Saturday, August 13, 2016

Aeon Team D: Building the White Son (with bonus playlist)

So, I dig out my ancient phone and open up my facebook messenger because I want to specifically message someone when I see that I have a message waiting for me from two months ago.  Turns out that when someone you don't know sends you a message, it gets shunted off to some hard-to-find place.  Christopher Rice explicitly invited me to join his Aeon campaign in Team D, his post-apocalyptic campaign. I apologized, telling him I had just found the message.  He accepted the apology, but noted there was still a spot open.  Flattered, I accepted.

I am no player!

I do not often play, though I play a lot more lately than I used to.  In the beginning, I couldn't play because nobody else would GM (or could GM properly).  Now, I'm so used to it, I have a hard time not GMing, which makes me leery of playing in someone else's game.  I tend to burst with ideas, and I need to make an extra effort to not try to take over another person's game.

I have, over time, found an appropriate outlet for this.  There's a certain sort of player that I call the "supporting player."  They tend to take a mentor role towards the less experienced players, and they try to work with the GM to create the game world.  A good GM is a leader: He does not dictate what the game will be, but rather, he helps facilitate the players in getting the game that they want.  But a good player can do the same thing.  By subordinating (or coordinating!) his desires to the group and to the GM, he can apply his creativity in the service of the game.  Done right, you end up being a very valued player.

The first step in this process is to ask questions.  You need to understand what the GM wants, what his vision is.  It also helps to talk to the other players, to get a feel for what they're like, what sort of game they'd like. You soak in the feel of GM and player until you have a good vision of how you can serve.  Then you offer.  You create ideas and lay them at the feet of others and see what they will take and what they don't, just as a GM would, but you do this with your PC concept.  A PC can actually ba powerful tool of world-shaping, in that his background, nature and themes will begin to shape the game world (playing a combat princess in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy pushes the game in a different direction than, say, playing a dark warlock who is trying to unlock the secrets to immortality), so it's important that the direction you push is a direction that everyone already basically wants, which means you have to be willing to accept (even encourage!) the answer of "No,"  which means you need to be ready to make new offers of ideas.

First Impressions

Chris is quite open to questions and will happily serve up piles of documentation, which will take me awhile to sift through.  The general impression I have is this: Chris wants a post-apocalyptic knock-off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Age themes.

Chris has a pretty solid grasp of supers as a genre (he also seems to hit most of the points I would fret about in a supers GURPS game, though I think if I were running it, I'd be even stricter in my power definitions, but I get the impression I'm much more gamist than Chris... or the vast majority of the GURPS population).  

First of all, he understands that comics are fundamentally interconnected, which is what he's building here with Aeon. Each team should interlock with another team, just as the Marvel Cinematic Universe interlocks with each other, though I think a better example in this case would be the difference between the Netflix Marvel Universe and its relation to the Cinematic universe: it has some crossover, but largely explores fundamentally different themes.  Team D is the culmination of the mistakes and tragedies of the three (four?) teams that precede us, living in a world where supers failed.

Second, he understands the movements of the super-hero genre.  Where team A looks distinctly silver-age to my eye, we're decidedly iron age.  We're the bitter, dark and gritty world of Watchmen and Daredevil and the Punisher.  That's also, in my opinion, a better power-level for GURPS, which tends to favor the gritty detail of that genre than the broad strokes of more silver age comics.

The team he's selected is very European, and some hard-hitters from the forums: Kuroshima, Anders, Wavefunction, and some guy named Richard.  The characters that popped out sounded pretty thoughtful, and all of them either tragic (Anders and Richard's) or anti-heroes (Wavefunction) or both (Kuroshima's),  As a group, we seem to have a stronger focus on telling a good story, with a focus on narrative over mechanics, and we don't mind the gritty nature (given how dark everyone's character is), but we want hope.  This is not the death of the world, but rather, we represent the hope of an otherwise dying world.

So what do you want to play?

Luke Cage, crossed with Daredevil.  Ooo, ooo, and shades of Iron Fist. This characters all fit the gritty/cinematic world that Chris was trying to build, almost literally since he's drawing a lot of his inspiration from those series.  I particularly like Luke Cage as he was one of my first super-hero comics, and I have a fondness for the restrained brick.  I also like exploring martial arts and having extremely detailed signature moves at my disposal, but this can be done with nearly any character, and so isn't a major concern.

But this isn't want I said.  I just kept asking questions and kept listening, trying to see where I could help add to the game.  When Chris mentioned his interest in having each campaign tie into another, two thoughts immediately struck me.  First, where possible, I should try to tie my character directly to another campaign.  Nothing says "Interconnection" and "Building up a game" like saying "Let me do something that interacts with your character, fellow player."  The second was that I had been reading Metabarons, which reminded me of the Ibar lineage, and how much I liked exploring legacy as a concept.  Dynasty is a fascinating concept, but especially dynasties of super-heroes.  Marvel doesn't often get into that, but DC has been exploring that more and more in its more successful franchises (the films blatantly ignore this sort of thing, which is one of the reasons they're not as good as, for example, the Flash TV series).

