Usually we talk about playing games – how about an episode about making them? From house rules to hacks to wholesale creation, the Cannibal Halflings take a delve into all things tabletop game design: tips, tricks, advice, history, systems, and games worth taking a look at!
Tabletop RPGs are not realistic, and this is a good thing. On one extreme we don’t really want to simulate the hygiene of our fantasy worlds, and on the other we don’t really want to play Apartment: The Playstationing. What RPGs should and do have, though, is verisimilitude. Verisimilitude is the appearance of being real, and in RPGs this means that the characters exist in a world which behaves in a way the players expect. One place where games fall down in this respect is in having a world that changes around the characters, one that might even be responsive to their actions. That is why I’m returning to my old stomping ground, the field of economics.
You and your friends gathered around this place today for something special. To participate in a spectacle than you would never quite see in our daily lives. A story being woven, of valiant heroes, with strength as fierce their virtues. Of the dastardly villains, imbued with a ferocity of their wickedness. You will witness villains become heroes. Heroes become villains. The brutalist of battles. Mightiest of hugs. The bitterness of betrayal and the triumph of cavalry. This is a world where everything gets just a little bit more magical.
This is pro wrestling.
Now, while the surface level of the two may seem to have very little in common, I’ve honestly found that my knowledge of pro wrestling has helped me become a better GM for my players. Pro wrestling is the world but amplified. The emotions. The dramatics of pain. The sweetness of victory. Everything has the knob grasped and twisted all the way over. Which, let’s be honest, relates well to RPGs.
A good RPG campaign usually takes on a life of its own. The longer you play, the more the characters, the places, and the events of a game overshadow the rules which you use for the game. Ironically, it’s this shift in importance away from mechanics which can sometimes reveal that the mechanics you’ve been using aren’t going to work for an important part of your ongoing game. In another situation, your campaign has taken a dramatic, albeit temporary, turn. Your grizzled heroes find themselves masquerading as schoolteachers, or your starship crew finds a rip in the space-time continuum, or your cyberpunks have to chase a villain into a virtual reality game. Whether it’s a mid-story diversion or a permanent change, sometimes you’re going to want to jump systems.
Spiderman in the Marvel Comics has had a lot of memorable foes. From the more comical such as Shocker and Rhino. To the deathly serious in Green Goblin and Kingpin. Peter Parker and his many fellow Spider-Folks have no shortage of villains who left a mark on the minds of fans. But for me, it was always one villain that was memorized in this ol’ skull the most. Or rather, as I soon came to discover, a group. More like a plague when you think about it.
The Symbiotes. These alien menaces would bind to the most heroic of crusaders, granting them a boon of immense power. At the cost of what made them so heroic. They would prey upon the impulses that, in moderation, make us human. Anger. Hate. Jealousy. Pain. Only, they weren’t content with those impulses remaining moderate. They would take the knob and wind it all the way up to the max. These symbiotes would turn heroes into villains.
And as a kid, that both fascinated and scared the ever living hell out of me. These beings were like the zombie virus storylines on adrenaline. They don’t just turn you into a monster. They do it slowly. They whittle away at who you are, amplifying the parts you’d rather forget and minimizing the aspects you hold dear, bit by bit. They turn your love to obsession. They turn your courage to fanaticism. They turn you into…..well, NOT-you.
And when I think of the idea of horror stories in Marvel, I can’t get closer than the idea of a well done symbiote story. Barring Immortal Hulk, cos that’s friggin’ amazing.
So, let’s discuss how to do a symbiote story in Masks. Let’s discuss horror in Masks: A New Generation.
Welcome to the Dark Future of Cannibal Halfling Radio! Now that we’re in (Cyberpunk) 2020, and we survived the chaos of the holidays and some cyberpsycho-halfling-induced technical difficulties, we have some gently-aged Resolutions for the new year with regards to game design, playing games, and right here at CHG. After we look to the future, we pull aside the curtain for a discussion on secrets in roleplaying games: what kinds there are, when they go well and when they go awry, and how to make sure yours go the former way.
Things We Talk About:
Resolutions: Kickstarter: Zinequest 2, Our Queen Crumbles, Cyberpunk Chimera, Transit: The Spaceship RPG, G.E.N.E.S.Y.S. Mecha, The Mad Adventurers, PbtA: How a Rule-System Nurtured A Queer Fanbase, Masks: A New Generation and the Possibilities of Trans Narratives, Trophy
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If you read my last article (come on, check it out, I’m pretty proud) you know that Powered By The Apocalypse has a queer fandom. What’s more, you likely know that when it comes to RPGs, none appeal to me more than Masks: A New Generation. It utilizes a picture perfect narrative system while weaving it together with the trials and tribulations of being a fledgling superhero who also happens to struggle with the whole teenager thing. I frigging’ love it! It’s my favorite RPG system.
Hey, you don’t gotta take my word for it. This site has quite a few cool articles on the system I’d seriously recommend giving a read. Now, what I’m here for today is to tackle the systems of Masks in-depth from a perspective inspired by the Masks actual play podcast, Unlabelled. Unlabelled is a Masks podcast set in the Phoenix Academy playset (think Sky-High or My Hero Academia). While I had been dying for a podcast of that playset for months, what truly drew my attention hook, line, and sinker was the fact that the entire cast, both in and out of the game, was comprised of trans women. I love to see myself in my favorite hobby, and I adore to see myself in my favorite game.
During the character creation segment of the podcast, one of the players jokingly referred to the Transformed playbook as the “TRANS-formed”. A lot of trans folx have already noticed this with the archetype, and I briefly touched upon it in my last article, but the Transformed hits on many of the same beats of the trans experience.
Being changed and coming to terms with that.
Discrimination for standing out cos you’re not the same as everyone else.
People not understanding how you feel.
But that got me thinking. If the Transformed, an archetype based on youthful experience, could be so easily a metaphor for a trans narrative, why not all the playbooks? And I thought about it. And I thought. And I thought.
And this article is what came of it. So sit back, grab a drink and let’s dive into: Masks: A Trans Generation.
Ho adventuring gamers! We are on the eve of PAX Unplugged in downtown Philadelphia, and two of us fellow Cannibal Halflings will be lurking about. It seems that event organizers have failed to learn their lesson, and allowed Seamus (2017) and I (2018) to return for our second years in attendance. While both Seamus and I are excited, I have the advantage of actually living in the area for the last five years. It has been helpful for planning on my end, and it’s time to turn over some of those nuggets of wisdom to you dear readers to act as your man on the ground in advance to the upcoming invasion of gamers into the heart of a major American city. Hopefully these tips will help make your experience more enjoyable!
In this episode of CHR our gamemasters ask one another “How Do You apply the experiences you’ve had toward being better at improvising at the table?”, and then reflect upon what in our gaming groups we’ve found ourselves thankful for.
Out in one of the suburban zones of the Halcyon City metropolis Gilbert Phillps was shrugging on his trenchcoat and looking over his shoulder at the sleeping figure in his bed. When the doors had blown in at the Halcyon City High School #5 Semi-Formal Dance, the first thing he’d done had been to grab his friend and date Emma and spirit her away to safety. Once they’d gotten there, though . . . well, it had been an exciting night, long-hidden emotions had been revealed, and teenagers are teenagers. Now, though, Gil had to find out what had happened to the rest of his team. Leaving a note for the sleeping Emma, CryptoHertz opened his room’s window, deployed the flight pack that was the latest of his cybernetic upgrades, and flew off into the night (or rather, morning) sky. Continue reading Adventure Log: Masks: High Impact Heroics Pt. 7