Clings & Arrows

I watch very few TV shows.  I’m not even sure I watch much in the way of TV anymore.  Growing up, it was 3PM to 9-9:30PM of constant TV after school.  Actually, what shows I watched back then and how they impacted my views on game-playing would make a good post, though it would require some research to remember all of the shows.

So, why watch Arrow?

I like superhero stuff.  I read comics in my twenties.  Smallville was one of the few dramas, possibly the only drama I watched in more recent years.  Well, if I think about it, there’s Dr. Who and Sherlock and there must have been something prior to Sherlock.  I think it’s easy to exclude anime from drama.  Nowadays watching original Trek, which I hadn’t watched in maybe 20 years.

Anyway, getting sidetracked.  Arrow and something else got me thinking about superheroes, in particular what superhero (or, I suppose, supervillain) someone might be.

Before continuing to explain this, as it’s either subtle or I’m making it overly complicated, I like Arrow okay but don’t feel that strongly about it.  Unlike many commentators, I don’t have a problem with the voice-overs.  The acting is weak.  The action scenes are just blurs of “What is going on?” except for the scenes of Oliver jumping and climbing in broad daylight.  I don’t get all of the injokes.  I never particularly cared about Green Arrow, which is relevant to what I’ll eventually get around to talking about.  I like the mythology, which is why I like a lot of things, Dr. Who for instance.  The conversations between Dig and Oliver were charming, not sure if that will continue.  I like how he kills people and other more believable bits.

Okay.  I remember now what the other thing was.  I ended up finding a list online of someone’s top unpowered superheroes.  I’m not into supers without powers.  I read Cracked.com, which adores Batman even more than Tesla and Teddy Roosevelt.  I have no interest in Batman.  Or, any other gadgeteer style super.

On the flip side, while Superman is a great icon, he’s a terrible character.  Those who like to point out how much more awesome Batman is than Superman like to go into how Batman can win without having any powers.  I’d rather say that Superman has too many powers.  He also has another problem.  Other supers have too many powers.  There are a bunch of Superman clones in Ultra Boy, Mon-El, and whatnot, but Superman is the most boring of them all … because he’s Superman.  He’s not really a superhero so much as an ideal.  Yet, he still has multiple books and still gets many stories told, so there’s something to be said for a paragon.

A rough midpoint between the two would be the X-Men – superpowered but limited.  Oh, there are thousands of other supers that could be used as examples of one thing or another, but I really need to get to the topic at hand.

What superhero would I be?  Or, someone else I game with?

Not what superhero would I want to be.  Nor is it really who would I be, since I wouldn’t be any of them.  Nor is it whose powers would you want to have*.  It’s more, “Who is the best fit if you were a superhero in a superhero world?”

*  Too often, people express a desire to have the superpowers that can be most easily abused in a real world situation, such as teleportation, invisibility, or a suite of powers.  Actually, in a real world situation, I would want Cypher’s “know all languages” power, which was so lame in the comics that he didn’t survive long and got merged with an alien who had combat useful abilities.

Because I see little point in being a superhero who lacks superpowers, I wouldn’t fit well as one of those.  Cosmic powered heroes may be something I read about, but I just don’t see it.  Street level heroes aren’t necessarily bad choices, though.  Daredevil was never superappealing to me, but I like the character, finding both his powers and other features interesting.  Some may compare him to Batman, but because his powers are an essential part of the character, I really don’t, nevermind that Batman gets portrayed as one of the greatest supers of them all where Daredevil is portrayed as “He did what?” in the greater superhero community.

Spiderman is another superpopular superhero that just doesn’t do much for me.  His powers are fine.  I think he fails for me because his character became too much about the nerdiness (talking about movies rather than comics or TV series).  Also, maybe played out.  It’s unfortunate that less iconic supers like Green Lantern don’t do a better job of going mainstream, but really, Green Lantern’s powers are absurd.  Anyway, Spiderman brings up the importance of personality and presentation when it comes to a fit.

Because it’s so easy to get into personal biases, “Captain Ultraknight is soooooo cool.” and such, it may be better to have one’s supernerdy friends nominate.  Of course, this only works if:  one’s friends take this seriously; one’s friends know enough supers to find better fits; one intends on applying to this a productive venture, such as playing a superhero RPG campaign.

Ah ha, that’s how all of this ties into gaming!

I’ve played a reasonable number of superhero one-shots at conventions, but I’ve never been involved in a supers campaign.  I’m curious as to how it works.  I’m curious as to how prone they are to descending into silliness.  And, with regards to this exercise of determining a good fit, I wonder how well people’s characters fit the players.

Speaking of silliness, I’m fond of Champions, but I was never fond of the artistic style of the game.  Sure, it varied, but much of it was in a style to feed into not taking the genre seriously.  On the other hand, I have other supers RPGs with much more impressive art, like Authority (or even DC Heroes), and can’t get into the mechanics because of how dense the material is.  It’s pretty sad when someone thinks Hero System is the easy system to process.

If I were to play in a superhero RPG, what would I play?  What could I see others playing?

Sadly, I have a hard time envisioning what sort of character I could play in a genre suitable way.  While it may not be that hard to tell a story for a single super, a game about a group of supers just seems so easily prone to devolving into parody, satire, or slapstick, nevermind that I often fail my characters because I want games to work.  Even though, if one thinks about it, many games essentially have superheroes.  Vampire had people who played supers with fangs, which actually sounds better than angsty losers with fangs.  Exalted.  Many fantasy games get to the point with magic where you are effectively superheroes.  My Feng Shui campaign had the superhero feel with the soap opera aspects and whatnot, which is perhaps why it was the best campaign I ever played in.  Etc.

It’s all about perception and respect for the genre.

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2 Responses to Clings & Arrows

  1. Andrew Haas says:

    For me the biggest issue with a potential superhero setting is the weird way the world would necessarily be structured. How would superheroes interact with the mundane world? I can’t imagine how that would actually work. I feel like I would constantly be asking questions like “Why aren’t the police involved with this?” or “Why am I actually involved in this?”

    I think the most realistic description of actual “superheroes” would be “Watchmen”, the regular heroes (basically highly trained civilians and gageteers) lead bizarre lives and are often in conflict with the police and authorities, in the modern age they are largely irrelevant. The one actual “super” is totally world changing but is so far removed from the rest of humanity that they don’t really care about mundane things like crime.

    I’d be interested in how you imagine a superhero campaign looking like since the world seems like it would shatter under the briefest of examinations.

    • iclee says:

      Genres have conventions that you just accept because not accepting them means the genre doesn’t work. DC and Marvel have superhero worlds where people just accept supers. The more you try to make sense of the criminal justice system in such a world, the less fun you will have, so you ignore it unless it’s central to the plot of a story arc.

      For instance, Namor got put on trial and Matt Murdock (Daredevil) defended him (sort of), which led to Daredevil vs. Namor superfights as Matt tried to get Namor to show up to court dates. The actual legal stuff was just trappings as it didn’t really affect Namor, but it gave an excuse to have the mismatch combats to show that Daredevil could hang with the big boys, Fantastic Four/Avengers/Defenders power level supers.

      I find that for most genres people spend way too much time on minutiae. Normal people in superworlds only matter if they are love interests, need to be saved, teach the hero a lesson in what it is to be human rather than superhuman, or the like.

      However, not having played in a supers campaign as mentioned, I am curious as to how well RPG play reflects comic books. RPG play routinely fails to reflect the fiction it is based on with other genres due to the differences between fiction and games; I wouldn’t be surprised if supers play has a different feel from comics.

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