I've mentioned on this blog, several other places, and to damn near anyone who would listen to me that one of my problems with super hero games is that the players very rarely act heroic. Sure, they go in to save the day. Yes, they stop the bank robbers, and keep the world turning. But being a hero is a lot more than the what you are doing, it also includes the how you are doing it. That is one of the reasons I liked Mutants and Masterminds and how they handled Hero Points; it gave me a way to reward players for acting how I felt a Hero (capital H necessary) should act. It is something I put a lot of thought into, and I want to talk about what I learned today.
Batman vs. Kick-Ass
No, I'm not interested who would win in a fight (Batman), but I do want to talk about these two comics. Kick-Ass is Mark Millar's attempt to show what would happen if people tried to be super heroes in real life. It is brutal, bloody, and violent. It is also a bit over the top, but that isn't important right now. Now, in the latest issue of Kick-Ass 2 (yes, the comic is technically called Kick-Ass 2), there is a scene where Kick-Ass and a group of would-be super heroes bust up a gangster hide out. How do they do it? Well, they kick the door in, walk in, and start beating everyone up with baseball bats. How are the bad guys armed? Well, they're not. They have bare fists against bats, and they are mostly still sitting down when they take a blow to the head that puts them down for the count. So, basically, the heroes kicked in the door and hit a bunch of unarmed guys who were sitting down still with baseball bats. Keep that in mind.
Now, let's look at how Batman would've handled this. First of all, it would just be Batman, not Batman + 6-7 other guys. Second of all, while Batman would kick in the door (assuming he couldn't crash through the skylight), he wouldn't go right to kicking ass. There'd be the long moment of just standing there and glaring at everyone, letting them know that they're screwed. Then, everyone would get up and Batman would take them down as they came at him. Some would likely go for weapons, and would thus get priority treatment. The point, however, is that they attack Batman - or make an otherwise hostile move - and then they get taken down.
Now, think about your games. I'm willing to bet that your PCs taking a room down looks a lot more like Kick-Ass than Batman. Am I right?
A Question of Design and GMing
Now, part of this has to do with the design of the game. Players have been trained (yes, trained) to go for the kill in fights over countless systems, and unless the system you are using takes steps to prevent that mentality somehow, then the burden is going to fall on your shoulders. Some games do it, some games don't, and some games come really close but don't quite make it. Beyond the game however, the task also falls onto the GM to embrace the feeling that needs to be there.
Really quickly, what are the top two things that I (as a GM) need to do if I want you to walk into a room and take on 10 guys? For those over thinking it, here is the answer. 1) I need to put 10 guys in a room for you to face. 2) I need to give you the ability to reliably win that fight against 10 guys. If I don't do #1, then you can't do the action at all. If I don't do #2, then you won't do the action at all. Why would you walk into your certain death? No, you'd look for the advantage, any trick to even the odds so you could take then 10 guys out and still be alive at the end. Should 10 people be a credible threat? Sure, but if you make it so that the 10 people have just as much chance - if not more - of beating the PC than the other way around, the PC isn't going to go for it.
Style Takes Skill
The point of this whole article is this. If your PCs are always fighting against things that are challenging for them, than displays of style are going to be rare. Doing something stylishly, making something look easy, takes skill. Generally, it takes more skill than it takes to actually do the act - hence "he made it look easy" being a sign of praise.
Why does Batman pause to pose dramatically upon entering a room? Why does he let the bad guys in the room gear up before coming at him as they will? Because his skill level enables him to do this. How do you make your players do the same thing? Well, first, you need to give them the ability to do so, and then you need to find ways to encourage them to do so. So, for this conundrum, you need to give them the ability to act heroic with a capital H, and then you need to reward them for doing this.
Make sure you give rewards for the player that lets the bad guy get away to save the falling hostage, or doesn't pursue to make sure that the people around are already safe. When you give the reward, be sure to explain why it is going out as well.
Flash vs. Substance
The core of this argument boils down to this. How do you prompt Flash? How do you supply Substance? There are numerous places this applies across gaming, and I'm going to be talking about it for the majority of this week. (yes, that means another week without Crime 101, sorry). Tomorrow I am going to talk about Gladiators vs. Fighters, Wednesday will continue with the use of Theatricality, and Thursday will hopefully wrap it all back up into a nice, neat, little package.
As always, feel free to give your own comments, questions, additions, and personal tales in the comments below!
I'm very interested in seeing the rest of the posts on this theme. It's interesting that I'd never noticed how most rpgs scale at such a rate that players rarely, if ever, get the chance to really roflstomp an encounter as part of -design intent-.ReplyDelete
Although you lightly touch on it with the hostage, I think the other element that's important in a Batman scenario is that the thugs are generally not important to the story; there's usually someone else, some big bad or nefarious plan, that is the actual draw for his attention. So it's true that there's often a conundrum where some of the thugs escape because the hero is defusing a bomb or untying a maiden, but I think it's also important that encounters designed for this sort of stylistic impact be part of a larger, mobile plot.
If so, the value of the rewards you offer players for being theatrical gains greater weight. They -could- just unload a wave of fire over the poker-playing thugs...and they probably won't because it's not heroic. But they should be -tempted- by the knowledge that Doctor Dionea grows ever closer to accomplishing his plan while they dally with underlings.
Wow, this just ate the whole comment. Whoops. Anyhow, what I was saying (in summation) is that laying out the stakes is very important, and I am going to talk about that next Monday now (thanks!).ReplyDelete
As far as getting away, it can be thugs, or it can be the big villain. Think about it, how many times has Batman, Spider-man, or even Superman watched as the villain skidaddled because they needed to make sure the people in the area were ok and that took priority over catching the bad guy?
Rewards and the stakes I think are the best way to influence the action the way you want it, but you also have to remember ability. Like you said here, so many games aren't set up to let the hero just roflstomp the situation...but do we honestly think that Superman would continue to just fly in front of bullets if every 3rd thug had a kryptonite gun?
So maybe a big part of the idea could be to challenge the player characters with timing things right (save the girl, then diffuse the bomb) instead of the challenge being combat?ReplyDelete
That would be part of the idea as well. But combat being there, will generally become the big threat.ReplyDelete
Right, it would be there but just like with Batman, it's not a real challenge. The challenge is to not let the criminals out maneuver you. Knowing how to time things right would be a big part of that. It's in the grandstander's self interest to let some of the mobsters get a way to tell the tale and scare the pants off other criminals in town.ReplyDelete