Saturday, June 30, 2012

Shadows over Bogenhafen: Reading Warhammer's "The Enemy Within" Campaign

Shall I begin with spoilers?

I’m going to.

I don’t recall much from the sessions I ran Shadows over Bogenhafen; that would have been ’88 or ’89. The GURPS Fantasy campaign I ran ended up more than a little schizophrenic- with the players fighting bandits and wolves one week and then exploring vast and hugely magical ruins the next. The campaign somehow managed to sustain high magic with the relatively “normal” scale of GURPS. You could die easily, or at least be taken out badly if you didn’t play carefully. Running a WHFRP module with the system made sense- in both that death could be cheap and players were often out of their depth.

In a fit of strangeness, the party had just returned from an expedition to Ylaruam, where they’d gone out into the deep desert and found a massive Nithian ruin relatively intact. The fought through it- encountering magical torture devices, humiliating traps, rare artifacts, fonts of pure mana, and finally battling a Nithian astride a manticore. They triumphed, escaping with vast loot and no memory of what had transpired. A curse on the Nithians wiped all memory of it from their minds. So all they knew was that they’d walked out into the dunes, gotten banged up by something, and found vast supplies of cash and magic items. From there they traveled to Bogenhafen.

...Where the GM (me) somehow roped them into taking on a horribly mundane mission- steering them into the scenario. So they effectively went from the Battle at the Bridge in Moria to Ratcatcher’s Assistant.

OK- so a terrible tonal shift, but this was over twenty years ago.
As I said, I don’t remember much about running it except for this incident. The party had done the task, uncovered something and returned to their patron, more than a little shaken. Their employer began to question them when Izan (the friendliest of barbarians) raised both his hands signaling silence.

…there’s a demon in your sewers.”
The patron started to speak.
“No…dude.” Izan repeated himself. “There’s a demon in your sewers.”

Shadows Over Bogenhafen’s the second part of The Enemy Within campaign for WHFRP. Where the first book, The Enemy Within, offers more of a campaign sourcebook, SoB presents a fully developed adventure. Several versions of this module exist. I have bits and pieces of the original GW folio edition (booklet and cover) plus the consolidated edition presented in Warhammer Adventure. The later lacks some of the frills, but does put everything together in one place. One incredibly tightly bound place. Seriously, the spine on Warhammer Adventure scares me- like if I try to pull it open too far it will either snap back and take a finger or simply shatter and split the book in twain. Hogshead also published a hardcover version of this, combining it with TEW, which makes sense.

The original GW version comes with a 56-page A4 booklet; the folio cover including an interior map inside; a large fold-out full color map for the city; eight pages of handouts, and a card tile for the final fight area. Everything looks good and is well done- the booklet does a nice job of shifting between two and three column design, depending on the information being delivered. Little details like the headers and font choices make this hold together. More importantly you have Will Rees’ artwork throughout. These super-creepy images sell the atmosphere- a horrible and corrupted version of Albrecht Dürer that still freaks me out when I look at them. The cover image does this especially well- though it gives away a little more of the plot than I’d like. There’s a feel to GW art from this period- illustrations you can look at and immediately know where they come from. Once again the writing’s excellent- clear across the board and quietly funny in some spots.

My favorite part of the booklet may be at the end where they have a page offering special miniatures for the module. These aren’t great looking figures- early GW models could be hit or miss, but they certainly looked like nothing else coming out. I like that there’s a set for the sample PCs given for the campaign. I have to wonder how many times those characters have had to live through this? You could order the eighteen figures of the set for 12 pounds- plus post, by sending them a cheque or telephone ordering. At the time, though I wanted the figures, such luxuries were a little out of reach.

The actual premise of the adventure is pretty simple. The PCs stumble onto an evil ceremony. They have to figure out how to stop it. I think that’s part of what makes Shadows Over Bogenhafen, and the best of the TEW pieces work. The adventure in the first volume felt slightly more complicated than necessary- the players could walk away confused about what had happened. SoB’s simplicity allows them to introduce a couple of significant red herrings and, more importantly, spend time building the atmosphere and the set up. Bogenhafen becomes an awesome backdrop GMs can linger in during this adventure or return to again later (assuming the players don’t allow it to be sucked into the void of Chaos).

The booklet splits into eight major sections, plus a pullout in the middle. This has a nice GM’s map of the city, keyed locations and the stats/details for the major NPCs and the Watch. The first eight pages of the booklet discuss how GM’s can bring players into the adventure. Obviously threads tie back to the first part, TEW, but those are loose enough that new groups can easily be brought in. The booklet lays out the spine of the plot for the GMs in clear language- always a must for this kind of scenario. Three pages offer some political background on the city- the power players, guilds, and priests. This approach is characteristic of TEW- laying out the factions and movers & shakers. The players will likely interact with these groups- usually as subordinates or petitioners. Knowing how they relate (and can be pitted against one another) can be key to certain approaches solving the problem.

The set up (pages 9-16) offers a series of number of events and scenes illustrating life in Bogenhafen. I really like this part- hugely useful for any kind of city adventure. There’s a town fair, the Schaffenfest happening, which includes markets, freakshows, and performances. The adventure remains open-ended at this point- giving the GM bits and pieces they can drop into the story to set up what comes later. That ‘later’ takes the form of an escaped mutant goblin from the freakshow; the party’s hired to go into the sewers to catch it. A little railroad-y, but a fun exercise and one which the players will likely buy into. Once again SoB does a great job of keeping this open and flexible. We get info on the structure of the sewers, lists of interesting encounters and events, and finally the important locations which lead to the revelation of the main ceremony actually happening. Including the discovery of a demon. (“There’s a demon in your sewers.”)

From there the players have a number of options the book outlines. PCs could conceivably move “off the reservation” at this point, but SoB’s structured pretty well. Player options feel constrained, but but not restricted. The PCs choosing to become investigators provides the main story drive- for money, for morality, or for sense of adventure. This leads them into the web of local politics, and figuring out exactly what the demon (and the ceremonial room it seemed to be guarding) is for. SoB offers a loose timetable of events- what happens once the demon’s been spotted, the actions of characters within the conspiracy, and the outline of the now rescheduled ritual. The GM will have to suggest the ticking of a clock in the background, and keep actions more tightly scheduled from the moment the PCs emerge from the sewers.

