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Christopher

Translating Characters from Fiction and the Secret of having Fun in Roleplaying

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This is not a question on how to build, but a summing up of several Answer on "how to build" Questions. I have been writing parts of these and examples in other Threads. And instead of repeating them, I though I write them down once to link them in the Future. There are not in any particular order, just the sequence they popped into my mind (wich may or may not be how often I encounter the need to point them out).

Here are my "Rule & Thoughts about Translating Characters from Fiction":

 

1. What works well in Comic, does not nessesarily work in a RPG

This is a common answer to very extreme builds like the Glass Cannon, the Artfull Dodger with almsot no defenses and STUN, or the "invulnerable" man. It also covers some "absolute" Powers, like Wolverines Claws, Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth, or a Character alledged "absolute invulnerability" against certain effects.

 

I am pretty certain one of the HERO Rulebooks or supplements mentioned this Rule, but I cannot find ithe Reference. The same text also offered this explanation why things don't work that well:

A work of Fiction has one Author, that controlls the World, the Antagonists and the Protagonists.

A RPG Sesion has one Author that Controlls the World and Antagonists (GM), many other Authors each Controlling a Protagonist (Palyers).

 

Indeed the only reason we even use Rulesystems for RPG's is because of this Problem. If we have many Authors with different goals, there must be some way to resolve thier inveitable conflict about the Results (Badman wants to Flee, Myghty Hero wants to stop that).

Hence we use a system based around limited Resources/Abilities and a Luck Factor. The Rulesystem also has Guidelines what should not be possible, in HERO that is the "no Absolutes" Rule and the Yield and Stop Sign Powers. It is also in smaller rules like "every Attack must have a Defense".

 

A too extreme build will either be too effective, thus taking the other players ability to make anything usefull away. Wich results in annoyed players.

Or it will be ineffective (artfull dodger being disabeled first round), wich results in the player of the Extreme Character being annoyed and out of play.

 

With "absolute" build the problems appear latest when one absolute meets another. The second you have to ask yourself wich one is more absolute, neither one is a absolute anymore.

If a Character is absolutely immune agaisnt fire and heat, would he survive being thrown into the Sun? What about a White Hole (the asumed "exhaust vent" of a Black hole, energy output in the magintude of galaxies)?

While his resistance is propaly high (up to Brick Level), it is not really absolute.

 

 

2. Notice the difference Solo Mode/Group Mode for Heroes

I noticed that quite often the Solo Heroes are a lot more Powerfull then the same Hero in a Group. This is most obvious with "adapting" heroes (Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Ben 10) and with none more obvious then Iron Man.

 

Solo Mode Iron Man has tons of Armors. Whole Armories full of them. You can often categorise them as either being Environmental Armors (Forst Armor, Space Armor, Ocean Armor, Volcano Armor) or Role Armors (Hulk Buster is a Brick, Stealth Armor is Stealth Hero, a Light Armor + minor Extremis effect makes him a Martial Artist).

 

Group Mode Iron Man uses one, maybe two armors. He still has all the other armors. He will still use them in his Solo Titles (if they run in Paralell). But all he will be doing in the Group Title is use a "Ranged Blaster" Armor. If he enters extreme Environments, he might use an Environmental Armor (if the Author didn't forgot he got one/needs one).

But all his Role Armors stay home. Simply because they would step on another heroes Shtick. Hulk Buster would Collide with Thor and Hulk's Brick abilities in the Avengers. Stealth with Black Panther, Black Widdow and Hawkeeye. Extremis with Captain America or other Martial Artist types.

They might make an apperance in Controlled/Posession Plots. Here they are either used to counter the Controlled Hero long enough to "Snap him out of it". Or the armor themself are controlled and used as mooks (Ultron, Technovore, Dr. Doom; often ignoring that without Tony in it the Armor should not have an energy Source).

However those appereances could be chalked up to the "What not to spend point on" Rule.

 

Batman is the partial inversion of this, with his Group Mode self being brought more on par with the other Justice Leaguers, at least as far as combat ability is concerned. In his own world he has to contend with the likes of Joker, Ace or the Flush Gang or Bane (later two are barely elite Mooks for Superman). If his villains make an apperreance, they also get upgraded or at least their Scemes do (with the help of more Powerfull Villains).

 

 

3. What not to spend points on or "the goal isn't a perfect simulation of the Fiction"

comming later.

