Golden Heroes

by David Meadows 11. September 2016 22:51

Number 4 in an intermittent series on how this thing came to be. (See the sidebar for the others.)

Role-playing games (RPGs) became a thing around the mid-70s. Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was the first one published, rapidly followed by a horde of imitators. I first encountered them around 1980, and D&D was the first one I played.

As I explained in a previous post, an RPG has a "games master" (GM) who devises the world and the plotlines, and "players" who take the part of characters in that world and move through the plots the GM creates for them. I started as a "player", which is probably how everybody should start. But although I loved being a player, I knew that all the real creativity came from the GM, and that's what I wanted to be. But there was no point in me being the GM for D&D, when our group already had one who was very good at it, so I needed something different. Almost randomly, I bought a second-hand game called Traveller. Unlike D&D, which was about heroes going on quests to slay fantasy monsters (the clue is pretty much there in the name), Traveller was a science fiction game. Which was good, because science fiction was what I really loved.

In a lot of ways, the Traveller rules were ridiculously primitive: both overly-simplistic and overly-complex at the same time. And a lot of things in them didn't really make any sense. But as I've already discussed, the rules are the least part of an RPG; the world is everything. The trouble was, In the first game session I ran I hadn't really figured that out. So I had a simple plot that didn't make much sense, set on a planet that didn't have any thought behind it. And the players created "cardboard" characters with no thought behind them; no personality, no goals or motivations, just playing pieces to solve the GM's puzzle. It didn't really work, and I almost stopped being a GM right then. But I went away, and thought about it, and realised what an RPG really was. It was a story. And I was good at making up stories (I thought). So I needed to stop thinking about a game, and start thinking about how to tell a story that my players could be part of.

I went to them and said, "I want to run Traveller again. What kind of stuff do you want to do?"

"We want to hijack a starship and explore space in it. Like Blake's 7."

Huh.

Well, ok. That's my premise. Now write a story that satisfies that. I'll need a universe for them to explore... well, ok, a corner of the universe... a few planets... a political background... conflicts and potential conflicts... interesting things to discover in different corners of different planets... ok... I can do this...

Several hours of work and pages of background notes later, I got the players back together and we tried again.

We played that game weekly (in summer holidays, almost daily) for a couple of years. We pretty much stopped playing D&D. The players just kept asking for Traveller. And I kept making up new plots, and growing the universe more and more...

And something weird happened. Instead of mechanically plodding though my plot like it was a game of chess, the players had told me what they wanted to do within the game's world, and suddenly the world was as important to them as it was to me. They wanted to understand it. They wanted to work within it. And they did unexpected things that made me go away, re-evaluate my ideas, and come back with a better idea of what my world was like and how the players fitted into it. I had designed a world that would be there and make sense and keep working even if the players were not in it. But once they were in it, they affected the world. It reacted to them; it had to because they kept pushing at it. And they reacted to it in turn, as it pushed back at them, and their characters became more developed, well-rounded personalites, who felt like real people even as I tried to give them a real-feeling world to inhabit. It was still my world, but it was more than that. It was collaborative.

That's what all RPGs should be like, of course, and I know I'm not the only person to discover it. But from that point on I stopped creating "games" and started creating "worlds". Start with the world, and the plots for the games should become obvious, because you just have to look at what's happening in your world and ask, "How can the players interact with this?" I don't think I could run a game any other way now. I know some people play "one-off" games, short scenarios that don't need a detailed background, they stand alone, the players solve the puzzle, then they're over, finished. (Games designed to be run at conventions work like this, for example; they are never intended to continue for a second session, so why do you need a world beyond what the players will see in that one session?) And there's nothing wrong with that style of game, it's just that I don't think I could do that. With me, I need a world.

Over the next few years I ran several different games with various sets of rules. And always starting by creating a world.