Shadows over Bogenhafen does a great job of providing options the GM can present: places to check out, people to talk to, new suspicious evidence to uncover. It sets these out very well- there’s redundancy, nice clear core clues, and plenty of additional information for the players to bring the story together. There’s so much good stuff here, that I’m unsure what to make of the Magirius incident. This happens after the players have done some investigating. Magirius, a member of the conspiracy, comes to the PCs and offers some specific and detailed info on what’s happening. A good GM will makes sure this gets played out as a result of player actions, rather than a deus ex machina moment. Of course, Magirius heads off and is promptly murdered. The PCs head to his house based on a false message and are immediately framed for the crime. It sticks a little in my craw, especially since the TEW adventure also forced the PCs along by suggesting that the authorities suspect them of involvement in a murder. It does trip the clock and set the stakes high, and when I ran it, I made the issue more that the murder of Magirius suggested that the ritual was nigh.

The fight to stop the ritual could be nasty depending on the group. They have to get through thugs and then face a couple of serious magic casters. However, the ritual itself is relatively easily disrupted- several details are necessary to carry it out and the removal of any one of them can cause things to go awry…the most likely outcome of the fight. At which point a demonic force appears and swallows the main bad guys. Awesome if done well, but perhaps unsatisfying for PCs who would like to have bashed in heads. There’s also a discussion of what happens if the PCs fail. It isn’t pretty. 

That simplicity I mentioned earlier makes Shadows over Bogenhafen easily adaptable to other game systems and even to other settings. It works best with low to moderate magic campaigns; high magic systems could short circuit some of the plotlines established here. More so that TEW, SoB shows its Call of Cthulhu roots. Players stumble into supernatural conspiracy concocted by powers far above their pay grade. The enemy connects with an eldritch and corrupting horror. The evil comes original from the fallibility and humanity of a single greedy and foolish individual who tampered with Forces Beyond His Control. It offers a solid and fun adventure, one the players can walk away from with a feeling of success and accomplishment. I recommend it highly for a fun diversion, and as a prologue to the greatest part of the TEW campaign, Death on the Reik.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tabletop Time Estimation: Superheroes Year One (Part Four)

Despite running campaigns pretty continuously since ’87 I’m still bad at estimating how long something will take to play out at the table. Others might disagree, but that feels to me like my greatest weakness. I’ve tried timing sessions, even recording them; you’d think by now I’d have put together a body of experience I could draw on. Yet it continues to amaze me how off I can be. I have one principal about this: things will take longer than I expect. But if I sketch out scenes and details with that in mind then players zip through in a flash. I’m glad I’m generally a low-prep GM: scene sketches, general outlines and such. If I wasn’t, I’d be flummoxed even more often.

Conventional superhero games usually require a more defined structure. They’re most often episodic, and I often feel lost unless I’ve sketch out some connections and clues beforehand. I take a more GUMSHOE approach to that these days (web of scenes, core clues, etc), but I haven’t yet embraced a fully improvisational form ala Armitage Files or Graham Walmsley's excellent Play Unsafe when handling there. Once a superhero campaign does get rolling I can take a more sandbox approach- putting out news reports and leaving details such that the players can choose what they pursue. For shorter games, those with a more tightly defined theme, or those facing other structure restrictions (i.e. online play), I shape the action more directly: I have a plot, a case they’re going to investigate, rather than a several different choices. I still hope to allow for multiple paths to reach a solution, but generally I sketch what I see as the crucial scenes- and where I expect the final confrontation will take place.

I have an even harder time estimating duration when facing new groups and new situations. Last night I ran the second session of the Superheroes Year One campaign- the first session really bringing the group together. The first session had been about shaking out the bugs and doing a kind of team up. Tonight I wanted to bring everyone together, like the first issue of a team book. To that end I had a basic structure in mind (not unlike what I use for con demo games): initial easy fightàinvestigationàincidentàfinal confrontation (high stakes fight).

One of the nice things about a G+ game is the focus. That may be a factor of it being a new experience, but so far I’ve seen more directed work. Some of that could come from my side of things- my headphones are particularly pinchy so I want to keep things moving forward. A disadvantage of the G+ game can be the scheduling of arrival. At my house I know pretty much when people are going to show up and we’ve had years to develop those rituals. Last night we had a couple of people show up later. One person hadn’t been able to make it to the first online session, so we also had to make sure we got them into the game even s I ran the initial combat. He had several technical errors and steps, but we eventually got him in and online.

The big problem came from the structure I’d set up for the scenario. Originally I’d planned on borrowing a set-up from one of Ben Robbins' Dr. Null modules- with all the players called to a scene and then working together by necessity. However I decided to be a little too clever for my own good. Since I knew I’d have the maps all in front of me and accessible, I decided I wanted to run three scenes simultaneously. The characters, in pairs, would be attacked by bad guys at different locations. Mr. Freeze and Mister Miracle would be discussing how to set up a spectacular ice block escape trick. Iron Man would be visiting Thor’s alter ego Donald Blake. Sarge Steel would be meeting Nightcrawler at a public park to recruit him. Giant super-science bugs would attack each pair. They’d take out the bugs and then try to figure out the reasoning and source behind the attack. I’d run the combats as a single combat with one initiative track, switching between players and scenes. I created one long map (2100 x 650) split into a dojo, office building, and park- each drawn differently to make clear the distinction.

The problem with that idea is that it really means everyone has to be there at the same time for it to roll out well. If I’d spent a few minutes considering that, I might have realized that. In my original set up, I could have started with the players who were present and then easily rolled the others in as they arrived. This structure didn’t allow that as easily. The group’s pretty comfortable (from their MMO days) starting with some players not there- and I should have taken that into account. As it was I held off starting. Mind you, the time was well spent- the players interacted with one another in character, built some connections, and did some basic follow up to the first scenario. That helped later on in the session. It did mean that my mental estimation for scenes and what we’d get to had no relation to reality. I enjoyed the session, and I learned some things about how to scope and run in the G+ setting.

One approach I took in the investigation was handling it as a series of questions. This kept it from becoming a free-for-all and helped players build on each other's successes. I went around in order and had each player pose a question. If it was too broad I made them narrow it. Each player then made a skill check based on what they’d asked. If they described contacts or resources they were using, I gave some circumstances bonuses. Based on their rolls I offered them information. If the subject they investigated still had more to squeeze out (such as one of the bug autopsy) I tried to stress that others could still pursue that avenue. Some of the results eliminated possibilities, such as useful as uncovering specific facts. I thought that it ended up being a nice combination of creative thinking- trying to figure out the right narrow questions- and players figuring out how to play to their strengths. The session ended with them having made significant progress in their research, and we’ll take up again with that in two weeks.

