Writing the Background

by David Meadows 25. August 2017 20:45

I'm a couple of weeks into the research and planning for the new "World War 2" game (as you'll know if you've been reading the blog) and I'm finally starting to write things down -- to actually "create" the things I'll need to run the game. 

The first thing I need to write is a broad description the world (the time and place) that the game is set in, as the players will need to understand this so they can create appropriate characters. As this is information I have to share with the players (whereas most of what I will create is purely "for my eyes only"), I've decided to put it up on the web site as an essay in the "history" section. So you can read exactly what the players are going to read (or have read to them) when we first discuss the game:

Super Heroes: Historical Overview

A bit more explanation might be needed here.

Although this game should stand alone as a self-contained story, the world it is set in is the same world I’ve used for games for the last 30 years. Each time I do a historical game, the whole point is to fill in a bit of the world’s history, so I want to introduce specific elements that tie this game into something already established in other games. Sometimes, I keep these elements secret from players and let them discover them during the course of play (for example, they had no idea that in Egypt in 1450 BCE they would encounter ... ah, well, never mind, I’ll get to that when I publish the story of that game). At other times, I will make it obvious to players right at the start.

So this essay mentions characters who have already been established as part of the game history (one the players will know very well, others have just been names mentioned in passing which they've probably completely forgotten about).

But apart from giving the players familiar touchstones, I'm setting a context for when they create their own characters. They will now know that there are a small number of super heroes and villains in Britain, that the public is aware of them, that their pre-game careers will have lasted a year at most, and that whatever they end up doing in the game will remain classified and won't impact the "official" histories. No medals and parades for these characters. I'm also giving them (by mentioning other characters they already known about) an idea of the power levels that super heroes had in this era of my universe, to make sure they don't all try to create Superman and completely blow the game balance.

At least, I hope I'm doing all that. But we'll discuss it in detail before the game starts, of course, so the essay is really just the starting point.

The main thing from my point of view is that I now have a proper "mission statement" for the game, and from this all the other documentation will flow.

Slowly.

Very, very s l o w l y . . . 

Tags: , , ,

Best plan ever?

by David Meadows 21. May 2017 23:03

Sometimes in a Game you throw a no-win situation at the players. I don't mean you kill them all with an undefeatable monster (though actually... I've done that too), but you give them a dilemma in which every solution has unpalatable consequences, so you're forcing them to make a moral choice to decide which is the lesser of two evils. Depending on what they choose, you follow through with the consequences and the Game changes as a result.

Sometimes, you wait for them to realise that they have two unpalatable options, and out of the blue they come up with a third way you've never even considered, one which you hadn't planned for and probably shouldn't allow, but which is so awesomely argued (all in character, no "cheating" with knowledge the characters shouldn't have) that you just have to allow it, even if it means completely chucking out future plot lines that you've spent weeks working out in anticipation of the "defeat".

This is one such plan proposed by a player's character in the Game. In his own words:

 

"Perhaps either the Event Field is 'indestructible' and interference is pointless, or the consequences to the Universe itself will be far worse than mere interstellar conflict if it's artificially extinguished. So I'd like to propose a compromise, a third alternative. Why don't you utilise the Dream Weaver Device to divert rather than eliminate the effect? I propose a three stage process, which will necessarily require use of the Device and the absolute trust and co-operation of everybody involved. Firstly, over the area of space-time encompassing the Event horizon itself, amend a basic Physical Law. Instead of being Mass multiplied by Velocity, briefly define Momentum as being equal to Mass multiplied by Speed. Secondly, curve that area of space time, nudging the direction of travel of the Event in space by ninety degrees i.e. perpendicular to its previous direction of travel. Thus we would have a rotating rather than an expanding phenomenon around the Earth. With our adjusted definition of Momentum, the direction component of velocity is not an issue thus Conservation of Momentum / Energy is conserved. Thirdly, restore the previous definition of Momentum to the area of space time previously affected. The Event phenomenon has not been destroyed, merely 'steered' and contained into a constantly rotating and non expanding configuration! The Event itself isn't to be targeted, merely the area of space-time it occupies."