And then some time in 1987, I saw this in a Games Workshop sale. The game that changed my life:

It was the first super-hero RPG I had seen, though I had known such things existed. And I loved super-heroes. I wasn't sure if I could convince my playing group to try such a game,  but Games Workshop were only asking £1.99 for it. I couldn't not buy it.

I bought it, and it was the most elegant set of RPG rules I had ever read. Even today, with rules generally more detailed and "sophisticated" than they were in the early days of the hobby, and even though I've bought and read dozens of sets of rules in all genres, I've never found anything with core mechanics that simulated the action of comic-book heroes as well as Golden Heroes does. I had to convince my players to try this.

But first, I had to create a world for my players to explore.

And that's another story...

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Week 15

by David Meadows 9. September 2016 21:11

New this week:

Chapter 8 of Strikeforce. Things are fairly quiet for Strikeforce, so it's a good time to focus on some solo character interludes, picking up threads from previous chapters and laying the groundwork for what's to come. In a fit of inspiration I've called this chapter "Interludes".

This week's Who's Who entry looks at what we've learned so far about Avatar.

The Gazetteer has a short bit on Crystal Lake Camp Ground, following my policy of getting the trivial entries out of the way before tackling the big stuff.

And as usual some extra bits of the History are filled in, adding 2002 to the timeline and filling in a few dates in other years. Lots and lots to do here still, but I don't want to start filling in historical details that will spoil future stories.

So, that's it really.

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Week 14

by David Meadows 2. September 2016 20:15

After revealing Sara's background last issue, the only way I could follow that up was to have this issue narrated by Sara's mother. Her actual mother! So expect some more revelations about Sara's past. Plus James unmasks for the first time in front of the group and tells everybody about his father. But why does this make Sara unhappy?

All this in Heroes issue #8, an issue that could only be called: Family.

As if that wasn't enough excitement, I'm also launching an entire new section: The Gazetteer of the Heroes Universe. This section will do for "places" what the Who's Who section does for characters. There's only (unimportant) place described so far, but now I've got the section launched I'll be adding to it each week.

Plus a new news headlines page, some history updates, and, er, probably other stuff.

That's it for now. I'm off to do a rewrite of Strikeforce chapter 8 in time for next week's update.

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Week 13

by David Meadows 26. August 2016 21:21

Lead story this week is chapter 7 of Strikeforce.

I'll admit up front that I don't like this chapter. I think the original events in the game were poorly thought out (by me), and when I looked back at it to write it out as a story I couldn't make it work in any sensible kind of way.

So my options were to omit the chapter entirely or to do a major rewrite of the "real" events. Missing out the chapter wasn't actually an option -- a major group of charatcers have to be introduced, The Defense [sic] League of America, and as they will play a part in several future chapters this initial meeting with Strikeforce had to happen.

So instead, I went for a re-write. The events you will read are not really what happened when we played the game, I've cut out some confusing elements and given a whole new explanation for the fateful meeting, but it's covering the same ground in broad terms. Some of my changes may cause some problems down the line, but I can anticipate them and accomodate them with more minor changes in future chapters. I'm happy that the integrity of the narrative is presevered.

But I'm still not happy with the chapter I've presented. Sorry if it reads poorly, but it's all I've got.

Anyway, the numerous false starts and re-thinks of all that didn't leave me time for much else this week. I've added a new mission report and more L.A. Globe headlines , and these features have both now caught up to date with the events of the Heroes story, meaning I'll be able to keep them all in step in future.

I've also done a bit of updating in the history section, but nothing important.

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Strikeforce: Edwardian Times

by David Meadows 21. August 2016 21:49

You know how CSI has lots of different spin-offs with different teams in different cities?

I do that. Except different cities are boring, so I'm doing different time periods. That's what all the items on the history page are.

Currently preparing for Strikeforce: Edwardian Times.

Here are some Edwardian gentlemen and ruffians waiting for their storylines...

