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Superhero vs Fantasy

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Okay, not a survey but a short article that brings up a couple of new points

 

https://www.quora.com/Why-are-medieval-fantasy-RPGs-so-popular-compared-to-other-RPG-genre

 

If you can't be bothered with the link the author's new points are:

 

Escapism. A fantasy world will have fewer emotional l links to the real world than a game world that is ostensibly this one with whatever game elements added.

 

Exploration. It's fun to explore a new world.

 

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From the article's Conclusion:

 

Simply put, for players and game masters alike it’s super-accessible. You can set aside a lot of concerns for how stuff challenges the players and instead just focus on building the challenges, and you get a lot of freedom from not trying to obey the laws of reality or science.

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drunkonduty's link above is fantastic (for me). As have been all the answers so far, to be sure. But that link, with the 5 or 6 viewpoints/essays given, really helps crystallize what I was wanting to know vis a vis worldbuilding and the comparison between fantasy and superheroes. I was of a mind that I wanted to create a world(s)/campaign that had superpowers but not have it be focused on superheroes, while at the same time not excluding them. I also wanted to have elements of urban fantasy. This discussion has helped me see that I probably do want to go with fantasy and incorporate my other elements into it, if I can (and discarding stuff that ultimately just won't plausibly fit). My reluctance to embrace fantasy is probably most strongly influenced by my own relatively shallow direct experience with it.

 

Excellent food for thought all around.

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So much has already been said that I can't really add anything more, other than my own experience. I won't try to make accurate generalizations about each genre, but I will just give my own personal experience of each in the hopes that it may help distinguish between the two.

 

My first love was fantasy and D&D because they were pretty much the only gaming genre available to me back then. What I loved about it was learning that entirely new worlds existed with their own rules and assumptions, and I got to dive in and learn about them. What really excited me was the maps of strange and unknown places, and the feeling that if I traveled from one city to another, I could spontaneously leave the road and go cross-country in any direction and go exploring. Really, dungeon crawls and all of that are really about exploring something new, and the sense of wonder and surprise that comes from it.

 

My second love was comic books, and Champions. Superheroes represented different personality archetypes to me, and it was fun trying on different characters in my imagination and asking myself, "What would I do if I was virtually invulnerable and had claws?" and stuff like that. Superman never appealed to me because he seemed too polished and predetermined: he was fighting for truth, justice, and the American way and there was no other explanation needed. I was into the comics where there were actual personality conflicts and power-driven conflicts. They allowed me to learn about myself, and the game allowed me to create new versions of myself and imagine how I might behave in the world if I had these sorts of abilities. 

 

In short, D&D, and fantasy in general, allowed me to explore new worlds, conquer different problems, and get cool treasure. Champions allowed me to investigate different parts of myself and imagine how I might react in similar comic book situations. Fantasy was more external and comics were more internal for me.

 

And then Fantasy Hero brought both together for me, and that's all she wrote. I was hooked because I could do both: open-ended vast exploration, and deep-dive internal investigation. I came across Champions and Fantasy Hero a couple of years after they were released, but I had already given up on D&D because they were working on a 2nd edition. I had already given TSR all of my allowance for several years, and they were trying to talk me into giving them even more, and I was pissed! (It was my first experience of a new edition transition). I still loved fantasy, but hated what was happening with D&D. So I devoted all my time and energy to doing things in the HERO System: Justice, Inc., Danger International, my own Western spinoff, and more fantasy and comics stuff. I realized that they all brought both sides of what I loved about gaming. 

 

I suspect a lot of people, like me, loved the fantasy tropes in gaming but got sick of D&D and so turned to, or created, other versions of fantasy games. D&D dissatisfaction seems to have driven much of the market in the late '80s and the '90s. Perhaps people are still trying to find the "perfect system" for fantasy these days, as evidenced by how many games there are out there, many of which are now "indie" in approach. "Indie" is another way of saying they're tired of being constrained by D&D and Pathfinder. They have the feel and wonder of fantasy, but I don't think any of them have captured the right game mechanics that HERO System provides. The one thing that probably holds Fantasy Hero back is that it doesn't have a standard setting that everyone agrees upon. But that is why I love it so much: I can wander off the map and create my own stuff. I think the people now who are looking for alternatives have the desire for a game without an "official" setting, but they have an aversion to "crunchy" game systems, and HERO just has an unfortunate reputation.

 

Anyway, that doesn't really explain why fantasy tends to be more predominant in gaming, but it may lend a bit of insight based on what I got out of fantasy versus comics.

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3 hours ago, Brian Stanfield said:

I suspect a lot of people, like me, loved the fantasy tropes in gaming but got sick of D&D and so turned to, or created, other versions of fantasy games.