 

Best. Players. Ever.

Tags: ,

Haven

by David Meadows 21. May 2017 22:09
One day many years ago, probably in the pub after a Game session, and possibly under the influence of alcohol, I said to the players:
 
"Haven is where everything touches but never meets, while the Parallax is where everything meets but never touches."
 
If I'm honest, I don't think I had any idea what that meant. It just sounded cool. My ideas of multi-universal cosmology were still a work in progress. But from that statement, or rather, from trying to subsequently justify that statement and make it true, came the so-called "Beermat" model of the multiverse, the five demons, and basically everything that underpinned the big concepts of my Game universe and drove stories for the next 25 years.
 
I was just reminded of this today when reading some old notes and came across this (reasonably accurate) transcript of a conversation between the players arguing in-character during the course of a Game:
 

"Supposing you're right and the Demon itself wasn't destroyed during the Event. What you seem to be implying is that it's fleeing from Earth at the speed of light consuming whatever 'magic' it encounters, growing stronger as it expands. If this is the case it will have the power it needs to achieve criticality and complete its takeover of the universe long before it engulfs the entire galaxy. Considering the situation, we don't see any other choice but to utilise the Doomsday Device against the Event field!"

 "You are missing the point! The Demon is the outside of the Event! The Event itself is non-Demon. It is a purging/pushing/repelling field, not an all powerful Demon containment field! Look, the Event MUST survive to progress through the whole universe before the end of Time so that the entirety of the Demon energy is destroyed before the Universe restarts!"

"You possess absolutely no evidence to support that hypothesis! As has been proven by subsequent events the Event field is self contained and has no link to Earth. Besides which, it's not an anti-Demon field! It's an improbability manipulation spell!"

 
(And there was a lot more of it, it goes on for pages) 
 
Bear in mind that this isn't me writing the argument, it's players with differing interpretation of how the universe -- my universe -- works, each trying to convince the other they are right, without reference to me.
 
This is why I love the Game. It's the player input. They really care about it to the extent that they don't just listen to my explanations of stuff, they think about them in character and have their characters come up with new theories to explain the facts they've been given. 
 
And then they argue with each other about them. 
 
It's awesome.
 
I have the best players.

Tags: , ,

The Diogenes Club

by David Meadows 23. September 2016 21:16

Feeling guilty about only uploading one new page today, so I'll compensate by waffling more than usual about that page.

If you haven't read the page yet, it's an encyclopaedia page: The Diogenes Club. Go and read it, then come back for the waffle.

First, you're quite possibly aware that I didn't invent the Diogenes Club. I freely admit that stole it. I do that a lot actually (remind me to write a post owning up to all of it one day).

But I probably didn't steal it from where you think I did. I came across it about 20 years ago in Kim Newman's book Anno Dracula, which I highly recommend as an excellent example of alternate history with a lot of literary name-dropping:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-1BvXUd71pco/Tht0ONSFzXI/AAAAAAAADu4/20bPao7XwOE/s1600/newman-anno_dracula-cent.jpg

Newman's book, set in Victorian England, had one character who was a member of "The Diogenes Club", a mysterious group who are into shady spy games.

When I later needed just such an organisation to play a minor role in the Game, I used the name, because I thought it sounded cool and I thought, well, Kim Newman's not going to know or care.

What I didn't know was that Newman didn't invent the club. He used a lot of public domain characters in the novel (so I'm in good company) and the Diogenes Club was no exception. But it was more than 10 years later that I found out the origin, when I got this book for Christmas:

 

https://03fcd67fd51850d3ba6b-6cb392df11a341bce8c76b1898d0c030.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/large/9781/8402/9781840220766.jpg

 

Which of course everyone should read at some point in their lives (I would suggest sooner than I did).

It's first mentioned in "The Greek Interpreter", I think, which is also the story that introduces Sherlock's brother, Mycroft Holmes, and it crops up a few more times after that. Oddly, Doyle never hints that it's anything other than a normal gentleman's club. It's later writers (such as Newman) who have run with the name and made it into a secret-service type organisation.

