Snakes and hotties


Serpentine, AKA Naomi Pierce

My final and best major Champions game was played in Gainesville 1990-1992, during my Master’s studies. It was set in Tampa and the supergroup was called Force Five. The players included Lawrence, Mike, Patrick, Andy, and Dave, with the latter two more or less trading off based on scheduling. It happens to have been the only all-male group I GMed for using this game.

So as I say, this was during my Master’s, which means poverty, ridiculous work-load (not “assistants” except in name), a return to juvenile social bullshit, tons of research including live-animal colony, trapping in forests, surgery, and weird anatomy, and something you might like to know is called principal components analysis on elliptical Fourier transformations. Plus, I had somehow managed to exit my dimension in which women were sane and enter Confused World instead, and being myself Confused wasn’t a good combination. I had not yet discovered martial arts and did not yet know that the key to happiness is hitting other people in the meantime. I made do with pumping iron in a mechanic’s garage with a very local crew. This was also when both my father and stepfather died. The real capper was contracting the chicken pox full-bore, at 27. I don’t mind admitting that the Force Five game was just about the only solid positive thing in my life at that point. As it turned out, doing the Ph.D. was way more fun, partly due to Gainesville becoming a notable rock scene, and more. That’s later though.

To summarize my “Champions period” before that point, I’d played two long-term games as GM during 1986-1989 in Chicago, as well as a character in Randy’s game (described in Cloaky Spookydark). This was my third stint as long-term GM, from 1990-92 in Gainesville. I’d given a lot of thought to how I wanted to start it and sustain it. Readers of the blog know my primary influences now, so you won’t be surprised that a many-decades backstory, a lot of politics, and a bunch of messed-up family stuff were involved.

To get ahead of myself a bit, I’ll share more of the results first. The characters were tightly focused compared to the previous games. That’s Serpentine in the lead image, my character in the team, sometimes called “GMPC” instead of mere NPC. Such characters are frequently a source of trouble, afforded player-character status in the GM’s mind but all too often his or her means of controlling play and enjoying extra coolness to make the player-characters into second-class citizens. I took some pride in avoiding this problem, occasionally successfully.

So yeah, this was the early 90s and still pretty much the 80s, so Serpentine was half-Japanese and half-British (with hairstyle owing a little bit to Grendel‘s Christine Spar), the daughter of the ex-supervillain who sponsored Force Five and the sister of the major supervillain. She had all kinds of spy stuff and wicked agility, and she delivered a variety of toxic or narcotic effects via finger-strikes. Her costume was dark bottle-green, black, and white, and the whole concept was sexy-snake to the nines. (… baffled look at you all staring at me) … What?

Moving right along, here’s some work on the characters by a local artist, Rafael Rodriguez.

Steel Dragon (Mike)

Steel Dragon (Mike)

Strobe (Lawrence)

Strobe (Lawrence)

Irie (Patrick)

Irie (Patrick)

Cortex (Andy)

Cortex (Andy)

Blackfell (made up by me, played by Dave)

Blackfell (made up by me, played by Dave)

I have these in color too, but most of the ink has faded or turned different colors, so I stayed with B&W for posting here.

This was a crucial period in my experience of creating stories in the role-playing medium. In Chicago, I’d developed a procedure for planning five sessions at a time, considering that a chapter with some planned rising action and an identifiable problem that could be resolved. Here, I combined that with a dedicated effort at defining our game more carefully at the outset, so it wasn’t a mess of competing genre expectations. I’d learned all too well that “superheroes,” “four-color superheroes,” “Silver Age,” and whatever else went nowhere to solve this. So far, I’d run Champions with friends who were already into comics and gaming with me. This time it’d be with completely new acquaintances, and I knew it’d be all the more difficult. Here’s the effort I went to this time, which was much more successful: An initial handout and a setting timeline, the latter file including a page withheld for myself.

I’ll talk more about the game-mechanics choices in a later post or in the comments if anyone wants. Here I’m discussing planned vs. emergent story. I had three concepts at work:

  • A superhero group considered non-criminal and much in the public eye, with a dedicated media presence [by this point I had completely broken with my own fandom re: the X-Men]
  • An older, mighty super-villain name Doctor Chaos, now retired, who was going to be the group’s sponsor – and who’d mean it, it wasn’t a villainous plot
  • His extremely villainous son called Raptor, who was building an evil super-team by corrupting heroes.

With that in mind, here’s my original “chapters” prep sheet, for the first two chapters and notes for the third. You can see that this looks really scripted. Railroaded even. And it did tend that way on occasion, but that was a tendency wrestling with the other tendency, to provide “beats” and to see what the players did with them. As we got used to one another, the latter occasionally appeared at its best.

You can see this in the prep sheets for differing sessions, #1, #7, #12, and #19. The first one is almost completely canned, partly due to constraints of “get the group together” and the aforementioned uncertainty about how we as people were going to gel. The later ones are much more iffy and written to be flexible during play, knowing that during the session I’d basically be playing my characters responsively rather than directing the player-characters toward a planned end. The last one is practically all scribbled musing on the stuff I’d printed merely as brainstorming, and the “stuff” is what I’d do during play, not what would happen given players’ actions.

I was still using the chapter structure as a method for escalation and revelations, so each session had its place in what I thought of as arcs, but these arcs were more defined by threats and situations, not by planned encounters and set-piece climaxes. Sometimes they’d “solve the problem” in the third or fourth out of five, and the fifth would be even more dramatic because its featured villain or crisis had emerged right out of play.

Now … not always. This old Forge thread explains how those competing tendencies could get gummed up in that game and in some others which followed. But I think I got as close with formal techniques for emergent story and enjoyable player-driven character development as anyone in the hobby did at the time.

I put lots of stuff about this game in The Clobberin’ Times, but unfortunately, both the printer available to me and the demands of my Master’s program kept me from contributing to every issue, and once I was out of the back-and-forth of Comments, it was like repeatedly mis-timing your way through a revolving door. Plus I was hideously poverty-stricken and couldn’t even make the dues. Still, the artists there did some great work for me based on what I’d put in, and I wound up with a pretty thick pile of images. I’d already provided the Rodriguez images so most people worked off what they’d seen there, but there are a couple that went their own way too.

From K. C. Ryan:

f5ryan_Page_4f5ryan_Page_2f5ryan_Page_1f5ryan_Page_3f5ryan_Page_5Jim McClain, inked by Tim Watts:




f5sable_Page_2I’ll be posting more about this game later, to discuss the application of principles, discovery of difficulties, and thoughts on story creation in role-playing. For those of you familiar with my career, it won’t surprise you that right at this point, the initial notes for Sorcerer were under way.

Next: Tom Artis

About Ron Edwards

Game author, publisher, consultant, teacher

Posted on August 27, 2015, in Clobberin' callback, Supers role-playing, The 90s me and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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