Here’s the news reports I gave them a couple of days ahead of the session. Some of this may come into play and some of it may be just color, but if players see something they want to look more closely at, they’ll be able to do that (so some minor sandboxing…). There are a few obscure references in there as well. 


Audience members at Mister Miracle’s charity performance last evening found themselves thrown from terror to thrills in a matter of moments. Notorious criminal Mysterio attacked the performance- setting a gang of thugs to hold audience members hostage even as he attempted to sabotage Miracle’s water tank escape. But the villain hadn’t counted on one thing, or actually five things. Even as he set his plan into motion, things went awry as Mr. Freeze appeared. He quickly engaged and dealt with a third of the thugs. At the same time other heroes appeared on the scene: the Mighty Thor emerged from a blast of lightning in the stage set, notorious playboy hero Tony Stark swooped in, and a mysterious do-gooder described as bearing a “fist of steel” leapt into the fray. Miracle himself quickly reversed his predicament center-stage. Within moments he’d escaped Mysterio’s trap, grabbed up the villain, and locked him secure in the water tank trap.

Police arrived on scene quickly, setting up a perimeter even as the melee continued. Mysterio had blocked cell phone calls out. Locals, hearing the sounds of battle called it in. The heroic cabal dispatched the thugs quickly, with the steel-handed stranger moving the civilians out through the wings. However many stayed despite the danger. “I wasn’t going to miss this…this could never happen again.” Almost a quarter of the guests remained in their seats snapping photos and recording the events- immediately uploading to YouTube and other online sites. The hits skyrocketed when Mysterio let loose two attack robots which the heroes joined forces to defeat. The highpoint of the melee came when Mister Miracle pulled Mysterio from the tank, and then dragged himself and the criminal back in. Miracle refastened his own manacles and then performed his escape even with the distraction of the thrashing villain. Footage of that performance has crashed several servers in the hours since its upload.

New of this unprecedented gathering of superheroes set message boards and news programs aflame. So far only one of the heroes involved, Mr. Freeze, has issued a statement and the mysterious “fifth man” remains unknown. First on the scene, Captain DeWolff of the HCD refused comment; DHS Director Ziegler would only say that he found the situation troubling. Radio personality and activist G. Gordon Godfrey lashed out at the events citing the reckless endangerment of the public and suggesting collusion among the metahuman community to cover up concerns about Miracle’s origins and citizenship.


The vanishing of a garbage scow, Suydam, carrying an estimated 2,000 tons of trash continues to baffle authorities. The New York Port Authority, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Department of Sanitation NYC issued a joint statement early today asking for any and all assistance in tracking the vessel. The Suydam vanished overnight, June XXX, while moving out to settling distance amidst heavy fog. When the GPS and tracking indicators went offline, officers attempted to raise the vessel via radio to no avail. Witnesses describe the lights of the ship vanishing, but no other details. Coast Guard officers located no wreckage or other signs, but neither could they calculate a course that would have kept the vessel from being spotted as it left. While no hard facts have emerged, initial speculation has suggested that the scow might have been involved with narcotics trafficking.


Police have withheld comment on the collapse of a small apartment building currently undergoing renovation in the XXX block of XXXX. Witnesses describe a mass of police cars, including SWAT Team members arriving at the site in the early hours of Monday morning. Reports also suggest the presence of police helicopters in the area. At some point later, the building gave way, reducing the six stories to a pile of rubble. The building’s ownership remains in question as the company listed collapsed in the recent housing crisis. While the city has issued no office response, inside source suggest that a sewer accident which undercut the foundation lead to the destruction.


LexCorp announced today that the third-phase development of its revolutionary telemetry laser would be completed at its New York offices. The project, cornerstone to LexCorp’s new focus on private space flight, had been put on hold following the July 4th Attacks. However in recent months, CEO Franklin Richards has shifted priorities, raising funds and grabbing investment share from OsCorp. Though details remain scare, LexCorp announced that the telemetry laser would be vital to the company’s project to clean up space debris and reduce the risks associated with manned space flight.


A man who drove his car into a crowded coffee shop claims to have been attacked by spiders while driving. The man, name withheld, has been described as a sedate thirty-something lawyer with no history of mental illness. The New York Health Department confirmed Saturday that they believe this to be the sixth in a series of apparently random and severe hallucinatory attacks. In each case the victim has had a relatively clean bill of mental health. They have inflicted harm both on themselves and on others, recalling the details of their panic attack in vivid detail. Health Department officials have issued a tentative statement indicating that they do not believe the pattern to be contagious. While this has calmed some fears, rumors of a terrorist or metahuman weapon have begun to circulate.


Queens College Professor Grazny Kong arrived back in New York City today after being rescued almost a month ago from the remote Pacific Island which had been his home for almost a half a year. Kong remains the only known survivor of the destruction of the research vessel, The Phantom Lady, which was caught in a freak tropical storm last year. Survey planes tracking fish migration patterns miraculously spotted Kong’s beach markers, almost 200 miles away from the search area established by international authorities. A professor of anthropology. Kong stated that his time doing field work helped prepare him for living rough, but that “…little can make you ready for moments such as these.”

Previous Superhero: Year One Posts

Monday, June 25, 2012

Scions of Fate: A Free FATE Hack for Scion

I’ve finished my hack of White Wolf’s Scion setting with Evil Hat’s FATE system. It ended up a 64-page trade sized booklet; you can download the pdf of that here. To play you’ll need the Scion books, at least Scion: Hero, and some flavor of FATE. I posted earlier on my process in developing this (here and here). So far I’ve run three sessions using it- not enough to test everything, but the game’s been fun.

I really love the concepts from Scion, but our group's become more accustomed to lighter systems. It has interesting mechanics, and I ran a campaign of Scion "as is" a couple of years ago. It does have problems with balance and the power curve, especially as the series rolls along. Accordingly, my hack focuses on the earliest stages that of “Hero” level characters. I chose FATE because we’ve been using and adapting elements from it for our homebrew games for the last year or so. Diaspora clued me in on some of those elements and they fit with our approach. I know some people don’t care for the player control devices in the system or what they consider the gamist elements of it, but I’ve had really good experiences with those. Veteran players have become more engaged and interested through those mechanics and have found it easier to set up what they want to do in play.

