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Heroic Narratives, Or I Love Champions But...

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Champions is one of my all-time favorite games. I love the way it models superheroes. But that's the thing: it models them. Having cut my teeth on Marvel Super Heroes (TSR) and DC Heroes (Mayfair), I've always found that games that allow you to price in "heroism" work a lot better in some ways than a game like Champions that grimly documents the damage a giant robot does to a kung fu detective. 

Heroic Action Points are a nice innovation. Still, I think they lack a dynamic connection to the characters's actions. Even Mutants & Masterminds Hero Points, which are are a bit weak mechanically, contribute to the ebb and flow, the ups and downs of dramatic action.

What are your thoughts?

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I've found the opposite, that systems with metacurrency make it a lot harder to have the down-then-up pattern common to comics.  My experience is that players are very prone to blowing through their bennies to avoid the down, then power through the up without them.  This defeats the mechanical purpose of the down (providing metacurrency for the up) and the narrative (since they're not losing due to all that metacurrency they're burning). 

 

It works a heck of a lot better to establish an understanding with your players of how a plot arc "should" go and get them playing along. 

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If you as the GM always always have a plan for what will happen if the heroes lose, and if that plan always always includes a way for them to win again, then the narrative down-then-up will always be preserved. Like GnomeBody I find that karma, inspiration points, fate tokens and whatnot tend to get spent when players are trying to avoid a fail. I used a system like that for a previous campaign, and the players were blowing them out to make ordinary Dodge actions in ordinary combat because a blast *might* Stun them for a phase. I eventually added a rule that you could only ever cash in a heroic token for one maneuver one time, and that worked somewhat better. The first time a character spent one on an EGO roll to push STR was the highlight clip for those tokens, but other than that they were clunky and disappointing.

 

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1 hour ago, JackValhalla said:

If you as the GM always always have a plan for what will happen if the heroes lose, and if that plan always always includes a way for them to win again, then the narrative down-then-up will always be preserved.

 

This - 110%.  The old V&V modules were great at including a "what if the heroes lose?" note so they could come back and make that last-ditch effort to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Initial failure was not prescribed and baked in - it was a possibility accounted for in the scenario.

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The difference between a roleplaying game and a comic book is that the comic writers have full control over the narrative, while this is...less true in a roleplaying game.  In a game, the narrative is subject to the players and an even deadlier foe, the whims of the dice (we all know how the laws of probability warp in proximity to game dice).

 

The West End d6 Star Wars game had their Force Points, and the old Serenity RPG had Plot Points.  Both games had cool mechanisms for determining how these points were replenished, always a reflection on how they were used and how the character was played.  I never felt like there were enough of those points to power the character through every low the adventure threw at them.  For Hero...well, I think it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you develop a system that works for your game and enhances its flavor without robbing it of dramatic potential.

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Gestalt had a variation on Luck Points.  You roll your dice, total them up.  This a number of points you can use to modify roll for combat, skills and damage.  

 

Then there were the luck limitations like "only to be used after losing in a combat"  So first fight, no points.  Second fight, you get points.  This might work for you!

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My group mostly used Hero points for getting around unlucky players.  Most of them forgot I used them in the campaign unless I remind them about it.  Reading the above, make me think that most players are using the same way, as a final defensive play.  Which got me wondering, about using a mechanic to avoid one bad fate for a lesser bad but annoying fate rather than Hero points.

 

Ex: The Batman player is fighting the Joker who shoots him with his Bang! spear gun.  The Joker maxes out on the attack.  This would GM Batman and take him out of the final fight in one blow (a pretty embarrassing, and boring for the player, end to combat).  The GM offers the Batman player a choice.  Roll 3d6 plus luck or unluck. Any 6 on the 3d6 or luck would negate a 1 on any one die of the 3d6 or unluck.  If no 1s are effectively rolled, then Batman's player would take the minimum amount of damage for impairment and roll separately for a location and suffer an impairment for 1 turn.  For each 1 effectively rolled, go down the time chart for impairment.  If more than 5 1s are rolled, move over to disabled.  The Joker's luck would be Batman's unluck and the Joker's unluck would be Batman's luck and be applicable to this roll.  Batman's player chooses this option.  The hit location is a 12 and he gets 2 total 1s.  This means the bolt is lodged in Batman's gut and he can't take Post-12 recoveries for 5 minutes.