The finest example of this is Super-Boy from Young Justice (A series not on Chris's recommended viewing list, but it totally should be).  In this incarnation (like his '90s version), he's a teenage clone of Superman, genetically modified and force-grown so he has few memories, the rage of a boy without a father figure, and weaker power, making him eternally the pale shadow of his father.

I liked the idea for a few reasons.  First, the weaker power level would fit well with his conception.  Whatever character I borrowed from another campaign would naturally be more powerful than mine.  Secondly, this sort of cloning and genetic engineering represents a violation of the idea of supers: they cannot be controlled or built on demand.  They represent a deeper look at what makes supers supers and the beginning of a deconstruction.  Superboy is a darker character than Superman, which fits the iron age ethos.  Finally, it bound my character directly to another. It allows me to build legacy and legend.  Simply the fact that my character exists lends additional narrative heft to another character.  He'll learn that his actions impact my character, and my ideas will naturally filter back and impact his.  We end up "playing together" despite the fact that neither of us are in the other's campaign.  It also means he can brag and tell the story of his legacy, and if I love anything, it's giving people an RPG war story to share with others.

But which character?  Well, there's a reason Superboy is a clone of Superman and not, say, Batman: Superman is really powerful.  If you're going to clone someone, you clone someone badass.  Who's the most badass?  It turns out that Team A has the highest point values, so if anyone was going to be cloned, it would be one of them.  But which one to take?  Ideally, I'd want someone with strong physical powers, as those are the most obviously cloneable.  One character, Hobs Ini-Herit, the Alchemist, is super-strong, very attractive and has matter control.  That's two out of three physical powers.  I asked Chris what sort of name "Ini-Herit" was. It turns out the character is Egyptian.  Oh man, shades of Apocalypse!  Do want!  After a quick discussion with the player, I had permission to make his clone.

Let me tell you about my character!

And... that's as far as I've got.  It's important in this phase to be flexible and to work with your fellow players and the GM to make sure that everything fits.  There's also a lot of things I do not yet understand about how the campaign works (random point totals?) so the final picture will vary.  He might be a very weak, minor shadow of the original character, or he might be a surprisingly powerful avatar that approaches the original.  I've already begun basic negotiation, so what follows is almost certain to change over time.

First, my character will be a genetically engineered clone.  That means he has unusual biology, unique genetic concerns, and associations with some conspiracy that attempted to make him.  That suggests a level of naivete, as well as a group of enemies trying to hunt him, and special medical concerns that other characters don't have.  It also suggests that I'll have secret problems that I don't know about at the start of the game.

Second, my character is the legacy of the Alchemist.  That means I'll have similar powers to the Alchemist.  Now, my powers don't have to be the same.  If this were a comic, my character would be another writer/artists reinterpretation of the original Alchemist.  Superboy is a more down to Earth, gritty and broodier take on Superman, for example.  My character should make his own mark, but at the same time, definitely refer back to the original concept.  That means super strength (or at least very strong), good looks, and matter control.  For this final, though, I want to shift it down a few steps.  Where he can manipulate any matter around him, I want to limit my character to manipulating his own body.  His father is an "external" alchemist, while I am an "internal" alchemist.  It also lets me be more like the shape-shifting Apocalypse, which I like.  Of course, I also have less points/power than the original Alchemist, so I should definitely have less strength.  I'd also like to be rather tough, both because it fits being a brick, and it'll be useful in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Third, my character is the relic of the bygone age.  Building a clone requires more technology than a post-apocalyptic setting generally has. Plus, if you dropped a clone of Superman into a post-apocalyptic setting, he'd be quickly seen (at least by some) as a messiah. I'd like to explore that.  In particular, I see him as seeing himself as made for a purpose, and that purpose is to fix the world.  I also want to represent a callout to an older ideal in a darker world.  I'd like to give him Charisma and Public Speaking to represent his ability to give hope to others, and Code of Honor (Comics Code) to make him an exemplar of Silver Age ethics in an Iron Age world.  This would also tie me to Richard's character, who is a time traveller, and thus very literally a Silver Age character who has been cast into the Iron Age.  We're both men out of time, and thus have a reason to connect and strike up a friendship.

Finally, my character bears the themes of occult enlightenment.  He is the work of the Alchemist.  He seeks self-perfection.  He is strongly spiritual, and created by a conspiracy.  He must, thus, explore mysteries to uncover his own secrets, the secrets of the Alchemist, and the secrets of the world around him.  This ties him to Nicodemus, Wavefunction's character, who is also a very occult character (though more with leanings towards demonic power, more dark John Constantine).  This also suggests a skill at Archaeology and History and Philosophy, making him a warrior-poet, which I like.

But how these themes ultimately get expressed with vary based on input from Chris, the other players in question, and what pops out of character creation.  I'll keep you appraised as the character evolves.

A Post-Apocalyptic Soundtrack

Chris has suggested listening, and I like having a soundtrack that I associate with a particular campaign to help me when I'm working on my backstory, posts or character design.  His music differs from mine, but his suggested music is fairly broad, so I'm sure I'll have plenty of options.  Thus, I've put together a playlist that you can listen to, if you also have spotify.  It'll change as I decide which music I like and which I don't, and the final result will be more about what I want to listen to than really a reflection of Chris' taste, but see it as my take on his playlist.

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