Sunday, December 4, 2011

General Gamery: Blood on the Pitch

For those that don't know, Blood Bowl is a fantasy football game. I don't mean that it is a game where players create ideal teams of their favorite players from across the NFL, it is a football game played by dwarfs, elves, goblins, orcs, lizardmen, humans (of the normal, norse, and amazon varieties), and even undead teams. It is sports chaos incarnate, represented with 12-25 metal and plastic miniatures per side on a board, and it is spectacular. I'm not kidding. It can be argued (and has been by me) that this is the best game that Games Workshop has ever produced. Even better, GW makes the most updated version of the rules available for free on their website.

In the game store I used to run, Monkeyhead Games, our Blood Bowl league was our most successful league year after year and kept growing in size. This was in part due to fantastic league administration by one of our regulars, Mike Sperl, but also had a lot to do with the fact that this game was just REALLY well written. It was so good that our blood bowl league had more players than our Warhammer and Warhamer 40,000 leagues combined, and Blood Bowl was out of print at the time!

Years later, Blood Bowl has spawned a pretty enjoyable video game available for every platform that allows you to play turn based like the miniature game or more of a "Madden" style of play and alternate miniatures from dozens of companies like Shadowforge, Impact!, Neomics, and Black Scorpion among many others (all available on the Impact! miniatures site or The Warstore). This past Gencon, Fantasy Flight Games released a fantastic card game, Blood Bowl Team Manager, that instantly recaptures the feel and chaos of Blood Bowl but from the POV of the teams' management trying to make your team more popular as they win games and get  noticed by the fictional Spike! Magazine.

Team Manager has proved a win here at the Monkeyden, and it has done nothing if not re-awaken my love of the game that inspired Fantasy Flight's card game in the first place. So began my new project. Cincinnati seems at a loss for a good Blood Bowl league, and since the game is available online at GW's website with fantastic boards from other companies like FF Fields, and the aforementioned alternate minis companies- it's easier than ever to get people into this game. At least, it's easier than it was back when I was still on Long Island and Blood Bowl was out of print. I suppose the hardest thing to find would be the block dice, but those can be found on ebay, made by a few other makers online, and sold as part of the membership to an online Blood Bowl community called the NAF.

Anyway, I came to the conclusion it was time for me to dust off a new team. Back on Long Island, I played three seasons with my rarely winning Orc team, the Miragliano Mob. Oh Gods, they were bad. Eventually, I retired them for my vampire team, and I had a lot more success (and goals) with the Sylvanian Suckers than I ever had with my Orcs. But Cincinnati is not Long Island, so I needed to come up with something new. Down in my basement, is purgatory for all the minis waiting for use or ebay, so I rumaged through the menagerie and eventually found my Blood Bowl teams. I passed up on my Chaos Dwarfs, Wood Elves, and Dwarfs (despite owning the Deathroller) to play something vanilla that I can add a lot of character to: Humans. I know that sounds strange to anyone that has played Blood Bowl before since the human team is so.. average. But I was lucky enough to realize I had the older humans that used to be boxed as the Marauders with the great molded lion on their shoulder pads. Done and Done. So now I could approach team building like I did everything else game related- with too much thought and detail.


I like to have enough miniatures to prepare for every possible contingency with an army or team. First- it looks mighty imposing when you pull out a ton of minis, and Secondly- I like to show off since I'm pretty good at painting little figures.

Players: Human teams are allowed 16 Linemen, 4 Catchers, 2 Throwers, 4 Blitzers, and 1 Ogre. I'd like as much to match as possible, so since the box only comes with 6 Linemen, 2 Catchers, 1 Thrower, and 3 Blitzers, I'll have to scour ebay to find another set of Marauders... even then I'll be 4 linemen short. Not bad, I'm sure they'll turn up on ebay while doing this project, even if it means getting a third box of marauders and selling off the extra minis for spares. I ordered an Ogre player from GW (I know there is some great stuff from those other companies, but for players I want to be a purist) and I'll sculpt a matching lion on his shoulderpad with greenstuff when I put him together.

Star Players: Human teams can use Griff Oberwald, Helmut Wulf, Mighty Zug, Morg n Thorg, Puggy Baconbreath, and Zara the Slayer. Except for Helmut and Peggy, all the Star Players were made by GW so I will order them there, modifying shoulder pads to match the team. For Puggy and Helmut, I found pretty cool versions on the Impact! site. They will need some modifications, but that's fine.

Staff: Here's where I'll have to leave GW behind. For a head coach, I have a spare Marco Columbo miniature waiting and I can modify a Warhammer Empire wizard to fit the Wizard role. That leaves Cheerleaders (GW only makes 1 human cheerleader, I like to have at least 5), an Apothecary, 2 Bloodweiser Babes, 2 Wandering Apothecaries, a Halfling Master Chef, and at least 2 Assistant Coaches. For most of these I might be able to modify some old Warhammer or Mordheim figures... I'll need to come up with some ideas. But Impact! has some great minis to fit the bill for most of these.


Here's where I lose you, my Fearless Readers. I look at minis games as a role-player. So for me, story always matters. Despite being a Bretonnian player, I didn't really want to go that route, and I'm not german enough to really like the idea of making my team from the Empire. However, the guinea in me was jumping up and down like the fat little pastamancer I am screaming "Tilea! Tilea! Tilea!"

Introduced to mainstream Warhammer Fantasy (as in not Warhammer Fantasy RPG players like me) players in the Dogs of War book from a couple editions ago, Tilea is the Warhammer world's rough equivalent of renaissance Italy. It is made up of a collection of city states and is known for trading, sea combat, and pikemen. Of the established city states, the Republic of Remas, home of Ricco's Republican Guard, appealed to me the most. Besides being the only true republic among the city-states, it is essentially based on Rome, so I was instantly drawn to it.

I imagined that Remans would love Blood Bowl as the sport is a throwback to their notorious Colosseum bloodsports of old. It wouldn't take long for and enterprising businessman to garner funding to renovate the ruined Colosseum into a new Republic Stadium. Players would come from throughout Tilea and Estalia to try out for the team and intramural playoffs would eventually lead to a professional Blood Bowl team, the Reman Lions- or rather "Remae Leones" as this is Tilea. And of course, that would mean that Republic Stadium would simply be known by the nickname, "The Pride" from then on.


Dogs of War Regiments of Renown based in Tilea tend towards a very limited pallet of colors. Generally, the predominate colors are red, green, and white with gold or bronze for the majority of metals. The Remae Leones should follow this same trend. So, for a color scheme, I will be using red and white with gold accents and black for any leather strips.