When I adapt a setting/game over to another system, I try to adapt the game I actually play. Instead of looking at all of the mechanics, I try to consider what’s important to me and also how the new system handles key elements. In the case of Scion, I had the advantage of running it using the base system beforehand. Several elements didn’t make the cut in my adaptation. For example, when I ran I kept Fatebinding more mysterious and uncertain. It ought to be a plot device, rather than a detailed and mechanically heavy part of the game. I like the idea of players developing a relationship map of sort, but given everything else, it isn’t something they need to track. So Fatebinding in my version exists as a concept the GM can use, without specific mechanics- YCMV. Legend’s a more difficult shift. In Scion Legend measures relatively level and power. In my game I’m focusing on the lower end of the scale, so I don’t necessarily need a larger track. I also want relative parity between players, so I didn’t need a ranking system. Once I decided that, it was actually pretty easy to remove those concepts from the game.

I went for simple and symmetrical over complex. So I established that all gods offer the same number of affinity epics and purviews. I also removed post-CC benefits for that, to allow players more open choices. There are no skills associated with divine parents now. Purviews are purchased in sequence, to make it easier and parallel to the Epics. Various other benefits such as mentors and followers end up lumped together for color. Most importantly, everything’s powered by Fate points- removing virtues, legend points, and willpower as spendable resources.

The biggest problem I’ve found in moving from high detail to low detail system comes from the consolidation of the combat system. High detail games often devote lots of space to combat options, special abilities, minor modifiers, and escalating powers. I encountered this years ago when I adapted Legend of the Five Rings to Storyteller. It forced me to develop variations on “gain a combat advantage” and consider how a combat advantage might be read as a non-combat benefit. In the case of SoF, I cut out a number of knacks and boons to focus on a few which did interesting things. A number of these have names from the original source, but do quite different things. I also tried to eliminate abilities and options which supersede earlier buys. The Aztec pantheon purviews, for example, seemed boring. If I were imagining this as a long-term or extended campaign, I might present stackable or building block features for the players. That could easily be developed by GMs who want to move up to the Demi-God level.

We’ve done three sessions of Scions of Fate so far, an introductory combat session; a full session of investigation; and a session that began with the band following up on threads and stumbling into a confrontation in a magic cave. After we did character creation I went back and rewrote that section of the rules to make them clearer and more streamlined. I had too many non-parallel choices in the first version. I also cleaned up the Relics rules and explanations.

Pages 60-61 of the pdf have some notes on gamemastering the system. That’s worth looking at if you want to see the reasoning behind some of my choices. You’ll see I borrowed the aspect ranges idea from Diaspora and the d6 bonus concept from Kerberos Club. I also reworked maneuvers and assessments to better fit with what I wanted in play. GM’s can easily shift that to their favorite approach. You’ll also notice I kept the layout pretty basic (Scribus kept crashing on me).

A few things I noticed in play:
  • Having a little bit of skill really helps, so players ought to consider some low buys rather than trying to maximize having high level skills. If you have an Epic at 3, you don’t necessarily have to have a high skill associated with it- doing so is kind of overkill.
  • The Greek Pantheon Purview Arete is fairly potent. It fits with the costs for other abilities, but at the same time it gets past the cap of the skill pyramid. Having Arete three allows a player to be really good in one area. I would suggest a couple of restrictions for this. Players who have Arete cannot take the same skill with it. Limit players to one offense or defense skill in any particular area (i.e. they can have Dodge or Guns but not both). I would also limit players to one defensive skill for Arete (i.e. Dodge for Physical or Discipline for Mental, but not both).
  • The stress tracks are fairly short, but careful investment can increase one or more of those. However the balance of the system means that players strong in one area will probably be weaker in another (due to defenses, armor, or stress boxes).
  • The purview abilities aren’t balanced, but my version makes them more interesting than in the original. When I ran Scion before, players gravitated to knacks over boons. So far in this version, they seem to be heading the opposite direction.
  • Many things run on Fate points in this system, so players ended up keeping more of those in their pool than I expected. That means the GM has to work even harder to reduce those resources.
Download Scions of Fate pdf here

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tabletop Forge/G+ Tools: Superheroes Year One (Part Three)

So we had our first session of the Superheroes: Year One game on Wednesday. I've talked about the Set Up and Planning in previous posts. I hadn’t run anything online before and I hadn’t worked with these tools very much. I used Tabletop Forge with a G+ Hangout. I noticed several things:
  1. Upload: I tested the app beforehand with my wife. We played around with the tools and uploaded the material. I used a simple map, a cover image, and about three dozen tokens. TF currently allows you to save those to the server and load them by a simple command prompt. You can only have one set of each on their server. Apparently you can also save locally to your machine, but I’m not sure how that handles things- as named sets or “last in/last out.” Tokens and maps reloaded keep their sizing, but lose any custom labels attached to them. That meant I had to go through and rename things.
  2. Images: On Wednesday, I got on ahead of everyone to arrange the maps and tokens. That confirmed I could start a G+ hangout and then invite more people from within it. I locked a larger token in place over the bad guys' tokens to keep them secret. I also placed a larger image over the map (a shot of the NY skyline). However in play some users saw the lower map rather than the overlay image- so I deleted that. I suspect next time I’ll simply upload the map from my machine when the time comes. There’s no need to have a cover image and putting maps up is relatively easy (provided I know what dimensions I want).
  3. Maps: My screen offers an extra wide display which gives me significant visual real estate. I can have a sideboard of objects the players probably won't see (unless they scroll over). I need to remember to make my maps longer rather than wider. I used 50x50 token images- that size works well and allows easy spotting of the images. Smaller would be harder to work with. Since I’m using zones on the map (rather than hexes or a grid) I can afford to have some chunkiness.
  4. Browser: Tabletop Forge seems to get along best with Chrome. I’ve used it with Firefox and it has worked, but I lost the command bar and couldn’t recover it. Among the five players, a couple had problems with it in IE and Firefox; those resolved once they switched to Chrome. One player used IE with success throughout. There’s some question about the refreshes- some players couldn’t see when I drew arrows on screen.
  5. Drawing: I’d originally thought to use the drawing tools to annotate the map on the fly. However that ends up looking crappy- even with the stylus input I’m using. That's more a factor of my skills than the app. I think I’ll just draw up and label the maps ahead of time. I’ve considered using aspect tags on zones and I may still do that. I don't want the map to be too busy however.
  6. Video: I was the only one using a camera- and I was glad of that. That meant I could concentrate on the voices rather than watching for players’ reactions. On the other hand, I did like having my face down there so players could see my gestures and movements for emphasis.
  7. Mechanics: I have to remember some of the oddball corner case mechanics for M&M 2e which often come up (sweep, grapples, intimidation, etc.).
  8. Drops: G+ handles dropping out and coming back in pretty well. The TF apps seems to as well.
  9. Rolls: I told everyone they could roll themselves or use the built-in Tabletop Forge dice roller. Everyone opted for the roller- which is easy to use since there’s only one die type. I had a fat stack of d20’s in front of me and was using those, but switched to the roller to put everything out in the open. I felt a little cheap rolling a critical with a die when everyone else was rolling openly in the program. I like the tension of the roll being out clearly in front of everyone and the players reacting to a particularly crappy roll.
  10. Chatter: I was nervous about how chaotic it might be, but once everyone got used to it, it worked. There’s less chat and cross-talk than in a standard rpg, because people don’t want to talk over each other. The group will figure out the balance of that in time. On the other hand, I only ran an extended combat (with masses of mooks, a central baddie, and two baddies with obvious styles-brick and glass ninja). We’ll see how that works when we get to more role-play and investigation.