 

 

4. Are Total Points, Caps and Complications eamples really that usefull?

While this is a question everry group has to answer for themself, but here are some ideas that might help.

 

With a certain regularity question will be aksed about "building Characters to Concepts" or the like. Most often people asume that the problem is with the Total Points and Power Level of Characters. I think the problem is actually the Relationship between Total Points and Caps, though the rule about what to not spend points on also often plays a role.

Caps on Active Points, DC, Defenses, CV's and the like are the way for Players to measure thier Characters on. If he wants to play a Speedster, SPD on the higher end is important. Bricks need defenses, STR and CON at the top levels. Martial Artists and Weaponsmasters top CV's. They also help with not building a too extreme hero (minimum defenses).

Yet the Total Points for the Powerlevel seem to be geared towards a young hero. The advantage is that they help focussing on one area, so you don't step in on other Characters Shticks that easily. The downside is that often players don't have the points the even get 75% of the powers they want (on a level that matters) and have to spend XP to build up the hero they wanted in the first place.

If the GM wants more accomplished heroes, perhaps Increasing the total Points while leaving Caps the same is an option. A 500 Point Hero built to 400 Point Level Caps is much more versatile then a 400 Point hero, yet the GM can still use all the Published 400 Point villains and adventures to challenge him.

 

On the other hand, Complications might be too high for Group Play. In 5E they seemed like they were geared toward a Solo Heroes Complications, but with Group Hero Powerlevel. In 6E they are less, but still a lot.

I would even go a step further and say: "Current incarnations of Superhero Groups do not mention the Heroes Problems nearly in the Frequency or Severity that Complications Represent". Or in other words: I don't think group heroes should have Complications at all.

Don't missunderstand this: They should have personality Quirks, they could have enemies, they should have Vulnerabilities, Dependances, DNCP's and all the other stuff. But Complications don't seem the right Rules Construct to make them part of the game. The same applies to Power Limitations like Focus.

 

Yes in Solo Advnetures Superman Regulary meets a Chuck of Kryptonite (most often in the Form of Metallo), a Magic Foe, has to save Lois, etc.

But look at the continuity of Superman: TAS, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited (a rare case in animation where one Continuity spans such a long time). In the later (group part) of the adventures (we talk about 2 Seasons JL + 3 Seasons JLU or about 91 Episodes):

Supermans Vulnerability agaisnt magic is being mentioned/used twice (In The Terror beyond, and in his fight with Cpt. Marvel)

Supermans Red Sun Weakness is used in Hereafter Part 2, wich was basically a Solo Adventure for him anyway.

Supermans Kryptonite Weakness is used as Advantage in "Injustice for all" where the Martian Manhunter impersonates Superman.

It was used as Advantage in Tabula Rasa at first, to be later used agaisnt him by the adapted Amazo (so everything is equal)

Supergirls Red Sun Weakness is used in "Chaos at the earths Core", where it also shielded her from Kryptonite.

Supergirs Kryptonite Weakness was used in "The Return" to demonstrate that Luthors Bunker defenses are designed for everything. She dust off her costume offscreen, then joins the second team.

Green Latern looses his ring once (Starcrossed) and runs out of power once (Savage Time).

His Vulnerability to the Color Yellow is used for Comic Relief in "The Great Brain Robbery".

 

Even if I forgot half of the occurences, these examples spread over 91 Episodes/Game Session would be overrepresented by even a "Infrequently/Uncommon" Complication or a -1/4 Limitation.

 

 

5. The Rule for a fun game: Meaningfull Decisions

comming later

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Or in other words: I don't think group heroes should have Complications at all.

Don't missunderstand this: They should have personality Quirks, they could have enemies, they should have Vulnerabilities, Dependances, DNCP's and all the other stuff. But Complications don't seem the right Rules Construct to make them part of the game. The same applies to Power Limitations like Focus.

 

 

Thank you. Food for thought.

 

May I quote you on that?

 

Lucius Alexander

 

Sharing some with a palindromedary

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Good suggestions Christopher.

 

Point 2 reminds my of a line in Dark Champions 4th were Steve Long mentions that there seems to be two different character sheets for heroes, one for standard comic book and one for street level. I think that this could be extended to having one for solo play and one for group play.