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I hate the “fate points, bennies, luck” mechanics that have come into vogue lately. It is too narrative focused, and makes dice results transactional, rather than final, and I have found slows down the game.  I also think the mechanic tends to both push things into a narrative formula, and remove the true fear of failure, encouraging the PCs into thoughtless actions, because of, “I saw them do it in that movie”, or “Pizza Man did this in Issue #134, against the Purple People Eater”, rather than looking at the map and weighing the situation. I think that the fate point mechanic also doesn’t as much emulate a narrative, as much as it emulates a lazy narrative. Genre conformity, and a formulaic results to me are the products of lazy or timid writing. Superheroes start with a premise and a tradition, but the good writers explore the implications, and push the state of the art forward, rather than retell the same bedtime story every night to stroke nostalgic feelings.  Now I play and accept the results of the dice without modification. If the dice don’t lie, one takes the situation more seriously. In a recent Pathfinder game, a character of mine was blinded, and rather than complain about it. I took the minuses, and where the party was, and the membership of it, my character had no access to a Restore spell, or Remove Curse. So it looked like the blindness may be permanent. My plan was to try and survive long enough to justify the Blind Fighting feat. I play the hand I am dealt. 
 

Now, people have the right to the games they choose, so if one has the desire to play within a fairly narrative focused style, then so be it. Mechanically, in the systems was built for, it it does work (see: Savage Worlds) to simulate a narrative progression, but lot of those systems are more for the theater of the mind, rather than the tactical clarity of Hero.  The mechanic, to me doesn’t fit Hero. 

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On 2/11/2020 at 7:24 AM, BarretWallace said:

The difference between a roleplaying game and a comic book is that the comic writers have full control over the narrative

 

Yes, exactly.

 

I also want to agree 100% with what Scott just said above.

 

It is important to acknowledge that Champions is, at its core, a superhero combat simulator. It isn't a superhero story generator. You aren't producing comic book scripts, you are simulating panels of comic book combat in a wargame format. Everything you do to impose meta-narrative control over the simulation makes the game less of a (war)game, and the whole thing ceases to work as designed.

 

I think if you want a more narrative-oriented superhero RPG, then you'd probably have much more success using a different system to start with, rather than trying to turn Champions into something it's not.

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On 2/12/2020 at 11:05 AM, Scott Ruggels said:

I hate the “fate points, bennies, luck” mechanics that have come into vogue lately. It is too narrative focused, and makes dice results transactional, rather than final, and I have found slows down the game.  I also think the mechanic tends to both push things into a narrative formula, and remove the true fear of failure, encouraging the PCs into thoughtless actions, because of, “I saw them do it in that movie”, or “Pizza Man did this in Issue #134, against the Purple People Eater”, rather than looking at the map and weighing the situation. I think that the fate point mechanic also doesn’t as much emulate a narrative, as much as it emulates a lazy narrative. Genre conformity, and a formulaic results to me are the products of lazy or timid writing. Superheroes start with a premise and a tradition, but the good writers explore the implications, and push the state of the art forward, rather than retell the same bedtime story every night to stroke nostalgic feelings.  Now I play and accept the results of the dice without modification. If the dice don’t lie, one takes the situation more seriously. In a recent Pathfinder game, a character of mine was blinded, and rather than complain about it. I took the minuses, and where the party was, and the membership of it, my character had no access to a Restore spell, or Remove Curse. So it looked like the blindness may be permanent. My plan was to try and survive long enough to justify the Blind Fighting feat. I play the hand I am dealt. 
 

Now, people have the right to the games they choose, so if one has the desire to play within a fairly narrative focused style, then so be it. Mechanically, in the systems was built for, it it does work (see: Savage Worlds) to simulate a narrative progression, but lot of those systems are more for the theater of the mind, rather than the tactical clarity of Hero.  The mechanic, to me doesn’t fit Hero. 

Gotta disagree with you here. Hero points like any other tool if used correctly are great. What’s nice is to use the Hero point when a die roll would be anticlimactic. 