 

I had very much the same trajectory as you, starting out with AD&D in 1980 and then discovering Champions in 1982. However, Champions revealed to me how tired I was of the fantasy genre as a whole--not just as an RPG genre but also as a literary one as well--and so I only ever reluctantly played fantasy RPGs after 1982, usually because it was the only genre being played by the group I joined at any given time. The superhero genre remains my favorite RPG genre of all, probably with science fiction right behind, mostly because I've had so little opportunity to play sci-fi RPGs and so  it is sort of an itch that never really got scratched. But to this day I still feel that if I never play or read the fantasy genre again I'd be just fine with that (I approach the prospect of someday bingeing Game of Thrones with a mixture of ambivalence, curiosity, and mild indifference, especially having read the first book many years ago and thinking it was merely okay).

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2 hours ago, zslane said:

 

I had very much the same trajectory as you, starting out with AD&D in 1980 and then discovering Champions in 1982. However, Champions revealed to me how tired I was of the fantasy genre as a whole--not just as an RPG genre but also as a literary one as well--and so I only ever reluctantly played fantasy RPGs after 1982, usually because it was the only genre being played by the group I joined at any given time. The superhero genre remains my favorite RPG genre of all, probably with science fiction right behind, mostly because I've had so little opportunity to play sci-fi RPGs and so  it is sort of an itch that never really got scratched. But to this day I still feel that if I never play or read the fantasy genre again I'd be just fine with that (I approach the prospect of someday bingeing Game of Thrones with a mixture of ambivalence, curiosity, and mild indifference, especially having read the first book many years ago and thinking it was merely okay).

 

I’ve gotten burned out on fantasy as well, but I still am holding out for something truly original and/or engaging. I loved the Harry Potter series, for example, but I’m totally over saturated with it now. I think an urban fantasy/pulp crossover might be fun. I suppose that’s what Monster Hunters International is, but I’m not so much into that, oddly enough. I think you may enjoy the Game of Thrones series if you get the chance to see it. It’s fantasy but not, involving palace intrigue in surprising ways rather than traditional tropes. 

 

Anyway, I’m starting to get burned out on comics at this point. This has been a golden age for popular media and comics, and it’s been fun. But I’m a bit tired of global plots for world domination and stuff like that. I’m in a surprisingly small frame of mind these days. By that I mean locally minded. I live in one of the most biodiverse national forests in the country, and my sense of child-like adventure makes me wonder what could be going on right outside my back door. As of now, it only amounts to me versus a squirrel persistently trying to chew it’s way into my house. My trusty Red Rider BB gun has been invaluable, but I suspect foul things are afoot. . . .

 

In all honesty, I’m still waiting for a fantasy game that lets me wander towards the horizon with no plan of action and no particular campaign planned. I don’t think I’ll ever get that in a game, although I’ve heard that Skyrim can be like that as a solo video game. I suppose I’m going to have to create the game I’m looking for one of these days. 

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3 hours ago, zslane said:

I had very much the same trajectory as you, starting out with AD&D in 1980 and then discovering Champions in 1982. However, Champions revealed to me how tired I was of the fantasy genre as a whole--not just as an RPG genre but also as a literary one as well

 

I guess what I should say, in short, is that fantasy never lived up to what I wanted it to be. Lots of potential, but people got locked into D&D and Tolkein. With good reason: Gygax and Tolkein have vast imaginations, but what they did, Gygax especially, was to create the framework of a world that anyone could play in and add to. But once Greyhawk became the "official" Gygaxian world, it pretty much locked down people's desire to creatively assimilate their own experiences into the game. All Gygax did was create a map around the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes, the world in which he lived. Everyone else felt obliged to play in his world rather than their own. And so I feel like fantasy never lived up to its potential, at least for me, no matter how much stuff came out to add to it.

 

I understand the value of having a unified game world. People from anywhere can share the same game space and expect a certain amount of consistency from game to game. But really, any good campaign should affect the setting in some way, so everyone is really only playing their own version of the setting anyway. It helps make marketing more consistent and unified as well, but this is exactly what drove me away from D&D anyway. It began to cave in under its own weight by the time they hit 2nd edition, and most definitely with Pathfinder nowadays. I was expected to give them all my money to be able to keep up and play the game. Brilliant for marketing, infuriating as a poor high school/college kid! Not that I haven't spent a good deal of money for HERO System books, but I feel with them that they are good resources that allow me to make my own games. The rules are complete (maybe too thorough by 6e), but the genre books and stuff are great for opening up the possibilities of the game rather than narrowing them down to the Northwest coast of such-and-such official game setting.

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2 hours ago, Brian Stanfield said:

Anyway, I’m starting to get burned out on comics at this point. This has been a golden age for popular media and comics, and it’s been fun. But I’m a bit tired of global plots for world domination and stuff like that.

