Let’s Hear It For Random Chargen

Just about to start a new M&M 3E campaign (woo! Green Ronin!) but had no ideas at all what to play. Thinking I’d probably get something that wouldn’t inspire me much, being way too general or not my style, I was trepidatious and skeptical when I took my d20 and rolled on the excellent random chargen that comes with the GM’s kit. But it went great. Behold!


Archetype: Warrior
Abilities: Otherworldly
Background: Field General
Combat Advantage: Skillful
Primary Powers: Alien
Combat Powers: Signature Weapon – Dimensional Cutter (and then Combined With Atom Slicer)
Skills: Mystical


Created back in the Golden Age by Gil Kane, his full name was The Stellar Swordsman and he was a kind of space-Zorro figure with a dash of Conan, allowing stories to blend fantasy and space tropes. Untrademarked, the name was later used by Stan Lee and Don Heck for a Hawkeye villain, but there is no relationship between the two characters. In the early 1980s, the character was rebooted by Len Wein and Brian Bolland. Most of his backstory remained unchanged apart from establishing he was not the first to carry the Ultima Blade. He appeared briefly in Freedom Galaxy, a selection of stories about the heroes of Freedom City establishing a space exploration and defence platform after Chronicle revealed to them how little they knew of the galactic threats surrounding them. His fate following Freedom Galaxy was not covered; it is assumed he returned to his home planet once again.

The Swordsman is a Titon, an alien from the planet Titona. The Titons resemble humans for the most part, but their higher gravity and the harsh solar winds have made them faster, stronger and more alert. Aeons ago, they were contacted by mysterious higher beings whom they worshipped as something akin to gods. They had detected or perhaps made themselves objects of pure power, which somehow collapsed the higher dimensional existence of a concept into our three dimensional universe. The most dangerous of these (and so far the only seen) is the Ultima Blade, the sword of all swords, a weapon that encapsulates the very archetype of the perfect blade and which is said to be able to cut through anything that exists, even time and space itself. Unable to interact with our universe easily, the higher beings charged their faithful servants of Titona to be the guardians of the blade. Since then, every generation of Titons has competed for the honour of being the Swordsman, with only the wisest, bravest and greatest warriors being worthy.

In the current age, the bearer is a Titon called Kellan Tarn. As a general, Titon was an Alexandrian figure who felt the Titons should be expansionistic in their search for justice and safety. He admitted feeling denied what he thought was his destiny when he was chosen to wield the Sword, as it is a weapon he feels deserves nothing but the utmost caution, to be drawn only in great need. However, before he could ponder this new destiny, some power in the sword cast him across dimensions, back to Earth, arriving in Emerald City in the wash of the Silver Storm. As yet, he has no idea why.

Complications: Mystical Destiny, Can Be Yanked Around By Higher Beings, Relatively Useless Without His Sword, Alien Who Doesn’t Always Get Earth, Code of Behaviour About Not Throwing Around Violence For No Reason And Also Representing The Highest Honour Of His Entire Race So Can’t Just Goof Off.

Powers: Still working this out, but the sword can cut reality, allowing travel between dimensions, and space, allowing teleportation. It can also cut everything short of itself/Plotimmunitum. It has a built-in connection to the “higher reality”, which gives it a few mystical powers like precognition. Unlike Thor’s Hammer, anyone can wield it although it is heavy as hell; only a superhero would have the required strength or training. As a Titon he has Thor-ish levels of strength and resilience, can ride his horse through space without a helmet and a few other doo-dads.

Visual Reference: Gil Kane’s Black Mark. This is probably what Tarn looked like back on Titona. On earth he is less bare-chest barbarian, wearing one of those usual body-stocking unitards, but keeping the boots, cape and bad-ass belt over the top.

I was quite happy with that, and once again, would like to mock and judge all those people who mock and judge random chargen, because they have no idea what they’re missing.


Also Smallville

One of the hardest things about Smallville for the GMing style I use is that whenever it’s not Lead vs Lead, it’s Lead vs Feature so it can be very hard to jump right into a conflict with some random guy without doing the long-winded character prep. Which has plenty of its own rewards, and helps you see how best to shape them to be foils, but takes time and may make you tempted to make them take centre stage when that’s not their purpose. But eyeballing a difficultly level sans a Trouble pool increase is not written into the rules anywhere.

Luckily Old Steve The Amazing is here to help with that. Here is the Absolutely Unofficial Quick-Stat Guide To Any NPC a Lead may run into and needs to roll dice against.