 

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Week ... er ... 12

by David Meadows 19. August 2016 20:00

The last issue of Heroes ended with Sara kidnapped by the nefarious Temple of Unity. In part two of the story we ask the all-important question: can Sara finish telling her history in a series of cunningly-written flashbacks before her friends rescue her? The answer is in Heroes issue #7: Zero.

Seriously, you have to read this one. Learn Sara's background and how her power works. ("I'm good at finding things" ... you didn't fall for that, did you?)

And now I've covered her background in the story, she can get a biography page. Don't read this until after you read the issue!

And then there are some news headlines and another mission report from Don. And some general updates to history pages. And stuff like that.

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Role-Playing Games

by David Meadows 14. August 2016 22:22

I've mentioned more than once that this entire work of fiction is based on a game, and I'm long overdue for explaining what I mean.

Before it was a web site, the Heroes Universe was a Role-Playing Game (hereafter referred to as RPG for short).

RPGs have been around for more than 40 years, with Dungeons & Dragons being the first and probably best known example. Obviously they are games, and they involve a group of people sitting round a table and moving pieces around, but other than that they're completely different from how "traditional" board games work. For a start, they take place mostly in the players' heads rather than on an actual board.

In an RPG, players don't compete against each other, they work as a team to solve some puzzle, problem, or conflict. One of the players creates the puzzles for the rest to solve. He is traditionally called the "Games Master" (GM). Some games use different terms, but I prefer GM so that's what I'll use here.

That's an RPG in a nutshell. But that's very superficial. To understand better, we have to look at how the GM creates the "puzzles" for the players.

First, I don't mean a simple puzzle like, "Rearrange these matchsticks to make a triangle". I mean a puzzle like, "You have been sent back in time to the year 1987 where you have to stop an extra-dimensional threat from destroying the universe." Ok, from now on let's say "plot" rather than "puzzle," because that's basically what I've just described. That sentence could be the plot of a novel.

Once the GM has the plot, he needs to create a setting to put it in. So he creates a world -- he thinks up some background details about the 24th century, comes up with the idea of a super-powered police force, and so on. Next, he needs an antagonist for the plot -- let's say, a super-powerful robot from some place called "Dimension W", who is sending a signal to summon his invasion fleet. Finally, he needs to know how the puzzle can be solved -- let's say smashing the robot's communication machine is the answer, but let's make it difficult by protecting it with a force field, and furthermore having the army unwittingly helping the villain.

That's the GM's job finished. (Well, the easy part of it. He has more to do later.) All of this springs entirely out of the GM's head, of course. He's bought a rule book for the game, but that doesn't tell him what plot to use. He has to write his own plots. And he's the only player involved in the game so far; he's shut in his room on his own writing all this down ready for when the rest of the players come round on Saturday. (Being a GM is a good job for people who like writing stories. That's why I do it.)

Now the players come in. The GM describes the idea behind the game to them -- "You're police officers in the 24th century." That's literally all he needs to tell them. Well, he might need to elaborate on details, but at the moment the setting is all they need to know. He doesn't tell them the plot in advance, because the game happens when they uncover the plot for themselves.

As the GM is responsible for supplying the plot for this story, the players are responsible for supplying the characters. The GM will ask each one of them to create a character that could fit into the story he wants to tell. Based on the background he's revealed so far, one player might say, "My character is a futuristic secret agent trained in espionage and unarmed combat", another might say, "I'm a genetically-engineered human, faster and tougher than ordinary men". Another might give the GM a complete headache by saying, "I'm a demon!" (Great, thanks, did you miss the part where I said I'm doing science fiction?)

The rule book the GM has bought will give rules that allow him and the players to define exactly what their characters can do -- how fast they are, how strong, how good at fighting or sneaking around -- but that's not the important part of the character. The important part is when the player says, "My character loves reading old comic books and always dreamed of being a super-hero, that's why he's in the super-police. Also, he makes bad puns." That is a character. That's what you need to know when you read a story: not how fast the character can run but why he's doing what he does.