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On 2/12/2020 at 11:05 AM, Scott Ruggels said:

I hate the “fate points, bennies, luck” mechanics that have come into vogue lately. It is too narrative focused, and makes dice results transactional, rather than final, and I have found slows down the game.  I also think the mechanic tends to both push things into a narrative formula, and remove the true fear of failure, encouraging the PCs into thoughtless actions, because of, “I saw them do it in that movie”, or “Pizza Man did this in Issue #134, against the Purple People Eater”, rather than looking at the map and weighing the situation. I think that the fate point mechanic also doesn’t as much emulate a narrative, as much as it emulates a lazy narrative. Genre conformity, and a formulaic results to me are the products of lazy or timid writing. Superheroes start with a premise and a tradition, but the good writers explore the implications, and push the state of the art forward, rather than retell the same bedtime story every night to stroke nostalgic feelings.  Now I play and accept the results of the dice without modification. If the dice don’t lie, one takes the situation more seriously. In a recent Pathfinder game, a character of mine was blinded, and rather than complain about it. I took the minuses, and where the party was, and the membership of it, my character had no access to a Restore spell, or Remove Curse. So it looked like the blindness may be permanent. My plan was to try and survive long enough to justify the Blind Fighting feat. I play the hand I am dealt. 
 

Now, people have the right to the games they choose, so if one has the desire to play within a fairly narrative focused style, then so be it. Mechanically, in the systems was built for, it it does work (see: Savage Worlds) to simulate a narrative progression, but lot of those systems are more for the theater of the mind, rather than the tactical clarity of Hero.  The mechanic, to me doesn’t fit Hero. 

 

I came into RPGs from wargaming a long time ago. The dice never lie. And the die rolls often create some rather interesting role-playing opportunities.

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On 2/12/2020 at 9:05 AM, Scott Ruggels said:

I hate the “fate points, bennies, luck” mechanics that have come into vogue lately.

 

DC Heroes (1985)

Quote

 

It is too narrative focused, and makes dice results transactional, rather than final, and I have found slows down the game.  I also think the mechanic tends to both push things into a narrative formula, and remove the true fear of failure, encouraging the PCs into thoughtless actions, because of, “I saw them do it in that movie”, or “Pizza Man did this in Issue #134, against the Purple People Eater”, rather than looking at the map and weighing the situation. I think that the fate point mechanic also doesn’t as much emulate a narrative, as much as it emulates a lazy narrative. Genre conformity, and a formulaic results to me are the products of lazy or timid writing. Superheroes start with a premise and a tradition, but the good writers explore the implications, and push the state of the art forward, rather than retell the same bedtime story every night to stroke nostalgic feelings.  Now I play and accept the results of the dice without modification. If the dice don’t lie, one takes the situation more seriously. In a recent Pathfinder game, a character of mine was blinded, and rather than complain about it. I took the minuses, and where the party was, and the membership of it, my character had no access to a Restore spell, or Remove Curse. So it looked like the blindness may be permanent. My plan was to try and survive long enough to justify the Blind Fighting feat. I play the hand I am dealt. 
 

Now, people have the right to the games they choose, so if one has the desire to play within a fairly narrative focused style, then so be it. Mechanically, in the systems was built for, it it does work (see: Savage Worlds) to simulate a narrative progression, but lot of those systems are more for the theater of the mind, rather than the tactical clarity of Hero.  The mechanic, to me doesn’t fit Hero. 

 

I don't take any serious issues with some of the points. I guess the question I have is: what is the point of a tactical superhero RPG that doesn't support superhero stories? As much as I love Champions, I also find it a weird tool set for trying to run campaigns. For me it's a tradeoff between the flexibility of Champions versus some of the narrative support of other systems. 

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1 minute ago, pawsplay said:

 

 

I don't take any serious issues with some of the points. I guess the question I have is: what is the point of a tactical superhero RPG that doesn't support superhero stories? As much as I love Champions, I also find it a weird tool set for trying to run campaigns. For me it's a tradeoff between the flexibility of Champions versus some of the narrative support of other systems. 

But what do you define as a superhero story?  From what  traditions do you see missing in the standard game?  From even within the superhero genre, we are looking at 75 years of stories, across multiple publishers, encompassing thousands of characters. The you have the Comics Code and then the post comics code stories. There is a wide latitude there. 

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3 hours ago, Ninja-Bear said:

Gotta disagree with you here. Hero points like any other tool if used correctly are great. What’s nice is to use the Hero point when a die roll would be anticlimactic. 

Anti climactic sounds like a GM problem rather than a dice problem to me.  The Hero points to me break the flow, and the solidity of the environment. Sometimes you just have bad luck.  Better to blame the dice than someone else at the table. 

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9 hours ago, Greywind said:

 

I came into RPGs from wargaming a long time ago. The dice never lie. And the die rolls often create some rather interesting role-playing opportunities.