Anyway, that's the background. My Diogenes Club shares nothing in common with Doyle's original (other than I listed Mycroft Holmes as a member, because why not). It shared more in common with Newman's version, but by now is its own thing (it's been so long that I would have to read Newman's book again to remind myself how much I did take from him; I think nothing but the name (not his anyway) and basic concept (also not his idea originally)).

Where does The Diogenes Club fit into the Heroes Universe? It still exists in 1987 but Strikeforce will never encounter it. It still exists in 2014, and the Heroes might encounter it, but not for a long time yet and only in a minor way.

But as I've said before, there's a lot of background history in my Game universe, and the "Notable Members" listed for the Club are all people who have played roles in the Game's history.

Alfred Cutler was a key member of Strikeforce: 1777, where he served as First Lieutenant on His Majesty's Frigate Atlantis.

Bertram Wellington was a member of Strikeforce: 1865, where he was part of the ill-fated Abyssinian expedition.

Charles West is a character with a long history that ties into a plethora of important events, and you will meet him very soon in the Strikeforce story.

Edward Gillifray is a new character (as in, I just created him this week) whose story is yet to be told, as is Hudson the club steward.

Edward Playfair is a character I actually played in a different game, a game of Call of Cthulu a friend ran some years ago. I enjoyed playing the character so much that I transplanted him to my universe and wrapped him into Charles West's history.

Peter Flint is another stolen character (anyone recognise where from?) who I borrowed to flesh out some more of the history of Charles West.

Patrick Muldoon is a charater you might encounter in a (far-)future issue of Heroes, and a (even-further-)future chapter of Strikeforce. He's a massively important character in the history of the universe, but I won't say much more as I need to keep some things up my sleeve for now.

So now you know more than you ever needed to know about my Diogenes Club. The only other thing you might need to know is that I'll be running the Strikeforce: Edwardian Times game starting in about two weeks, and the Diogenes Club is key to the setting. So now you know why I needed to write this article now...

Tags: , ,

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.

Tags: , ,

Week 7

by David Meadows 8. July 2016 20:07

Over on the site's home page you will find links to this week's new content: chapter 4 of Strikeforce, a timeline of the events of 1987 revealed so far (read this after you read chapter 4!), an encyclopaedia entry on the Institute for Temporal Studies (are these the real villains of the piece?), and a who's who entry for Viper (which rounds out the quartet of 24th-century villains and lets me move on to more interesting characters).

I think chapter 4 of Strikeforce is the one that I've most enjoyed writing. This shows the first steps of the characters changing from super-powered science-fiction police officers to real, proper super heroes in the traditional mould. We get secret identities, the start of a permanent supporting cast, and some actual proper intra-team relationships developing. In the Game, this marked the moment when I think I realised it had long-term potential and that the players were happy with the direction I wanted to go.

Ah yes, the Game...

I've promised to write a blog about the Game that this site sprang from. This post isn't it, but I'll get right on it...

Tags: ,

Week 6

by David Meadows 1. July 2016 21:28

If you hop over to the home page, you'll see the usual gaggle (collective noun for waffle: "a gaggle of waffle") of new pages.

This week's story update is chapter 4 of Heroes: In The Woods. Don leaves the group to fend for themselves, and you just know that's not going to end well...

The history update is a timeline of the "Heroes" year, 2014, which at the moment is pretty short (the events have only covered two days!) but will grow from here on into something substantial.

In the encyclopaedia, there's a complete contrast to last week's science article, as this one explains how magic works. Yes, my universe has both science and magic, and they coexist very comfortably thank you.

Finally, a skeleton bio of Discord, the sonic-powered villain from Strikeforce chapter one.

Next update will be next Friday, see you there.

Tags: ,

Week 5

by David Meadows 24. June 2016 21:40

This week sees the conclusion of the first Strikeforce story: Chapter 3, "Time's Past". (There's a prize* for the first person tell me what I've taken the titles of the three chapters from.) As you might guess from the bombshell at the end (what do you mean, what bombshell? Go and read it!) there is more to come, and we'll go straight into the second storyline in chapter 4 in a couple of weeks.

