Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What makes it "Animated" ?

I've been calling my ICONS campaign "The Animated Series" to differentiate it from my "real" Atomic City campaign which was originally put together with Mutants and Masterminds in mind as the system and adult players running around in it. I decided to use it as the background for my occasional ICONS runs with the Apprentices but I wanted to separate it from the M&M game and so the Animated Series was born. As it turns out, I'm running ICONS more than M&M right now so I thought I would share some thoughts on what makes it different.

  • Feel over Realism - even comic books try to work in some nods to realism. I'm not terribly concerned about that in this game. If someone says they have a time machine then accept it - there's a time machine in there somewhere. We're not going to technobabble it in or out of existence - take it as a given and just deal with it
  • Simplicity over Complexity - I'm not going to run quituple-layered X-Files style plots in this campaign. If there's a rumor that Think Tank is behind a crime then he's involved - there might be some kind of twist (like maybe he's not working alone) but the players aren't going to have to spend multiple sessions sifting through layers of innuendo.
  • Speed over Detail - "Fast" beats "Intricate" whether we're talking plots or managing a session. They shouldn't need to make 3 detective rolls to gather clues from a crime scene or multiple stealth checks to get into a building unobserved - one roll gets it done. 
  • Violent but not Gory - I am running this for a younger crowd. It's not strictly all-ages material but we're not getting into torture or detailed descriptions of carnage here.
  • Sexy but not Sexual - again, moderated strokes for the younger folks. In my experience most RPG sessions don't focus much on this anyway.
Wonder Man? Crmson Dynamo? You look different...
  • Evil but not Depraved - I'm fine with making the bad guys bad for a reason but we're not going to recreate the Jason Todd Experence. Think TV to Silver Age Joker, possibly even older movie Joker, not Dark Knight Joker.
  • Action over Discussion - this is Original Trek-style, not Next-Gen Trek-style. Meetings are held to decide whose butt gets kicked, not whether we should be kicking butts or not. Brief debates are fine but we're not going to spend a ton of time philosophizing over right and wrong.
  • Broad Strokes - every character should have an Epithet. If you can't summarize a character in one sentence you may be over-thinking it for this campaign. This makes the whole Quality/Challenge system a central part of defining a character, possibly more than the other more typical mechanical elements. In an almost counter-intuitive way, demanding this kind of shorthand description forces a player to really boil a character down to its essence and focus on what he's really about. Hulk, Thing, and Colossus are all very similar characters as far as powers - what is it that makes them different? That's where this comes in.  
  • Timelessness - the final element of the campaign and one that I consciously chose. My original plan was to sketch out Atomic City decade by decade form the 50's to 2020 or so to give me an outline of tech, groups, politics, industries, etc. I'm still going to do that, but not for the Animated side of it. One of the things I like about the Bruce Timm animated shows is that they are not anchored in a set time period. Batman episodes sometimes looks like a story from the 40's but has video communications in his car - and it's OK! My animated adventures are not set in any particular decade so that iconic heroes from any time can show up and it's no big deal. Same goes for villains. If something happened "back during the war" it might be WW2 or Vietnam or the Gulf - who knows? Comics change this stuff up regularly (see Stark, Tony - what war did he get hurt in again? Cause the one in that movie ain't the one I read about as a kid...) I'm just fuzzying it up in advance. Of course running a bunch of animated stuff first means I can see what combinations work better than others and then arrange the "real" history to my satisfaction after the fact, a hidden advantage of flipping the planned order.

The major inspirations here are Justice League and the new Avengers cartoon. Batman and Superman play  a pretty major role too. Brave and the Bold is in there a little bit, and I would even call Superfriends enough of an influence to mention. Young Justice is fairly new but I like what I see so far and it probably falls into the mix as well. There's a bit of 60's Batman of course - it might as well have been animated in some ways. From a  comic perspective it's very much Silver with a touch of Bronze. As a final touch I'm trying to ensure that character sketches come out looking "animated" rather than our typical computer or live-action type picture.

70's Style!
Anyway those are the guidelines guiding my efforts on the Light Supers campaign. It's working pretty well so for now it's also the Main Supers campaign, and I'm perfectly content with that.

They look meaner but Aquaman still whipped them - Aquaman!


Tim Brannan said...

THIS. A hundred times over.

I enjoy both Mutants & Masterminds and Icons. I don't have a lot of time to come up with a bunch of ideas. But this is a cool idea.

Barking Alien said...

Excellent! You've discovered what I like to call...normal gaming. For me and mine at least.

Most of my superhero games have been run this way, with exceptions made for when I want to tell a different kind of story for one reason or another.

It's very sad IMHO that actual comic books don't seem to get these concepts as well as the animation that comes from them does.

bliss_infinte said...

Great post! Getting closer to starting to run ICONS and I was thinking along these lines as well. You just put it into words perfectly!

Blacksteel said...

I'm glad I could connect with a few kindred spirits out there. I've played more "adult" games in everything from D&D to Traveller but I think this is a sweet spot for me most of the time.