Posts Tagged ‘with great power


it’s CLOBBERING time!

This, but like 5 sessions' worth of it

Jack Kirby + Joe Sinnot, Fantastic Four 73

We finished our five-session arc of With Great Power . . . last night.  It’s certainly the best gaming experience I’ve had in years, and in the short-list for my best gaming ever.  From start to finish it was pure joy.

A lot of that joy was contextual: as noted I am a madman on the subject of Silver Age Marvel comics, and  I was lucky enough to have two magnificent players (Sternum and Invincible Overlord) who, in addition to also being huge fans, were terrific role-players and enormously funny people.

Some of that joy was due to the fiction.  Last night:

  • The Thing single-handedly defeated a Troll army that was marching on Asgard (including clobbering Ulik, who had humiliated and enslaved him last session).
  • Spider-Man, tapping into the power of the Norn Stone, defeated the mighty Thor in single combat.  Just as he was about to steal Thor’s hammer in accordance with Loki’s sinister plan, Peter Parker realized he was going too far–and returned it to the thunder god.
  • The Enchantress, who had seduced Peter into near-villainy, came to understand that, though nought but a mortal, his heart was more valorous than many an Asgardian’s.
  • There was a funny scene when the Thing tried to tell-off Odin the Omnipotent, but the All-Father basically yawned him away.
  • Loki, frustrated, made a play for the indestructible Destroyer.  There was a big fight between Spider-Man, the Thing, Thor, and the Fantastic Four against the Loki, the Destroyer, the Radioactive Man, the North Vietnamese Army, and the United States Air Force.  In the end, the heroes triumphed (of course).

And some of the joy was due to the system, though I’m not sure how much.  With Great Power .  .  .  is played with a deck of cards rather than dice.  You generally want high-ranking cards, and in order to get them the player will choose to sacrifice certain aspects of his or her character.  Thus, Spider-Man might ignore Aunt May for a little while in order to save the city.  In mid-game, however, many of these aspects fall into the clutches of the Game Master, who can then do sadistic things: like say that Aunt May has gotten engaged to Doctor Octopus.  In the end-game, a couple of rules shift around to favor the players, and if they’re lucky they can save the day and any spinster aunts.

So the card-economy does a great deal to affect the pacing of the game.  Going into this session, I was concerned that I had beaten up the super heroes so much that there was no way they could build up a hand strong enough to take me on.  Since Sternum kept his most valuable aspects out of my grasp, I couldn’t win outright, but (I thought) neither could the heroes.  It turns out that I was mistaken.  The card economy is clunky, opaque, and feels a little ad hoc, but it worked out beautifully last night, and I’m very impressed with Michael and Kat Miller for getting this design right.  (That said, we did end up house-ruling it that I couldn’t take an aspect all the way to Transformed in the course of a single fight.)

So – best supers gaming I’ve ever had, and a good time was had by all.  Excelsior!


play, run, prep, dip

Gaming, or rather, wanting to game, takes up too much time in my life.  I’m trying to do some spring cleaning, and trying to limit myself to one game in the four categories of Play, Run, Prep, and Dip.

Play – Hard (and socially unfair!) to pick just one game!  There are two excellent but very different Dungeons & Dragons campaigns being run by Tavis and Eric right now.  Unfortunately I’m not sure I can commit to either due to scheduling difficulties.  So here I’m kind of stuck.  I’ve got a long post brewing about this but I don’t know when it’ll get finished.

RunWith Great Power… set in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics.  Good times if you are as insane as I am on this subject.

Prep – Oooh, another difficult category to pick just one game.  I’ve wanted to cobble something together out of TSR’s old Alternity game for about a year now, but it’s a lot of effort to beat a scenario into shape.  Instead I am going to work up a Companion-level “Endgame” D&D play-by-Net set on the Isle of Dread.

Dip – one-shot of Mouse Guard coming up next week.  Not sure what’ll be after that, but that’s what’s fun about the Dip category.  Probably something involved with our public gaming endeavors.

What I like about this approach is that it’s got a little something for every part of a game’s life-cycle.  Once I’m done with the With Great Power… game, I can shift the Companion game into Run.  If the Mouse Guard Dip works out well, I can move that into Prep or Play.  If it works out poorly, well: something else goes into the Dip slot.

I imagine many other gamers are struggling to balance their interests with their available time–and I’d be curious to know how others work out what to do with their gaming time.


a battery of canon

Last night we continued our on-going With Great Power . . . game set in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. Like every other session of this campaign, we have blown the fucking doors off. It is so insanely good. I want to talk about why. (This does tie into Old School topics, but it will take me a little while to get there.)

