Thursday, December 24, 2015

My first thoughts about adventure scope: A reprint


This was originally over on my LiveJournal, before I started this blog. But some of the roleplaying stuff should move here, I think, so I reproduce it to meet the twin needs of wanting content here and collecting all the superhero stuff on one blog. It was at


Originally, I was thinking about classifying various superhero adventures. I complained last year (or the year before) about how many of the published adventures were "road" adventures. (I complained because I wanted to see local adventures, but road adventures are not necessarily a bad thing. Most of D&D is built around road adventures.)

Anyway, the obvious range for superhero adventures may have a mix of magic and science, or be one or the other. We'll do a Kinsey scale thing and call it 1 to 6. At the extreme ends, you need to have someone skilled in manipulating that technology; in the middle it's just trope flavouring.

An ICONS adventure such as A Murder of Crowes is essentially all about magic, but you don't have to be magic (call it a 2), while something like The Skeletron Key is all about technology (call it a 5). Most adventures sit in the middle—Gangbusters! has high-tech weaponry, but that's just flavour. Most adventures explicitly show you one pole or the other, but don't rule out the opposite....The Skeletron Key might have all the shiny tropes of technology, but it doesn't rule out the presence of Magus Rune, Lord of the Inscriptive Arts.

The other scale is scope, with it extending from local to cosmic. Say the range is City - Nation - Continent - Globe - Solar System - Cosmic. (I'm not sure that Continent gets a lot of play in North Americaonly three big countriesbut it could be very common in Europe.) (I tried placing Neighbourhood in there and claiming that anything off earth was Cosmic, but several adventures take place near-earth and I wouldn't call them cosmic.)

You could go binary with this thing, with the two values being road and local, but as an adventure classification, you probably want to know how far the PCs are going to go.

Dimension hopping is rather like scope. I was thinking about it, and rather than dimensions being woo, another axis, they're really a bit of flavour. Another dimension is another city or farther; same scale as scope. If your players go to Opposite World, where everything has managed to come out mostly the same despite everyone having the exact opposite moral compass, or Annelis, the world that exists on the surface of a fluke burrowing ever deeper into the body of the glutton god Azagulp, really the difference is how distinct they are, not how far they are. What you're measuring is how much the everyday behaviour of the heroes is appropriate to what they're doing. I just indicate dimension hopping with an asterisk...and let the scope indicate how different the rules are. Even though everyone on Sauroglobe is a reptile, the world acts like ours. Call it a different city (Nation). Opposite World is a global change: It's at least as different as someone from Poughkeepsie going to Mongolia. Annelis is probably cosmic.

A big part of changing scopes means, I think, losing allies and being unfamiliar with the local customs. So if you normally run Zebulon Odd and his adventures with the Omicron Gang, having him be trapped in one city forces him to deal with things he can normally ignore. In the same way, when Vine-Swinging Gupta has to travel around the world, he gets to deal with all of the culture shock details he normally doesn't.

Remember: we've already established that things like lethality or noir-ness are set by your campaign.

For the set of adventures I did (all the Ad Infinitum, Impossible Tales, and Stark City stuff), there were 33 adventures. Fourteen were restricted to a city, the rest were not.

There's certainly wiggle room: First, I don't have all of the adventures handy and had to go by memory. Second, there were other choices; for instance, I chose to say that the prison complex in "Jailbreak!" was far enough away that it counted as national, but there is a precedent in comics for putting dangerous prisons full of supervillains right in or by the city. Call it roughly half were in the city, and half were a road trip of some kind, either shrinking into a man's body, taking a trip to Alaska or New Zealand, or discovering extraterrestrial empires.

However, I chose the values so that they could be used for random creation (though I'm not sure you'd want to). The scope is a simple D6 roll (though if you want to weight it heavily, use 2D6:
2d6: ScopeMeans...
2-7: CitySomething happens in the city. Your city. Go beat them up.
8: NationRoad trip! There's a problem that you'll have to travel to, but fortunately, there's transportation available.
9: ContinentBe careful...they do things a little differently where we're going.
10: GlobeWe're going to be cut off from our regular allies, and at risk of sowing confusion and interruptions, but this is something only we can fix.
11: Solar SystemThere's some problem in a satellite, a space station, an experimental space craft, or the hidden world on the inside of the hollow earth.
12: Cosmic"Help me, Obi-Wan <insert-name-here>. You're our only hope!"
Now, those descriptions (beside being firmly tongue-in-cheek) also assume that the city is your normal stomping ground. If you normally run a game of the Planetary Protectors, those aren't the conditions that apply: you probably have allies in Tokyo, Norway, and maybe even on St. Pierre.

For magic versus science, it might be:
Magic vs. Science D6Means...
1: Magic galoreThe main threat is a seriously magic one, and knowing some magic is essential.
2: MagicLots of magic, but science can certainly help here. You can make do with Grimoires For Dummies.
3: Magic flavouredIt's a bad thing with a magic label, but we can all thump it.
4: Science flavouredIt's a MacGuffin with a science label, but anyone can hit it.
5: ScienceIt would really help if we had someone scientific to help, the answers might be available on Wikipedia.
6: SuperscienceI hope you have a tech whiz available, because just pulling out the plug is not going to work.

(I did a bubble plot in Excel — because I had to learn something in Excel, I figured I would do this as well — but haven't saved it as an image and put it up. Later.)

harvey_rrit pointed out that some settings are rich in both science and magic, so maybe you need to roll twice.

Nowadays, I'd probably set the scale at neighborhood - city - nation - international - solar system - cosmic.