 

I hear you. Superhero (comic book) fatigue never hit me because by the early 1990s I had pretty much stopped reading them. So my love of the genre is in many ways a nostalgic love for late silver age and early bronze age Marvel comics (e.g., Claremont/Byrne era X-Men), and isn't tainted by all the convoluted nonsense that came after. For instance, I've pretty much missed the whole "annual mega-crossover" trend, and have only experienced it in its heavily diluted MCU form. It is easy for me to avoid superhero saturation because I don't over-indulge in the genre by also reading superhero comics and playing superhero video games (side note: I still deeply mourn the loss of City of Heroes).

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I started early with D&D in the winter break of 1976-77 when D&D came in a box of three little books.  The Jr High chess club and math resource center adopted table top gaming with gusto. Back then there were few if any movies to crib from. The main influences were paperbacks, and we read mountains of stuff. E. Gary Gygax’s Appendix N was a fair approximation of our reading tastes at the time. D&D was an amazing release of our imaginations. I would doodle and daydream through class waiting for the next weekends game.   However the folks were interested  in new systems to early RPG’s like Metamorphosis Alpha, Tekumel, and the original Traveler. We were hungry for novelty, and that initialrsh we had with D&D. Later, in high school, I joined the historical war gaming club and its follow on the RPG club.  It was there we tried other systems   like Bushido, and the Fantasy Trip (Advanced Melee /Wizard) We moved away from D&D because we thought the system was limiting. Between my Sophomore and Junior year a few friends and I sat down a game table at Pacific Origins to a new superhero game, Champions!  We were hooked and pretty much dropped the rest. Most of us were all avid Marvel.comics readers at that time, and Champions was a good fit. (Though I was also an avid collector of underground or independent comics). 

 

In literary interests, I could not finish Tolkien. I just could not plow through that dense and archaic language, having honed my reading on the crime thrillers that my parents would leave on their nightstands. Most initial Fantasy in the 80’s were a mostly Tolkien rip offs, or Conan reprints, but the influence of RPGs spread out into the bookstores with Midkemia and The Sword of Shanara. When I hit college my reading moved away from fantasy decisively, as the whole scene at the time had devolved into “Poor little witch girl in the Woods conquers Evil empire”, or “Wimpy Celtic Princess Adventures”. I would read a book a day on the bus ride to and from Foothill College, buying a new book on the ride home and finishing it before class. I moved into hard SF. 

 

I only returned to Fantasy as a game genre when all my former gaming group settled down or moved away. I was invited into the original Fantasy Hero playtest, as the “house Artist” for the 18 player campaign. L. Douglas Garrett is a master storyteller, and game master. With the successful completion of the playtest, his group continued, covering many of the genres that 3e and 4e HERO Covered (except Superheroes and Star Hero). This continued until Doug moved to Japan in 1997. 

 

After that, tabletop gaming evaporated. I was still reading a lot but it was mostly nonfiction history and current events. And my spare time was eaten up by work. I got more involved with video games, both making and playing. It was good money until it wasn’t. I moved to Los Angeles in 2005 chasing a job, but was a hermit by 2007. It was only in the past 3 years, getting invited to a Pathfinder game on Roll20.net, by a friend from Second Life. From then on, it’s weekend games, rolling dice again. 

 

Walking into  to it again, Pathfinder and D&D5e were easy to learn and connect with. The rules start simple, everything was colorful.  And the assumptions were easy and shared. This is probably why games default to fantasy, specifically D&D

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2 hours ago, zslane said:

 

I hear you. Superhero (comic book) fatigue never hit me because by the early 1990s I had pretty much stopped reading them. So my love of the genre is in many ways a nostalgic love for late silver age and early bronze age Marvel comics (e.g., Claremont/Byrne era X-Men), and isn't tainted by all the convoluted nonsense that came after. For instance, I've pretty much missed the whole "annual mega-crossover" trend, and have only experienced it in its heavily diluted MCU form. It is easy for me to avoid superhero saturation because I don't over-indulge in the genre by also reading superhero comics and playing superhero video games (side note: I still deeply mourn the loss of City of Heroes).

 

Yup, I petty much quit in the early ‘90s for the same reasons. If I wanted to follow and enjoy one title, I was being corralled into buying five other titles in order to make sure I didn’t miss any of the crossover stuff. This is the same reason I quit D&D. I get it from a marketing point of view, but it’s also why I’ve quit watching the Netflix series, et al, because the crossover stuff was stealing too much of my time. And the stories suffered as a result of becoming more convoluted. 