Also this week there's an article on the Graviton Flywheel, and I apologise for the quality of the diagrams, I didn't have time to paint them or draw them to scale. (There's another prize** for the first person tell me what that's from.)

The history article covers Roman Britain in A.D. 366. One day I'll write the stories for these different eras, but not today.

And as usual there's another biography of another minor villain.

Next update is scheduled for Friday 1st July, and I feel pretty confident of making the deadline again.

 

 

 

 

* May not actually be true.

** Also may not be true.

Tags:

Week 4

by David Meadows 17. June 2016 18:53

Site updates roll into their fourth week, with the main feature being issue 3 of the Heroes story. The group undertake their first "mission" together and ... well, let's just say things don't go completely smoothly.

The History feature this week is all about Egypt. It introduces the background to a minor storyline that does tie into to main stories, but filling in the full story will have to wait for another day.

The Encylopaedia gets an article about the Special Police, and you've already encountered that organisation if you've been reading the Strikeforce story (and if you haven't been, why are you reading this blog?)

Finally, Who's Who in the Heroes Universe continues to document all the minor characters with all the biographocal information that is known about Blockhead.

Tags: ,

Why Superheroes?

by David Meadows 12. June 2016 21:14

Funny, 15 years ago this post would have been titled "What are Superheroes?" Now, half the blockbusters coming out of Hollywood are superhero films, and my life-long, slightly strange ("you're a grown man and you still read comics?") hobby has become a mainstream thing. You all know what superheroes are.

So, why superheroes? Specifically, why have I spent 30 years creating a world full of superheroes which I'm now documenting on this web site?

Comics have been a part of my life ever since I first started reading. (I was reading books too, of course. You're allowed to read and love both, just like you're allowed to love both books and films. They're different things.) The earliest comic I can remember was T.V. 21, a comic that featured television spin-off stories. From there, I went on to all the popular British boys' comics. I read adventure stories, war stories, sport stories, science fiction stories, you name it I read it in comics. I read just as many different genres in comics as I was reading in books.

Plus one extra genre that wasn't in books. When I could get my hands on exotic imported American comics (and that wasn't easy in the 70s, as distribution was spotty and arbitrary), I devoured their stories of superheroes.

You all know what a superhero is: a larger-than-life figure with amazing abilities, who fights villains and saves people. It's not a new idea. Before Superman, Robin Hood was a superhero, so was King Arthur, and obviously so were Heracles and Sinbad the Sailor.

But American superhero comics did something that those old myths didn't do: they built consistent worlds. Huge, massive, self-referential worlds. In American comics, Captain America was best friends with Iron Man and they would pop up in each other's comics to help each other from time-to-time.

And superhero comics had been going for years, and told an ever-unfolding story over those years. Spider-Man started as a high-school student, graduated and went to college, went through several girlfriends (one of whom died, damn you Gerry Conway), and had a massive cast of supporting characters who came into and out of the on-going story. Spider-Man's comic wasn't about a man in a costume who punched other men in costumes, it was a soap-opera about Peter Parker's life.

And one more thing: superhero stories could do anything. Superheroes could go anywhere on Earth. They could visit lost cities in remote jungles. Fly to different planets. Travel through time. Fight aliens, dinosaurs, bank robbers, or evil corporations. They could save the world from meteor strikes, stand up for persecuted minorities, or rescue cats from trees. Superheroes could get their powers from anywhere, so a wizard could fight on the same team as a genius scientist, and neither would think that was odd.

If you want to tell a big story, the superhero genre has all the tools you could ever need to do it with.

That's why I love superhero stories, and have done all my life.

Fast-forward from a boy reading comics in the 70s to an adult (still reading comics) in 1987. I'm thinking about running a new role-playing game for a few friends, and I've found a set of rules for running superhero games. How can I resist?

The problem is, if I'm going to run a superhero game, I'm going to do it properly and make a proper superhero universe. A proper, big, consistent, multi-genre, soap-opera, decades-long, complete universe. So here I am, 30 years later... and here is my universe.

Now, I've just realised I need to write another post explaining what I mean by "role-playing game". Sigh...

Tags:

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...

Post history

Recent comments

Comment RSS