Finally, a little Photoshop work and Remae Leones has a nice logo I can send to FF Fields for a custom board.

I'll keep you updated as the team and the project to introduce a regular blood bowl league to Cincinnati gamers develops.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Goodbye to Anne

When I was twelve, My father, an avid reader of all things sci-fi and fantasy, was convinced I would want to move on from my normal Battletech novels and non Arthur Conan Doyle written Conan books into more substantial works. He handed me a book written by an author I'd never heard of named Anne McCaffrey called Dragonflight.

"This is the start of something much larger," he warned. "The Dragonriders of Pern is not a series to be undertaken lightly."

My heart lept into my throat. Dragonriders? People that actually rode dragons? Even Conan didn't ride dragons! Even with the wide-eyed wonder of a twelve year old imagination, I was not prepared in the least for the ride Ms. McCaffrey was about to carry me on.

On the surface, (and spoilers for anyone who hasn't read this 45 year old series) Dragonriders of Pern seems like a typical fantasy series With fire-breathing dragons with a psychic bond to their riders defending the world against a creature called simply Thread, a mindless omnivore that devours everything it touches. Lacking the usual fantasy tropes common to sword and sorcery, the Dragonriders of Pern was lush with political intrigue, supernatural abilities like teleportation and time travel, and an author that excelled at internal monologues and the ability to characterize even minor characters so well, it was impossible to not believe each and every character was a real person. The series wasn't bloody or war driven like I was used to, but better because of it. And then the twist, Dragonriders of Pern was never a fantasy, it was a science fiction series window dressed as fantasy but supported by science. Brilliant. My adolescent mind exploded with delight with each word that dripped into my brain from those hallowed pages.

From the day I finished Dragonflight (the first book published in the series, but not the first chronologically), I was a fan. Big time. I absorbed everything I could of the Pern books, from the novels, to the short stories; from the reference books like A Dragonlover's Guide to Pern a and Karen Wynn Fonstadt's Atlas of Pern to the hard to find Choose Your Own Adventure Pern Books. And soon after, I needed to read Ms. McCaffrey's other works: The Ship Who Sang, Restoree, The Crystal Singer books, etc, etc. I loved them all. Anne excelled at her characterization and relished in the fact that women could be heroes too- a fact that was sorely missed in most fantasy and sci-fi before her. The genre is better because of it. Her words could evoke emotions that I could rarely see in any other writer- in fact, I challenge anyone to read The Ship Who Sang and not cry at the end.

It was reading Anne McCaffrey's works, big and small, that made me want to write. I didn't care if I wrote stories or textbooks, all I knew was that of all my artistic pursuits -guitar, illustration, singing, painting- putting the written word to print or computer screen would be the one I loved the most. As if to exemplify this fact, I spent my early twenties building my writing chops as part of a writing group that wrote solely our own Pern fiction in our own "Alternate 12th Pass". And of course, I spent these years re-reading the Dragonriders of Pern series that was (and is) still my favorite, except by the 30th reading I'd mastered reading the novels in chronological order yet still discover new nuances with every chapter.

Once I became a regular in the convention circuit, I learned that Ms. McCaffrey frequented the large and notorious Atlanta science fiction convention known as Dragon*Con. Dragon*Con is arguably the largest science fiction convention in the United States and many of my closest friends and industry contacts frequent the convention every year, as did Anne. I promised myself I would make the trip to Atlanta for no other reason than to meet her- oh sure, there are plenty of fantastic guests every year, but she was first and foremost on my list. I wanted to thank her for enriching my childhood, sparking my imagination, and more than anything I wanted to thank her for the gift she gave me in my love of writing. But I never made it.

On November 21st, 2011, Anne McCaffrey passed away from a massive stroke in her home, Dragonhold, in the hills of County Wicklow, Ireland. When I found out, I was stunned, but I contacted all my old friends from our Pern writing days immediately. One of them commented that she had "gone between". I like that.  For all my words, I don't have them to express what I feel about the loss of someone so amazing, so I will let Anne's own words do it for me.

From All The Weyrs of Pern:

     All the Weyrs of Pern hovered in the sky, and while fire-lizards made sad swirls around them the ship sailed out of Cove Hold. Lord Holders and Craftmasters lined the decks amid harpers of every degree.
     Sebell and Menolly sang all the songs that had made the Masterharper so beloved by everyone, Menolly remembering the day that she had sung farewell to his father, Petiron, the day that had begun the major change in her own life.
     And as the ship moved into the Current, scores of shipfish led the way, slipping, diving, gliding, and weaving among the ships' bow waves.
     When his body was consigned to the sea, the dragons bugled one last note for Masterharper Robinton.

Thank you Anne. We will all miss you.

Journeyman Harper

Monday, November 14, 2011

Get Out and Game: Critical! Go Westerly

This blog isn't just about my games, it's about up and coming games, game reviews, and talking about games. Well comics too, but I think I dealt a fair hand to that over the last couple weeks. The "Get Out and Game" articles are really to highlight games I enjoy and think you, my fearless readers, will or should enjoy as well. I'll start with one near and dear to me.

My friends and sometimes collaborators Jonathan Lavallee and Geoff Bottone have created something great over at Jonathan's Firesorm Ink imprint. Critical! Go Westerly is a labor of love for the pair that follows on the heels of Firestorm's excellent free-form storytelling RPG, Geasa.

Critical! is an excellent RPG, but not just because I helped name it in a diner over dinner one convention evening near our collective hotel. This game is actually funny.. not an easy thing to pull off.  Set in a medieval setting, Critical! has the same tone of absurdity found in the works of Douglas Adams or Monty Python movies.  In fact, reading through the narrative, it's difficult not to hear a stodgy old, english narrator describing the scene.

Mechanically, Critical! falls into a more "mechanics lite" category of RPGs which does serious justice to its tone, allowing players to delve deeper into character development rather than constantly playing a numbers game. While this is not everyone's bag, that's fine. It's a welcome distraction from the games that take hours upon hours in character creation and further slowdowns in gameplay to look up rules for wrestling or drunkenness.  You get the idea.

Art wise, Jonathan wisely took some sage-like advice I'd given him a while back and hired a phenomenal artist I had brought on to work on the villains for SuperhumanAvery Liell-Kok (That's right, Jonathan, I'm TOTALLY taking credit! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!).   Her work is beautiful and she has a way of understanding a project so it really suits Critical! in every way and I'm very proud to see every piece of art she brings to this project for them.

