Friday, 17 May 2013

New Jam: TRUE BELIEVERS (Part One)

I have a lot of games on my shelves that I've never actually run. Even if it's just for reading, there are lots of things that you can get out of a game book. Some I wouldn't ever consider running for my existing groups, because they'd be a bad fit in terms of material, rules systems, or what have you. Some of them I've been trying to get on the table for a long time, and every once in a while I lift them off the shelf and leaf through them longingly.

One of those is WILD TALENTS.

I love supers games, and I've been a big fan of Dennis Detwiller and Greg Stolze for a long time. WT is a powerhouse of a game, bulging at the seams with great ideas and tools for play, and powered by a sleek and deadly (yet flexible) system that iterates on the great One Roll Engine first seen in D&S's earlier WW2 supers game, Godlike. It's an embarrassment of riches for a supers GM to dive into, but -- as the authors admit -- it's sort of a niche-within-a-niche game.

Now I think I might actually get a chance to run this bad boy, this summer. Our Wednesday night group is running up on the finale of our Deadlands game powered by Primetime Adventures, and I am enthusiastic about making WT the game that succeeds it.

I have always loved supers games, since I discovered Villains & Vigilantes in high school -- it was my go-to game to introduce new players to roleplaying for years, until Mutants & Masterminds came along and improved on practically every part of it. My natural instinct is to run something that's broad and Marvel-esque, but WT has a particular focus that is leading me down a path that's much more eccentric and interesting.

The focus of Wild Talents is on characters that believe in something deeply. In the canon setting, the super-powered Talents believe so strongly that they can bend reality to suit their whims. I'm not going with that particular concept, but I wanted to do a story about characters who were passionately committed to... something. Characters who are strongly invested in something make a good focus for games generally, as they have something at stake. In a superhero game, that's doubly important; even if you're not playing a game where the PCs are iconic heroes, they need to believe in something pretty strongly to put on a costume and go fight crime.

That was the other thing I strongly wanted in my game -- costumes. Really, if you're not interested in wearing a costume, what the hell are you doing playing a superhero game? There are any number of games out there where the characters are effectively super-powered beings minus the trappings of spandex and masks. Why would anyone want to play a superhero game without the trappings that differentiate it from every other genre out there?

So tossing around the idea of characters with strong beliefs (maybe even obsessions) and costumes took me in a direction I wasn't expecting. I toyed with the idea of the heroes being "grinders" (a term coined by Warren Ellis in his great cyberpunk comic Doktor Sleepless), early adopters of new body-modification technology that effectively made them super-beings. I liked the idea of heroes (and villains) belonging to a subculture that was obsessive, radical, committed, insular, underground, taboo, freaky.

It seemed to me that there was some juice in exploring some of the psycho-sexual side of superheroics that Alan Moore dragged out into the light in Watchmen, even if I was doing it in a slightly more irreverent way.

Promotional still of porn star Kimberly Kane as Wonder Woman
The above image convinced me that the line between superhero costumes and fetish gear is thin at best, and that perhaps the reason why it took Hollywood so long to "get" superheroes was a fear of that side of the costume image. With the right group of fearless players, this could be exciting territory for a game.

And there was one more element that made all of this come together for me in a way I hadn't expected...

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