So for a first try it worked- we’ll see how it sustains itself. I’ve been an exclusively tabletop rpg player, so I had some skepticism. Combat’s where we can most easily bog down in details, especially since most of the group hasn’t played Mutants & Masterminds or a d20 game. We had five players (with two there for most, but not all of the session) plus myself. We should have six players overall. Outside of combat’s still a question- I have to practice clarifying who I’m addressing when I speak.

I chose Tabletop Forge because I wanted a solid and simple set of tools. I tried some of the java and other tools (like MapTools) and didn’t care for those. I know some people have been advocating Roll20 on G+, but so far I’m happy with TF. If we add functionality to saving tokens/maps (including maintaining labels) and allow for multiple scenes, I’d had just about everything I need.

Last time I put up the document covering the world background. Next I gave players a list of other superheroes present in New York. I’m not sure they will meet any of them, but I wanted to use these descriptions to flesh out the world. I debated having them be the “first” heroes, but ultimately decided not to go with that. They’re among the first generation, but they have peers. I still want the PCs to be front and center, so I suspect one or two of these characters might appear as plot hooks or scenario resources.

While other cities have superheroes, New York remains at the top. Most believe it has the largest concentration of metahumans on the planet. There may be as many as two dozen spread across the city. In a city of over 8 million people, they still remain few and far between compared to the general public.

Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel’s star has been dimmed by the arrival of other superbeings. Add to that her general aloofness and practicality. She rarely gives interviews or comments, and then only to a handful of select reporters. At times she’s reacted angrily to the fetishizing of her image and the creepiness of some of her fandom. Some have labeled her a femnazi based on her remarks and demeanor.

Ms. Marvel continues to patrol New York, but avoids interacting with other heroes. She has operated outside the city several times, helping out with disaster relief along the eastern seaboard. Late last year she sparked an international incident when she intervened in a conflict in North Africa. Fallout from that event enflamed the debate over heroes acting outside national borders. Since that time, Ms. Marvel has operated primarily in New York. While not treated as well by the media, Ms. Marvel enjoys strong approval among New Yorkers.

Yes Man
On the other hand, recent arrival Yes Man has become something of a media darling. With catch-phrases, coordinated publicity, and a set of flashy powers he can be spotted on local TV and newspapers nearly every day. Yes Man calls himself the “Can-Do” hero and attaches himself to causes and companies with speed. His control over energy makes him a dynamo in combat and allows him short-distance flight. Yes Man has become known for a certain amount of collateral damage as well. In a recent incident, he managed to disrupt the city’s subway systems for several hours. This has made him something of a joke in the city- disliked by people on the street. So far that hasn’t spilled into the open, but given the speed of internet memes and rumors it remains a matter of time.

Moon Knight
This hero has become the scourge of organized crime. While other superheroes battle villains and deal with disasters, Moon Knight has made the Mafia, Triads, and similar groups his target. The NYPD and FBI have been divided over him. Some think he’s getting things done, while others have seen years of investigation destroyed due to his actions. It remains unclear what powers Moon Knight possesses beyond athletic skill, a striking costume, and an array of deadly gadgets. Rumor suggests that Moon Knight may not be a single person but a team.

Little is known about this silver-skinned super-heroine. Her armored suit apparently allows her to construct weapons and devices on the fly. So far she’s avoided publicity- leaving the scene when too many witnesses arrive. But a picture has been assembled from snap photos and shaky phone videos. The Engineer seems to concentrate on high-tech crime, having repeatedly clashed with Intergang’s emerging threat. She’s also been spotted at several other research facilities- Star Labs, LexCorp’s New Jersey compound, and the restoration site for the new Oscorp. In some cases she’s been on the scene to foil break-ins, in others she’s arrived in time to prevent experimental disasters. LexCorp’s new CEO has reacted to her intrusions with hostility.

One of the more problematic of the new breed of heroes. Diablo claims to have discovered the lost arts of alchemy. He uses these to empower himself and create weapons with strange effects: briefly turning targets to stone, animating statues, summoning darkness. Diablo’s also an avowed and aggressive atheist, who makes a point of commenting on those issues whenever he’s given attention. He talks at length about how the rise of superbeings and the apparent revelation of magic and gods undercut conventional faiths such as Christianity. He mocks the superstition, rites, and suspected hypocrisies of modern religions.

That’s made Diablo the poster child for the fears of people in the “flyover states.” Fox News and other outlets hold him up as an example of what’s wrong with superheroes. Diablo revels in the attention and refuses to back down from any statements he’s made.

The Question
Associated with the African-American community in New York, this faceless vigilante remains a mystery. He’s tangled with street-gangs, drug-dealers, and local police in equal measure. Possessed of no obvious powers, authorities have dismissed him as a rogue vigilante and danger to the community. The Question has evaded several sweeps in an attempt to arrest him. He remains equally estranged from the community he patrols, as many believe he incites violence.