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On 11/29/2018 at 12:25 AM, tripthicket said:

Being the first and largest genre of the roleplaying world, being easier to set up (as stated above--I like that factor, which hadn't been proposed before, and yet makes sense), and something that only just occurred to me (but which may not be a factor) -- there's the stigma of comic books and superheroes still being something 'for kids' and perhaps looked down upon. Sure, you've got the superhero movies of the last several years that increased superhero popularity and visibility, but there's still decades of that other perception to overcome. Despite their rise in popular culture, there are still large swaths of the population that look down on superheroes (and yet don't mind fantasy?).

 

 

I have to disagree a little bit about how fantasy being first in the RPG world set it up for success. It implies that if the first RPG was (for example) a Star Trek game where you made your own crew and ship then sci-fi would be the default setting and it would be fantasy playing catch-up. I don't think that's what would have happened. There are other reasons why fantasy is more popular (tropes, general expectations, familiarity with at least knowing about medieval times, etc). Even if a Star Trek RPG was first, someone would make a Chainmail-esque system and it would take center stage leading to D&D and the like. Gamma World was released in 1978, around the time D&D (basic) and AD&D were released. D&D is well known, Gamma World is not and I don't think being first had much to do with it. D&D's name says it all while Gamma World could make people think of a planet of Hulks or something. If there was a game released in 1978 called Starships and Stormtroopers then we'd have something. (Yeah Stormtroopers are Star Wars but there's no space monster equivalent of dragons, much less one that starts with S).

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23 hours ago, zslane said:

 

I hear you. Superhero (comic book) fatigue never hit me because by the early 1990s I had pretty much stopped reading them. So my love of the genre is in many ways a nostalgic love for late silver age and early bronze age Marvel comics (e.g., Claremont/Byrne era X-Men), and isn't tainted by all the convoluted nonsense that came after. For instance, I've pretty much missed the whole "annual mega-crossover" trend, and have only experienced it in its heavily diluted MCU form. It is easy for me to avoid superhero saturation because I don't over-indulge in the genre by also reading superhero comics and playing superhero video games (side note: I still deeply mourn the loss of City of Heroes).

 

21 hours ago, Brian Stanfield said:

 

Yup, I petty much quit in the early ‘90s for the same reasons. If I wanted to follow and enjoy one title, I was being corralled into buying five other titles in order to make sure I didn’t miss any of the crossover stuff. This is the same reason I quit D&D. I get it from a marketing point of view, but it’s also why I’ve quit watching the Netflix series, et al, because the crossover stuff was stealing too much of my time. And the stories suffered as a result of becoming more convoluted. 

 

Right with you.  The last comics I really kept up with was in the 80's.  I've dipped back in on occasion but never got hooked by what I call the "villians a'killin fer good makes 'em Heroes" that has basically over run things.  I don't expect anyone to agree with me, but they have pretty much made a criminal background a requirement for the modern version of Heroes.

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A lot of great posts and a lot of good points.

But I think there is another thing that is being overlooked. Availability.   

With the exception of the long running closed game, usually played at someone’s house.   Many gamers, maybe even a majority, have very little to no time for campaign/adventure creation.   

 

On the fantasy side for current RPG’s - D&D, Pathfinder, C&C, S&W, FFG Star Wars (yes, fantasy not scifi), SW, etc. – you have three overall types of pre-built adventures.  

1. Large well-designed and self-contained campaigns built as a series (5-15) of connected scenarios.  Examples are D&D’s Curse of Strahd and Rage of Demons, Pathfinders Rise of the Runelords and Ironfang Invasion and FFG SW has The Jewel of Yavin and Mask of the Pirate Queen.  

2. Professional quality adventures with 1-3 scenarios designed to be played in one, maybe two sessions, and able to be plugged into any campaign.  

3. A multitude of third-party adventures and campaigns of wildly varying quality published through one of several versions of the open game license.

Any PC that is made using the core rules can be played and no specialized background information or knowledge is required by the players or GM.

 

On the superhero side.

1. A few intricate and obsessively detailed large-scale campaigns.  M&M 3rd has Emerald City Knights set in Emerald City.   

2. The professional quality adventure for one or two sessions is represented.

3. With the bulk being third party.  

The big take away is that for each single offering on the Supers side, there are dozens if not hundreds for the fantasy side.  Many are easily interchangeable (D&D, d20, PF etc.).  

Why is this important?  In order to really design characters and adventures you have to understand a game in play.  Right now, the big three RPG’s (in my area) are D&D 5th, Pathfinder and FFG Star Wars and they all have similar operating methods.  

They each have a starter box with a simple adventure, streamlined rules and pre-generated PC’s.  Yes, pre-gen characters and not a single word on char-gen.  There are even pre-gens at multiple levels to simulate character advancement.   They also have embedded guidance for the new to roleplaying GM to shepherd them through their first adventure.  Why?  They realize that in order to get new players, you need to introduce them to roleplaying in general and give them some conceptual framework to understand what they are doing when the begin to build their own adventures and characters.
    
