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Tuesday, 11 May 2021

#RPG Further Ruminations on My Personal Passion For the Amazing Heroes System...

Much of my formative gaming years revolved around  Steve running Villains & Vigilantes (Second Edition) - and occasionally Champions - for Pete, Nick, and myself.

To some degree or another, there was definite 'crunch' in these game systems, which led me to believe that comprehensive rules mechanics were required for emulating superhero adventures at your table.

After all, superhero adventures can - if you just study the source material - embrace everything from cavemen and dinosaurs, fantasy settings with orcs and dragons, right out to the far reaches of space... all in the same campaign.

It can also feature an incredible spectrum of characters, each unique and each capable of calling upon wild and varied superpowers, where the only limit is the imagination of the players and the gamesmaster.

So surely, you need game mechanics that are capable of modelling EVERYTHING to the last decimal point: just look at Mutants and Masterminds, the HERO System (from Champions) or the new edition of Villains & Vigilantes aka The Mighty Protectors.

Right? 

For the majority of my 40 plus years as a gamer, I believed that some degree of system crunch was a necessary crutch for the roleplaying game experience.

Every designated power needs its own mechanics, sometimes even its own special sub-system of rules or mathematical formulae to bring it to life in your adventures.

Right?

Having been raised a grognard, on a diet of these games, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the like, I had no real experience of rules-lite - or 'storygames' - and tended to dismiss them, on the rare occasion I even considered them, as 'wishy-washy' and 'incomplete'.

That is until Clare introduced the Tuesday Knights to a one-shot game of Brent Newhall's The Whispering Road, in December 2018.

Not only was it one of the best roleplayng experiences I have had with the Tuesday Knights, but it opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of storygames, where players are no longer bound and restricted by labyrinthine rules mechanics.

Suddenly 'simpler was better'.

And, eventually, that concept filtered through to my ideas for a superhero game.

My Knight City campaign has had several aborted starts and those failures I like to blame, in part, on getting my stroke-addled brain around the rules.

Games, particularly supers ones, I realised, shouldn’t need to be a cross between 1970s wargames and a science dissertation. 

As a gamesmaster, I would say one of my strengths was an ability to keep the pace and flow of an adventure going, without the constant need to keep stopping and checking rules books, instead relying on a willingness to make things up on the fly.

That's why the most successful fantasy campaign I ran used the Heroes & Other Worlds mechanics (a basic 3d6 roll under a statistic resolves most things), which were very easy to hack and improvise as I went along.

Thus, when I started to read about Amazing Heroes - an extrapolation of the introductory, children's RPG Amazing Tales - things really started to fall into place.

For all the wonderful Handbooks of The Marvel Universe and DC Comics Who's Who collections, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster etc etc didn't have mathematical charts to dictate their character designs, there was no imposition of the concept of "balanced characters".

They made up characters that they felt they could tell the best stories with.

Characters that - regardless of their power levels - were generally expected to "triumph" eventually, but not always, and not without cost.

Drama, after all, makes a story.

For me, the narrative-drive of Amazing Heroes captures the essence of superhero comics and movies better than any game full of point charts and complex rules mechanics. 

In truth, it has almost no rules, it's so pared down to the bone. It has just the right amount of dice rolling to inject the random element into your games that make a game a game, and not simply a communal storytelling session.

After so much anticipointment over new games that I'd got really psyched up for and that turned out to land wide of my own self-created gaming goals, it was a delight to find one that delivered everything I had imagined it would.

Amazing Heroes succeeds simply by finding a way to avoid all the stuff that I embraced as a young gamer but have found increasingly hard to parse as a (genuinely) brain-damaged adult, without the attention span and comprehension acuity that I once had.

However, this lack of rules, and reliance on the creativity of the game's participants, actually takes me back to the days of co-ordinating the original HeroPress play-by-post (snailmail) game in the mid-'80s.

Originally, it was to be an offspring of Steve's Villains & Vigilantes campaign, but then we opted to create our own IP, stripping the rules right back to a minimalist state, totally counter to the style of game we were playing face-to-face.

Players were given free reign to create their characters, but there were some guidelines for 'generating' statistics.

However, behind-the-scenes, we told the numerous gamesmasters that these statistics were purely for the sake of comparison.


Yes, they could roll dice against them if they wished, but ultimately the "game" was all about coming up with the best story based on a combination of the gamesmaster's plot and the player's input.

Because this came at time when actual tabletop games were becoming increasingly rare for our group (real life and all that), I've rather compartmentalised the whole HeroPress experience as its own thing, rather than a roleplaying game per se.  

Bizarrely, I'd never thought of it as a "storygame", but actually that's exactly what it was.

So, perhaps, Amazing Heroes is simply a return to my HeroPress roots.

I'm not saying this is the only way to run superhero games, I'm saying I believe it's a system that gels with my own beliefs on this subject. 

Everyone finds their own bliss, and it's obvious that many, many people love the heavy crunch of games like Champions and Mutants and Masterminds, and good for them.

This essay is just a selection of random thoughts on why Amazing Heroes feels right for me, at this moment in time.

As the great "they" are wont to say: your mileage may vary.

Bad puns were Pete's forte - "Sauce" Book I contained the rough rules for PBM character creation, thumbnail sketches of existing heroes, maps and background details for three settings etc

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Venom (2021) + Eternals (2021) + Spider-Man (2021) + The Matrix (2021) +The Batman (2022)


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