Finally, On his blog, Jonathan and Geoff have been recording these great little "Kobold Moments" as a less-than-subtle introduction to Critical!. This is a stroke of genius and I LOVE it when designers go this extra mile. Here's some direct links: Part 1Part 2

Critical! should be available for download at IPR and your local game stores soon.

~The Joe

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reviews: DCnU- Anatomy of a Reboot Part 2

When we last left our intrepid comic company, they had embarked on a line-wide reboot. And the first books had finally hit the stands...


 This was a mixed bag, some books were good, some were crap in a bag. Honestly, it was no different than an average pull list on any other month other than the spectacle of 52 new #1's making the non-comic enthusiasts dig deep into their pockets for the printed page (or digital edition- more on this). Fifty two of them! This was a great move by DC. Flooding the market with new books; a media blitz that including advertising on all the pertinent websites, Previews magazine, even TV; everywhere you looked, DC was in your face with pictures of their pretty, pretty new books. 

But, for the most part, they were more flash than substance. It was the 1990's all over again and the hype machine was all over the new hotness: Image Comics- the creator owned megabeast that gave us Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Gen13, and so much more. But for every Spawn (a long running, mostly well written- or at least well intentioned book) there was a Tribe 8 (a one book wonder that only sold because of the word Image on the cover).  And that was my initial impression of the first few books of DCnU.  Sure there were some gems, Animal Man and Stormwatch come to mind... but you couple that with flops like Batwing and Superman and well...

But 52 comics is a lot to go through at once. So let me sum up in the best way possible.. Thematically in pros and cons.


Thinking Outside the Box: With Titles like I, Vampire; Frankenstein, Agent of Shade; and the phenomenal Demon Knights, DC has proved it's not afraid to think outside of the proverbial box. I, Vampire has revamped the character Andrew Bennet, an oft forgotten vampire while Demon Knights takes characters like Etrigan, Vandal Savage, and Shining Knight and puts them in a suitably bloody dark ages setting. Toss in books that were part of the usual superhero fare like Animal Man- revamped into a dark, creepy, almost Vertigo inspired take on the popular superhero tale; and a slow, deep tale like Swamp Thing that has more depth than any of its previous incarnations and you have a new sense of wonder lost in the malaise of the usual superhero suspects.

Bring On the Wildstorm.: Okay, I'll admit this is a bit of a personal preference. If you can forgive some godawful writing and fan service on the part of the Voodoo book (It's really bad and pretty much just there for breasts- more on this later), DC has done a pretty decent job of starting to incorporate the former Wildstorm universe into the DCnU. Voodoo's old WildC.A.T.S. teammate (in a universe we can assume never existed now), Cole Cash shows up in his own book, Grifter, as a veteran that might be the only person that can see the aliens among us.. and starts to do something about it. It's a glorious romp, if low on substance. By contrast, with the addition of the Martian Manhunter, Wildstorm mainstays Stormwatch return as the "professionals" to the Justice League amateurs. It's very cerebral and surprisingly good. Even Gen13 alum Caitlin Fairchild shows up in the pages of Superboy as the head scientist in charge of the "Superboy" project for an organization called N.O.W.H.E.R.E.. She hasn't gotten any powers as of yet, but she's still a welcome addition.

Pretty Pretty Pages: Artists have, in more cases than not, outdone themselves. Of course there is the expected beauty that Jim Lee brings to Justice League, or Greg Capullo's work on Batman, or Francis Manapul on Flash the art is, for the most part, top notch. That isn't to say that every book is as well handled, but it seems like a lot of attention was put into trying to put out the best looking product possible, and for a visual medium, that goes a long way. I'd love to say that it's on every book, but that would be impossible for any publisher, in fact, it seems even Jim Lee won't be on Justice League forever. And who could blame him, those pencils are top notch and unless he's locked in a room and not allowed to see the sun until he finishes a story arc, I can't see him doing more than half a dozen books at a time.

Direct to Digital: This was a no-brainer. Don't get me wrong, I am a collector. I will always prefer the feel of actual pages in my hands. I don't really mind the longboxes cluttering up my attic. For me print is by far a superior medium to digital, but same day release for print and digital is a good idea any way you stretch it.  Not everyone A) has access to or B) wants to go to a comic book store to get their weekly pulls. For them allowing a direct download to Comixology's free DC application for PC and Apple devices is a very wise move. I was afraid it would negatively affect the brick and mortar stores, but the people downlading comics aren't usually going to stores to but their comics anyway. If anything, it is likely to create an interest that may make readers wish to have some titles in print or collected volumes.. so bravo.


Know your Characters: This is a difficult one to articulate. In the past, DC understood the underlying theme behind their characters. Even when doing Elseworlds titles, those themes were understood and continued from book to book. Batman: the greatest detective- smarter, wiser, and though haunted by his past, a much bigger badass than we could ever hope to be. Superman: the iconic inspiration to us all- able to do the most fantastic things in a way that makes us revere him above all others. These are themes that even crossed into film. Think about Superman Returns. Even though we had a movie where Superman did nothing but lift things for two hours, we still got the sense of awe from the people of Metropolis. But now Superman is hated and feared, hunted by the police of Metropolis- not just as a kid, which makes sense, but as Superman, years later. This seems like a change for change sake rather than expanding the way you tell the character's story. We've already read this story with Spider-man. The Man of Steel is not Spider-man.

Inconsistency:  This is a matter of writers and line editors not talking to each other. And since the two Superman books take place over five or six years apart, they are not a good example. But the Batman books. Ugh. Okay, here's the problem and to a degree it links back into Know Your Characters: There are multiple batman books out each month, not including the justice league books, and Bruce Wayne is a different person in each one. Since Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns, Bruce has become more and more of a paranoid sociopath, preparing at all times to take down his allies, not just his enemies. This is the Bruce Wayne we see in Batman: The Dark Knight. In Batman, the best of the Bat Books, he is much more of the super-science based ultimate detective he was in the Denny O'neil days. Detective Comics is really a villains book, but he's much more of a reactive character that is several steps behind his villains. And in Batman and Robin, Bruce is essentially a non smiling version of the Dick Grayson Batman that we had the pleasure of reading for the last year or so, only this time he ends every paragraph with: "Because I'm your father." Forget continuity if a single character is so different in his own books.

If you Have to Tell me you are Cool Every Other Panel, You Arent:  Nuff Said.

Continuity: Okay this one is a doozy. First there is the obvious: I don't believe that "mired in continuity" was a good enough reason for a reboot. If someone wants to get into comics, they can pick up any comic on the shelf- not just a number one- and start reading. "Wont they get confused?" you ask. No. Because there is this wonderful invention called the internet. In it, nerds like me detail EVERYTHING about geek properties like comics. EVERYTHING. I mean seriously, my favorite character is a mostly forgotten 1970's marvel character named Nova, and I can find every appearance he ever had online.  Either way, they did it.. so lets dive in.

