Tag Archives: Marvel

Brief Thoughts On SHIELD

(Posted on FB, but it occurs to me I could use actual content here once in a while.)

So, #AgentsOfShield is finally the show I wanted it to be. Contrary to some claims, neither I, nor, I think, most fans, wanted “a Marvel movie every week”. If anyone expected that, they were morons. What I wanted — and what we’re finally getting — is what I expect from any good action drama: The sense that Our Heroes are up against a tough fight, that (other than the knowledge of plot requirements) they can lose, that victory is a struggle, and that they’ll survive by being smarter, stronger, or more determined than their enemy.

Having what seems to be serious, and permanent, changes in characters — hopefully with no reset button, because, damn, someone left the Moral Event Horizon in their rear-view mirror a dozen headshots ago (So, HYDRA agents are trained to take headshots. SHIELD agents aren’t. This is why HYDRA is winning, people!) — is icing on the cake (which is a lie), but what really matters is that it’s no longer easy. They aren’t the most elite team of the most elite agency with every resource at their beck and call. They’re down to a rag tag fugitive fleet…er… airplane… and they have a traitor in their midst. And it’s good-guy spy agency vs. bad-guy spy agency, which is what SHIELD began as in the comics and what it needs to be now.

Thus, the ratings are probably tanking. Joss Whedon wanted to really get us comfortable before pulling the rug out, but it took long enough that I was just about convinced the rug was nailed to the floor. I’d stopped expecting to be surprised, which in one sense is good, but if people aren’t watching when the surprise finally comes, that’s not good.

At this point, SHIELD deserves a second season, and for the first time since the premiere, I actually care if it gets one.

Oh, this link has nothing to do with SHIELD. Just buy my book!

Back From GenCon

And, as usual, I spent a lot of money, though not as much as you’d think. By the end of the con, Troll and Toad had an “Everything $1.00!” sale. The guy there told me “If you fill a box, you can get it for 25.00, flat.”

Me:CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

There was a lot of stuff there I’d paid $5.00 for at the start of the con I could have bought for <$1.00 on Sunday… but there was also a lot of stuff no longer there, so I don’t regret spending money early. (Among other things, picking up C&S Sourcebooks 1 and 2 for $5.00 each? Pretty sweet, if you ask me — mint condition, vintage 1980 or 1981 or so.)

In Which I Rip A Vault Door Off In The Name Of Stealth

I actually don’t get to game much at GenCon. At this one in particular, I was hyping my new book on Thursday, and shopping (and then passing out) on Friday, but I got a little gaming in. Saturday, I got to play the new Marvel Heroic Roleplay game. (Let’s see, Marvel has had four different game systems now, and DC has had three…)

My conclusion, based on a few hours of play, is that the system is likely to really appeal to a lot of gamers, and captures many of the key features of comic books as they are written very well in terms of mechanics. However, I don’t think it appeals to me as a system, because I’m weird and my tastes are odd. The dice pool mechanics are set up so that, overall, just about everyone is going to be roughly equally effective, though slightly better/worse in some areas. This really models comics accurately, where Captain America and Thor can share the stage, and no matter who the writer decides to have the hero fight, he will win. Daredevil vs. Galactus? Daredevil will win, somehow.

This is accomplished by a dice pool mechanic that gives you a bunch of dice of different sizes to roll, then lets you split them up into “success” and “effect”. So, if I’m a hero with a lot of combat skill, but not a particularly damaging attack (say, Daredevil), I might have a couple of D10 or D12 in various areas to represent my skill and agilty, but a D6 to represent my attack itself… but when I roll them all, I might end up with a really good D6 roll and a really crappy D12 roll, and, when all is said and done, what matters is the size of the Effect Die, not the value. So, if you roll a ‘1’ on your D12 or D10, you make that your Effect Die — and you build your Success die from which ever dice roll highest (you pick two, but you can spend plot points to add more).

Because a pool typically is a lot of dice, and it seems most heroes will have several D10s and D12s to play with, you end up with roughly equal outcomes. It also seems that less powerful heroes have more opportunities to earn extra dice from complications. Another thing that drives this is that each hero is rated for “Team”, “Buddy” and “Solo”. My character had a measly D6 in Team — so when she was acting with a group, she was substantially less effective than if she was off on her own (D10 Solo). Even though the session I was in was fairly short, I could see how the mechanics worked to enforce comic book genre tropes, including one that’s the bane of many other systems — splitting the party. In the Marvel Heroic Roleplay system, some characters should go rushing off on their own, while others shine if they’re surrounded by allies.

So, it’s probably one of the best simulations of comic book “reality” I’ve played. My tastes, though, run to more traditionally “simulationist” games, albeit with a genre filter. If the Hulk manages to land a punch on Daredevil, Daredevil should be red goop, and no matter how well Daredevil throws his billy club, it should never damage the Hulk. Now, in actual comics, the writers will contrive things: Daredevil keeps dodging the Hulk, and his attacks don’t target the Hulk directly, but, instead, knock down conveniently placed obstacles. Marvel Heroic’s system models this dynamic perfectly, as the highly abstract dice pool system strongly encourages players and GMs to flavor text to explain what just happened.

I prefer the idea of heroes and villains at various tiers of effectiveness, with rules that don’t try to enforce authorial fiat except in very broad ways (for example, it’s overall much harder to kill someone as opposed to just knocking them out). I like the idea that Daredevil is a “Street Level” hero and Thor is a “Cosmic” hero and that’s that. Such games don’t simulate actual comics perfectly; they simulate, instead, a world of comic book heroes. These aren’t the same thing; they’re different design goals and they appeal to different types of gamers. (The current DC Adventures RPG game from Green Ronin is much closer to this style.)

Anyway, to explain the headline of this section… we were the Young Avengers, none of whom I’d ever heard of. I was playing “Thor Girl”, who got XP and plot points when she acted like Thor. The rest of the players were (following Nick Fury’s advice) sneaking around like 1st level OD&D characters, coming up with complex plots and schemes to get in and out of our target building without being noticed. Eventually, we got to a giant metal vault door. They started trying to look for opening mechanisms, control panels, etc. I just grabbed the door, ripped it off its hinges, and tossed it backwards down the corridor. The conversation went something like this:

Other Player: “Nick Fury told us to be sneaky!”

Thor Girl: “Aye, verily, that clattering roar will surely deafen any guards! They’ll never hear us now!”

(According to my character sheet, Thor Girl considered stealth and subtlety to be “Loki’s way”, and she ain’t havin’ with none of that.)

More later. I’m likely to do a character build using the new Hackmaster 5e. Any game where the rules explicitly state that “If there is any ambiguity which the GM must interpret, he should usually take the interpretation least favorable to the PC” is my kind of old school! Viking hat FOREVER!