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High fantasy and superhero settings. Any real difference?

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Once upon a time, we were in a long streak of Champions campaigns.  Then D&D 3.5 came out and the majority of the gaming table jumped up and down like demented puppies.  Two of us had fortuitously escaped having D&D as any part of our formative gaming years, so didn't feel the wild yearning.  Nevertheless, we acceded to the vote to have a spin with this amazing new D&D update.

 

The GM...pardon, DM...was good, so the sessions went well.  Every now and then, though, peculiarities of D&D struck me.  Once, my big warrior guy wanted entrance to a rich sumbitch's mansion.  Two slits flanking the doorway opened and crossbows targeted me.  My "realistic" gaming reflexes triggered.  "I'm screwed.  Point blank crossbows?  I guess I have to retreat, but..."  The D&D veterans scoffed.  "They're only crossbows.  Jeez.  If they hit, they'll barely cause any damage."

 

I rolled my eyes and muttered something derogatory about D&D's inanity.  My buddy who shared my lack of D&D experience offered a viewpoint to me.  "We're not merely tough human fighters in a pseudo-realistic world.  With what we can do, we're essentially superheroes in a pseudo-realistic world.  You're essentially your last Champions character facing a couple of goons with pistols."

 

This was a valuable revelation for me.  I managed to get thru the rest of the campaign with much less grousing and eye-rolling. 

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That's a pretty good way to look at it, actually.

 

The thing about Hit Points (and to a lesser extent, Saving Throws) is that they represent an abstract conglomeration of all kinds of phenomena, not just the state of your physical body. They represent your experienced combat reflexes, divine favor, pure luck, and of course, Protagonist Protection (a lesser form of NPC Plot Immunity). Even if those crossbowmen score a hit on that d20, it doesn't mean the bolts actually hit your body. It could mean they grazed your body, and you just used up some of that heroic luck of yours, or maybe you managed to duck out of the way at the last second, adding (several hit points worth of) fatigue to your already tired body. D&D is, and always has been, a lot more abstract than a lot of players realize.

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Not so weird. Some viper member decides it's in his best interest to quit so her decides to fund his retirement by selling the information to some heroes. Plus if they round up the other members it reduces their ability to come after him.

 

No, the map seller in a DF game generally isn't a person from the dungeon.  It's usually a survivor from a failed delving expedition cutting his losses, someone who wants the heroes to go in first so he can sneak in later after it's been cleaned out and find stuff the heroes will overlook, or a professional mapmaker or map merchant.  It would also be weird for an orc to approach a group of fantasy heroes and say "Hey, I want to defect.  Can you get the king to hook me up with a new identity somewhere far away?"  

 

Here's the point I'm making.  Yes, high power fantasy games feature characters who would be competitive in superhero games.  Drizzt Do'Urden could team up with Captain America, no problem.  In fact in my bank of superhero game character concepts I have characters like Elfshot, Haakon Slash, and Abra-Melin the Mage who are fantasy game characters plain and simple because "superhero" is a kitchen sink genre. But that doesn't mean the themes of a fantasy game and a superhero game are the same.  Fantasy games are often more mercenary, and even when they aren't they are more likely aimed at changing the status quo while superheroes are almost always intent on preserving the status quo.   

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How many Champions game started with "coincidentally you are all close to when X happens." And "I use streetwise to find VIPER"

 

Ah but those are very different things.  The "you all happen to be close (for different reasons) to the bank which is being robbed" or "you have been tracing the same bad guys and find out their abandoned warehouse on the same night". is the kind of thing I've seen in superhero games.  In fantasy games, not so much.  

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Ah but those are very different things.  The "you all happen to be close (for different reasons) to the bank which is being robbed" or "you have been tracing the same bad guys and find out their abandoned warehouse on the same night". is the kind of thing I've seen in superhero games.  In fantasy games, not so much.  

 

The equivalents happen in my Fantasy Games all the time.  Any gang of players who think they can go to a tavern and wait for an adventure to fall in their lap will get very sore butts and run up a helluva bar tab while sitting.  My PCs have to be proactive in hunting down job opportunities.  Use "streetwise" to check the docks for rumours or off to the big caravan-staging inn at the edge of the city for any jobs in the offing.  Check any guilds they may have a toe inside.  Etc, etc.

 

Sometimes, though, in the course of this job hunting, I will toss them in a "right/wrong place" at the "right/wrong time" coincidence.  A young and charming waif being accused of pickpocketing by some big goons.  Do they get involved?  On which side?  My favourite was a son of a duke coming along in his sedan chair.  His retinue of bodyguards were showing no favourites in roughly shoving bystanders and PCs out of the way.  The aristocrat distilled all the class snobbery that sparked the French Revolution.  Did the PCs react?  Why, yes, yes they did...