My comics-geekiness makes me sick. Literally: when I reflect on how much time I’ve spent reading Marvel Comics, I get physically nauseous. From age 7 to age 14, I soaked up Marvel nonsense like a sponge. I owned, and practically memorized, every issue of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Deluxe Edition, which was nearly twelve hundred pages of encyclopedia entries about super heroes, printed on what seemed like tissue paper where the ink would flake off in your hands and you could see the grains of wood pulp. This includes the Book of the Dead: 250 pages of dead super villains, which even prompted twelve-year-old me to think, “Why am I reading this?”

(Tavis, here’s a parenting tip: your son is about the age where his brain will store material that will stay with him for the rest of his life. Find more edifying material for his brain than my parents did.)

Anyway, after years of dreaming about it, I finally found Adrian and Josh, who are almost as insane as I am on this topic. Though I’ve always been curious about the old Marvel Super Heroes game, I had a good experience using With Great Power… at a NerdNYC Recess and decided to go for the glory.

With the exception of a Dictionary of Mu game a few years ago, this has been the most fun I’ve ever had running a game. First and foremost, Josh and Adrian are a lot of fun to play with. Adrian does an awesome J. Jonah Jameson voice and is always thinking of little details to add into every scene. Josh, I think, was born to play the Thing: everything he says and does is so wonderfully in-character. And With Great Power… is just a terrific system to use with this material.

But the other players at the table are the spirits of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby. We spend a noticeable chunk of each evening laughing at how lovably goofy Silver Age comics are—last night, we were all deeply in love with Ulik, chief warrior of the rock trolls of Asgard, he of the “universally-dreaded body-crushing blow!” It’s a joy to take my geek-corset off and just let it all hang out with people who appreciate King Cadaver as much as I do. We had an “impersonate Cobra” contest a couple weeks ago, and if you don’t know why that’s funny I feel kinda sad for you.

As alluded to in my post following a nice-but-disquieting Dungeons & Dragons 0e game, one of the things I most enjoy about campaign-style play is an attachment to the world and the characters in it. Our group knows the Marvel Universe very well indeed. Our imaginations have been steeped in it for thirty years. It’s a beautiful thing to have everyone at the table be totally into what we’re doing. It’s not so much immersion, whatever that may mean, but absurd levels of imaginative commitment. Buy-in is 100%. Creative agenda is go. Prepare to thrash.

This is degree of emotional investment can only* come from decades of beloved canon material. This is why people don’t care so much about your homebrew rules about which Elven dynasty slew the Dwarf King 439 years ago. It’s not that it’s boring: most of The Lord of the Rings is boring to a sane person. But if you’re a huge Tolkien nerd, the history of the Ring of Erech matters to you because you’ve invested a ton of time to learn such nonsense. Your homebrew didn’t entertain your players for years or decades (yet).

It’s also why official “campaign setting” products are sort of a waste of time and money: the premise of these settings is usually solid gold, but somehow they’ve got to fill 250 pages with details for nerds to memorize, and most of the time the presentation isn’t entertaining enough to make the effort. I sometimes get irritated that the Star*Drive Campaign Setting tells me what level the bartender is on some backwater planet my character will likely never go to. But damn, I get genuinely mad that Jeff Grubb statted Quicksilver out with an Unearthly rank in Agility when he was writing Avengers Assembled for the old Marvel Super Heroes game.**

Another way of saying this: in response to Jeff Rients’s pop quiz, trademarks matter, because you come to form attachments with what’s familiar to you. And what that means for Old School games is that the true pleasure of campaign play is having an emotional stake in the growth of the campaign. This is something that the Old School community needs to ponder—how do you increase player investment in a homebrew setting with vastly unequal degrees of authorship?

* Well: emotional investment can also come from committed, empowered authorship. But very few older role-playing games distribute authorship evenly around the table. Usually you’ve got the Game Master who is madly in love with a homebrew campaign he’s developed over 100 hours or more. And he’s got five players who have spent 20 minutes each creating characters, and who can’t really be bothered to figure out the sub-plots or which supporting cast member is which.

** Quicksilver’s great at dodging things, but he’s not especially great at ranged combat, so it would probably work better as a Danger Sense power, at least practically speaking.  I am sorry for the bad things I mutter about you sometimes Jeff Grubb!  I am sure you are Incredibly nice and awesome.

Past Adventures of the Mule

May 2023

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