While these heroes have be active over the last year, they remain relatively new to the scene. More recently New York gained three more notable heroes. Tony Stark’s press conference revealing his identity as Iron Man shook the country and sent shockwaves through Stark Industries stock. Despite that, Stark has maintained his hero identity and has been spotted several times in Manhattan. Stark’s public identity raises difficult and unresolved questions for the government. Stark himself seems to take that in stride. He continues working on projects he promises will “change the world.”

Nearly as flashy has been the figure of the mighty Thor. Apparently drawing his inspiration from Norse Mythology, Thor has fought several supervillains including the deadly Rhino. While some dismiss his personality as an act, those rescued by the hero describe him as intense and sincere. Who and what Thor is remains uncertain. More is known about Mr. Freeze, a hero who has turned tragedy into motivation. When Victor Fries’ wife Nora contracted a terminal illness, he devoted his scientific knowledge to cryogenically preserving her. Successful in that he spun his skills to developing a set of ice and cold related gadgets he uses to fight crime. He’s notable for having established a foundation in his wife’s name, now supported by the many rescued by Freeze.

Reports and rumors suggest that other heroes exist in New York. Some work hard to avoid notice, some take on the mantle reluctantly, while others have yet to make their debut.

Previous Superhero: Year One Posts

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Enemy Within: Reading TEWC

Our group ended up talking about modules the other night. Our hobby has some classics which define many people’s experiences Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits, I6: Ravenloft, B2: The Keep on the Borderlands- just to draw from D&D. Nearly all of the gamers in my circles never played those. They’re of the age where they could/should have, and they know the names. But like me, they skipped them in favor of homemade stories or bought them and stole a few interesting bits from them. Even today I have a hard time with modules; I rarely buy them, preferring setting and idea books to ransack. I can’t think of the last module I ran straight; it might be Horror on the Orient Express back in 1991. Before that it might have been the various James Bond modules; I found creating espionage adventures difficult at that age.

In my experience modules run from generic to specific. Generic module present an adventures easily ported over to any setting or game. They’re little work. That can be useful, but more often than not, they lack flavor and have little compelling material. They present new monsters, perhaps an abstract puzzle or two. On the other hand, the specific module has rich backgrounds. The story relies heavily on the setting, and the plot requires knowledge of the world. GM’s face a difficult task extracting the story from that setting. That removal can waste so much that it isn’t worth it or require immense work from the GM. But some modules transcend this. They offer interesting situations, plots and ideas which have a connection to the background, but can be reworked. For example, I ran Masks of Nyarlethotep as an arc in a fantasy campaign. The themes fit and the structure worked, even if the specifics of the Cthulhu Mythos weren’t necessary.

I did the same thing with a series of fantasy adventures- which already borrowed from Lovecraft.

The Enemy Within Campaign.

My sister bought Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay when it came out in '86- she’d been to England and met a number of British rp’ers. While she followed miniatures less, she loved the idea of the grittiness and career paths of this new system. By this time I was already invested in GURPS, so while I liked the game's concepts it didn’t grab me as much. A year or so later, however, I started buying more fantasy modules and sourcebooks to help me assemble my patchwork fantasy world. I picked up The Enemy Within and Shadows Over Bogenhafen at the same time. Reading through, I realized this wasn’t exactly the world I’d pictured it from the WHFRP book. I liked it more; it had a historical resonance to it and felt like some of the old Call of Cthulhu campaigns my sister had run. I’d learn later The Enemy Within’s success set the course for WHFRP.

I expect many reading this know The Enemy Within Campaign. For those who don’t, it was the first linked set of adventures published for WHFRP, a tabletop spin off of Warhammer Fantasy Skirmish. The adventure focused on overwhelmed adventurers trailing the forces of chaos in the dark underbelly of the empire. In many ways it was fantasy Call of Cthulhu- with grunge, corruption, gritty and darkness around every corner. The themes established here became inextricably linked with WHFRP (for better or worse). Imagine if TSR published Expedition to the Barrier Peaks first and it became an iconic hit. Then D&D becomes known only as that game where fantasy characters explore lost spaceship and high-tech ruins. Or if Ravenloft had been first and D&D became known as that game where you fight famous gothic movie monsters.

The Enemy Within exists in a couple of different formats. There’s the original folio version; a couple of consolidated versions from GW; and another from Hogshead which combines it even more tightly with Shadows. I have the original and the Warhammer Adventure version. TEW originally came as an A4 size 56-page campaign booklet plus a number of supplemental pieces. That includes a large heavy-stock full-color poster map of the Western Empire, with a blank hex-map on the reverse. The folio cover has tighter two-panel green & white map of the Reikland adventure area. It also includes eight pages of handouts featuring lovely player map and calendar of the Empire. Everything looks awesome- GW broke away from conventional RPG design elements with their work in this era.

Much of that comes from the art and graphic elements. The cover’s distinct and unlike anything coming out of American companies at the time. It looks like a mix of Durer and Bosch, so it much be John Blanche. That sets the tone for the module, weird but echoing the historical. Most of the interior illustrations really set the stage- especially the uniform and character illos. A few aren’t as great, but that’s made up for by Tony Ackland, Euan Smith, and Martin McKenna. The text design’s quite good- it uses three columns without looking busy, decent white space, and lots of spot illustrations and headings. The writing’s good- with a light tone. It speaks directly to the GM, offering direction and insight, rather than keeping a distance. There’s the sense that the authors have played this out and recognize the problems and pitfalls of the set up. Authors Jim Bambra, Phil Gallagher and Graeme Davis bring this world to life.

The booklet of The Enemy Within has two major sections plus pullouts. The first part, running up through page 35 provides background on the Empire and guidance for the GM on campaigns. It offers solid advice- suggesting that GMs inject humor despite the darkness of the world. For novices starting out rpgs, the guidance is appreciated and just enough. It offers some rules specific advice (regarding advancement and careers), but otherwise focuses on broad guidance. The details of travel also come in handy, since the players will be doing a lot of traveling throughout the campaign.

Page eight begins a lengthy coverage of the history and people of The Empire. It gives detailed timelines, political structures, religion, geography and so on. There’s some interesting and useful material- in particular the discussion of the law, of the guilds, how regions communicate, typical dress and so on. Those provide rich details the GM can easily bring to the table- “playable moments.” The issues presented can conceivably touch the lives of the PCs. The dress and discussion of the soldiers of the Empire give a nice visual sense. The Empire borrows heavily from the German City States, though I'll admit my knowledge of that isn't complete. A great deal of the material here covers high-level issues: legendary history, structure of the electors and electorate, religious factionalism. In most cases I would dismiss this as GM background which won’t come into play as often. In other books it would be filler to set the stage which could be reduced to offer more useful material. Except I’ve read the rest of the series. TEW sets the groundwork for the GM and they may not even realize it. Those issues, so apparently above the pay-grade of the PCs will return and become central to the story.