Yes and the dice can also mess with your game flow too.  This is a rpg not a war game or at least the last time I checked. So with judicial use of hero points, your hero can be well heroic. I’ve used them already to do a cool maneuver which pulled an agent into a pit which pulled me out in a Pulp game. It wasn’t  the game winning battle but it was visually cool and I wasn’t trusting no dice to it.  The last Champions game, (I was the only one to earn a hero point fwiw) used it to make sure that when I hit the macguffin which needed broke, it broke on the first try. Now I had to fight my way across the arena to get into position, I think I even got hit and almost got stunned too but in any case very weak. And breaking the macguffin dropped off the control neck rings but didn’t end the battle. I agree that if you use a hero point as an insta win well yeah I don’t think that that is the intention and I wouldn’t use it as such. Still it’s a nice tool if used correctly.

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6 hours ago, Scott Ruggels said:

Anti climactic sounds like a GM problem rather than a dice problem to me.  The Hero points to me break the flow, and the solidity of the environment. Sometimes you just have bad luck.  Better to blame the dice than someone else at the table. 

So you never had dice rolls break the flow? FWIW I’ve played many a game with straight use of dice but at the end of the day the bottom line is what’s more enjoyable for the Players?  If Hero points ruin the game then fine don’t use them however if they enhance the game? By all means use them.

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"Can't have bad things happen to my character", "can't crit fail, that's not heroic", blah-blah-blah. If they have them as a resource, the players will (ab)use them.

 

I had a player whose character was a Batman-type. Lots of gadgets and training. Wasn't adverse to using the guns of downed thugs when he could. Only downside was, every time he picked up a dropped gun, his dice hated him. Every time he shot, he missed. He missed badly. Up to and including hitting a hostage he was trying to save. Had we used hero points none of that would have happened.

 

Dice don't mess with your game flow. The dice ARE your game flow.

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14 minutes ago, Greywind said:

"Can't have bad things happen to my character", "can't crit fail, that's not heroic", blah-blah-blah. If they have them as a resource, the players will (ab)use them.

 

I had a player whose character was a Batman-type. Lots of gadgets and training. Wasn't adverse to using the guns of downed thugs when he could. Only downside was, every time he picked up a dropped gun, his dice hated him. Every time he shot, he missed. He missed badly. Up to and including hitting a hostage he was trying to save. Had we used hero points none of that would have happened.

 

Dice don't mess with your game flow. The dice ARE your game flow.

So was that good for the game or not? Depending on the player I can see it go either way. 

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On February 12, 2020 at 11:05 AM, Scott Ruggels said:

I hate the “fate points, bennies, luck” mechanics that have come into vogue lately.

 

 

Quote

makes dice results transactional, rather than final, and I have found slows down the game.  I also think the mechanic tends to both push things into a narrative formula, and remove the true fear of failure, encouraging the PCs into thoughtless actions,

 

 

Quote

 I think that the fate point mechanic also doesn’t as much emulate a narrative, as much as it emulates a lazy narrative

 

 

Quote

The mechanic, to me doesn’t fit Hero

 

 

Hmmm.... 

 

It seems I can only rep you one of those little trophies. 

 

Reckon I will just have to mail you a couple of real ones or something.

 

"i can't use the rules and situation to formulate a plan advantageous enough to give myself a die modifier.  But now I do t even have to try!  I'll take a 'plus 2' for a thousand, Alex!" 

 

Damn but those "random points to ignore the dice" things have been nothing but irritating every time I read a rules system that uses them-  and Scott, let's remember that I _am_ a narrative-heavy guy.  I _still_ think they suck.  And cramming those things into a game system that was never actually designed around them was a flat-out terrible idea that just oozed this cringe-inducing sense of desperation:  'look!  Look!  We're cool!   We're hip!   See?  See?!  We're doing it, too!  Just like all the cool kids!  Look at us!   Love us!  Love us!   Dear, sweet merciful God!  Somebody, please!  _LoooOOOOOOoooovvve uussss..... "

 

 

This will probably be the most hated thing I will ever say:

 

This has been the only game system I have ever used since 2e for anything more than a single test run of something that seems interesting.  If I like it, I throw it on Champions running gear and keep on.  It is the only system I teach, and I believe it will be the only system I ever play-  that's not a guess; it's a reasonable assumption.  I've been playing since 81 or 82, and like I said, converted everything I liked to it.  I haven't got many years left, and a change at this point seems unlikely. 