Everything is ready. Then the actual play of the game starts, and the GM's actual hard work starts.

First, he describes where the characters are, why they are there, and what they can see. "Your team reports as ordered at the Institute for Temporal Studies, teleporting there [he has explained how his future world works, so they know about teleporting around the world] as a group. Two guards are at the door ... and Nightflyer's intuition is giving him bad vibes about them."

Then the players describe their actions: "I'll challenge the guards," "I'll punch one of them," and so on. That's why its called a role-playing game. Each player plays the role of a character within the game world. You try to act "in character" -- speak as you have decided the character will speak, pretend that you know only what the character should know, say that your character is doing things that make sense for the personality and motivations you have created for him. None of us are under any delusions that we are great improvisational actors. But in effect, that is what we are doing.

The GM will determine the results of the players' actions (this is where the rule book often does come into play, as you might actually need to know how strong or fast the character is to decide if their actions succeed) and describes what happens next. Then the players (acting "in character") give their responses, and the story is driven forward.

While the players are acting the roles of their characters, the GM only (!) has to act the role of every other person in the universe. The two guards at the door? That's me. The villains inside? That's me. The chief of police? Scientist? Computer? All me. Everybody the players' characters might interact with in the world has to be created and acted out by the GM. Sometimes I've played multiple characters at the same time, arguing with myself while the players watch. Oh, and at  the same time I'm making sure we use the rules properly, I'm trying to be fair about allowing their actions to succeed or not, I'm weighing up the implications and deciding what should happen next if they do/don't succeed, I'm remembering what plot secrets I have and haven't told the players yet, remembering everything the players have told me about their characters, and desperately hoping I will be able to think up an answer on the spot for when the players ask me something about the world that I haven't thought of in advance.

Because obviously, although the GM knows how he wants the story to go, he has no control over what the players might do at any given decision point. Perhaps they misunderstand a clue he gives them and go the "wrong" way. Perhaps they react in a way he didn't expect. Perhaps they ignore the villain completely and spend four hours arguing among themselves. (Yes, I have have had afternoons like that.) Literally anything can happen when the characters created by the players meet the plot created by the GM.

And that's what the GM loves. Because for four or five hours on a Saturday afternoon, he and the players are literally making up a new story, set in a world he has created. We call it a game, but the truth is, it's a collaborative work of fiction.

And that work of fiction, documented over the course of almost 30 years, is what you're reading on this web site.

I designed the world. But it's not my story. It's theirs. Ours.

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Getting ahead

by David Meadows 12. August 2016 21:39

Just uploaded Strikeforce chapter 6 but currently writing chapter 8. I need to keep a few weeks ahead or I'll never maintain the weekly schedule. Strikeforce chapters are the most time consuming to write because they're more poorly documented than the Heroes stories.

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Week 11

by David Meadows 12. August 2016 20:08

The second story arc of Strikeforce comes to a conclusion with Chapter 6: Killers.

And the first major Strikeforce character gets a who's who biography: The Computer. Yes, I know it's a computer not a person, but computers can be characters too! If you've been following the story, you'll realise that the Computer is actually the most important character. Or at least, that's what it thinks.

Over in the Heroes corner of the universe, Don's mission reports continue, commenting on issue 5 of that story. And I'm launching a new section: The Los Angeles Globe news headlines. The concept behind this series of articles is to illustrate what's making the headlines while each chapter of the story is taking place. This will give an insight into the wider world, and perhaps how it differs from our own. And possibly some headlines will foreshadow events that our heroes will become embroiled in. I'm not saying which ones, of course...

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Serendipity

by David Meadows 11. August 2016 10:01

I know I'm going to set a story on Saturn's moon Titan, I just don't quite know what. I have a setting and backdrop of events, but I haven't yet come up with an interesting conflict to drive the plot.

And then a news story from NASA this morning fills in the blanks for me:

http://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/cassini-finds-flooded-canyons-on-titan

So now it's all completely obvious.

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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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