The actual adventure runs from page 36 through 52. The last pages of the book discuss mutants in the Empire, a player handout on the Empire, and an Imperial Calendar.

Spoilers follow.

“Mistaken Identity” is old-school, but perhaps no more than in how directed and linear it can be. It relies on a few specific coincidences, and a number of incidents where the GM will have to cut off or block the players to prevent them from interfering with the course of the adventure. Players also have a couple of places where skill failure will likely force the GM to have to rearrange things to get the clues into their hands. The adventure is not, however, complete- instead it “lay pipe” for the rest of the campaign. It leads directly into Shadows over Bogenhafen, and sets up details which come into play in the later Death on the Reik.

“Mistaken identity” is a classic travel adventure- with the only specific plot being the players heading to get from point A to B. The road trip is interrupted by a series of incidents. In this case, the players are assume to be heading off to sign up for an expedition leaving from Altdorf (which they’ll find is already full). The players have to head by foot and boat to reach their destination. The story opens with some nice scenes at an Inn with lots of ideas and interesting NPCs. On the road, the party suffers an ambush by mutants. More importantly they find the bodies of a previously ambushed group after the fight. One of those is an identical twin to the PCs, carrying a letter indicating an inheritance. Push, prod, push (psst…head to Bogenhafen…).

Of course it isn’t as simple as that. The double is in fact a dead chaos cultist- which means trouble. The identical twin thing can and should be played a little bit for laughs, but it does serve as a crux for the adventure. The GM really needs to choose a player who will enjoy the role, as it does put additional pressure on them. As you can imagine, the travel continues with the PC being mistaken by cultists and a trailing bounty hunter as the villainous Herr Lieberung. Murders along the way propel the PCs forward to avoid being caught up in things…onwards to Bogenhafen, as it happens. Eventually the players will have a showdown with the bounty hunter. They may or may not figure out that the inheritance offered is a ruse designed to flush the cultist out. And then…well, then the adventure ends because you need to buy Shadows over Bogenhafen.

The Enemy Within has obvious appeal to WHFRP fans, but what does it offer other gamers? It sets the stage for some truly awesome adventures, but the brief story here isn’t itself dynamite. It has some fun details, but requires the GM keep the players on a fairly narrow track. The early material is interesting world building, but I suspect more solid and detailed versions of this can be found in other books from later editions.

That being said, TEW completely changed my campaign. In high school I tried to run a fantasy GURPS campaign, borrowing a little from Sandman. The players had no character sheets- instead they woke up and tried to figure out who they were and what was happening. For prep I made up characters which I kept to myself. I also drew a two-page continental map which I quickly labeled and filled in. I figured it would be a throwaway prop. The amnesia game ran only a handful of sessions, but I did a lot of interesting world-building on the fly. When I began to consider my next long-term GURPS Fantasy campaign, I decided to return to that world and expand the ideas.

Of course, now I had a massive open map, with no real sense of what went where. I locked a few of the gazetteers into place (Karameikos, Glantri, Ylaruam). For other places I sketched out a few quick notes, often adapted concepts from other setting books (like MERP). At some point I skimmed through TEW and the rest of the series which spuured me to change things. I would use the Empire as the basis for my Kingdom of Miremal, the various electorates would become allied or neighboring regions. I worked on the cities, the faiths, genealogies of the various rulers and tied those into the history I’d already established. It would be a loose fit, but added a great color to the world. More importantly, using the Warhammer concepts gave shape to the threats facing the world. In the earlier game, I’d established a Big Bad called The Thonak, but hadn’t established anything about him. Now he would become an avatar of Chaos, bringing the forces of that to this world. While he warred and drove armies against his neighbors ala Sauron, agents of the four chaos gods would be working in the shadows to convert and undermine resistance.

The campaign world ended up a patchwork, but a magnificent one. The players knew Chaos from 40K, so they bought in rapidly. The Germanic-style city states perhaps didn’t exactly fit into my high-fantasy setting, but it worked. Years, many years, later I would excise that Chaos from the setting, but many of the concepts would remain.

For all my looking back and grumbling, this stuff provided the baseboard for many, many hours of awesome play at the table- YCMV. The Enemy Within kicks off a truly excellent campaign series; certainly one of the best I know. I ran great portions of it using GURPS Fantasy; the basic line of the adventure can be easily adapted and keep its flavor. Take a look at the session reports created by Chris Flood aka MULRAH which begin here. He’s using HeroQuest 2e to get the job done. I think that demonstrates the resilience and depth of these modules.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Campaigns as Projects: Superheroes Year One (Part Two)

When I’ve assembled campaigns recently I’ve tried to approach them as projects. A campaign has a timeline (estimated vs. real), people resources, availability, objectives, tasks, complications, scope, and so on. Keeping those factors in mind can keep me on track. I’m notorious for spinning games and campaigns well beyond their original conception, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. I've introduced sub-plots at the drop of a hat, overcomplicating chaotically. It isn’t necessarily that I ought to reduce that complexity, but the complexity should match the nature of the campaign. When I introduce new wrinkles, I ought to be able to manage and track that.

When I accepted the invitation to run a G+ Supers game, I had a number of structural considerations. I talked about the set up and options in an earlier post: Plotting the G+ Campaign: Superheroes Year One (Part One).

I expect the group size to be anywhere from 5-8; we’ve ended up with six which is about the maximum I’m comfortable with . All the players have played RPGs before; two of them played Mutants & Masterminds 2e. The rest really haven’t played too much d20. That means we’ll have to get used to the rules in the first couple of sessions. It also suggests I should avoid tweaking the system. House Rules should be kept to a minimum. For their “Year One” revisionist characters, the players chose:
  • Iron Man 
  • Mister Miracle 
  • Mr. Freeze 
  • Nightcrawler 
  • Sarge Steel 
  • Thor
A couple of the players actively follow modern comics and know the classics. The rest have a decent knowledge of them; one seems to know supers primarily from other media. The split’s 50/50 DC and Marvel, so that gives me room to introduce elements from both sides of the aisle.