Problem 1) The new continuity is more confusing than the old. Because it's kindof slapdash including things here but leaving things out there, the DCnU continuity is harder for an experienced reader to follow because they don't know what parts of what book to pay attention to and what to ignore. New readers are even more lost, because they don't have ANY back material (and now the internet is rendered powerless by stupid editorial decisions) and the story starts five years in with some books (Action Comics and Justice League) taking place in the past to try to fill in some gaps. Unfortunately these books are coming out slowly so those gaps aren't being filled in a way readers can access easily. So it's not ANY reader friendly. And it would be easy to fix too: just put that character's back story in the back of the #1's for like 3 pages in a sort of cliff's notes. Or even make a full comic of just backstory like Marvel's old Marvel Saga book from the 1980's. At least we'd know what the hell is going on.

Problem 2) The missing characters. There's a lot missing and while some like the JSA and Captain Marvel are due out next year, we've still yet to hear about fan favorites like Wally West or Stephanie Brown or Nightrunner. I still don't know why Wally didn't make the cut into Teen Titans and Bart Allen did even though he claims no relation to Barry. Heck, for most of my generation, Wally West IS the Flash. Barry was this older character that is used to give weight to Wally's story like Jason Todd and Bucky used to to Batman and Captain America. But DC cast him aside and completely forgot about him in everything except the awesome Young Justice cartoon. Fail. I'm not saying he should be Flash now, but SOMETHING. Taking away fan favorite characters with no explanation is the worst kind of continuity error... or editorial error depending how you look at it.

Problem 3) Is it really a Reboot or a Restart? In a lot of ways, the DCnU didn't change enough. A lot of titles are more or less the same as before and except for some exceptional changes like Superman being hated and Etrigan in the dark ages, DC didn't take a lot of the risks it could have. For example, Dick Grayson was Batman and bat book continuity wasn't supposed to change. So why did he go back to Nightwing? Here was their chance to create something new with a more savvy Dick, the guy that was the Batman of Gotham and led the Justice League. Give Nightwing to Stephanie Brown as Barbara took back her Batgirl mantle. That's the book I would have been interested in reading. Or progress Superman's story a bit and make Supergirl his and Lois' daughter.. have him have to raise her rather than retelling the same tired Kara Zor-El story over again. If you are going to remake continuity, REMAKE IT, don't just retell it again but make it.. oooo... scarier.... (sarcasm font). Shit or get off the pot, guys.


Rob Liefield: Rob Liefield drawing Hawk and Dove? REALLY? Who the fuck thought this was a good idea? I would seriously kill a village of small, needy, starving kittens if it meant this guy would never draw again. He's that fucking bad.


Oversexed: Okay, this was really bad. In an effort to , I don't know, give boners to it's more adolescent readers, DC REALLY sexed up some of its titles. Catwoman issue #1 was almost all about sex starting with two pages of partially clothed Selina Kyle body parts before you ever saw her face. I think they were trying to make it endearing while it was sexy, but it just wasn't. The book ended with her coercing Batman into rooftop sex, but the whole issue felt incredible unnecessary. Suicide Squad recostumed fan favorite character Harley Quinn in a completely unexpected way. For a character that was already sexy without showing skin, this seemed like overdoing it and completely without reason. Finally, the worst of them was the way Starfire was handled in the pages of Red Hood and the Outlaws. Starfire had always been a sexy character, scantily clad but only giving it up to express her love for those she cared about. But here, the new incarnation of her was little more than a sex goldfish. She was simply there to show boobs to the reader (cleverly covered, of course) and has no memory of her previous exploits making her a perfect fucktoy for her two male teammates. SO MUCH FAIL I HATED EVEN WRITING THAT SENTENCE! 


Financially, yes Issues 1 and 2 of most books sold very well. They sold well enough to give DC the lead in October's sales according to Diamond. So much so that Marvel reacted by laying people off and cancelling books- a stupid move done in reaction to numbers that won't continue, but whatever. The thing is, I don't see the longevity here. Ultimately, the numbers will go back to where they were before with Marvel selling 50% of the unit share every month and DC hovering in the 30% range. The reboot is a stunt, that's it.. and it is great for short term numbers, especially making your goals going into Q4 of a bad year, but it does not revamp a company or an industry facing an uncertain future. 

Final Rating:

Underwear on the Outside uses a FASERIP rating system derived from TSR's beloved Marvel Super Heroes Role Playing Game from 1984. We will give a numerical score somewhere between 0 (for the REALLY GODAWFUL) and 1000 (for the "slit your wrists because now you can die it's that good"). These numbers fall into categories on the chart above. Through varying degrees of dislike we would likely not recommend things from Shift 0 up to Typical. We feel fairly "Meh" about Good and Excellent. We'd spend money on Remarkable and Incredible but anything above that we get into varying levels of like, love and geeking out.  There's also a little space there numerically. We may give one item a rating of 35 and another 38. Both are considered REMARKABLE, but we think one is a little better than the other. 

As a whole, I give the DCnU a Poor 5 rating. While there are some gems in there, I think the whole thing is flawed from the editorial level down and I find myself hoping for a Crisis more and more with every month. 

So let's list some of those gems You can assume that the rest falls into my rating above:

Justice League: Remarkable 34 Beautiful book, slow on story but really nice to look at.

Justice League International: Remarkable 32 Building up to be a solid title. Interesting mix of new and classic JLI characters.

Wonder Woman: Amazing 50 One of the best written DC books. Plus, I don't feel like Diana is in any way diminished by her handling in DCnU.. if anything, she's far improved.. GREAT take on the mythology.

Supergirl: Excellent 26 Classic tale of Kara's origin but lots of kryptonian on kryptonian action. Well done, much better than the other Super titles.

Batman: Incredible 44 The best Bat title, solid writing coupled with Greg Capullo's fantastic pencils.

Nightwing: Remarkable 31 A solid Nightwing book. I would have liked to have seen more of a change here, but the formula works.

Green Lantern: Incredible 42 Speaking of a formula working. Oh, and Sinestro taking Hal's place? Awesome.

Animal Man: Incredible 45 Superhero horror story with an environmental heart.. despite it's less than stellar art, it is a great read.

I, Vampire: Excellent 20 Andy comes back from supernatural obscurity. A good book, but I don't see much longevity in it.

Demon Knights: Amazing 55 Same goes here, but DAMN I love this title. Dark ages, characters I like and they're all assholes? Good stuff.