They also have all three types of ready-made adventures plus a version of OGL so that the less profitable versions are designed and sold by the fan base.  

D&D is charging ahead with a series of well written adventure books while leaving smaller and one-shot adventures to their DM’s Guild.  You can write and sell your own adventures as long as you do it via the DM’s Guild and abide by their guidelines and formats.  No licensing negotiations and contracts, just read the agreement, use the format and sell it here.   Now they have many traditional licenses out there, but the point is that there is a plethora of adventures there for the taking.   New players and DM’s don’t have to stumble around trying to figure out how to make a balanced adventure that is fun.  

And D&D is not alone on this charge.

There are several supers games out there that are beginning to follow a similar plan.  But most have limited themselves to maybe one larger adventure/campaign and then all small one-shots.  They are also encouraging third party OGL style contributions.

You can look outside of traditional fantasy or supers and see that horror and other genres are also doing it.  In fact, if their line is currently successful and moving product, they are putting out one or two major adventures a year and filling the gaps with third party & OGL style product.  

Right now D&D has hit the sweet spot.  Their large adventures are designed to support not just the players that want to take it home, but they are designed for easy running in organized play.   A GM can literally spend 20 minutes reading through the days adventure and run it.  Every league night sees my FLGS selling out of Players Handbooks.  Every league night.  Also, they continually sell the old Adventure books, not just Sword Coast or the DM oriented monster manuals and treasure books.  

Yes, availability by way of ready to run adventures is one way the fantasy genre games are kicking the super genre’s behinds.

And yes, I know, everyone preaches how no one, I mean no one runs any pre-made adventures.   
And yet those “no one’s” seem to be buying a lot of them not to mention running them every week.  

And also, yes, the genres are different.  But not as different as one would think.

The bigger fantasy adventures are generally designed so they are self-contained.  The heroes travel to a location, resolve X number of scenarios, stop the threat, return to base.  Or the adventure is designed to happen in the PC’s home city and is easily “plugged in”.

The smaller adventures are also designed to “plug in” and generally avoid the need for pre-history or knowledge by the PC’s.

Some of the newer supers games are pushing forward and making gains, Supers!, Bash! and ICONS are some.  

M&M 3rd Edition has some great stuff and there is a lot of good third party and OGL type material out there.  If I could grok the condition system they use instead of damage and effect I’d be running it.  Seems simple when read, but I just can’t seem to run it.  Just isn’t fun for me.  

 

In the end RPG’s have three distinct and separate components.
1. Playing the game
2. Building characters
3. Building adventures

Until players have some kind of understanding of how to play (#1), trying to do 2 or 3 is difficult or not worth their efforts.  
However, once they PLAY a game or two, and decide it was fun, they almost always want to make their own character.  Making characters always leads to buying a rulebook.
Play as a PC for a while and they are going to want to try their hand running a game.  

WotC and Paizo know this and have tailored beginner sets to set the hook and a continuing line of adventures for the modern gamer with little time to build.  

To wrap up.  

Super’s RPG’s are behind compared to Fantasy, Scifi and well, to be frank, the field.  
To catch up or expand the market share they need to sell more rulebooks.  
This is where you say “no duh”.  

Get people to play, intro’s, pre-gen PC’s and plenty of adventures to learn from.
Then get them to build characters.  If they want to make a character, they will get rule book.
Then get them to build adventures.  They will buy GM aid books.
Make sure the product is modern, i.e. color and decent art.  Something that pops on the shelf and then sucks them in with layout and interior art.

In that battle, Fantasy has been in the vanguard with Scifi close behind with Horror in support.

 

Of course all this is my opinion and if the past is any indicator, not a popular one.

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4 minutes ago, Spence said:

 

 

A lot of great posts and a lot of good points.

But I think there is another thing that is being overlooked. Availability.   

With the exception of the long running closed game, usually played at someone’s house.   Many gamers, maybe even a majority, have very little to no time for campaign/adventure creation.   

 

[Edit]

 

In the end RPG’s have three distinct and separate components.
1. Playing the game
2. Building characters
3. Building adventures

Until players have some kind of understanding of how to play (#1), trying to do 2 or 3 is difficult or not worth their efforts.  
However, once they PLAY a game or two, and decide it was fun, they almost always want to make their own character.  Making characters always leads to buying a rulebook.
Play as a PC for a while and they are going to want to try their hand running a game.  

WotC and Paizo know this and have tailored beginner sets to set the hook and a continuing line of adventures for the modern gamer with little time to build.  

