Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Going Rogue Teaches About Super Hero RPGs

So, I'm not sure how many of you people out in the blogosphere are playing MMOs, but I'm going to assume that most people here have at least played one. The question is then, how many of you people are currently subscribed to City of Heroes? if not, and you like the Super Hero RPG genre, you may want to pull up a chair and listen to where an MMO is bringing something to the table that a lot of RPGs just don't do.

So, for those who aren't aware of what I am talking about, I'll explain quickly. City of Heroes is roughly a 6 year old MMO. It came out shortly before World of Warcraft, and while it has never enjoyed the multi-million subscriber success of WoW it has always been - and continues to be - a successful MMO. part of the reason for this is that there wasn't any other superhero MMO out there, part of it is the character designer which is still second to none at letting you make a character that both looks amazing, and can be unique to you. The game is staying successful because the team hasn't just been resting on its laurels for the last 6 years, they've been pumping out content (mostly free), and systems, and constantly challenging themselves to keep their game fresh and unique.

Their most recent stab at this? The expansion Going Rogue which finally lets players delve into the shades of gray between being a Super Hero and a Super Villain. How does it do this? Well, it gives the players a choice, and then it reacts to that choice. As a table top gamer, the ability to choose isn't anything new. But in an MMO? That is pretty awesome, considering usually your choice is "do this, or don't and don't get the loot". Now there is "here's a situation, how do you want to do it?". Keep choosing a certain way, and your hero can fall from grace into the gray area between light and dark. Keep going, and soon your hero has become a villain.

Now, the ability to switch teams is nothing new. Ever Quest II had it in their game, but it was kind of a pain at launch to do. I believe Star Wars Galaxies had it. Several MMO's have had it. But what is awesome in Going Rogue is that it is both fun, painless, and lets you also stop halfway through and walk the wire between Good and Evil.

So, where does this affect table top Super Hero RPGs? I mean, I already said that choice isn't new to Table Top games. So what am I yammering about? Well, I'm yammering about the way that you choose in Going Rogue. The fact that the game confronts what most good Super Hero tales are about, the shades and reasoning for things in the verse. Superman is very much a "pure white" guy when it comes to shades. Batman is so gray in most current continuities that he is almost gone over to black. Most other heroes fall somewhere in between. Villains do the same on the other side. What makes the choice for you in Going Rogue is how you choose to solve the problem presented with you.

For example. A Mad Scientist has released his drones to kidnap school children and turn them into experiments for his army of genetically modified super soldiers. A new 'crop' is being collected right now, but you also know where the Scientist has his lab set up. Do you go to save the children? Or do you go and stop the Scientist? If you save the children, the scientist can get away to continue his evil plans, but you have saved those kids from being harmed. If you stop the scientist, those children are going to get hurt, and possibly killed, but you have made it so the scientist can't harm others.

So which do you do? Which do your players do in your game? In Going Rogue, you make a choice (and it is nice enough to tell you which is the 'Hero' choice and which is the 'Vigilante' choice) and do the mission. Afterwards it tells you the aftermath. Save the kids? Great, but then the villain has gotten away and will come back to hurt more people in the future. Stop the scientist? Great, the plot has stopped, but 4 kids just died and you could have saved them!

Try doing this in your next Super RPG and watch how your players react. Put them in situations where there are no good choices, but their morals are being tested. What do they do? What does this say about them? How does society react to them? A few choices like that can make for a very character defining adventure, and just think, an MMO of all places - the very king of the rail road plot - is what showed you a way to do it.

So, why not give it a shot and see what happens?


  1. You're making me want to get back into CoH! But yeah, creating such a clear duality in possible choices is an interesting approach to take vis-à-vis game dilemmas.

    Although more often than not, if the players are aware of the consequences, they'll work hard to find a way to have their cake and eat it too. Which isn't a bad thing either.

  2. True, and in the example choice that is as easy as splitting up into two teams and going for both. At which point they have made that decision, and both teams will have a harder time without their support.

    The main point though is to put them in those situations, make them choose, and then show them the consequences. Do you fix long term, do you go short term, do you do both? And at some point, going for both just means they're going to fail completely.

  3. I am actually doing something like that in my current Star Wars campaign. I'm running my own 'alien invasion' scenario during the New Republic era (not the vong, but a somewhat similar overall scenario- i.e. the aliens are incredibly powerful- and winning the war). My PCs recently uncovered a splinter group of New Republic Intelligence that is working behind the scenes to stop the invasion by whatever means necessary- biological warfare, captured Imperial superweapons, you name it. They know that what they are doing is 'evil' and that they will probably be arrested for it, but they're doing it anyway, for the 'greater good'. This put my players in a particularly 'grey' area. Do they stop these people? Do they help them? Do stop them, but.. use SOME of the weapons against the aliens? It made for some AWESOME in character debates. In the end, the party took the 'heroic' choice and squashed the bad guys. However, this still leaves them in possession of a lot of superweapons.. and...the temptation to use them for good. How far are they willing to go? I'm curious to find out ;)

  4. That sounds like an awesome choice for the PCs to make, especially when it comes down to all out war and the survival of the galaxy.

    Dragon Age: Origins also puts you in this situation. There are several times where you can do 'horrific' things in order to get stronger forces for your army. The situation is dire, and the sacrifice of those few could turn the tide of the war. But, if you fall that low, is it worth what you become?