Stormwatch: Excellent 25 This is like X-files for superheroes. It can get kind of cerebral, but that's not really a bad thing.

Grifter: Remarkable 30  Ah Grifter.. so many aliens, so many bullets

Blue Beetle: Remarkable 38 The spanglish wonder! This book is light and fun as it should be for a dark, and harsh origin story.

Thanks for the read... sorry for the length.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reviews: DCnU- Anatomy of a Reboot Part 1

As promised, I wanted to dive in to DC's expansive, line-wide reboot to give my fearless readers an honest assessment, but I didn't feel that I could really do that during the initial run of 52 new #1's. So I waited.... and waited. Finally, this last Wednesday saw the first issue #3 hit the stands, and it seems like I can give an honest evaluation without just reacting to changes and the media blitz DC wisely invested in this major overhaul.

Initially, I was hesitant to the upcoming changes when I first heard of "The New 52" as DC called it, or DCnU as coined by Newsarama and other websites like ComicsAlliance.  As a long term comic enthusiast, what a line-wide reboot to me means is: "Everything that you are reading now is meaningless in the the long term and we don't really care about our current readers. It's all about new blood."

 As a business decision, that makes sense, despite improved cultural awareness thanks to the film and television industries and the lack of social stigma for comic readers in modern times, the comic industry has been struggling in recent years. The prospecting boom of collectors in the '90's nearly killed the industry's perceived accessibility and an insurgence of new readers was obviously necessary to keep the genre alive. Whether stunts like line reboots are simply this decade's "Rare Collector's Holographic Covers" remains to be seen, but regardless, something needed to be done and soon.

However, from a reading perspective, this was a knife in the chest. DC had done this before, in 1985 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I was 10 years old at the time and barely recognized a change other than Superman's story seemed more like the movie to me (Christopher Reeve, sir, not Brandon Routh.. thank you very much). But now, twenty-six years and thousands of comics later, I was being told that the books I revered and looked at as a history of some of my favorite characters would no longer exist. Everything I had spent my hard earned dollars on would be forgotten in lieu of the newer, hotter DC. I felt like the loving wife and mother reaching her thirties only to be traded in for a twenty year old coed bimbo with the fake tan by captain midlife crisis. Now I knew how all those silver age readers felt in the eighties.

Well, it wouldn't have been fair to shut my eyes, plug my ears and deny the changes were happening, so I resolved to try to keep an open mind, after all Marvel's modernized universe- the Ultimate Universe was one of the best written universes I've read, so it couldn't be all bad.  Plus, Jim Lee, one of the architects of the reboot began talking about the reboot being more solvent, in some places (Superman, Wonder Woman) the reboot would be total. Let go of what you know and face a new day. But in others (the Batman books, the Green Lantern titles) the reboot would be a softer reboot, changing a detail here or there where it conflicts with main continuity, but maintaining the status quo or making changes in story. This made sense as Batman titles and Green Lantern titles had been among the best selling DC books for the last few years, so DC's editorial teams didn't want to mess with a winning formula. This could be good or bad, as I'll explain tomorrow.

One of the first things DC showed us was some new costumes, many designed by Jim Lee himself. Despite the unnecessary armor for Superman (I mean, it's Superman, does he really need armor?), I like almost all of it. It seems a mandate had come down in some super-secret meeting to take the trunks off the outside of all the costumes. And thank the gods below, because that look (originally inspired by circus performers) was more than dated, it was comical. The new costumes were sleek, modern, and elegant in a way that was a long time coming. And yes, I know I call this blog "Underwear on the Outside", but I'm poking fun... it's really NOT a good look.

Then the books came out....
(continued tomorrow)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

It's All in the Numbers

This weekend, I want to do something a bit of a departure. I don't want to write a new game, or campaign, or really anything gamey for the blog.. I want to address my other geekly passion, Comics. Yes, I know, I already did a treatise in my Speak Out With Your Geek Out post, but this is something different. If you use your wayback machine to scour my earliest posts, I mention that I will be doing reviews.. and that will start this week with my words about the DC Reboot.

And no, I'm not a Johnny-come-lately. I don't think you can really evaluate something as broad as DC's reboot during the run of issue 1's. However, this week marks the appearance of the first Issue 3's, so it's high time for me to give a more educated evaluation.

This led me to try to decide on something suitable for keeping score. So..... I decided to go back.. and I mean WAAAYYY back in my geekdom to the second RPG I ever played: Marvel Super Heroes from TSR (or as it is sometimes affectionately known: Marvel FASERIP- a reference to the character traits).  From what I remember, before I made my first character for Marvel (a badass Punisher-type with a badge, hands that could disintegrate metal, and a tail called the Enforcer- hey, it was the '80's), i got to play the all-american shield slinging boyscout himself, Captain America. I don't think I have a single bad memory of this game and it was one of the first games I was brave enough to step across the table from player to gamemaster in... but I digress.

Marvel Super Heroes had a chart on the back of the book that detailed the level of your traits numerically across the top in relation to other ability scores from Shift Zero and Feeble on the low side, through the Remarkable and Amazing, all the way up to Class 1000, 3000, 5000, and Beyond (for those things so great they couldn't be measured). On the left side of the chart, it showed the number of your dice roll. You compared your dice roll to the ability you were using (Amazing Strength or Monstrous Intelligence, etc) and hoped you rolled high enough to get in the green, yellow, or red bars.

For my purposes, I won't need nearly so many categories. I think I can cut it off at Class 1000 and still have a lot of leeway here. And of course, there's no need for the full chart since we aren't exactly creating characters here, so I can cut out the dice and the chart as a whole. So, my rating system will look more like this:

That being said, it means I will give a numerical score somewhere between 0 (for the REALLY GODAWFUL) and 1000 (for the "slit your wrists because now you can die it's that good"). There's also a little space there. I may give one item a rating of 35 and another 38. Both are REMARKABLE, but I think one is a little better than the other. Generally, I would recommend avoiding anything from Shift 0 to Poor; I feel kinda "Meh" about things Typical and Good, I might spend money up to Remarkable, but beyond that we get into like, love and geeking out.

Hope this makes sense... I guess we'll see this weekend...

~The Joe

Monday, October 10, 2011

General Gamery: Kingdom Come (Take 2)

I wanted to have something new this week to show you all, but really with playtesting a new game that I am VERY excited about but can't talk about, and getting ready for a trip to New York, I didn't have time for many new projects. That being said, I am of course working all the time on writing- or rather rewriting Superhuman, as well as my own little Smallville hack, Dreamscape, and a new RPG project for Slugfest Games that has me pretty excited.