 

In the "Quotes from the Game" Thread, one of the reported games is a Pathfinder adventure of four "books", called The Mummy's Mask.  The adventure is well written. lots, and I mean LOTS of full color (digitally) painted artwork, and the adventure has good flow, and only starts to wobble a bit at the end game, when the characters exceed 12th level, but that is a structural problem common to Pathfinder, but less so for 5e. (No spoilers).  The presentation is very slick, the NPCs detailed, monsters organized by challenge level (which is determined by character level, and number of characters in the Party). 

 

I am trying to remember anything that was similar, and the only thing I can think of, were the old Espionage modules like Border Crossing,  where things progressed based upon success or failure of the last part.  I don't think of anything from the Champions line that fit this. In most cases the Champions supplimental material, were mostly Villain books. It would be like if AD&D came out as the Players Handbook, and just kept releasing Monster Manuals every quarter for years. I think something was missed in how Champions back then published things, and since, it's become "tradition" to put out a  themed "Enemies" book.

 

4 minutes ago, Spence said:

To wrap up.  

Super’s RPG’s are behind compared to Fantasy, Scifi and well, to be frank, the field.  
To catch up or expand the market share they need to sell more rulebooks.  
This is where you say “no duh”.  

Get people to play, intro’s, pre-gen PC’s and plenty of adventures to learn from.
Then get them to build characters.  If they want to make a character, they will get rule book.
Then get them to build adventures.  They will buy GM aid books.
Make sure the product is modern, i.e. color and decent art.  Something that pops on the shelf and then sucks them in with layout and interior art.

In that battle, Fantasy has been in the vanguard with Scifi close behind with Horror in support.

 

Of course all this is my opinion and if the past is any indicator, not a popular one.

 

I don't see anything wrong with your premise, other than cost. Hiring competent digital artists who can paint a "Heroic figure, deciding on a style (Graphic Novel, or "floppy"  style), and then printing hardbound in color, is going to result in a rather expensive product.  That aside, it does seem that a lot of folks were, and are still looking for a Cheap starter kit for hero to hand out (for free, or cheap) to skeptical table top friends to get them interested in the system. 

I think it probably should be Fantasy, because one can do it, without having to acquire any licenses, or spitting profits with Licensee's.  

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17 hours ago, Scott Ruggels said:

I don't think of anything from the Champions line that fit this. In most cases the Champions supplimental material, were mostly Villain books. It would be like if AD&D came out as the Players Handbook, and just kept releasing Monster Manuals every quarter for years. I think something was missed in how Champions back then published things, and since, it's become "tradition" to put out a  themed "Enemies" book.

 

It occurs to me that in the '80s most of the Champions players had no problem coming up with their own settings and creating their own adventures. My experience was that it was all set in one's local city, and spread out from there. The villains books offered new bad guys that could be plugged into anyone's already established city. Most of the people I encountered had no problems coming up with their own stuff. The points ensured that everything was balanced (one of the main reasons I picked up HERO in the first place).

 

The problem with home-brewed stuff in D&D back in the day was that game balance was nearly impossible to establish. One couldn't create new monsters, spells, classes, or, well, anything without creating some game balance problems. So we all depended on the books to come out and establish the new rules, etc. TSR was like a pusher before the OGL was available, making sure that we depended on them to meet the demand for new rules, books, and adventures. Modules were a moment of brilliance, especially when they were linked in series of modules that led to a larger campaign arc. I think that was both a product of the "golden age" of RPGs, and also a product of a culture that still depended on books for their primary source of information.

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18 hours ago, Spence said:

To wrap up.  

Super’s RPG’s are behind compared to Fantasy, Scifi and well, to be frank, the field.  
To catch up or expand the market share they need to sell more rulebooks.  
This is where you say “no duh”.  

Get people to play, intro’s, pre-gen PC’s and plenty of adventures to learn from.
Then get them to build characters.  If they want to make a character, they will get rule book.
Then get them to build adventures.  They will buy GM aid books.
Make sure the product is modern, i.e. color and decent art.  Something that pops on the shelf and then sucks them in with layout and interior art.

In that battle, Fantasy has been in the vanguard with Scifi close behind with Horror in support.

 

Of course all this is my opinion and if the past is any indicator, not a popular one.

 

Several things come to mind here. I'll try not to rehash the entire Fantasy HERO Basic thread I started a couple years ago . . . .

