Monday, February 28, 2005

Blood and Guts II: origins of a fascination

So I just finished the first draft of Blood and Guts II. Its funny the books you return to and the subjects that draw you back.

I wish I could blame it on the news, that I turn on the news and see the War on Terror and am influenced by the power of the media into writing these books.

But that would be bullshit.

You could tell what I wanted to do with d20 Modern by the books that I tripped over myself to write, and that would give you way more information than you probably wanted to know about my misspent youth.

The fact is, I have always been fascinated with superheroes, gothic horror, the martial arts, and, of course the military.

As a bookish lad, tough guys always held a certain appeal. Conan. The Avengers. Captain America. Iron Fist. And Mack Bolan.

Yes that's right, I read Mack Bolan books. Ok, maybe devoured would be a better word. The male Harlequin Romance (and that's literally what they are- the company that makes Mack Bolan books has been a Harlequin subsidiary for some time now) occupied hours of my high school time that probably would have been better spent being a good student.

The early books, were the War Against the Mafia. Hard hitting, crime busting Mack Bolan. The government was after him for being a vigilante just as much as the mob was (sound familiar? it should to the comics fans out there- Punisher is a rip-off errrrrrrrrrr homage to the early Mack Bolan, right down to both being snipers in Viet Nam).

Eventually, however, the government decided to make its peace with Mack, because they had a bigger war for him to fight: global terrorism.

This must be yesterday right? Well actually it was the 80's and to me the idea that America might need a covert war against terrorism was something of a novel idea, but one that I loved immediately.

While the old Mack went from city to city, always one step ahead of Murder Inc in his war on the Mafia, the new Mack had government resources and could strike from no where, then sink back into the night. The whole world was his killing ground, and there was a lot of scum to wipe clean from the windshield.

When d20 Modern first came out... this was one of the three key areas I saw for adventure.

It was a purely personal, purely selfish decision, and is, for better or worse, the way I design. Looking around, I saw that the big companies already modern games had their own ideas of what would sell.

AEG had Spycraft, a great game for mission impossible/James Bond genre, and Wizards seemed to be trying to leverage the Forgotten Realms into the 2oth century.

Both choices made a lot of sense. Mission Impossible is an almost perfect role playing group dynamic. Plus they are incontrovertibly good guys, almost rarely killing. I enjoyed the show when I was kid (though it was too formulaic for me to become a huge fan), and it had a current high profile movie franchise to remind millions of gamers what a cool game it would make.

Urban Arcana/Shadow Chasers had the Buffy factor on its side... and besides, if I owned the Forgotten Realms Id leverage the hell out of it too. Easily one of the most popular styles of gaming (high fantasy, high magic, high action, high romance... hell high everything). Why not?

But I had a darker vision floating through my head. Indiana Jones rescuing enslaved young children in Ankara... Iron Fist dueling an immortal dragon on a snowswept hill, risking his life to return to civilization and hunt down the man who killed his father... and Mack Bolan kicking in doors in Lebanon looking for terrorist masterminds.

In all honestly it seemed a little crazy to me at the time. I wasn't even sure that the game system was a good match to the kind of gritty modern adventures I had always enjoyed running.

I had become aware of the need for a good rules system for gritty modern games back in the aforementioned 80's when I made my first foray into modern gaming, with the Hero supplements Danger International and Justice Inc.

I love the Hero system. And yes I know its complex. But still, this is the 80's. It was better than 2nd edition D&D by a light year or two. However, it wasnt a very good fit for the type of modern game I wanted to run. Although it is possible to make Hero deadly-ER it is not possible to make it deadly.

So I gradually gravitated towards GURPs... a game that I would put in the holy trinity of the best designed games of all time (that's d20, GURPS and Hero). Now GURPs has the opposite "problem" that Hero does. Just as I would not prefer to run Hero for a gritty modern vigilante game, I would not prefer to run GURPs for supers.

Sure you can compensate for the systems tendencies, but since I own both books why bother.

However, I also like classes. And the opportunity to take d20 Modern into the unknown territory of a gritty special ops game was irresistable.

In some ways, the early days of d20 Modern, when the product section on RPGNow was pretty much just some of RPGObjects books and the awesome game mechanics stuff, will always be the best days as a designer (so far) I've ever had.

As for how I did... well more on that next time...

Chuck

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