 

Also with point 1, if you go to a direct translation of description of text in fiction to the suggested guideline in the rule book, The character mechanically my not be to close as being effective as in fiction. Say the description says the character is an average guy. You may then give him only 10 STR 4 PD and 11 CON. He wouldn't fair to well in most games, even in heroic games. Another example would be creating a super hero and saying he has the strength of bear and going by a bestiary, seeing that a bear is only listed as 23 STR. That character my not as strong as you like in a game. (true story).

 

With point 3 when building the character, make sure you know what rules are and aren't used. The best example would be defense maneuver I. It is a useful skill for martial artists however, since multiple attacker bonus is suggested to be disregarded in a ninja hero game, that would spending points needlessly.

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In my personal experience, I have to disagree with some aspects of point 2. I think its trying to model "fiction' in gaming too closely from one venue to another. Rpgs aren't going to play exactly like tv shows are comic books. For instance, in our games we're either playing "constantly" (PBEM) or frequently (one or twice a week). Disadvantages that only come up in a show "once or twice a season" would be once every two sessions or more in our schedule. I suppose the difference comes down to if you want to emulate a comic book or a comic world, so to speak. Emulating a comic book means trying to capture all the tropes and conventions present even meta traits like fluctuating power levels and abilities while emulating a comic book world aims to more create an imaginary place that runs according to some of the laws of the genre but with the internal consistency one would expect from reality (If Iron Man has a ton of Armors, he always has access to them barring some plot based reason that he doesn't). For my tastes I prefer the world emulation approach. I think Champions does that best. Bu there are other good games that take the venue emulation approach to great heights like Marvel Heroic Role play.

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I think a lot depends on who was writing the team comic book in question when it comes to making the comparisons for point #2. I mean, the "Bat God" era Batman is arguably built on just as many points as Superman, it's just mostly in behind the scenes Perks (like detailed plans for taking out every other member of the team!). The JL specific perks don't come into play back in Gotham (and visa versa) so it may seem like he's less capable in one arena over another but it's not necessarily true.

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Okay, I though I could just edit the OP. Apparently I can't, so in teh future editable content will go into a seperate follow-up post. Here is my text on part 5:

 

5. The Rule for a fun game: Meaningfull Decisions

You can often read words like "non-combat skills have no effect on the game and should thus not cost points" - a extreme form of the "What not to spend points on" Rule. How applicable that is to all games is a questionable and I won't discuss that here.

The questions I will deal with is: "Why do some many GM feel like Combat is the only thing worthwhile?"

Some asumed this is because the rules for combat are so many or that P&P RPG's are based on wargames. I think they are both half right.

 

As the headline says, the secret for fun playing is meaningfull decisions. Very abstract you can picture it like this:

There is a conflict of interest. The characters have interest in one side winning. There is a limited amount of resources to accomplish your goal and you might not have enough for all goals. Accordingly every decision is meaningfull - even if the player does not succeed every time, he is likely to have fun.

 

Wargames and Combat in RPG's tend to fullfill this by default: There is a Conflict (otherwise why fight in the first place?), there are limited resources (Soldiers, Units, Movement / Phases, OCV/DCV, STUN and END). Hence every decision is meaningfull (do I entangle target 1 or attack target 2 with a blast? Do I attack normal, defensively, or haymaker? Can I really afford the two phases at 1/2 DCV for a Non-Combat Teleport?).

But non-combat lacks this. It usually resolves towards "adding up bonuses from many sources" with one roll defining success or failure. At no point can the player make a meaningfull decision.

 

Solutions:

Understanding the abstract Rules for "conflict" above is one step, as this allows you to think about "conflicts" that don't involve combat.

What first pointed me to this problem/fact and provides a possible solution is this article:

http://www.projectrho.com/rpg/cidiagram.html (see the citation at the end of this segment).

I saw some attempts at adding meaningfull decisions for non-comabt stuff to RPG's. Most often it is a social conflict "combat" system, as social conflict is another tricky part. 6E APG II 83-93 has a total of three Social Combat systems to choose from.

There are even entire games build around the premise of a non-violent conflict:

http://www.herogames.com/forums/forum/gaming/general-roleplaying/3583393-roleplaying-with-zero-violence

 

Ultimatively it is up to the GM to provide a system for meaningfull decisions in non-combat situations and the player to accept it. The game already provides meaningfull decision for Combat, but non-combat is up to GM and player consensus.

 

Finally, roleplaying games reach their highest pitch when the player is making a meaningful, consequential decision that they care about. It has to matter in the story, and it has to be a story the player cares about, and it has to be a decision the player makes, not a die roll. A causal influence diagram can help you with the last part of that, but the first two are still up to the group."

