Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Champions - A Secret Marvel RPG Campaign

I decided to go back and read "The Champions", a bimonthly Marvel team title that ran from 1975-1978. There were only 17 issues, but it's an interesting run. It is the most-RPG-like superhero comic I've yet read. This is in the sense that it feels like some games I have run and played in. These could easily be 17 session reports of a superhero campaign presented in comic-book form. Once I realized this it became even more fun to read.

The team is:

  • Angel, having just departed the X-Men as that "new team" came along. He's rich now and wants to do his own thing. He starts off as the kinda-sorta leader and mainly serves the role of businessman who's trying to back the team like Tony Stark does for the Avengers. He comes across as having a player who can;t really make up his mind what he wants to do.
  • Iceman - also fresh out of the X-Men and really just here to help his friend. In the comic he secretly plans to quit as soon the team is up and running. Angel and Iceman come across as being run by two players who have played together before in another campaign (X-Men!) and are starting up a new group, but Iceman's player is about ready to bring in a new character.
  • Hercules - he just kind of wanders in and hangs around. He is impulsive and not afraid of anything. He comes across as being run by a player who has played this character before but not really in this campaign setting ("in ancient Greece" = "in my other campaign") or with these players. Maybe he's a converted D&D character ...
  • Black Widow - She also happens to be in the right place at the right time and brings a boatload of sidekick/dependent NPC/hunted type baggage with her. Played by an experienced player who knows the system and takes it pretty seriously and wants to get on with the game. She ends up being the leader, though half of the team ignores what she says anyway. 
  • Ghost Rider - He is in the initial adventures, comes and goes a bit, ends up being there full time, and freaks Herc out a little bit - clearly an alignment conflict, like having an assassin and a paladin in the same party. He's possibly run by the metalhead of the group (look at him!) and is clearly speaking in and out of character all through the run. His player has a wild concept and wants to play, he just can't make it for every session. 

Things begin with an attack on a college campus where all five of these characters just happen to be attending or passing through. It turns out to be Pluto who is after Venus who is teaching at the school in disguise. This turns into a 3-issue arc that brings the heroes together for an extended period and they decide to work together afterwards. This is also the most coherent part of the campaign and clearly the thing the GM had planned in advance as his big campaign kickoff. This team is not united because of a common origin or cause, nor are they chosen by some outside agency - they are thrown together by chance, which is as a good a reason as any for becoming a team, but seems especially appropriate if you think of it as an RPG kickoff.

Fun with Hercules #1
This run later covers the basics of getting a team together - picking a team name, setting up a base, training together, thinking about the teams goals, and having the introductory press conference - which is of course attacked by villains.

Leadership material?
In the beginning it feels like Angel is the team's leader, but things don't work out especially well. He decides to focus on getting the base set up but he fails at that too as the HQ equipment goes haywire or proves to be faulty all through the series. I assume this was going to lead somewhere but it does not within these 17 "episodes". It just makes him look like a far less competent version of Tony Stark.

Black Widow becomes the leader - by team decision - and seems to work a little better but quite a bit of the time she either seems to forget to direct the others or when she does they ignore her anyway. Imagine making Batman the leader of the Justice League and you have some idea of how this works. Aside from these mixed results, in short order the Champions are fighting a whole Russian rogue's gallery like Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man and a variety of spies and assassins.

Fun with Hercules #2
To be fair they did start off with an Olympian entanglement, and later they do end up fighting sentinels, so most of the group's hunted's show up eventually. Other villains include Rampage, a sort of what-if badguy Iron Man, and Swarm, a human-insect hive mind. There are others but I'll leave those to individual discovery.

See, he really does care!
Black Goliath shows up a few times, as does a villain turned heroine named Darkstar. I like to think of them as drop-ins or possibly Iceman's player trying out different character options.

There's more interesting stuff here at the wikipedia page if you're interested.

Haven't you heard of me?
The whole thing feels disjointed. There were multiple writers and artists on the book during its brief run and that's probably part of it. It takes time to bring an ensemble cast together, much like the first season or two of a TV series can be weaker than what follows. Despite this, it's a fun (and short) read. It also makes a lot more sense if you read as an RPG campaign.


WQRobb said...

The Champions morphed into the New Defenders when they kept Angel and Iceman and swapped in Beast, Valkyrie, Moondragon, and Cloud, which had to be the most dysfunctional drama team ever.

And incidentally the first team book I ever read.

Blacksteel said...

Cool, I've read some Defenders myself long ago and it was ... different ... for sure.