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Genre police / Retro campaign questions


armadillo
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Anyone here do a retro campaign, set in the 70s-90s?

 

I can see a few ways to do it. One would be to use the comics of the time for the vibe. Another way would be to use the characters and images from the time but actual gameplay could have a more modern feel, like riffing on the trope of the time and taking it in a new direction.

 

I've played in Champions groups where everyone was very adamant that we stay in genre--this is actually a very common experience for me. I have often played in games where the players act as "genre police." As GM I always weigh the genre tropes and try to stay very much within the lines, but I never complain when players/characters go outside of genre.

 

Where am I going with this?

 

1. Thoughts on retro campaigns

2. Genre police experiences

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I have have very few issues with genre police and if anything I am the biggest one in my own games.   However over the years I got better at realizing that genre conventions are not a single set even for Bronze Age comics and even less so as you move to the 90s.

 

Retro game sounds very fun and yes looking at the comics for a look and feel is a good start.  But the look and feel varies more than just by decades.   For examples.... look at the 70s Fantastic Four stories vs 70s Dr. Strange stuff..... same decade but VERY different if you were going to run them as games.      I would suggest figuring out say... 3 examples of the era you like and then look what is common to create your own RetroGenre guide.     (second example... 1981 X-Men game would be VERY different from 1992 x-men game)

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Retro-Games are fun, but it's like 3 levels down the fractal of geekdom.  You have to want to play a non D&D genre (Supers), using a semi-out-of-print RPG (Hero), and then you have to restrict yourself to a genre that by definition ended before many players were born.  (1970s comics)

My problems are usually around getting everyone on the same page.

 

The thing about retro games is that *everyone* has to be on board with the same set of expectations.  As greypaladin_01 says, 70s Fantastic Four is pretty Different from 70s Doctor Strange.  And if one player straight up makes a vampire, well Tomb of Dracula was a 1970s Marvel comic but that probably isn't what most people picture off the top of their heads.

I'd say if you can get down to figuring out the genre, I'd pick 2-3 big comic runs from the era and agree that that *style* of comic is what you are going for. 
70s Spider Man?  New Gods?  70s Justice League?  Master of Kung-Fu?  70s Batman?  The Superman Family?
All would be in-bounds, but they are all-over the place in tone.

Personally, several of those sound like a ton of fun, but I know I could never get my players to play a US1 campaign (which is technically an 80s comic about a 70s trend, but I'm counting it)

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I'm on a mobile phone so deal with me.

 

I would stress to my players that this is a FOUR color game. I would point them mainly to John Byrne and George Perez drawn books for the feel and look.

 

I'm old enough to have had those books direct from the BX or comics shop so I AM the genre police and the players can can suffer my memories of those days.

Oh, and only one Wolverine/Punisher type if that. Anti-heroes can stay home.

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For myself I look at it a little differently.  I no longer use the so called comic era's,  Golden, Silver, etc..  While they are still useful for art style, as a way to identify the story style/feel it is pretty useless.  You cannot get people to even agree on when/where the various era's start and stop.  And within the the era's you can always find material that doesn't fit.

 

So for me I break all US comics/graphics novels into three categories.

Superheroic

People with Powers

Murderhobo

 

Today Superhero books are rare. You get a lot of PwP, and an eye raising number of murderhobo books.

 

I find Superheroic games a lot of fun.  People with Powers can be interesting, but I cannot stand murderhobo games.  There is a massive difference between reading a book, watching a show and a RPG.  I never liked Deadpool comics, but the first movie was hilarious.  In a RPG it just devolves into murderhobo.

 

As for setting the game into the 70s to 90s. I set a lot of my more modern games into the 70s and 80s.   Computer, communications and surveillance technology exists but is expensive and not easily accessed when compared to now.  The computer is extremely limited when compared with today. No such thing as a cellphone or smartphone. 

 

Superheroic secret IDs become very problematic once you hit the late 80s and on.  Supervillain IDs as well. 

 

I prefer Superheroes in the 70s or early 80s.

 

 

PS

It  is not retro.  It is well seasoned contemporary.

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3 hours ago, Spence said:

 

Superheroic secret IDs become very problematic once you hit the late 80s and on.  Supervillain IDs as well. 

 

 

The only reasonable way to do it is if "the act of putting on a heroic or villainous mask" completely defeats facial recognition technology and prevents accurate recounting to sketch artists and prevents accurate film/video.

 

You can do that from a mystical energy field encompassing the universe, infallible tech which is so common that no one attempts facial recognition software, or handwave which is enforced against both PC's and villains.

 

But there's no way even a Batman-style cowl conceals an identity when everyone as a cell phone to take video/photos from every possible angle, much less a domino mask concealing an ID.

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Can't help you on whether or not I'm playing "retro," as I know diddly / squat about comic books.

 

I do want to point out that secret identities work fine.  Is it really so difficult to postulate that people who can fly, bounce bullets, project energy from their fingers, turn invisible and walk through walls are every day things and yet secret identities just don't work?

 

 

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I will add support to secret IDs being very workable... with a caveat.   Superman / Clark Kent was never an issue for the world at large to me... only for the Daily Planet crew or people the regularly interacted with both identities.   In order for secret IDs to be compromised there has to be a causal link in peoples minds for the 'two' people.  

 

However, the concept that Lois Lane or Perry White can hang out with Clark and Superman and not "get it" is ridiculous, just as Spider-Man talking to Aunt May should have nearly instantly ended that whole mess.   VERY close people to you will not be fooled by a disguise or mask for more than the SHORTEST of time.  Within several minutes of extended contact or multiple short ones they will know.   However random person that was saved by Superman and then passes by Clark Kent at a diner later, will not even blink twice.