Johnnie “Eyeball” McImprovised
Generic Feature – Homme Sous Le Avenue – Suddenly Spotlighted

This is the stuff I really want to do in the game, the stuff that gets me right into the action/story d10
This is a useful back-up if I get off my main focus d8
This is something I really hope you don’t bring into focus because I don’t care enough and you’ll stress me out for sure d4

I have a vendetta with/most care about Lead X d10/d8
I care a little about Lead Y and Z/the rest of the team d6

I can impact the story/world a lot or succeed easily when I’m doing this thing d8
(in fact, I am sometimes so busy being awesome at it, I might get a Plot Point)
I can also do this d6

If I’m around for a whole ep at least/more than one scene, I also have 2d8/2d6 Depth.

Fragments of Old Game Design

Was cleaning up some old notes and found an outline to an old game idea I had about ten years ago. The idea was a game based on trick taking, but with the twist that you could add more cards than just one to each hand – but of course then you’d have nothing to play at the end of the round if others still had cards. Like a weird combination of cribbage and whist. Never really got the mechanics working but I decided the setting would be a bunch of mad Scottish clans doing Gaelic Wrestling or something. And the one thing I really like doing in game design is coming up with flavour. So what I did back then was sit down and come up with four clans and their 12 members each. (I chose those numbers so I could play test the game with an ordinary pack of cards, see.) Anyway, I still have the names, so here they are for your enjoyment, or possible window in game design.

Clan Tankerus

Kilt Bill

Gundam McRoss

Savage McTavish

Mel, The Woad Warrior

Connor McWickening

Connor Seanery

Biaoughie McSlayer

Dirty MacGonagal

Di Haird

Vinn Dalziel

William Warbles

Siobhan Siobhoff


Clan Derstine

Ewan McHobeewan

“Doc” Mactardis

Laddie McBeth

Patrick Fitzinwell

Conner Commover

Ewan Mee

Haggis Itwitchoo

Fluyed Macanix

Apple McIffon

Meghan Mogg

Dinah Fashe

Hairy Nobb


Clan Samwych

Brenda Fender

Duncan Dellishers

Ronnie McDonald

Steamy William

Enormous Richard

Bloody Annoying Mary

Moira Lesse

Livia Withongions

Ozzie the Bruce

Haddie Biglunshe

“Whiskey” O’Goughgough

Ann O’Therun

 Clan Tasstick

Len And MacCartnee

Glen Orglender

Ben Toomie

James Tiekirk

Tickel M’Sporran

Skyclad Sally

Tam O’Shantern

Rob Roy Rogers

Bess Tiensho

Old Ock Waintens

Katie Lang

Johnie Coomlaitly

Functionalism in Design

That is to say, function as the guide to design choices. I remember having a lightbulb turn on in my head when Paranoia’s GM section listed “things players do in the game” – Shoot Things, Complain, Lie, Blow Things Up, etc, and what to do about them. It’s also nice when we take those things and make them the actual mechanics or the basis of the mechanics.  It actually helps you run the game when you can see things like that.

For example, I liked the way Dread (which is now Scorn) first edition had three classes – one based on fighting, one on using magic and one on investigating, thus summing up the three main activities of the game. It was also nice when back in 1980 Call of Cthulhu wrote skills in the sense of how to use them: it wasn’t “Search” but “Spot Hidden”. That tells the GM to hide things, and – more importantly – that there are things hidden from the Players. Paranoia and Ghostbusters also had great skills like Lug Heavy Thing and Fall Through Testtube Racks (for scientists in horror films). I also have a soft spot for what they call effect-based superpower design systems because they also focus on what powers do, which is not only a great way to think about things from a different angle (narra-topologically, Wolverine’s claws do the same thing as Colossus’ fists) it also helps identify core game activities.  Wild Talents breaks powers down into Attack, Defend and Useful (and “Duds” not worth points); Smallville breaks superpowers into: Attack, Defend, Move, Sense, Control and Enhance, which I find quite lovely. Dr Who wires core activities into its initiative order: talkers go first, then runners, then fighters. Because that’s how it goes in the show – not only are those things the most common reactions/actions in the show, but the show always privileges them IN THAT SPECIFIC ORDER. Gorgeous mechanics.

Robin Laws has always been big on identifying core activities in various games and that’s what caught my attention in his new Hillfolk: It might be just because of the simplification of the bronze-age setting but his list of abilities are: Enduring, Fighting, Knowing, Making, Moving, Talking, Sneaking.  You can add names to them to customise them but at their core they cover pretty much everything that happens in an RPG. Although I find it interesting he’s split Moving and Sneaking; they COULD be separate but in another sense they are both about the same thing. Then again, Sneaking is usually also a kind of Knowing as well…but that’s part of the fun. It’s never going to be a perfect classification but thinking about it is a good place to start.