  • I don't think new rulebooks are going to be the medium that saves any RPG these days. Fewer and fewer people depend on books for their first encounter with an RPG these days. PDFs are the new standard, but of course they need to be professionally developed to be appealing even if in digital form. I was just reading the reissue of Aaron Allston's Strike Force the other day where there was at least one typo on every page, usually more, which tells me that the editors just didn't really care to ensure that the product was top-notch. It's a great book, but it's virtually unacceptable to have typos in an era with spell checker and grammar checker, etc. (I'm sure, to appease the gods of irony, that this post will be full of typos)
  • Game conventions may be a great venue to expose new players to the game. The Character Creation Cards that just came out may be just what the doctor ordered to allow players to create their own characters in minutes, and them actually play with them in an introductory, rules-light adventure. I hope people take advantage of this possibility. It could really be a game changer in how people experience Champions. I've been thinking of how easy it would be to create cards like this for Fantasy HERO for quite some time, using racial and class templates, and predefined spells. Think how easy it could be to create an interesting character for a fantasy game that would introduce people to the HERO System?
  • Building adventures is the hard part. I think maybe most of us are getting older and have too many time commitments to lead the way on this. It may take the new generation of college students to take the lead if they can enjoy a first successful encounter with the HERO System. The art becomes the expensive part. I once thought I'd produce a quick little Fantasy HERO Basic book (see the thread and the resulting PDF from Xotl), and I asked my artist buddy if he' do some art for the book. He said sure, and was incredibly generous with his time and talent. I asked him what he charged, and he said "no charge," but that I should look at some of his work online to get an idea of what he does. It turns out he did artwork for Magic: The Gathering and D&D and gets flown around the world to sign cards even to this day. I was dumbfounded. I had known him for 15 years and didn't know this about him. Long story short, good quality artwork is expensive if you don't have the "good buddy" discount, which, of course, I couldn't in good conscience take advantage of.
  • One last thought: fantasy art is cool. It is evocative of place and history, and the power and skill of the characters being depicted. There are a lot of people who do good fantasy art. Comic art can turn dorky pretty quickly. I hate (and I mean hate) matching costumes, and even the idea of a costume in any variety, in all actuality. This may be taboo in a HERO System forum, but I stand firm on this. I loved the X Men, but they were so much better when they didn't match in those horrible yellow outfits. Whereas fantasy costumes tend to be functional and evocative of character (armor and swords are actually part of how the world works), superhero costumes tend to just strike me as experiments in glam, a la David Bowie. So coming up with engaging artwork for a superhero game is already handicapped, in my opinion, in a way that fantasy is not. This is not to say that there isn't bad fantasy art out there, or that it all makes perfect sense, but there is a different kind of suspension of disbelief in fantasy that doesn't necessarily match superhero material. Just go look at what is available out there, in terms of artwork, for both genres. Most of Champions artwork has been pretty lame compared to most of D&D. I know this may get me run off of the HERO boards, but seriously: one of the main reasons I nearly didn't switch over to Fantasy HERO in the beginning was because of the amateurish presentation of the material. How can you entice new people to play when it looks like something cooked up in a high school study hall?

Those are just a few incomplete thoughts. They are in no way representative of the whole of my thoughts, but they are just what came to mind right now.

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One more distinction occurred to me between fantasy and superheroes. I kinda already made this point earlier, but I want to clarify: 

  • Fantasy evokes a sense of place (and time, somewhat) more than anything else. Exploration in fantasy usually involves discovery of place, and everyone longs for some kind of change of scene in their lives. Fantasy is immediately immersive in something different from our everyday lives. 
  • Superhero themes evoke a sense of self in terms of how personalities and powers interact. Their stories tend to happen in our home cities, or some place that we're familiar with, and the immersion comes from imagining oneself with a different kind of personality and with special powers.
  • This is ultimately no different from what fantasy does, but the main difference is that the sense of place is not so important in superhero stories. Everyone imagines being different, or having something special about them, but this is equally accessible in fantasy, with the added benefit of a fantastic, wonderful setting.

Just a few more concise thoughts to add.

 

(By the way, does anyone have any idea why the bulleted list doesn't "take" on the first posting? I have to go in and re-do it in the editing screen.)

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Today's pre-written adventures are no great shakes.

 

They aren't anything I'd be excited to play. Sure, they often have lavish production values, but they suffer from the need to cater to a style of play I rather detest. Which is a style that is heavy on narrative play and is way too dependent on the players achieving specific objectives at various points in the plot. There's little room in the written text for how to deal with a near TPK, or characters who decide to completely bypass a "chapter". If a GM doesn't have time to come up with their own adventures, then they also don't have time to prepare contingencies for player actions and outcomes that deviate heavily from the expectations of the pre-written adventure text. That puts today's adventures on rails for the most part.

 

Back in the day we used to complain about adventures, whether pre-written or GM-created, that felt like they were on rails. Nowadays the rails have become necessary and expected to a large degree. Players seem to want the adventure spoon fed to them, with little to no chance of failure at any point so that nothing derails the all-important Story. This has become painfully evident after watching numerous RPG streams on YouTube, and hearing various GMs vlog about their campaigns.

