Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The New Pitch

So, the new game's backdrop has been pitched and finalized. It may be a function of getting older, but I enjoy pre-play (as a social activity, not solo) much more these days, partly because it's an opportunity to bounce off the creativity of sharp people. When I was younger it was all about showing off the shiny things I'd made through play, and since I made pretty good things, that worked out ok. But now? I don't see as much satisfaction in that - I like the surprises that come out of brainstorming.

I started with a few seeds on the table: Feng Shui as Conspiracy, D&D without D&D, Some variant on Hunter or Mage and Amber, and we kicked them around for a while. The conspiratorial angle appealed, but the fear was Feng Shui was too much. More chewing ensued, and rehashing it all would probably not be terribly exciting, so I'll skip to the end: We settled on Cold War (1980s) minimal supers.

Premise is this. There are some number of really powerful supers out there, and - in America at least - they are by and large kept in boxes, controlled n some fashion, and only released when absolutely necessary (yes, the nuclear weapon analogy is intentional) and one or more teams of "Handlers" are responsible for looking into situations and ultimately for making the call on the ground whether or not to hit the button. The handlers have (or may have) low grade super powers - not enough to put them in a box, but enough to make them useful for field work and possibly enough to make them useful for dealing with the folks in the boxes.

I expect more details will get fleshed out over chargen (yes, TWO sessions of preplay! Madness!) but a few points established so far:
  • The handler team definitely works for the US. We discussed a Planetary/Global Frequency sort of vibe, but since we'd gravitated to the Cold War, we wanted to stick with that.
  • Majority of the Handler team must agree to deploy "Mark"
  • The people in boxes are designated "Mark I", "Mark II" and so on, so the handler colloquially refer to them as "Mark"
  • The handler team may have a designated Mark, or may be more general purpose. Undecided.
  • The Marks are people and even if not known now, they _can_ be known.
  • Other handler teams exist. Relationships TBD.
  • How other powers handle their Marks is an open question.
  • Origin of the Marks and powers intentionally hazy, possibly TBD in play. WWII seems an obvious culprit.

I have a few mindmaps running in my notebook of things that MIGHT be true, but nothing concrete yet - I want to leave things flexible until chargen finishes. In the meantime, I may be hitting Netflix for come good Cold War era Spy flicks. It's all still early yet, but I like this phase of things. All potential.


  1. As I was reading this, I was reminded of the "Checkmate" series of DC comics. I loved the whole Checkmate idea and wanted to bring it in to one of my Mutants & Masterminds games.

    Anyway, one of the things I enjoyed about the series was their Suicide Squad, which was a group of supers that were always locked up until they were absolutely needed, due to the extreme level of danger they represented (originally, most of the members were villains).

    Just thought I'd give you more food for thought.

  2. Sounds neat. I've been edging over towards Cold War gaming, too... Probably because a few years ago I found LeCarre through the BBC version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" which is brilliant. LeCarre, it seems to me, does a personal level of the Cold War where people betray each other much as countries might. I'd very much recommend TTSS if you haven't seen it yet and like quiet personality-focused repressed things.

  3. Strange as it may sound, you might want to track down Warren Ellis' "Supergod". There are only three issues out so far, but it touches on some of your topics.

  4. I like the Cold War atomic bomb analogy, very apt. I'm assuming there are Russian Marks as well? What sort of system are you thinking about using?

  5. My initial impression is quite positive. As a guy who often can't get a satisfactory grasp of the core conflicts in the settings I design I really can appreciate it when I see one that feels fun and seems to offer a wide array of challenges.

    I must say the core concept seems quite aligned with a lot of the slightly less mainstream comics coming out, so much so that I'm actually surprised I haven't seen anything like it crop up in an RPG yet.

    Anyhow, neat idea. I especially love the sense of urgency the Marks instill in the overall setting. I look forward to hearing more.

  6. @goose Checkmate was a little on my mind when the idea came up. I have always thought espionage + supers is rich territory, and even though there are some flagship icons of it (Nick Fury), I feel there's a lot more there.

    And hell yes, Suicide Squad.

    @ZD Yeah I'm hoping that netflix has it. I've been needing an excuse to see TTSS.

    @Darren Huh. Ok, Like all Ellis books, I am skeptical of it actually existing, but I now recall some tidbits i saw of #1 and yes, i think that might be quite apt.

    @cam Yah. Chinese too, and maybe some others. England certainly has at least one. System is...tbd.

  7. Rob, you did not say if you were going for gritty or more of a Bond style; but if its gritty, I would say look at the Necroscope series. Not sure of your familiarity with Brian Lumley, but there is some inspiration to be had there. Forget the vampires stuff (or at least the Source world of their birth), but instead look to the agencies involved.

    The British had their E.S.P.ers (all gifted with some psychic ability) that tracked the operations of nuclear movements via submarine or warhead, the thoughts of diplomats, and especially the presence of other gifted (mainly Russia as the US was still lagging behind in this field) or rival field agents.

    The Russians had a couple of mentalists, but their power was in the fact that they had a necromancer that would rip the secrets from the dead.

    The US had some allusions to “Super Soldiers,” but was not explored until the last three books which were intent on stopping a vampirocalypse.

    China was a wild card that was interested with the Yogis out of Tibet.

  8. You've likely seen it, given your comics reading habits, but The Sandbaggers is well worth a look. While the structure of office politics vs missions will be familiar from Rucka's early Queen and Country, the show does a much better job with the claustrophobic sense of how little is possible. Their actions are incredibly limited by the Cold War/MAD ceiling, and the best parts of the story come from the compromises and sacrifices made as a result.

    If your works has a similar fear about use/abuse of the Marks - namely that every mission has the potential to spiral into a political mess that brings the Supers Doomsday Clock closer to midnight -- then the tone of Sandbaggers might be helpful.



  9. More inspiration: Nick Fury's Secret Warriors miniseries, which is getting a new twist with Steve Rogers, Super Soldier at the helm of Secret Avengers under the new Heroic Age era.

  10. I like that setup a lot, and look forward to hearing more. Have you read the comic Zenith? Or Tim Powers' cold war secret history novel Declare?

    Have you seen the excellent BBC cold war series Sandbaggers? Although that may be more cynical than you're looking for.

    I'd be tempted to name them Mark, Matt, Luke, and John, and style them after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse released by Nazi experiments in Ragnarok Studies, although repurposed Nazi superweapons is rather a well-used trope.

    I've heard good things about Ian Tregillis' debut novel "Bitter Seeds" with English magicians vs. Nazi Mutant Supervillains, but haven't read it yet myself.

  11. The top-end supers kept in boxes or suspended animation until needed reminds me most strongly of Alan Moore's Miracleman backstory.

    I hope we get to hear more of how this evolves. It's a compelling pitch.

  12. Oh! And something else I just thought of Friday: "The Lives of Others"/"Das Lehren Der Anderen", the German movie that won best Foreign Oscar a few years back, was completely brilliant and gives a beautiful sense of what it was like to be a part of the East German system of the cold war, watched by the state... That internal view makes the whole cold war more believable. Also, it's set in the 80s, when things were just sadder and not so rollicking as the 60s. Lovely acting, I think your household would like it if you haven't seen it yet.



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