But since creating Kingdom Come for Ryan Macklin's Flash Game Design Friday Challenge I've gotten emails asking questions about how I would handle this and that in the game as well as a request or three for a character sheet. So, while caving in and making a character sheet, I decided to pretty up the game a bit. Prettying up became expanding it to include some rules for death, initiative, and character advancement. Toss in some pretty pretty fonts from Blambot and some awesome royalty free art and we go from 500 words to 7 pages.  Not bad for not having time for a new project.

It's still pretty raw and holy crap does it need editing, but I think that's part of it's charm. I'm probably at least going to write an adventure for Kingdom Come before I move on to another project. I dunno.. let me know what you'd like to see me add to it. I'm curious to see how far this little engine can go.

Anyway, here it is... enjoy.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

General Gamery: Convention Espionage!

Slightly entertained by making a quick, fun simple rules light game like last week's Kingdom Come for Ryan Macklin's Game Design Challenge, and inspired by Daniel Solis' (creator of one of my favorite games, the award winning Happy Birthday Robot) Business Card Fighting Game, Trade Showdown, I decided I wanted to do another quick and dirty game (Who am I kidding, slightly entertained? That was totally too much fun and I got a lot of great responses from it.. so thank you all!). This one would serve a couple functions.

Firstly, it would allow me to to get this mini-game bug out of my system. Two games in two weeks is not bad in any book, but I really should be working on typing out the rules for Superhuman (I still love you Superhuman!). But it's awfully good fun saying, "I have an idea!" and a few hours later.. it's pretty much done.

And B, I needed to update my Business Card. Oh, I have one for Monkeyden Productions, and fairly soon I will be carrying a card when I am representing Slugfest Games as their Retail Liaison, but I wanted to have a card that is just me: Joseph Blomquist, Freelance Writer and Game Designer. Not Joseph Blomquist, president of some small press game company or retail rep for another small press company with decent word of mouth.  To that end, I thought it would be cool to have a fully formed and simple to play game on the back of my card that could be played with little more than a few business cards and a pen. And considering I am most likely to give my card out at a convention, players are likely to have tons of both. So this game will show up on the back of my new business card.

Anyway, here it is: Convention Espionage!... or rather:

I'm going to be lazy. Rather than type out the rules for the game again, I'm just going to provide a slightly blown up version of the rules for the game as an image. Click on the image to blow it up. Admittedly, I had to use a pretty small font to make it fit on a standard 2 inch by 3.5 inch business card, but I can still read all the rules on a regular card so I think it's a keeper.

Rules-wise, I went very simplistic. Pretty much nonexistent character creation and dice-less. The idea is to make the players able to use just what they would have on hand when getting my card and not requiring too much thought or record keeping. This whole concept is nothing new, really. After checking out RPG.Net, I found that the always awesome James Wallis did something similar (and admittedly, his game might be a bit better than mine- no surprise there, like I said, James Wallis is awesome) and apparently James Ernest from Cheapass Games used to do this as well. Good to see I'm in good company.

Now if I can just figure out what the hell to put on the front of the card.


Update: after checking out Jonathan's cool hack, I decided to chop some words off. and Hey Look! Bigger Font! More readable! WIN!


Monday, September 19, 2011

General Gamery: Kingdom Come

On Ryan Macklin's Blog he posted something of a challenge. So, I figured for my first General Gamery post, I would put my entry which admittedly borrows one of my favorite parts of the FATE system, but that's not a bad thing.
The whole concept happened because I was re-reading Annihilation: Ronan for the fifth or sixth time as research recently and this idea has been sitting in the back of my skull ever since.


Kingdom Come

Three shots an’ he keeps gettin’ up. You came to Kingdom Come for the same reasons as most interstellar traders: this backwater moon has more Tyrium than anywhere in the galaxy. An’ this Chitnos has laid claim to yer stake. Now you can’t tell if that’s dirt in yer mouth or blood.

Character Buildin’:

Each character has 3 Abilities: Draw, Grit, Thinkin’. Distribute a D4, D6, and D10 between the 3 Abilities.

Draw is the character’s natural speed and skill be it in runnin’, with a sixshot, or pilotin’ a craft or buggy.

Grit is both the character’s resolve to not be dominated or fearful as well as avoid damage. The Highest value of the dice issued to Grit is also the character’s Health (e.g. a D6 Grit is 6 Health)

Thinkin’ is just that, the character’s ability to reason and think of a witty way out of gettin’ his butt whooped.

Each character also starts with 3 Traits with a ratin’ of D4, D6, and D8 respectively.
Traits can be anythin’ a player can think of in a flavorful way, for example: Imperial Contract D6, Plugged in Piloting D8, Ghost Sense D4, or even Robot Workins D6.

However, Traits are a double edged sword as explained in Doin’ Stuff.

Each character starts with 1 Luck token. If they spend the Luck token, they succeed at whatever Doin’ Stuff roll they are attemptin’.

Each player starts with 3 Loot. (D4, D6, D8)

Loot can be Helpful (such as Synthrope- Tie ‘em up D6), Vehicles (Hoverbike- Fast D8) or Weaponry.

Weaponry does Damage 1, 2, or 3 subtractin’ that amount from the target’s Health. The ratin’ of a weapon relates to it’s Damage so a Damage 1 weapon has a D8 Trait, 2 is D6 and 3 is D4. For example, A knife might be Damage 1 but have Cut Through Ship Hull D8 while Sniper Rifle with Damage 3 could only have a D4 in Night Vision.

Other Folk:

NPC’s are simply a mass of 3 Traits with the D4, D8, and D10 ratin’ with Health the same as the Trait the GM deems most fitting.

Doin’ Stuff:

To do anythin’, roll 1 die from the applicable Ability, 1 die from any 1 Trait that might apply, and 1 die from any 1 Loot Trait that might apply. Keep the highest die result and compare it to the Difficulty or against a Trait roll from an NPC.

Difficulty is assigned by the GM from the following:
Routine: No Roll
Easy: 2
Less than Easy: 3
Hard: 5
You Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me: 6

If players choose to use them against their roll, Traits can be used to hurt characters. Subtract the Trait result from the Ability result and gain 1 Luck token to spend on a later Doin’ Stuff roll. Example: Ghost Sense might give you a heads up from the Nightside Supernatural, but they see you too.

Now get yer guns, the Kingdom waits.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speak Out With Your Geek Out: COMICS!!!

This week, Operation Speak Out With Your Geek Out can be found running through blogs and other social media to celebrate our geekdom and to raise awareness of who we, as geeks, really are, and in turn break down some of the negative stereotypes by getting us to talk about the things we enjoy and why we enjoy them, in the hopes that others may learn to appreciate them too.