 

One more element on Secret IDs in comic books, the best defense for them is that most people wont even consider that the person might have another ID.   No one REALLY thinks that Superman puts on a suit and does a 9 to 5... they think he is all over the world at all times... or maybe chilling far away from people to unwind.   No one really thinks Batman is anything other than Batman...  at least not as far as the general public or even general criminals would think.  However if a character calls attention to their other idea existing then things might start to get more fuzzy.

 

Lastly,  Secret ID is a complication for champions, which means it WILL be an issue... that is why you get the points.   Now is when we are talking genre tropes at play.   If this was Retro-50s then Lois KNOWS Clark and Superman are the same...but can't manage to prove it... and that cat and mouse game is part of the points you are getting.    But in 70s style gaming the problems are more having to break your 3rd date in a row because you see a bank robbery happening or Amazing Man needs to be in Chicago because of the investigation but Johnny Normal has a report due by the end of the day.... what do you do?

 

Even by 70s secret IDs as we classically think of them were on the way out, especially in Marvel comics.   You had Spider-man sure, but Fantastic Four, X-Men and even Avengers either had public IDs or the IDs were never really an issue.   The 70s Avengers had people keeping IDs secret from each other even, but only might be an issue 1 comic out of every 20 at most... they were more focused on adventure and action.   So again, with Retro Gaming you need to decide what the most important focus elements should be and build around it... go more for the Flavor than the exact Recipe.

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56 minutes ago, Opal said:

Doesn't that hand-wave go all the way back to Clark Kent's glasses, though?

 

 

Sure to a certain extent.

 

Then writers became more careful that artists had to give Superman and Clark slightly different hairstyles. Clark slumped and became a klutz to reinforce the "he's just a nerd with glasses" image that the glasses were supposed to sell in his secret ID.

 

So it became "handwave plus some effort on the character's part".

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...and Superman doesn't wear gloves, I guess Kryptonians don't have fingerprints, or he'd leave them into all those girders he bends with his bare hands and whatnot.  ;)

 

yeah, Secret ID is just a genre convention, it lets the character provoke horrid people without those closest to him being revenge murdered, and it gives the otherwise do-anything character a source of stress to whinge over ..er, I mean drama... , aand it makes for some laughs.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Opal said:

Doesn't that hand-wave go all the way back to Clark Kent's glasses, though?

 

 

Not really.  I seem to remember a Superman/Clark show (Lois and Clark??) where the actor behaved so differently that is was plausible that no one may have noticed.

 

I myself have been around someone multiple times both in uniform and in civilian clothes and didn't actually realize they were the same person until I directly spoke to them.  Their bearing and appearance in and out of uniform was very different. 

 

Today we are used to endless photos and videos that can be viewed and parsed buy hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people.  In the 70s/80s unless you were a photographer you probably only had a small Instamatic in a drawer somewhere and film had to be turned in somewhere to get it developed.   People on the TV also looked a lot different than they did in person.  I can remember meeting my first celebrity at a 80s convention and almost not recognizing them. 

 

Yes, it is easy to spot when you get to look at the images side by side and know that they are the same person.

But it is another story when it is unexpected, unbelievable and you do not have instant side by side comparisons.

 

The number of people that impersonated the famous in order to commit fraud or theft is pretty insane right up to the advent of the modern computer/information age in the last half of the 90s. 

 

 

 

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6 minutes ago, Opal said:

...and Superman doesn't wear gloves, I guess Kryptonians don't have fingerprints, or he'd leave them into all those girders he bends with his bare hands and whatnot.  ;)

 

yeah, Secret ID is just a genre convention, it lets the character provoke horrid people without those closest to him being revenge murdered, and it gives the otherwise do-anything character a source of stress to whinge over ..er, I mean drama... , aand it makes for some laughs.

 

Or he's moving so fast he leaves smudges everywhere with no partials.

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Just now, Spence said:

 

Not really.  I seem to remember a Superman/Clark show (Lois and Clark??) where the actor behaved so differently that is was plausible that no one may have noticed.

That was the 90s, and it was a fun show, they gave Lois top billing, and it was a pun on Louis & Clark.  Or maybe I'm just easily amused.  Plus the kid was cute... Dean Cain, I had to google, I couldn't remember his name... still cute, tho...

 

...anyway... oh, right, in the 50s show they played up that angle, too, that he acted differently.  The Scarlet Pimpernel maintained his secret ID that way, too.

Just now, Spence said:

The number of people that impersonated the famous in order to commit fraud or theft is pretty insane right up to the advent of the modern computer/information age in the last half of the 90s. 

of course, today it's so easy to impersonate someone they had to make up a new crime - identity theft - to shift the burden of proof from the businesses being defrauded by the impersonator, to the impersonatee, personated person, whatever.  It sucks.

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I don't see any reason to run a retro setting game if you're not going to play to the times and setting.  I mean, why play a cinema age themed game set in 1956?  

 

As for Secret Identities, they're a lot more plausible than people give them credit for.  First off, who wants to anger superheroes (see Batman 2 where the guy tries to blackmail Bruce Wayne).  Second, police have a hard time figuring out who a crook is running around in just a ski mask and a coat, let alone some guy in tights glowing with energy.  Third, watch the Christopher Reeve Superman for how someone could be right in front of you but really not reasonably identified.

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