 

The evolution of pre-written adventures/modules away from "adventure settings with a dramatic situation" towards "adventure paths with a series of chapters" has been slow and subtle. The stark contrast between the two really only became apparent to me after I read Matthew Finch's essay, A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, and I realized just how far today's adventure path products have drifted from the iconic AD&D modules of old (ala G1-3/D1-3/Q1 or the T series).

 

How does this affect Superheroes vs. Fantasy? Well I grew up expecting fantasy RPG play to have an ongoing plot where we, the players, drove most of the action and where a sense of continuity from session to session was paramount. Superhero RPG play, on the other hand, was a refreshing change where each session was more or less standalone, with "continuity" only existing insofar as we remembered past missions and maybe the consequences of one mission might have some minor impact on some future mission/plot. Moreover, as superheroes we were reacting to the actions of the villains, rather than going out into the world and carving out our own heroic destiny, like you typically find in fantasy.

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zslane, it strikes me that the way you describe how printed adventures are constructed today, resembles the way most computer "role-playing games" play out. The story is built in chapters which must be completed in a certain order to advance to the conclusion; and PCs are restricted in their options for where they can go and what they can do. Perhaps today's gaming audience, which is far larger for computer than tabletop games, has been trained to expect that pattern.

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On 12/2/2018 at 11:35 PM, Scott Ruggels said:

 

In most cases the Champions supplimental material, were mostly Villain books. It would be like if AD&D came out as the Players Handbook, and just kept releasing Monster Manuals every quarter for years. I think something was missed in how Champions back then published things, and since, it's become "tradition" to put out a  themed "Enemies" book.

 

During the DOJ era of Hero Games, what I heard repeatedly from management was that adventures were consistently among the lowest-selling books in their lines, including for Champions. That was attributed to their being of limited re-use potential after a particular game group ran them once. OTOH most supers campaigns require a steady stream of new villains, so those compendia remained in higher demand.

 
However, I would disagree that Hero Games skimped on published adventures over their history. From the company's earliest days, through the Fourth Edition of the game, those were a significant part of their output. The Island of Dr. Destroyer. Deathstroke. The Great Super Villain Contest. The Coriolis Effect. VOICE of Doom. Wrath of the Seven Horsemen. Scourge from the Deep. Target Hero. Wings of the Valkyrie. To Serve and Protect. Atlas Unleashed. Invasions: Target Earth. Day of the Destroyer. Invaders from Below. Demons Rule. Road Kill. The triple-adventure compilations, Champions Presents 1 and 2, and Pyramid in the Sky. If you're willing to count shorter scenarios, you'd have to include the multiple ones in Challenges for Champions. Not to mention third-party publications, like Atlas Games' Dystopia, Foxbat Unhinged, and Blood Fury; Gold Rush Games' own tri-adventure book, Heroic Adventures Vol 1 (volume 2 was marketed as for Dark Champions); and Chaosium's adventures statted for several games, Bad Medicine for Dr. Drugs, and another multi-adventure book, Trouble for HAVOC.

 

Admittedly the output of adventures slowed greatly during the DOJ era of 5E and 6E, but for the previously-noted explanation. Licensed producers such as Blackwyrm Games did pick up some of the slack, though.

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I'm not aware of too many old published adventures that actually gave players any real choices.

 

Choosing "Left" or "Right" sums up most of them. The adventure's plot remained what it was regardless of player actions.

 

Many of them gave you an open, sand-boxy wilderness to wander through on the way to the dungeon. But this was an aside that rarely had any effect on the main part of the adventure.

 

I think the reason why TTRPG adventures (both nowadays and in our halcyon youths)  look much like CRPG adventures is that both them are created with limited resources. You can't publish an infinite number of adventure options, either for a TTRPG or a CRPG.

 

Of course what TTRPG adventures can give you is the option for the GM to go "off book" when the players want to do something unexpected. But that's as true of adventures today as of adventures yesterday. A TTRPG adventure can also give you the broad outlines of an expanded adventure world and allow the GM to fill in the details during play. As far back as  Keep on the Borderlands there were elements of this. The couple of adventure paths I'm familiar with have the possibility to do this too. That is, the writers and or publisher have made an effort to suggest other options, or published expansions to the game world. For example:  Age of Worms had (at least) one expansion piece written - for the town in which the adventure started.  The GM was given the option of using this to expand the game beyond the mere adventure path.

 

To sum up: there's no significant difference between old adventures and new ones. Except the quality of the product. The new ones are flash. Sexy. Great art. Good quality publication. They are marketed as complete adventures with minimal additional work for the busy modern GM; everyone can just dive in to the fun.

 

 

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For the most part, I agree. But I have seen a few published adventures which build in more room for players to take a variety of tacks. Shades Of Black, for Champions 5E, is a very good example of laying out multiple courses of action the PCs could take during the adventure, with how the consequences of those choices could lead them to its logical conclusion.

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