Friday, September 19, 2014

OSR Tools in the Super Hero Setting

I had some time this week to make progress on my super hero setting for Icons, a fantasy mash up I'm calling 'American Ninja Cowboys'. It draws inspiration from martial arts and super power themed anime like Naruto or The Last Airbender series, in a setting that's distinctly American and post-apocalyptic.

As a long time fan of OSR materials, I'm pleased and surprised by how much reuse I'm getting out of OSR publications and technology. Super hero plot hooks tend to be more mission oriented and reactive than what happens in a D&D sandbox - but that doesn't mean sandbox techniques don't have a place.  I'm structuring Future Fantasy America like a giant hex crawl with random encounters.

One of my go-to source books has been The Red Tide Campaign Setting.  Originally written for Labyrinth Lord, Red Tide has solid tools for creating interesting Border Sites, Cities, Courts, and Ruins.  It's vaguely post-apocalyptic as well.  The sandbox material is very strong, and the Red Tide specific material is superficial enough that it's easy to file off the serial numbers and use the sandbox techniques in any fantasy setting (even one with super heroes).  Pine City (the home base) and the environs in the Pacific Northwest are getting generated using Red Tide's sandbox systems.  There's a source book for running cities called Vornheim that I'm keeping on-hand as well to help with getting around, chases, that kind of stuff.

Icons has a handful of rules-light and old school attributes - foremost of which is random character generation tables!  With that in mind, I built an excel-based random character generator similar to what I'd do for a dungeon stocker in a D&D style game.  I've been able to generate NPC heroes and villains at a shocking pace.  Plus I lifted a lot of my NPC generators (traits and personalities) from other settings.

Ideally, I'd like to get some kind of random mission or plot hook generator put together, along with a relationship generator.  Characters in anime (and even comics, to a lesser extent) are always remembering pre-existing relationships with the villain they just encountered.

However, I'd like to have either a light touch or non-existent hand at pushing plots on the players - years of running plotless dungeons have conditioned me against scripting too much.  Hopefully the players develop some goals or ambitions that provide player-centric direction.  In the meantime, I'm considering how something like the 5-Room Dungeon can be adapted to super hero situations to help me structure scenarios.  Here it is again:

Room 1: Entrance And Guardian
Room 2: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
Room 3: Red Herring
Room 4: Climax, Big Battle Or Conflict
Room 5: Plot Twist

You can replace the concept of room with the phrase "encounter"; Entrance and Guardian becomes the initial problem, conflict, or crisis that manifests - ex: a murder in the city, or a rampaging monster from the spirit world.  Encounter 2 implies puzzle solving or investigation, Encounter 3 is a potential false lead or dead end, Encounter 4 is the confrontation with a main challenge, and 5 is the plot twist or lead into a future session.  The 5 potential encounters aren't linear, either - the 5-Room structure has been depicted lots of ways (here are some examples:  Gnome Stew's 5-Room Dungeons).

With any luck, I'll be able to get the players together this weekend to (randomly generate) some characters and be in position to try out the setting and system. I don't want to overdevelop it in case the idea bombs, either.  Of course, this is pre-release weekend for Khans of Tarkir (Magic the Gathering) so I should be off playing some Magic at least one of the weekend days.  The supers may need to wait a week.

Any other tools I should consider for generating content that would work well in Future Fantasy America?

To recap - work on the project so far has included snagging a few maps of America, replacing city names with generic FFA names like Pine City or Star City; I've used Red Tide's tagging and sandbox generation to make a handful of places (and scenario ideas emerged fairly spontaneously from there); I've used Excel to build some random generators.  It's been easy so far!

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