Friday, October 24, 2014

40K Friday Returns - With More Chaos!

There hasn't been a lot of 40K action around here lately. Fall gets busy with kid stuff once school is back in session and a lot of weeknights and weekends are spent on those things. Plus the sacred Sunday rituals must be observed, especially when the Cowboys are playing well.

BUT - when we can't play, we paint! Or ... we pick up more mini's. I talked about what I was doing with my slowly growing Chaos Space Marine force a few months back  and I've made a little more progress since then. The converted spawn are coming together, I picked up some interesting cultists miniatures (already painted, thank goodness), and I've added a small contingent of Iron Warriors.

The spawn unit is 5 spawn with the mark of Nurgle. With that and the bikes it gives me two fairly speedy, tough units that can charge across the field and hopefully do some damage. They are not a complicated unit to build or to use but people seem to have decent results with them.

The cultists are painted green and white so they fit with the Death Guard theme of the army. They are not GW cultists - I like the hooded look better. Thirty of them gives me some flexibility in going with multiple squads or one big squad. Mechanically, well, they are not a power unit. They're a cheap troops choice to allow me to take other more effective non-troops units. Taking the long view though it makes a lot of sense to have a unit of cultists available.

Note: These guys also work well in a lot of modern RPGs too
The Iron Warriors came about when I started looking for ways to expand the army beyond just the Nurgle forces. IW's were huge in 3rd edition as they had some special rules that allowed extra heavy support choices compared to other chapters - more vindicators proved to be a popular choice. Armies from that era still show up from time to time on eBay. Allowing for a little "chaos" almost any IW painted unit looks right next to another painted IW unit. Going with them as an additional force alongside my nasty green marines diversifies the army a bit in both look and in the types of units each might take.

As a squad it's a mixed bag because I agree with the popular view that the traditional 10-guys-with-a-heavy-and-a-special-weapon is not the greatest anymore, especially with the lack of combat squadding for CSM's. That's how these were built though, and as I add more options I may be able to change it up some. I also know that dreadnoughts are not all that effective in the current rules but a)I've always liked them, b) that's the only combination of stock parts I like on those old metal chaos dreads, and c) it seems appropriate for Iron Warriors to have at least one.

I have acquired some unpainted chaos marines as well and some parts. Some of those may go towards options for some of my existing squads (more double plasma/melta/flamer) but I think I can put together at least one full squad and it will likely be Iron Warriors as well.

Down the road it would also make some sense to add a couple of Maulerfiends to keep expanding the "fast assault" approach I'm working on here. An IW look on those would be pretty cool. If I later decide to turn the IW into their own separate army then tanks would make a lot of sense too but that's a ways off yet.

More to come - I'm going to try and get some more painting in this weekend and see how much more I can do to get these guys ready to jump on the table.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Superhero Appendix N

Barking Alien and WQRobb have had some good ideas over the last week so I thought I would jump in to with my own "Appendix N" for superhero gaming. BA's details:

I challenge you, the Superhero RPG GM, and/or player, to list between 5 and 10 Superhero comic books, and 5 to 10 Superhero live action or animated shows or films, that typify your style of Superhero RPG campaign.

Alright. I will preface this by saying that while I haven't run a continuous, sustained supers game in quite a while our ICONS games are all set in the same continuity, our Marvel games were a single "campaign", and my ready to launch M&M campaign will be that elusive ongoing game at some point. For any of these, here is my list of inspirations:

Comic Books
(the purest source)

  • 70's - 80's Avengers books - these were a big deal to me, my preferred big team book.
  • 80's West Coast Avengers - A spin-off that I sometimes liked better than the original.
  • 70's-80's Iron Man - the core of my superhero interests. This is where I verge on being that hipster guy, as I was reading Iron Man when other people though it sucked. It did sometimes, but a lot of the time it didn't. IM #100-#300 is "my time".
  • Marvel Two-In-One (more 70's-80's) - I liked this as it featured The Thing - everybody knew him , he had a Saturday Morning Cartoon - and someone else you might not know if you were new to comics as I was back then. Lots of "lesser lights" wandered through this book.
  •  Astro City - came along later than the rest of these but I really liked the way it came across. 
  • Secret Wars - it's a strange thing looking back but this was the first of the big event books and we were in a frenzy to find out what was going on and pick up all of the books - it was just a huge thing at the time and that kind of energy and excitement and "what's going to happen next" is something I'd like to try and capture a small part of in a game.

