Thursday, August 29, 2013

Give Me Some Good Old-Fashioned Superheroics

My husband and I have recently been re-watching episodes of the animated Justice League Unlimited tv series.  Aside from just being fun, it's reminded me how much I like superheroes, comic books, and superhero RPGs, and how I wish I was still involved in a superhero campaign.  Aside from traditional fantasy, superheroes is the only other genre of RPG I really enjoy.

My first experience with a superheroic campaign occurred in about 1996-7.  One of our fantasy campaign GMs also ran a superhero campaign, using the Champions! Hero System RPG.  My husband and I asked if we could sit in after hearing our other friends talk about the game.  The GM agreed, since his Champions! group had recently decreased in size.  But since my husband and I hadn't played much Hero System, the GM had us play characters that had already been created by other players who were no longer participating in the game.  My first Champions! character was an elastic stretching guy similar to Mr. Fantastic or Plastic Man.  His name was Strider.  My husband took on Inertia, a classic flying blaster whose powers were telekinetic.  The rest of the team was composed of Mind Shadow, a telepath; Shockwave, another flying blaster with energy-based abilities; Kien, a martial artist who also had the ability to teleport in short bursts; Yao-shi-fo, a mystical Chinese dragon in human form who was the team's magic-user; and EtherealGirl, the GM's NPC teen sidekick, who could become intangible.

The campaign was set in the city we all live in, which isn't a large city but in the campaign it managed to have plenty of attacks by alien invaders, megalomaniacal supervillains, evil androids, and all the other foes four-color heroes typically face.  It was also kept a bit behind real-world historical continuity.  Time tended to pass very slowly in the game world. Each game session took place in game time that was only a few days after the events that occurred in the previous session, so that by the time an entire year of real world time had passed, only a few weeks of game time had gone by, since we played about twice a month. 

 After my husband and I learned a bit more about the rules by running Strider and Inertia, we created our own characters.  Strider retired to focus on his family and career, and Inertia went off to college.  My husband created Ground Pounder, an ex-supervillain with incredibly elongated arms who could leap great distances and create seismic shocks.  My first hero was Chimera.  She came from another version of reality that was more technologically advanced than the real world or the game setting.  In her reality, superheroes were controlled by the government and organized into a kind of international law enforcement agency.  She had been given nanotechnology that allowed her to manifest body armor, functional wings and projectiles, as well as giving her enhanced strength and speed.  She was transported to the game version of Earth by a transporter malfunction.

I had tried to make Chimera versatile, but unfortunately I ended up making her a jack of all trades and master of none.  She wasn't strong enough to stand up to the big guns in combat, and since most of our sessions were largely combat, I felt ineffectual.  After a while I decided it was time for a change.  Fortunately, in a superhero campaign, it's easy to find an excuse to swap out characters.  Chimera was found by people from her reality and taken back home, and in her place Shocking Pink joined the team. 

I've never liked multisyllabic names for superheroes, but for some reason the name Shocking Pink pleased me.  She was an electrically powered heroine.  When I created her I got help from my friend who ran Kien, who is a master at creating characters with great powers without having to spend an excessive amount of character building points.  Shocking Pink could do almost all of the things I wanted her to be capable of.  She could fire several different types of electrical blasts, transport herself by passing through electrical wiring and other conductive materials, even zap one target and have the blast arc to a second target.  I also gave her a twin, whose powers were identical except that Pink fired pink blasts and her twin's blasts were blue, hence her name: Electric Blue.  In classic comic book style, Electric Blue had chosen the other side of the law.  Sadly my plans for having them be evenly matched didn't come to much; when the GM did bring the evil twin into play ( which was seldom), her powers had changed so that she and Shocking Pink were no longer twins.

I had a lot of fun playing Shocking Pink anyway.  Around the same time, the player running Kien started a Champions! campaign of his own.  His game was set in the fictional city of San Angelo, which was much bigger than the location for the first campaign.  We started with a team of heroes who met for the first time in our first session.  My heroine in that campaign was Xcel.  I chose the name because she excelled at many things.  She could run 60 miles an hour, throw a car, leap to the roof of a five-story building, regenerate from wounds that would be fatal in an ordinary person.  She also had enhanced vision and hearing, and I gave her a couple of levels of density increase to boot.  She was a lot of fun to play, too. 

Our second superteam was composed of Elemento, son of superheroes who commanded the elements of earth, air, fire and water and also had some telepathic powers; Zora, a powerful warrior who had been transported from a medieval fantasy world (she had been the player's character in a prior RuneQuest campaign); and Night Mask, an old-school Batman-style hero who had been retired but had suddenly returned to action (actually it was a new Night Mask, as we eventually discovered, the daughter of the previous one).  We took over protecting San Angelo when the city's existing team retired or otherwise became unavailable.  We eventually acquired an abandoned alien spacecraft as our home base, which was fun because we didn't entirely know how to operate everything in it.  We had a lot of exciting adventures... up to the point that the GM lost his zest for running the game and it came to an end.  I never got to find out what secret organization was menacing Xcel's family.