Coincidentally, the stat list I was just making was very similar, without seeing Mr Laws’ work. I had Knowing, Doing, Talking and Enduring. But I also want to use it to do more than that, maybe use it to reflect character from a descriptive point of view, so I might end up shifting it. Not sure yet, but something that points out what the player cares about, or perhaps a combination of the two, such as how they get what they care about. So something like

I present myself as….

But I strive for…

I seek it by….

I survive by…


Anyhoo. Enough of my game. The point is, even if you like Strength and Intelligence, what are they for? And have you told your readers? Could you change the language without removing the sim nature? Could be “Force My Might Upon the World”? Verbs, we were told in school, are DOING words. If you want a mechanic to be used, maybe you should talk about it in that sense. Put the verbs into your mechanics, and take out the nouns.


Replay of There Is No Spoon

Got to play There Is No Spoon at the con last week, which was a joy because I wrote it. I love hearing someone using my words and mechanics to lead play and have fun. It’s like writing a play, almost – the same words I wrote down now coming to life.

Anyway, we were a usual hovercraft crew, pre the finding of Neo. I was playing Husk, a guy who had learnt how to Cut and Paste his skin, taking textures off any surface and copying them onto his avatar. We were all pretty sneaky, in fact – Lochrinus could hack anything with a chip in it, MD was a grifter who could shape his image to subconsciously make anyone trust him, Slither could turn his avatar 2-D to slip through cracks, and Crowdsource could hack the environment to do crowd control and flash mobs, just sending out subconscious messages through code-hacking. And Crash was our wheelman.

With the sneakiness and Leverage-feel in mind, and with so many of us, our GM John cleverly used heist-style plotting, both to keep us all involved and to keep the action moving – ie instead of planning, we simply described an action as we did it, as you do in heist films. We did a Matrix run to pick up a package, but before reporting back to our captain (Tilda Swinton as Captain Pandora) we decided to take a peek at it, and discovered it was the plans for a nuclear bomb. Then we got a mysterious phonecall from somebody who shouldn’t have known where we were and then there were agents in helicopters. Crash got caught in a police spotlight but instead of being killed by an Agent, he was thrown a palm pilot.

Turns out that the pilot contains a list of names of kids in a downtown orphanage. One of the kids is Crash’s daughter, Elyse. Assuming he HAS a daughter, rather than just remembers he has (cue philosophical debate).

We run a second mish to pick up the nuclear pile from a big steamship. Another heist, but while we’re doing that, MD is breaking into City Hall to check out the orphanage. The heist goes bad and Lochrinus gets cornered by an Agent who again doesn’t kill him when he has the chance. He says instead that the Item is going to be used to destroy something they find Valuable, so the Agents and the Operatives can work together to stop a greater threat. By now MD has figured the same thing: the orphanage is probably bogus, it was put there to stop people looking at the power-hub underneath, and the info was a ploy to get us to stop the bomb.

Investigating Captain Pandora reveals she is very shady indeed, and keeps meeting with a guy called Captain Twist who is probably a renegade, gone off Zion’s reservation. He and Pandora have decided to nuke the city – destroy the illusion so people have nothing to hide in, forcing them to reject it and wake up in their egg sacks (apart from the millions who will die, or continue to live on in the hell-zoned city). We spend a long time talking about it. Eventually, we decide that we can’t kill people, even coppertops, as that makes us as bad as Agents. We turn on Pandora and go into the Matrix to stop her plan.

Her Matrix skills get her past our snipers and she runs into the orphanage while Twist and his men attack from across the street. Crash and Lochrinus take out the low-levels while Husk goes one-on-one with Twist in a katana battle to the death. Meanwhile Crowdsource summons a crowd of orphans to delay Pandora long enough for Slither to catch up to her. Slither’s deal was never to put his neck on the line, but his fate was that one day his time would come. And it did – he took down Pandora single-handedly, and turned off the bomb.

Alas, Twist escaped, but some of us decided that from now on, there were more dangers than Agents – rogue Zion operatives who had been driven mad by the cause were just as bad. Husk and Slither set up a special squad to catch Twist and other rogues. Like that madman prophet, Morpheus….


If you’d like to play your own Matrix film, you can download There Is No Spoon at this link, until my website proper goes up.