Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cinematic Superheroes

Confession: my glutinous intake of superhero action doesn't actually come from comic books. It comes from film. I know it means I miss out on some of the most fantastic storytelling in the genre but I'm a sucker for the spectacular. A sucker for sound, for visual stimulation. Kerplosions, stonking FX, punchy storylines, blaring soundtracks, fast scenes, action action action. That's what I love.

Fuck yeah, Nightcrawler.

So when I imagine a superhero roleplaying game, it's cinematic heroes that are my touchstone, not comic book ones (Hellboy and BPRD are a different matter). I can't tell the difference between Deadshot and Deathstroke. I don't even know who they are.

Which means that when I imagine running or playing in a superheroes roleplaying game I'm not looking for four color comic book emulation, or golden age glories, or gritty 90's angst (though from what I can gather that's what's guiding a lot of supers films). I want a game that combines the flashkerpow high stakes skyscraper smackdowns... with an element that I'm yet to find in the superhero rpgs I've looked at (and I haven't looked at them all, and am hoping there's a game out there that covers this so I don't have to make it myself).

And that missing element is intense character drama.

So much of cinematic superheroes revolves around the conflict of personal ideologies, challenging, affirming or breaking the belief system of the central cast. And this is something that I really want to see in any Superhero game I play or run.

My ideology is better than yours. Nyah nyah.

As much as I find the Mouse Guard RPG to be a beautiful disappointment, there's a section in the game that I would port over. The chapter is titled "It's Not What You Fight, It's What You Fight For", quoting the motto of the Mouse Guard, and it asks the players to examine their characters and establish a core belief system that the Game Master must challenge in the game. Either you stay true to your beliefs, or you grow from what you have experienced.

Taking cues from that I'd have the following bits bolted on to any supers game:

A deeply held belief that guides your actions, and ideal by which you live your life.

The manifestation of your conviction, it is the greater goal you strive to achieve.

The short term task you have set for yourself that brings you one step closer to fulfilling your purpose.

The means and methods you are willing to go to in order to accomplish your missions.

One very upset General Zod, expressing these very things.

Once the GM has a clear understanding of what each character's ideals are, they can craft adventures that specifically target and challenge these ideals, inflicting crisis after crisis to see if they can break the character or forge their beliefs into something stronger.

Tie the effectiveness of a superhero's power to how shaken they are in their beliefs, as though the strength of will that drives them forward is intrinsically linked to the willpower needed to manifest their powers. Characters who's beliefs are battered and bruised, shown to be flawed or faulty would see their powers diminish until they have come to terms with the events that shook them to the core and built up a new belief system. Flip that over, and heroes who's beliefs are affirmed by events in the game can use that ego-boost to punch their powers into overdrive.

Also worth thinking about is what deed will push them over the brink into the land of rage and rampage. We all get pissed sometimes, how come barbarians are the only ones who get to go berserk? Breaking a character, watching them give in to their darker selves, and the struggle that follows to atone or achieve redemption for their actions during their darkest hour is great story fodder.

Even the younglings were killed.

So yeah, these are the dramatic character elements of cinematic superheroes that I want in my games. With added spectacular destruction and eyewizardry.

Lemme know if there's any out there that do this.

Last thing: damn I love this game trailer. Not perfect, just perfect destruction.

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