So, originally, I was going to write about RPG's or Gaming as a whole; I'd even considered tossing in tidbits about my experiences within the gaming industry as a freelancer. But as my last few posts have been very gaming-centric, I thought I would try to expand a bit beyond that structure... but not too far. Because both of the games I've talked about before games find their core concepts in a medium so fine and elegant, it could only be considered Holy (Too far? Nah.)   COMICS!

I've been reading comics since sometime in 1979 when my cousin, Robert, gave me my first two folded, beat up issues of a mostly forgettable Thor issue and The Man Called Nova #25. Admittedly, these were his castoffs. Robert's father was a martial artist, so he tended to prefer titles like Master of Kung Fu and Heroes for Hire, but Nova (and to a lesser degree, Thor) rattled my cage in just the right way. I was a middle class kid from Nassau County, Long Island, New York and so was Nova. Plus, Nova could fly, was super strong, and didn't always make the right decisions. I got it right away.. or at least I like to think I did. I read and reread that Man Called Nova #25 (ironically, the title's last issue of its initial 1970's run) thousands of times over the years and the character remains my favorite character to this day.

And that's where my love of comics begins: Finding Your Spokesmodel.  Everyone has their favorite, especially now with the plethora of comic book inspired entertainment available, heroes of all shapes and sizes have entered our world. From the larger than life Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America to the lesser known Marv, Hellboy, John Constantine, Leonidas, Shadow, and Rick Grimes, comic book heroes have invaded the film and television medias to such a degree that it's almost impossible to know which characters come from a comic and which ones don't- and not all of them are 4-colored, spandex clad crime busters. Just going from films and TV alone, not even considering when you add in the wealth of characters offered by the many, many comic publishers today, it's easy to find a character to relate to. Don't get me wrong, fantastic bigger than life iconic characters were created long before the recent TV and film fascination with them, and as much as I liked reading the adventures of Clark Kent and Peter Parker, I couldn't really see the world through their eyes. The Alien turned Kansas farmboy with the powers of a god or super-genius from Queens with the spider powers were great characters, but never struck a chord I could see myself in. As an average kid born in Massapequa, New York, I could relate best to the average kid from Hempstead, New York (a couple towns over), Richard Rider, that had all the abilities I liked best from Superman: Flight, Invulnerability, and Super-Strength. The best part was, even as Nova, he was a regular guy, struggling to learn how to deal with his sudden influx of power and trying to do the best he could. This guy could be my neighbor.. or better yet, me!  So yeah, I was hooked.

As I swaggered through my teens and twenties and my comic pull list at my local comic store became a full on habit, I followed the tales of not only my favorite Long Islander, Nova (then appearing in his second book as well as the New Warriors), but I filled my longboxes with names like Captain America, Green Lantern, Nightwing, Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and Gen13. I was also coming to terms with something I had long believed but didn't know how to articulate: The Modern Mythology of Comics.

Comics hold a power, a language, that predates the medium.  It's the tales of heroes. Humanity has always needed its heroes. From Homer's tales of Perseus and Odysseus to stories of Robin Hood, people of all castes and creeds have found inspiration and wonder in stories of great heroes.  And much like a thirteenth century youth would look to Robin Hood as a contemporary hero compared to the legendary Hercules, or a Victorian reader might not see their favorite detective Holmes in the same light as Robin of the Hood, modern audiences might not lump Iron Man and Wonder Woman, She-Hulk and Batman in with their contemporaries: Hercules, Perseus, Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur.

One day, I will tell my children all the greatest stories: of Perseus and the Gorgon, of Arthur and Mordred, of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, of how Hercules killed the Hydra, of when a distant planet exploded sending her last son to earth to protect it, of Odysseus braving the fires of Hel to return to his beloved wife, and of when Captain America stopped a missile aimed for New York only to fall into the frigid arctic waters and sleep in the ice for decades.  Comics gave me that.

In modern times, there has been a major push, a Mainstreaming of Modern Comics if you will.  This has been a very good thing. Of course there are the obligatory films: X-men, Spider-man, Dark Knight, Captain America, Iron Man, 300, Sin City, the Shadow, Thor, Green Lantern, Constantine, Hellboy, Losers, etc. etc. There has been TV series too: the Walking Dead, Middle Man, the upcoming Powers, etc. These all bring a lot of attention to the comic book genre which is huge. Even when these movies are not so good, they bring bodies to the theaters in droves. But still there are those that are hesitant.

Getting In, however, is surprisingly easy and usually there is only three things keeping an interested party from becoming a reader. The most common question I get from my non-comic reading friends when the interest is sparked is "What should I read first?" This is always an easy answer: What do you want to read? Usually when that spark is fanned into the flame of actually buying a book, the potential reader has seen a movie or a TV show or read a friend's book of a character or team or story they like. GREAT! Get more of that character/team/story!  Whatever is on the shelf! Don't worry about those long boxes filled with something called back issues, despite fears of convoluted story lines and continuity, you are currently looking at the single greatest reference for comics: The Internet. If you get a book and have a question, we live in absolutely the best time technologically because everything in the comic world can be answered online. Even I have to look stuff up when I start a new book, and I'll tell you what, it's all there! Brilliant!

The second hurdle is usually length. Comics are usually bi-weekly or monthly. Not everyone can commit to a title on such a schedule, nor are they interested in poring through dozens to hundreds of back issues for stories. Again, we live in a great time. For the last couple decades, most major comic companies have been collecting several issues of a title into collected story lines usually referred to as "Trade Paperbacks." The beauty of this is that trades have a longer shelf life and so they can often be found in your local book store or just your local comic store so they are even more readily available.

Finally, there is the matter of genre. The superhero genre that I have such an affinity for isn't for everyone, and that's okay. Great stories don't have to include spandex to be great stories, and comic publishers know this. Comics are like novels with a visual reference. They come in every genre, the superhero kind is simply the most popular. But look at titles like the amazing popular Walking Dead, a very successful and well written horror comic that has spawned a popular TV show on AMC. Or Road to Perdition, a period crime story that became a rich and wonderful movie with Tom Hanks. Whatever your niche is, it's in there, and that is part of the wonder.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hack and Slash: Relationship Mapping and You!

The premiere edition of Hack and Slash, which will regularly talk about mods and hacks to various existing game systems that I either A) came up with or B) think are cool, started with the comments from my previous post, Campaign Concepts: The Crew.  Somehow, it was mentioned that in a DC Adventures RPG ( which is really Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition) Campaign that I played in/ co-gamemastered, we had incorporated Relationship Mapping from the always awesome Smallville RPG.