Movies & TV
(the more common source these days)
  •  Justice League (animated, both original and Unlimited) - I still think this is the single best superhero show yet made, and it's my go-to reference when someone wants to understand how a super team campaign would work.
  • Avengers, Earth's Mightiest Heroes (animated) - A real shame it only had two seasons but it too is a great look at a superhero team and what they do.
  • Superman:The Animated Series - Most think Batman is the better show and I love it too but for this purpose Superman has more of the four-color fun feeling that I am looking for.
  • Batman (1989) - The Tim Burton Batman was darker, true, but it was the first superhero movie that wasn't trying to look realistic - it looked like a comic book. Atmosphere counts for a lot. 
  • Batman (66 live action series) - Bright, bold, fun. Exactly what I want in a game. When all of the big villains team up that's not just another episode - it's a movie!
  • The Incredibles - My favorite Pixar movie and another model for the feel I look for in a superhero game. Bright, action-packed, a little serious and a lot of fun.
  • Avengers (The big Marvel movie) - more team time, with fun, disagreements, action, just about every element I could ask for and done well.
  • Iron Man (the first Marvel movie) - again, a nice mix of seriousness and fun with an interesting character
  • Captain America (the first Marvel movie) - a great example of a different type of character and a different type of story but a solid example of what I aim for.
  • X-Men 2 - great character development, elements of past and present cross-connecting, and another great team movie.

I'll give City of Heroes a separate place of honor as it showed me a whole new way of presenting superheroes in a game format that just worked and was a lot of fun.

I'd say the biggest thing missing here is all of the dark stuff especially 90's+ Iron Age type stuff. There is some good material out there but it's not the game I want to run. I also tend to gloss over the more intensely real-world angles like you see in Civil War. Silver to Bronze Age, from the naive super-science solutions to every problem and the numerous ape-villains to the early appearances of the grittier heroes, that's my target. There's a lot of black and a lot of white and not much gray.  Death is not a common or usual outcome. If your concept is a drawing of a costume you thought would be cool then that's certainly just as valid a place to begin as anything else. We'll likely add more depth but we'll have some fun getting there. My ICONS games in particular I think of as akin to the animated shows like Justice League and I have more on that here

There are so many I'm leaving out but I think this is a pretty good sampling of my influences. Who's next?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Live Action Superheroes and Settling for Less

It's a classic!
I put up a post about the new Flash series yesterday and after watching the first couple of episodes I started thinking about the terrible record of live action superheroes on TV and the signs of a bad show. That's today's post...

My introduction to superheroes was through the live-action batman series when it was on re-runs in the early 70's on TV. Some of my earliest memories are watching that and Speed Racer and then going and playing with toys and friends and talking about what we had seen. I saw this stuff before I ever picked up a comic book or saw a movie or watched a cartoon with caped heroes. That makes it important to me.

In some ways the Adam West Batman started the whole idea off on a peak it has never been able to match again: Costumes! Sets! Villains! Vehicles! Gadgets! Narration! It looked remarkably like a comic book on-screen. Sure there was some camp to it, but they played it with an amazing mix of straight yet sly and it worked.

I later saw the 50's Superman series and looking back it was pretty decent too. The effects worked. the actors and characters were decent, and though most of the plots were (again) thugs and gangsters there was enough super-stuff to keep it interesting.

Later in the 70's it looked like we were headed for an amazing run: Captain America, Spiderman, and Hulk, and Wonder Woman all had live action shows in prime time.

  • Captain America was terrible - look it up on youtube if you're in a bad mood. The costume looked cheap, there were no supervillains, and the actor just didn't do it for me. It's a guy in a costume fighting thugs every week.
  • Spiderman was similar but I thought the actor was a better fit. The effects were limited by the time but I can forgive that, and the costume looked better. It still tended to be costumed guy vs. thugs, no supervillains in sight.
  • Incredible Hulk was a step up from these first two, I suspect largely because of Bill Bixby and an effort to treat it as a more adult show. It still didn't really live up to comic book expectations - no supervillains, lots of thugs and anti-corruption fights - but it was interesting in some ways. The effects were better too.
  • Wonder Woman looked far more like a comic book show, even approaching the old Batman in  a lot of ways. It wasn't turned into a sci-fi story, she kept the magic lasso, and she kept the invisible jet! The costume looked right! The actress fit the part! There was at least one storyline involving aliens - hey something like a real superhero plot! To me this is the high point of the 70's live action shows. 
This would work today
The 80's didn't have much in the way of straight-up superhero shows. Knight Rider was sort of a comic book show but still suffered from the "thugs & crooks" problem until Garth, KARR, and Goliath showed up. There was also a syndicated Superboy series that was just a mess though it does have some fans and did get into supervillains and more comic book style plots. I still rate it below Batman and Wonder Woman.