 

Story starters are story starters.  Only the window dressing and staging makes the genre.  Well, sometime the staging really needs to be changed, but the core material remains.

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The equivalents happen in my Fantasy Games all the time.  Any gang of players who think they can go to a tavern and wait for an adventure to fall in their lap will get very sore butts and run up a helluva bar tab while sitting.  My PCs have to be proactive in hunting down job opportunities.  Use "streetwise" to check the docks for rumours or off to the big caravan-staging inn at the edge of the city for any jobs in the offing.  Check any guilds they may have a toe inside.  Etc, etc.

 

 

Yeah.  That's the exact opposite of the characters just happening to be in the vicinity for their own separate reasons and Ogre and Pulsar are robbing the bank!  Which if you recall is how every newbie Champions group tended to start.  It's a bit closer to "heroes coincidentally find the same evil lair at the same time even though they were pursuing separate investigatory trail and we'll just skip over how they actually found the lair at the same time or at all." but...not much because that's still "stuff is just falling in your laps guys...now what?" 

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A Girdle of Fire Giant Strength once helped my elven ranger reinact the scene from Superman II where Clark went back to the bar he had been beat up in & delivered a little loose end movie kharma.

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Actually, in specific reference to King Arthur stuff, I'd argue strongly that that myth cycle is essentially Superheroic, not High Fantasy at all (especially following TPS's last post with clarifications). Morality is solidly at the core of the stories, though the heroes don't always pass muster. Powerful knights fight for hours, often resulting in draws or capture. Villains often recur (Morgan Le Fay and Breuse Sans Pitie in particular).

 

The stories are about the round table knights, pre-selected to be the top heroes in the world (by divine destiny, no less). It's very much a world away from D&D or the grim struggle for survival and power of Conan. Even its pre-eminent RPG (Pendragon) mostly has the players playing as lesser knights aspiring to the likes of Lancelot, Galahad, Arthur and Gawain - but Pendragon is its own wonderful beast of a game anyway and bears little relation to power fantasy ones. And it usually gets the players together by yet another trope - everyone is usually connected by personal ties (same liege lord, neighbouring fiefs, marriage, fostering, their fathers fought together at Baden etc) or they meet at a social occasion such as a tournament.

 

Camelot 3000 works as both an Arthurian and a Superhero story for the very reason that Arthur is basically a Superhero. You don't need a Code vs Killing to have a Code. (Conan lacks any, by the way).

 

Edit: Caveat - obviously there are very many versions of Arthur, a lot of them that are not particularly superheroic. But you guys know what I'm talking about here.

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Edit: Caveat - obviously there are very many versions of Arthur, a lot of them that are not particularly superheroic. But you guys know what I'm talking about here.

 

True that. If you look at the first published systematic collation of the stories of Arthur and the Round Table - Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory (1485) - there isn't much of what we moderns would call heroic motivation. Knights fought each other at the drop of a hat. Protection of the innocent was never really a consideration, in fact common people hardly ever appear in the stories. "Virtue" is given lip service, but jealousy, vengeance and lust are the most common motivations.

 

It isn't until the Idylls of the King, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (published between 1859 and 1885), that the Romanticized version of the Arthurian saga starts to take hold, with the knights embodying the Victorian courtly virtues. Since then we've had such re-imaginings as pseudo-historical early Dark Age Arthur; fantasy teen-romance Arthur; and as you point out, futuristic sci-fi Arthur.

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Interestingly enough, for me Mallory has many similarities to Bronze Age comics. The heroes definitely have feet of clay (though that varies - Galahad never sets a foot wrong, the bastard, and Gareth's a good kid) but they at least try to act up to the ideals and it's only the internal soap opera of their passions that derails them.

 

(My personal favorite Mallorian character is Sir Gilbert the Bastard, who is encountered already dead by Launcelot at the Chapel Perilous).

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Ah but those are very different things. The "you all happen to be close (for different reasons) to the bank which is being robbed" or "you have been tracing the same bad guys and find out their abandoned warehouse on the same night". is the kind of thing I've seen in superhero games. In fantasy games, not so much.

I find them as trope equivalents. But that's my take as all.

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Thing is, Superheros have a strong formal team trope. Once you get the characters to cross paths, they form a club, get a clubhouse and just get together that way moving forward. Someone's usually a Billionaire, or a friendly government Super Agency can help out with gear.

 

Most other genres don't have that. In Fantasy, once the Quest is over, the surviving fellowship of random adventurers returns to their previous lives. Sometimes the bonds of friendship or love will have members going off into the sunset together, but that's usually it.

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