Friday, 25 July 2014

Batman, The Joker, Archenemies

Batman has a rogue’s gallery heavy on the Dick Tracy style weirdoes, more of them to be confined to an asylum than a prison when he catches them. #1 is of course the Joker, Chaotic Evil to Batman’s Lawful Good. A great crook, a world-class murderer, and unfortunately a pretty bad comedian.

I’ve written bits here and there about building a recurring villain before, and noted that much of it is down to player reactions. Popularity will always be a factor. There’s character hate and then there’s player hate.

Like Batman himself, the Joker has risen and fallen in power, danger and Weird Level from a guy with a skin condition to a possibly-immortal avatar of chaos depending on the needs of the story. Apparently the Gotham TV series will have a different potential future Joker in every episode - which seems like a joke that will wear thin pretty quickly, but points to his mutability.

His motivation shifts around as much too, although flat-out killing Batman is rarely the issue. That’s a key part of his longevity - he plays by the same no-killing-the-enemy rule Batman sticks to, except in the most grimdark variations, despite racking up an impressive bodycount of anyone and everyone else.

And of course, he has a great shtick. Clowns Are Scary is one of the classics. (I just Googled Clowns Are and it suggested Scary first.) And as Tim Burton noted in 1989, ironic considering the hero dresses up as a bat to try and scare people.

So where does this leave us? A variety of stories the villain can be used on, playing by the same rules to prevent complaints about unkillability, and a shtick. Sounds easy... but there are plenty of unsuccessful villains that prove it takes luck too.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Batman, Gotham, and Bad Cities

Following on from Batman Day, what else does this 75-year legend have to offer gaming?

It seems sensible to start with Gotham, the city that defines him, so much so that the show about adolescent Bruce Wayne coming soon is to be named after it...

Batman was originally based in New York, then moved to a fictional city to take more artistic liberties and “because we wanted anybody in any city to identify with it” as its creator Bill Finger explained. It was officially mapped in 1999, and the cartographer Elliot Brown explained that creating a fictional city “is about allowing the writers to have their freedom”.

Over the intervening decades Gotham has become a Bad City, an urban hellhole teeming with crime and corruption and scary architecture. Batman editor Denny O’Neil described it as like “eight million people living in a Gothic cathedral”.

Like Lankhmar, Port Blacksand, Mos Eisley and almost everywhere in the classic World Of Darkness, it’s the perfect place to get in trouble. It was designed so that Batman always has something to do when he goes on patrol.

Gangsters, street gangs, crooked cops, civil unrest, alligators in the sewers, an insane asylum with a staggeringly bad security record - every issue with city living and ever bad urban legend can happen here.

This can tip over into absurdity when placed in a modern integrated setting (I would say it does in The Dark Knight Rises when the government fails to intervene with Bane’s reign of terror for six months after one attempt) but in smaller doses it can be very effective. I wouldn’t want to visit as a tourist (despite its many excellent galleries and museums) but I would as an adventurer.

Many settings have a city (or in space opera style SF an entire planet!) like this. And if the PCs don’t have to live there, they will probably end up visiting it at some point as part of a quest.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Batman Day

A celebration of Batman for his 75th anniversary, coming some months after the actual 75th anniversary, just to confuse matters.(And surely it should be Batman Night?)

In that time he’s been through a lot of variations and adaptations and there’s always space for more - since I wrote that he was on the big screen this year as a terrible boyfriend made of Lego.

He even got his own roleplaying game! A cutdown version of Mayfair’s DC Heroes, a system designed to have Jimmy Olsen and Superman playable together by having stats rise exponentially from the human average of 2 to the human maximum of 4 to Superman being able to move planets with Strength 50, which gets really grainy and odd at the human-plus-a-power-or-two level Batman usually works in.

I will say I liked the introductory adventure, though - the Joker puts Batman on trial for apparently accidentally killing an innocent bystander in one of their fights.

Batman is, like Wolverine in the Marvel universe, an archetype for a “lone wolf” character who keeps working with partners and teams - which is one key bit that players of long wolf PCs often miss in their keenness to be the solitary hero at the table while four other players are also sitting there.

He’s got the classic angry orphan background too. DARKNESS! NO PARENTS! Replace criminals with orcs and you have approximately 40% of fantasy PCs, especially those played by players who don’t want social ties.

There are Batman expies in pretty much every superhero universe including RPG settings, and quite a few other settings as well. Westeros has Darkstar for the style, and arguably Arya for the development. And Batman is something of a Zorro expy with a chunk of movie serial The Bat himself.

Does your game have one, and is it one of the PCs?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Face Off makeup/costume/monsters

This show has been running for six semi-annual series so far, and has given us lots of cool practical monsters. Some Buffyish, Whovian, some Star-Wars-y, some horrible. And those are just one set of picks, other sites have them all. Go find uses for them!

Discarded concepts for the use of

Will Ferrell plans to remake Manimal. Yes, Manimal.

I imagine a fairly comedic version, where our hero turns into animals at inconvenient times with little control. Something a bit Night Of The Museum perhaps.

I suggested this years ago (as a result of a dare on RPGnet) to be played semi-straight in an Angel kind of way. (One correction made since - Stan Winston Studios to do the practical effects, and give them more than three hours for each!) If you can do a fairly serious urban fantasy series of Teen Wolf, why not?

Got any other series setups lying around spare?

Recurring legendary heroes

Sky’s Sinbad TV series has appeared on their free channel Pick. Nice location work and monster effects, especially the water elemental. Not sure it needed quite as much explanation for Sinbad having to go adventuring. Hoping for a sword fight with a skeleton in a later episode.

Sinbad is a hero about whom a number of stories are told (like Arthur, as seen in Merlin which this show is built to emulate, or Hercules, who already had a show in the 90s) so a natural for series. A swashbuckling sword-and-sorcery hero with a pedigree going from the Arabian Nights to the Ray Harryhausen films.

Does your setting have them? Can we play them?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Apollo 11 45 years on

Remember the anniversary of the Apollo landing and consider what we are capable of.

(Could we please go back to the moon in my lifetime?)