The 90's seemed hopeful as well as pretty early on we had Lois and Clark and a Flash series. 
  • I loved that Flash series as it took come cues from the Tim Burton Batman movies and made the setting a timeless environment with (for example) 50's cars next to 90's cars, all of them bright and shiny. It also was unabashedly a comic-book show with costumes, supervillains, and plots right out of a superhero story. It was great for the whole one season it lasted.    
  • Lois and Clark was the show that your parents thought was cool to watch. It was fun in many ways, but it wasn't very comic-book focused. There were some elements, but it always felt to me more like a romance novel with some super-color, rather than a full-on superhero show.
  • There were some syndicated shows like Superforce and Viper that were super-ish but never really achieved enough of an audience, or enough quality, to make a big impresison
So much potential
The new millennium brought us Smallville, among others. 
  • I wanted to like Smallville - hey it had powers and villains and interesting characters -but it had no costumes and a heaping helping of teen angst drama. Despite that the episode where Clark gets his heat vision for the first time remains a favorite.
  • Birds of Prey - well half a season looked like it might turn into something. Then it didn't. Oh well.
No, it's not the passage of time - it looked bad in the 70's too.
Having experienced most of these shows for most of their runs I thought I would share some pointers on How To Tell You're Being Fed A Crappy Superhero Show:
  • The costume looks cheap. This is one of the centerpieces of your show! It should look as good as you can make it!
    Even Worse: No costume! You're not even trying at this point! 
  • The only superhero in the universe - no other heroes, no other villains. The hero is always fighting thugs, crimelords, corrupt corporate types, or "agents".
  • Mundanity - everything else in the setting is perfectly, boringly, normal. No mutants, no aliens, no super-science, no magic, no time-travel - none of the weird stuff that sends comic books into overdrive
  • Name-dropping, references, and hints alluding to a bunch of characters, places, events, or organizations from the comic book but no actual appearance of those things in a meaningful way. It's a visual medium, remember? Show, don't tell. Allusions without a payoff are pointless and cheap. Hi "Gotham".
  • "It's a kid's show!" - the last defense of poor quality productions for decades. Know how to make a good kids show? Don't present it a a kids show. Just make a good show with the material you have and the kids will find it.
Not a bad show and it got a lot right
Beyond this, here are some signs that it might actually be trying to get things right:
  • One or more Super Vehicles
  • Superhero (or supervillain) base or lair
  • Storylines that are recognizably comic book stories and not something that could show up on a half-dozen cop series that are on the air at the same time. 
  • Usage of other elements from the comic book universe - STAR labs, Wayne Enterprises, SHIELD - in meaningful ways and not just name-dropped.
  • Humor beyond winks at the camera. If it looks like they're having fun making the show, they probably are.
I suppose one of my main points in all this is that so very many of these shows have been bad - really bad, apparently with the assumption that putting a superhero in it makes that OK. It doesn't, as the short runs of most of the worst shows proves. Especially nowadays when people are used to seeing decent superhero movies on the big screen. People like this stuff when it's done well. If you're going to spend the money and make the effort, how about making a good one - it could pay off big time.

That's probably enough for one post. I'll look at the shows on-air right now in a future post but these are the concepts I like and dislike when it comes to them.

This almost looks like a costume ... maybe I should give it another chance

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why "The Flash" Doesn't Suck

Live-action super hero shows on TV have a mostly bad history. From decades ago through today most of them have been mediocre to terrible. I'm working on another post about that history, but today I thought I'd spend a minute praising a show that (surprisingly) is pretty good: The new Flash TV show. Why doesn't it fail when so many others do?

  • Origin knocked out in about half of the first episode - Thankfully we're not trying to make the entire first season or a multi-part arc about how Barry Allen got his powers.
  • Supervillain with super powers present in Episode 1 - We're not dealing with the tired, tired trope of the main character being the only one in the world with powers, fighting only thugs and corrupt rich people. Nope, here we have another super-bad guy in the very first episode, and open discussion that there are more.
  • Superhero in costume in the first episode - Yep, he looks like the Flash before the first show is over. That matters when you're promoting it as a show about a known super hero. 
  • Writing is fine - They're treating it seriously without a bunch of winks and nods or making it more serious than it needs to be.The tone so far has been refreshingly straightforward, and the characters in general are not stupid.
  • It doesn't look like a low-budget, cheap effort to play on the name. The locations are varied, there are quite a few supporting characters, and the effects are good. I actually like the super-speed effect and to me that's always been a tricky one to make look "super" on a screen.
  • Overall, it's not embarrassed to be a superhero show! This is key as so many other shows of this type want to claim the "superhero" connection and trappings but are afraid of tackling it straight-up. It has to be a sci-fi story or a psychological drama or have some other spin on it. So far this show is not trying to do that, and after 14 years of continuous big-time superhero movies I think it's high time.
So yes, I am, somewhat surprisingly, a fan of the new show. I didn't like what I saw of Arrow but I may have to give it another chance as this show sort of spun off from that one. That one is more "closeted superhero" while this one is openly and triumphantly a full-on colorful superhero production. I'm looking forward to more.

Superhero Week

I have some ideas on superhero stuff this week so coming up: a series of posts about superheroes! Also: I might get back to 40K on Friday.