Sessions will probably have around three hours of playable time. That’s just a rough estimate, given my experience with the players during their MMO sessions. I’ve set a goal of 6-8 sessions. I hope that will be enough time to set up and play out a satisfying arc. Since I don’t know how regular players will be, I will try to make sessions episodic, with elements tying to the larger plot. That small number of sessions means that I’ve want to keep my focus and story pretty directed. I’ve been bouncing ideas around with Gene; he’s offered some dynamite criticisms and suggestions. I’ll have to decide if I want to make one of those elements central to this arc or save it for a later campaign (if that happens).

This will be my first stab at playing online. That means I’ll have to get comfortable with the unfamiliar tools. It also means that I’ll have to get used to the dynamics of not being f2f and dealing with multiple voices. With those kinds of barriers to communication, I want to keep the plot, premise and details tight, at least at the start. I’ll be able to judge better after a few sessions. My goal is to focus on a single interface tool: a shared map and tokens. That map will be broken into zones rather than hexes or squares to keep movement simple. I’ll be using basic maps- ideally I don’t want to spend more than a half-hour putting those together. Players can use the die roller interface or just roll and say what they get.

I want a game that allows the players the chance to play out their interpretation of classic characters. The game world should have some resonance- hence the reliance on existing characters and properties. In other contexts that might feel a little like cheating, but I hope it works here. Ideally the tone should be emulate the Justice League or JL Unlimited cartoon. That had ongoing plots, but focused on strong single episodes. Players should feel that they are the founding superteam of this world. As a meta-goal, the game should also help teach players and GM about how these tools work. All of that has to support the key goal:

A relaxed and fun chance to play an rpg with players I wouldn’t otherwise be able to game with.

Here’s the first part of the world background I sent the group:

While it may not define the beginning of the superhero age, most associate the LexCorp Bombings of 2010, aka the July 4th Attacks with the start. In the early morning a series of coordinated and devastating attacks hit dozens of corporate sites across the globe. While the attacks struck many companies, most recall the images of explosions tearing apart LexCorp’s Metropolis facilities. Despite minimal casualties, the attacks created mass evacuations, fallout, infrastructure disruptions, and long-term clean up problems. More terrifying for the public was the revelation that terror networks possessed the necessary organization and access to carry out operations on this scale. Governments clamped down with stricter security measures and carried out lightning retaliatory operations against any and all known terror assets. A pall fell over the country and the world.

Then in mid-August the first superhero appeared and the gloom lifted.

From out of the New York skies, Ms. Marvel swept down to catch a plummeting news copter. Answering no questions, she shot away at an astounding speed. Shocked witnesses could only describe her as a “blonde bombshell.” Over the next several weeks she would be seen across the city: foiling robberies, rescuing citizens from burning buildings, and tearing open wrecks to reach accident survivors. Ms. Marvel became an immediate sensation, something out of independent comic books.

But soon others would join her, not only in New York, but scattered across the globe. The floodgates had opened, and new heroes with flashy powers and wild costumes took to the streets. Nightshade and Wonder Man patrolled Los Angeles; Adam Smasher and the Blue Beetle protected Chicago; and Jack of Hearts and Nighthawk covered Metropolis. Gotham, long haunted by rumors of vigilantes and monsters, would gain its own unique hero Nightwing who used more terror than awe to stop crime. Internationally cities large and small across found themselves dealing with new costumed heroes and vigilantes. Though small in number, these heroes drew the lion’s share of public fascination and attention.

While the public generally loves the new supers, they remain fickle. Those who take the time to make themselves known and possess media savvy have become superstars. On the other hand, those shunning the spotlight or utilizing darker personas are regarded with suspicion. Heroes have emerged from many origins: self-trained experts; savants with mastery over secret arts; bizarre accident survivors; super-tech saviors. The world suddenly appeared full of more mysteries and possibilities than any could imagine. Scientists, inventors, and corporations rushed to unlock the secrets of these powers.

But not everyone embraced these new heroes. Government agencies, security specialists, and local police still regard them with suspicion. More recently two strains of anti-super sentiment have gained traction. Anti-Mutant prejudice has emerged alongside revelations about their existence. The explosion in those gifted with genetic powers has created fear and panic among conservatives and reactionaries. Parents fear what their children may become, and a desperate search for answers has gripped many. How has this happened?-- Environmental factors? Radiation? A deliberate plot? Infection? Divine Will? Many reject the idea of mutations as a natural event. An even more fringe reaction comes from those convinced that these so-called superheroes are aliens, harbingers of a secret invasion. The revelation that we are not alone in the universe upended beliefs and created panic. Heroes who claim alien ties or heritage (Ms. Martian, Nova) have been subjected to intense scrutiny.

More problematic has been the parallel rise of the “super-villain,”-- Mysterio, The Penguin, Black Knight. They arrived as well- some say in greater numbers- though little hard data exists. Some took up flashy costumes, while others opted to use their powers behind the scenes. Police and Federal Agencies have been caught off guard. Do super-heroes aid or disrupt the process of justice? Beyond the question of how to apprehend these criminals, how should they be incarcerated? What additional charges should they face? Some have suggested utilizing anti-terror legislation against them, but the push-back against that has been strong. These issues- security, weapon ownership, self-protection, citizen’s arrest, personal responsibility- have made strange bedfellows among political groups.

Many major cities have quietly established bureaus concerned with “Heightened Crime.” In some cases these police divisions have actively recruited metahumans. That represents the forward edge of thinking. Most governments and citizens have only begun to wrestle with the complex issues raised by superbeings. Questions about discrimination, insurance rates, privacy, and vigilantism are projected to become dividing lines in the next decade. As more people witness or have their lives touched- for good or ill- by superpowers the complexities can only increase.

Strangely, a positive result of their arrival has been the general upsurge in optimism. Pew Research results suggest more people, over a wider range of socioeconomic groups, feel better about the future than any time in the last several decades. The celebrity culture surrounding these figures set fire to many industries. TV shows, magazines, video games, toys, and other media devoted to them appeared overnight. From the fringe, webcircles devoted to the idea that superbeings have always secretly been among us, to the mainstream, with Booster Gold guest hosting The Today Show, supers are everywhere. Perhaps most strikingly comic books have returned to the idea of superheroes. A mainstay of comics from the 1940’s through the early 1960’s, those concepts moved aside in favor of romance, mystery, science-fiction, and dramatic comics in that decade. Since then superheroes have only been the material of independent publishers like Fantagraphics and Oni Press.