As I am sure I have mentioned, I was lucky enough to be part of the writing team of the Smallville RPG, but as much as I would like to claim it.. I had nothing to do with coming up with the relationship map idea. That might have been Cam, Bobbie,or Josh, who knows? Regardless, it is still a fantastic piece of game design and one I wholeheartedly enjoy adding to a game here and there. Mutants and Masterminds, however, has a very different that wants to mesh with relationship mapping so bad, you can almost hear them trying to sneak out of the school dance to make out under the bleachers.

Maybe it's just me.

So here's the nitty gritty:

For those not familiar with them, the game currency for Mutants and Masterminds is called the Hero Point. Similar to Plot Points in Cortex Plus, Hero Points allow players a great deal of special game fiats. They can modify dice rolls, ignore the effects of powers used against their character, allow characters to recover form negative conditions (dazed, stunned, etc.), gain the use of an ability your character does not possess, ask for some clues form the GM, or even editing the scene that the characters find themselves. That's right, these things are mighty powerful.. But not all that common- at best they are in finite supply and other than the single Hero Point each character starts with during each session, players only seem to gain them by putting their characters in compromising situations, some seriously good roleplaying, or the dreaded Complication.

Complications, in general, are the meat and bones of the ROLE part of roleplaying MnM characters. They tend to flesh out the why's and who's while the rest of the character sheet focuses on the how's. Beyond just fleshing out the character, however, Complications  do as the name implies. They complicate things for the character. He may not be able to do something the player intends because the player wrote the character to be to morally pure to steal, or might be afraid of heights, or might fight crime for the sake of his poor, sick aunt at home in Queens. 

There are three specific Complications that tie directly to relationship mapping from Smallville: Enemy, Relationship, and Rivalry. To some degree, we simply replaced these three from the book (though Enemy still has its uses and doesn't necessarily fit in every relationship map) as every character will be getting some form of at least one of these three Complications in our modified map. 

  1. To keep it simple, and because it was a bit of a testbed, each player made a list of one "close" NPC (let's call them Allies) to their character and two NPCs they aren't as close to (for these we'll go with Contacts).  
  2. We then built the start of a Smallville style Relationship Map: each character's name was put in a box and a line was drawn between each character to denote their relationship (though nothing was filled in here at this time) Ideally, this should be done with a different color for each PC (you'll see why later).
  3. Each player then drew a line from their character's box to a diamond with the name of their Ally inside. On that line, we listed the nature of the relationship between the PC and the PC's Ally.
  4. Next, each player drew a circle for each of their Contacts and drew a line back to their character. Again, just like they had done with their Allies, the players listed the nature of the relationship between the PC and the Contact on that line.
  5. Now, just to mix it up, we had each player draw a line from one of their Contacts to any other Contact or Ally listed on the map.
  6. Finally, Each player wrote in what their PC thought about one other PC on the Relationship Map and that PC wrote back in turn (Not every PC gets picked by multiple people, but this gets us past the awkward "You seem trustworthy.." stage of getting adventuring groups together.
Now anyone that's read the Smallville RPG knows that this is, at best, like dipping your feet into the shallow end of the pool when it comes to the expansiveness of the Smallville relationship map, but this was the only part I really need for MnM.. at least for my purposes.

In Smallville, besides giving the Watchtower (read Gamemaster for non-Smallville players) a pretty big graphic showing places and people from which to derive the entire campaign, the relationship map is a pretty good way to move dice around the table- usually to the PC ("Have to hold up this building long enough for Lois to get free!" means Clark gets dice from his relationship with Lois... etc, etc). 

In Mutants and Masterminds, it's Hero Points that move around the table. How these Hero Points  move varies from shape to shape and character relationship type to type..
  • Any PC can give a Hero Point to any other PC based on their relationship with that PC. For example: Superboy is dazed by a magical effect and is out of Hero Points and his player can't roll a SAVE to save his life. Robin's relationship to Superboy reads "Conner is my best friend." In character, during the fight, it might play out like Tim struggles to his friend's side to try to help him or defend him while yelling for him to get up ("I'm here, buddy, but you've got to get up!"). At the game table, Robin's player just hands Superboy's player a token or chip representing a Hero Point that Superboy's Player can turn in to remove the DAZED condition.
  • If a PC is in the same scene as any of his Contacts  represented by a Circle in their color, they can use a free Hero Point generated by their Contact. The relationship between PC and Contact is mostly a roleplaying guide for how the NPC will deal with the PC and in case the relationship ever progrsses to full on  Ally (see below).
  • Allies, represented by the colored Diamonds, are the most important part of this equation and will likely generate the most Hero Points for the PCs. An Ally is a real friend or lover or family member- someone very important to the PC so interacting with them will ALWAYS end up in Hero Point accrual or adventure plot. Clark Kent hiding his identity from Lois (before they were married in pre-DCnu) when he needs to get away to save the day = Hero Point. You get the idea. But more importantly, these NPC's will really go to bat for you. When Lex Luthor's media outlets blasted Superman as an alien menace, it was Lois Lane's articles for the Daily Planet that defied Luthor's accusations. However, Lois was also the most kidnapped character in Superman comics ever.. so it's a 2-way street.. but it's the Gamemaster's job to work that street. Unlike Contacts that should have a somewhat glossed-over contact with the PC, interacting with Allies should feel very rewarding from a ROLE playing standpoint.
Advancement of relationships is a very real possibility.And there are a few ways to spend your hard earned Power Points (the measure of experience and growth in Mutants and Masterminds) to cultivate your relationship list:
  • If a player spends 1 Power Point, they can draw a line from any of their Contacts or Allies to any other NPC on the relationship map. They then write in that line to explain the relationship between the two NPCs.
  • If a player spends 2 Power Points, any NPC connected to one of the that PC's Allies or Contacts can become a Contact of that PC by making a circle around that NPC in the color denoted for that PC and drawing a line to the PC with an explanation of their new relationship.
  • If a player spends 4 Power Points, they can create a new Contact. They then draw a circle for with the name of the new Contact in it and draw a line back to their character, listing the nature of the relationship between the PC and the Contact on that line.
  • If a player spends 5 Power Points, one of a PC's Contacts that the PC interacted with this game session can be upgraded to an Ally.
So there you go.. That's my hack for Smallville Relationship Mapping in MnM. It works nicely and the free flow of  Hero Points makes me feel a little less bad when I make the bad guys a power level or two higher than the heroes.. just to even it out..  hehe.