referencing rule books, but I've satisfied myself that once I have the rules off pat it's going to be quick and simple to run.

The players threw themselves into the spirit of the test, trying all manner of things to test the rules to destruction. So we had people on foot and in vehicles, crazy manoeuvres, tanks crashing through buildings and pedestrians, all manner of different weapons being employed, people picking up grenades and throwing them back before they exploded, people sneaking around as well as charging in recklessly. We learned that you need to be very skillful to shoot from a moving vehicle, that machine guns aren't as good as you think they are (except when they are), that grenades are horrible but survivable, that (un)lucky dice can upset you but there are ways to mitigate the disaster, and that skilled characters can take on three-to-one odds and win comfortably, as long as they're clever about it.

Overall, I'm very happy with how things are going.

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Familiarity Breeds ...

by David Meadows 16. September 2017 21:43

A reader asked, "How does familiarity with the players affect the game?" and it's a good question that I'm not sure I know the answer to.

Everything in my recent series of posts isn't intended as a "how to" for new games masters, as every GM has to find his own approach. The posts were simply a record of my own personal process (though if they have provoked some thoughts in other GMs, that's a nice bonus). For a start, the single biggest factor affecting my process that won't affect new games masters is my familiarity with my players.

Two of my playing group have been with me since I started the Strikeforce game 30 years ago. The rest of the group joined at various points within the first three years or so. Over the years, others have come and gone, but my current group has been playing my game together weekly for almost 30 years.

That’s a lot of familiarity. They know how I plot things, and I know how they react to things. That's a really nice feeling, in a lot of ways, and a major annoyance in others. No matter what twist I come up with in a plot, the players are going to foresee it, because they know how I think. It makes surprising them a real challenge, to the extent where I now don't try to surprise them, I try to just make the totally-anticipated events enjoyable for what they are.

Sometimes I play on the familiarity. It's now an accepted convention that a red-haired, green-eyed woman with a mysterious past will appear in every historical era, and she'll be from a pure Atlantean bloodline and may or may not be a sorceress (and may or may not, in fact, be the same immortal person -- I know at least one of my players suspects she is). But knowing that the players expect her to turn up isn't a problem, it just gives me the challenge of making her exact motivations interesting this time around.

Working the other way, having an idea of what the players will do in any given situation makes me better able to deduce the outcome and lets me get away with plotting less redundant possible paths for them to follow. I can give the impression that they have four possible choices, for example, while being 90% certain they will take choice "A", and therefore concentrating on fleshing out that part of the plotline.

Or course, it doesn't always work that way and I still can't allow myself to get too complacent.

A significant problem with this "game familiarity" is that I don’t know if it is now possible to add new players to my existing group. Never mind about whether they will enjoy my playing style, the real problem is how could they ever have a clue what’s going on? My players and I have 30 years of shared knowledge of the universe. I never need to explain "Atlantean", because they know exactly what it means in the context of my game. They're good enough players not to let that knowledge colour their characters' actions, of course (in a game, your character is only allowed to know what he should logically know, even if the player knows a lot more). But as a shorthand I can say "Atlantean" to the players and save myself a long plot exposition.

How do you introduce a brand new player into that environment?

I have literally no idea.

In my more self-doubting moments, I think maybe I'm not a good GM at all, and I wouldn't be able to run a game for anybody else, and it's only the familiarity factor which lets my game stagger along at all.

And, you know what? That's ok. I don't aspire to be the world's best games master. I just aspire to make my game the best game it can be for my players

That's all any GM should worry about.

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The Rick Rocket Conundrum

by David Meadows 12. September 2017 19:45

It's all my own fault. But I don't know how to fix it.

Let me start at the beginning. 

Rick Rocket appeared very early in the Strikeforce story (off the top of my head, I think you'll read about him in chapter 30 or 40), in a small role in his real identity of Hugh Howard, then an old man. After helping him, Strikeforce learned he was a retired super-hero. Not just any super-hero, but Rick Rocket, America's first super-powered masked hero, appearing in the late 1930s and becoming the greatest hero of World War 2.

He cropped up a few more times in the game, and despite his minor role I had a full background and history worked out for him.

So, my series of historical games reached the 1930, the era of "pulp" heroes, and of course I had to include Rick Rocket somehow.

I decided this game would be his "origin" story, and the players would (unwittingly) be there at the birth of America's greatest legend. This would only be a minor part of the game -- as the focus of the plot has to be on the players' characters, not a supporting character -- but I thought I could still make it work and make it fun for the players who remembered the character's introduction nearly 30 years ago (our time).

Then I made a silly decision: I made Hugh Howard a coward.

This will be great, I thought. Subvert the players' expectations, make him not the hero everyone expects, and actually make them, the players, the people who push him down the path to heroism.

It's dramatically satisfying on so many levels. I'm a genius.

Except ...

It went a bit wrong. We've now finished the 1930s game, and Hugh Howard is still a coward who has no intention of putting on a costume and fighting crime.

Continuity is unravelling around me.

I'm sure I can fix it.

I have to fix it.

I'm just not really sure how ...

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Oops...

by David Meadows 11. September 2017 19:05

I seem to have committed to running a test of the combat system with the players on Saturday. I'm not sure why I said I'd do that, I am neither materially nor mentally prepared for it.