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Okay, I though I could just edit the OP. Apparently I can't, so in teh future editable content will go into a seperate follow-up post. Here is my text on part 5:

 

5. The Rule for a fun game: Meaningfull Decisions

 

....

 

 

But non-combat lacks this. It usually resolves towards "adding up bonuses from many sources" with one roll defining success or failure. At no point can the player make a meaningfull decision.

 

,,,,,,,

 

Ultimatively it is up to the GM to provide a system for meaningfull decisions in non-combat situations and the player to accept it. The game already provides meaningfull decision for Combat, but non-combat is up to GM and player consensus.

 

 

I don't know about anyone else but I feel you're helping me understand a little more deeply things I may have seen before, but not so well expressed.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary suggests I try APPLYING the idea in an actual game.

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I sort of disagree with the Complications part of section 4. While stuff like Susceptibilities and Vulnerabilities seem to be an artifact of earlier comic ages. Things like Psychological Limitations, Hunteds, and Social Limitations are still very much a part of Team Comics. I see teams like the Fantastic 4, The Avengers and X-Men all having characters with very defined complications. You ARE right that Team complications are probably different from Solo Hero Complications. Psyc Limits tend to stay the same whether the Character is in a team or not. Hunteds tend to become Team Hunteds. Social Limitations also tend to be more team oriented. (Public ID’s vs Secret ID’s). I think that 6e’s Complications are right on target for a team.

When it comes to limitations for Superheroic Powers. Focus is probably something that is rarely taken as a Superhero. Most have Only in Alternate ID (Iron Man, Green Lantern, Batman’s Gadgets etc) because they are iconic for the character and cannot be used outside of Heroic ID without tipping folk off to a Hero’s Secret ID. It also reflects the Semi Focus aspects of the item(s) that power that Hero’s powers. Not a true focus because those items are rarely if ever taken from the Hero, but sometimes there are factors that make switching into Superheroic ID problematic.

Other Limitations should be looked at in a similar light. A Gun or Sword that is iconic to the character is probably OIAID with the Restrainable Limitation.

 

I think you started off on the right track in talking about how Switching from the Medium of Comics to RPG necessitates changes to iconic characters. Changes that make them better choices for being a PC in an RPG. In Section 4 you totally forgot the arguments you put forth in your first section. So YES in a Comic you might not see Sub Mariner’s susceptibilities/Vulnerabilities to heat and being out of water ex once in a blue moon. In an RPG such things can add excitement to running the Character. A way for the GM to add a character specific challenge to both combat and to even a Non-Combat situation. Having those Complications give the GM something they can always call to make an Adventure more personal when making an adventure. Which is one thing a Comic Author doesn’t have to deal with. Which is Entertaining the PLAYER in the adventure. An Author can add as many characters as needed and then just use those Characters as firepower adders and not actually give the character much screen time at all. This is something that a RPG GM cannot do with their group. They Must/Should give every Player and their character a chance to shine in every Adventure session. Even if this is a small scene or a single die roll.

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Meaningful Choices.

You must run a very Railroaded game if you aren’t giving your PC’s actual meaningful choices. It probably more to do with GM Style than anything. I usually run from a rough outline. I know the Beginning, and a bunch of scenes that I would like to happen and how the players could get from start to finish. I don’t really expect the PC’s to do anything that I expect. Sometimes I have to toss encounters out the window when the PC’s make a leap of intuition that I hadn’t considered. I try to run different types of adventures with a Super’s game. I don’t just run the “Villains are attacking X to pick up the McGuffin Y, because of Z adventures”. It’s easy to run Champions as the Ultimate Superhero Combat Simulator. It just gets boring for the same reason that Comics that are JUST about the heroines beating up things are boring.

It’s not just Meaningful CHOICES that matter to Players. It’s making Adventures that would only happen because it’s those Characters there. It makes the characters Meaningful to the Plot. That’s WHY a good set of Complications is important. It’s vitally important that the GM work WITH the player when making Complications. That way the GM can help the Player choose Complications that matter for the Campaign. It’s also important that the GM not just say NO to a complication without first talking to the player and reading or Listening to the PC’s Background/Origin story. There have been MANY instances where I added an Organization or Changed something about my campaign because a Player had something in their background that was better, or that made my organization better when I added the two together.

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