Tag Archives: game design

Marvelous Superheroes: Why It Haunts Me

After my post yesterday, I got into a comic book vibe and spent a number of hours poking at my ever-evolving superhero game, Marvelous Superheroes. I just put up a zip file of the 0.2 version on the “Free Stuff” page, in case you want to take a look at it. I realized that, as more and more people start expressing interest in the game, I should sit down and spell out my design goals. Plus, since not everyone was reading my LiveJournal when I put up the original draft, I thought I should go over some of the game’s history. So this is, collectively, a discussion of why this game haunts me.

This is copied and pasted from my current draft on the eventual 0.3 release, thus allowing me to make a blog post without actually spending any time writing it. That’s efficiency, that is.


I’ve been a fan of various superhero game systems for over twenty years, but none of them quite worked the way I wanted them to. I was familiar with Fudge for over a decade and liked the idea of it (especially the open source ethos), but it also had some weirdly complex areas that seemed unnecessary and kept me from really trying out the system. Meanwhile, a public domain game called 4C was released. It was a more streamlined version of my favorite superhero system, but it went in a different direction than I would have gone in.

One day, in thinking over some house rules for a superhero campaign I wanted to run, I considered converting 4C and Fudge into a new game, so I would have more flexibility in terms of rules hacking down the road. I found a great article by Steve Kenson on the “Superlative System,” and that started me on the road to what eventually became Marvelous Superheroes.

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The character sheet as portal into the game

my other hobby ii

Image by Laenulfean via Flickr

I noticed something recently when I was playing in Ethan’s D&D game last week (which is a separate issue I will probably blog about at some point).

Whenever I’m playing a roleplaying game, I have the same ritual when I first sit down to play — I pull out my character sheet and I study it. For games with a lot of information like D&D, this is useful to help me reacquaint myself with what my character can do, but I do this even with games that have very few mechanics, like when we were playing Three Sixteen at the office. Even when I go to a Vampire LARP with a character I’ve played for years, I pull out the character sheet and reread it before I go into character. While refreshing my memory is clearly part of the ritual (and let’s face it — I have a shitty memory), there must be something more.

In thinking about it, I was reminded of my interview with Rich Thomas as I was applying for my job at White Wolf. We talked about the utility of character sheets, and the balance of utility and attractiveness in them. Why should a character sheet be attractive at all? During the conversation, I came up with the idea that character sheets are like a portal for the player into the game system.

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What I’m Playing (And What I’ve Learned)

A few days ago, Justin posted about what he’s playing and what he’s learning from them. Like him, I play a lot of games for research as much as I do for enjoyment. I’ve been meaning to talk about this a bit, so I decided to post what I’ve been playing from the last few months, and what I’m learning from each game.

Assassin’s Creed II: I didn’t play Assassin’s Creed I, but I had heard so many positive reviews of the franchise that I played it soon after David was finished. I loved it so much that I went out and bought the first one after I finished it (which I didn’t like as much, I admit). I learned a lot about ways to introduce small snippets of background without being intrusive or taking total control from the player, as I find the historical elements and how the gameplay weaves around them to be utterly engaging.

Dragon Age – Origins: An interesting look back at BioWare‘s roots through the lens of modern console gaming. I personally think the game was a little too ambitious – the story gets pretty flat in the middle to accommodate all the story options, and I found the combat system to be irritating – but it was enjoyable, and I logged about 30 hours from start to finish. BioWare’s narrative structure is always worth studying, even if it wasn’t implemented as well as I would have liked.

Mass Effect 2: On the other hand, I found this to be a good balance between shooter and RPG. The story is a little more straightforward than the original Mass Effect, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Like the Assassin’s Creed franchise, this shows that you can change up your gameplay while staying on target with the core elements of your franchise.

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