 

But I would rather have seen the entire system wither away, never to be heard from again than to go out in the shameless desperation of this grand lady grabbing baubles trinkles and bobbles from the cheap floozies at frat parties or the shallow whores that disappear within a few weeks, plastic beaded jewelery and gaudy colored powders only two-shades-removed from circus clowns, so desperate to regain popularity as to imitate those who were and are far more fleeting, if only because in the moment she looked, their flash was still glowing amber, the pan not _quite_ empty....

 

There is a depressing little vision that comes to me from time to time--and it has for almost twenty years now.  I am sitting at a game table at some unspecified event, books open, character sheets, maps, dice-  waiting for a few people to be interested enough to want to play.  Sadly, everyone who asks just says "sorry.  Never heard of it.". It's remarkably easy to learn!  I've got some pregen characters and a scenario, if you're up to trying....  "Im sorry, I'm trying to find a Savage Worlds game...". "I'm sorry; you looked a bit depressed; I thought maybe this was a White Wolf game....". "Sorry, Man!  Gotta go find me some nat twenties!" 

 

Hero points and other borrowed crap shoehorned into a system never meant for it, just because it's the flavor of the day?  Why not ditch the dice?  Playing cards for all!  Here's a chart! 

 

Anyway, that sad vision went away a couple years ago, and I miss it terribly.  Not because I lkjed it, but because it was replaced by one where I've made it to the table, I'm unloading my books from my saddlebags, and then two security guys come up to me.  One begins to shove my books back into my bags and the other starts dragging me toward the door, cold but polite "I am sorry, Sir; we have _standards_ here! 

 

 

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2 hours ago, Greywind said:

"Can't have bad things happen to my character", "can't crit fail, that's not heroic", blah-blah-blah. If they have them as a resource, the players will (ab)use them.

 

I had a player whose character was a Batman-type. Lots of gadgets and training. Wasn't adverse to using the guns of downed thugs when he could. Only downside was, every time he picked up a dropped gun, his dice hated him. Every time he shot, he missed. He missed badly. Up to and including hitting a hostage he was trying to save. Had we used hero points none of that would have happened.

Is that supposed to sound awesome? Because it doesn't. Maybe as an occasional thing, abject failure makes sense, but if someone is trying to playing a Batman-type, they probably want to be competent.

2 hours ago, Greywind said:

 

Dice don't mess with your game flow. The dice ARE your game flow.

The big problem is that in a "fair scenario," it's going to be 50/50 for the so-called heroes. For the superheroes to come out on top most of the time, you have to stack the deck in their favor. Whereas if you look at the comic books, usually the deck is stacked against them. Grim failure and slapstick failure are fine for Watchmen or Mystery Men inspired games. But if you are running Justice League: when the Green Arrow lines up that one-in-a-thousand shot, you know he'll make it. 

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I think there is definitely a place for narrative mechanics in the game but I find the implementation of the Hero Dice a bit insipid.

 

I want something that draws out the feel of the game played and that will vary genre by genre and even within genres.  If you do something like Hero Points you want it to encourage "good" player behaviour and reward genre appropriate action over optimum tactics.

 

Ideally, the system should add to dramatic tension rather than steal it away with certainties.

 

We almost need a splat book to talk about the potential uses for hero points in a variety of games and genres.

 

Doc

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10 hours ago, Ninja-Bear said:

So was that good for the game or not? Depending on the player I can see it go either way. 

 

8 hours ago, pawsplay said:

Is that supposed to sound awesome? Because it doesn't. Maybe as an occasional thing, abject failure makes sense, but if someone is trying to playing a Batman-type, they probably want to be competent.

The big problem is that in a "fair scenario," it's going to be 50/50 for the so-called heroes. For the superheroes to come out on top most of the time, you have to stack the deck in their favor. Whereas if you look at the comic books, usually the deck is stacked against them. Grim failure and slapstick failure are fine for Watchmen or Mystery Men inspired games. But if you are running Justice League: when the Green Arrow lines up that one-in-a-thousand shot, you know he'll make it. 

 

Was it awesome? No. The character was competent. He was very good at what he did. Guns were never supposed to be part of what he did. But the constant failures trying to use a gun in combat became part of the game and commentary. With hero points that never would have happened. You roll the dice and take your chances and role-play the results.

 

"I've got his gun. I'm going to shoot the other guy."

"Just throw the gun at him!"

"Why?"

"Because you want to hit him!"

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