Oh well, five days to get sorted out...  

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Rules Test (3)

by David Meadows 11. September 2017 18:58

We're on combat round 4, and Lionheart has to decide whether to finish off the thugs or to ignore them and chase the boss.

Beating thugs has been a little slower than I expected, so if he stands and fights the boss will get clean away. So I decide Lionheart will have to leave the thugs for another day, and he leaps clear so he can chase the boss.

There's a rule that allows your opponents a free attack at you if you try to move away from them. This seems fair, as it establishes a "zone of control" around each fighter that prevents someone just sprinting past a group of enemies unopposed. As soon as you move past one, he gets a free attack.

Because thug #2 is actively engaged with Lionheart, he gets his free attack as Lionheart bounds away. Lionheart knows that the thug has no chance to hurt him unless he’s incredibly lucky (again!), however. The gamble pays off, because the crowbar just bounces off Lionheart’s bulletproof skin. 

But now Lionheart has leaped clear, the other three thugs all shoot at him. Again, it's a gamble, but the odds are that none of their bullets will get through Lionheart’s tough skin -- and indeed they don't.

The boss has continued running, but Lionheart has super-human speed and is gaining fast. So the boss tosses a grenade behind him -- no, I don't know why he's got a grenade in his pocket, I just wanted to test the grenade rules. It's a poor throw, and the grenade goes wide, but the explosion is still close enough to hurt Lionheart. It's more powerful than a bullet, and Lionheart takes another "shaken" result, which is going to stop him dead in his tracks. But with the crime boss almost in his grasp he can't stop now, so he spends another hero point to tough it out, ignores the shaken result, leaps forward, reaches the boss, and in one super-strong punch it's all over.

He's still got three armed men behind him, and with two hero points used up he's in some danger of lucky hits from them really messing up his night, so instead he scoops the unconscious boss over his shoulder and leaps off to deliver him to Scotland Yard.

A good night's work for our hero, and a satisfying test of the rules. Maybe heroes are slightly more vulnerable in this game than I anticipated, but that just means they need to fight more intelligently, and I'm ok with that. I'll make sure this comes across to the players when I test the rules again with them, so hopefully they don't get their characters killed in their very first fight.

So, armed with a better sense of combat balance, I can continue creating the Nazi characters who will be opposing the players. 

And here ends the rules test.

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Rules Test (2)

by David Meadows 9. September 2017 12:47

We left our intrepid games master in a panic because the rules let a useless thug hit and badly hurt Lionheart, who's supposed to eat thugs for breakfast. Is all hope lost? Are these rules actually not as good as I thought?

In situations like this, there's just one question a beleaguered super-hero GM has to ask: 

What Would Peter Parker Do?

Pete would curse his bad luck, then he'd think about how much Aunt May was relying on him, and he'd make some supreme effort even though it seemed hopeless, and he'd win through in the end.

I firmly believe that this is the very heart of super-hero fiction. It's not about how hard you punch, it's about how you bounce back in the face of adversity. Any super-hero RPG rules that don't model this in some way are severely lacking.

And, what do you know? These rules do allow for this!

The game allocates a number of points called "bennies" (short for "benefits") to each character. (First of all, that's a horrible name for them, and I'm not going to use it. I'm going to call them "Hero Points", which is a term my players are familiar with from our original Strikeforce game.)

The player can use these "hero points" to overturn a run of bad luck and let his character win through by making some supreme effort. It's a rules mechanism I really like, because it doesn't completely take away the chance of failure (if the player screws up, he's still going to fail) but it offsets the small (but, as we've seen, real) chance that the GM is going to roll "6" multiple times in a row and really ruin your day through no fault of your own. 

The rule could be open to abuse, but as long as the number of points granted is small, the effect is one of re-balancing rather than un-balancing the game. The player can't blithely ignore every bad result they get, they have to choose their moment and make their character's heroic effort count. From experience in other games, I think the number of points granted to a player in these rules is about right.

So as Lionheart's player, I use up one of his "hero points", and he instantly recovers from the unlucky "shaken" combat result, pulling himself back together and ready for round 3.

On to combat round 3, then, and as expected, now he's on top of things again, Lionheart's superior skills cause the two thugs to miss him, while he punches thug #1 hard enough to knock him out.

I now look at the thugs with guns, and decide one of them ought to stop hovering about and just shoot Lionheart. The problem is, Lionheart is toe-to-toe with thug #2, and the rules give a chance (probably realistically) that the gunmen will hit their friend instead in the confused tussle. Should they try it?

I decide that thug #3 doesn’t really like thug #2 anyway, and doesn’t really care if shoots him by accident. So he takes the shot, misses Lionheart, and to thug #2’s great relief misses him too (I'm sure harsh words will be exchanged later, if they both survive this).

At this point, I decide that the boss villain will save his own skin, and he runs towards the back door. If he can get through it, he will jump into his waiting motorboat and make a clean getaway down the Thames. It now all comes down to whether Lionheart can catch him in time.

Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion!

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About this blog

The Heroes Universe is an ongoing work of fiction, conceived and chiefly plotted by David Meadows, with help from a group of friends, over a 30-year period.

I am slowly documenting the Universe on this web site.

This blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that history.

If you're new here, the series of posts listed below will explain what it's all about. I hope...

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