Several years later another friend decided to run a short-term campaign using the d20 rules superhero setting Mutants & Masterminds.  It was a bit of a challenge creating characters in a new system, even though I was familiar with general d20 rules.  I chose to create Fluxx, a character made of fluid metallic substance who could shapeshift in a limited sense.  As with Chimera, I was never entirely satisfied with her build, but I still had a good time playing with my friends.  This time the rest of the team was made up of speedster Dash, telepath Guardian, crystalline Crystal, and two other characters whose names and powers sadly escape my memory now.  The campaign had a bit of a meltdown after a little while and was discontinued.

Eventually the same GM decided to give us another chance, although this time the group didn't include the two players whose characters I can't remember from the first campaign.  Once again my desires for my character weren't possible to achieve within the limits of the rules.  My fascination with Chinese martial arts movies had inspired me to play a martial artist, Jade Dragon.  Jade was only good for taking out mooks.  She just didn't have the strength or stamina to fight someone with powers.  But the campaign was still a lot of fun because we worked well together and the other characters were well designed.  My husband played Lord Astral, a 19th-century wizard who was revived from magical suspended animation in the 21st century.  Our other friends ran Grunt, a "brick" (tough and strong) who had melded with some alien technology, and Solar Flare, a flying blaster who with solar energy powers who had acquired her abilities from a scientific mishap.  Even though I wasn't happy with how Jade Dragon turned out, I still enjoyed the campaign and was disappointed when it was over. 

As you can see, I've had a fair amount of experience playing superheroes.  None of my characters ever had all the abilities I wanted them to have, but most of the time I didn't mind that too much.  I still think often of superhero games and how much I like them.  I have to say that I prefer Champions! to Mutants & Masterminds.  It's more complicated when it comes to combat - a single combat in Champions! can last for four hours of real time - but it's more versatile than M&M.  If our San Angelo campaign hadn't ended, I could have made Xcel into everything I wanted her to be.  I doubt I would ever have been able to do that with Fluxx or Jade Dragon.

Someday I hope one of my GM friends will again want to run a superhero game.  I hope we'll be able to go bigger than the games I've participated in previously, which tended to focus only on fighting local problems.  Someday I want to be in something like the Justice League or the Avengers, fighting international and interplanetary threats.  I wouldn't mind if our characters were second string heroes, I'd just like to be able to fight off alien invasions or interdimensional threats alongside the big guns.  Let us defend the Earth against Darkseid or Magneto instead of some crime syndicate.  Let me play a character who starts out with most of the powers I want already in place. 

And while I have great nostalgia for my first superhero campaign and will always be grateful to the friend who let me join it, I hope my next superhero campaign lets me grow my character.  Not her powers, but her.  She needs a background that actually has an effect on the campaign, things and people to care about, and a life that involves more than four-hour combat sessions. 

Now I'll return to hoping that someday I get my wish, and planning for the next superhero I'll play.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Growing the Garden of You

Two weeks ago a coworker who was my mentor and to a certain extent my friend was fired.  Yesterday I found out that he had passed away.  I have a lot of thoughts about this running around in my head, but foremost among them is the feeling that my coworker didn't have a good support system.  His family lives across the country.  He didn't seem to have many friends who could help him out when he was in need. 

Having relationships with other people is a bit like growing a garden.  You have to decide what you want to put in it, how big you want it to be, and whether you want plants that are easy to care for, plants that bear fruit or vegetables, or plants that smell nice and are pretty to look at.  Once you determine that, you have to put in some work to keep it up.  If you don't look after your garden, it might be completely overtaken by weeds or die.

Personal relationships are like that garden.  To have friends takes effort.  First, to make friends you have to be a friend.  You have to be generous and supportive and respectful and interested, and sometimes you have to do those things even when you're not getting anything in return from the other person.  You also have to be careful about who you let into your garden.  If your friends don't make you feel good about yourself and proud to count them among your friends, they shouldn't be a part of your life.  It's okay to have some friends who are just casual friends, people you socialize with but don't expect them to help you move.  But they should still be people who make you feel good about you and about spending your time with them.  Don't let your garden fill up with weeds.

Don't let your garden die, either.  Keep in touch with your friends.  Ask them how they are from time to time.  Make time to see them or call them.  Don't keep saying to yourself, "I should really get in touch with X" and never following up on it.  You never know what can happen.  It's true that sometimes friends just grow apart, that whatever it was that made you friends in the first place can fade away, or people change and their personalities and interests no longer mesh with yours.  But when that happens, don't say to yourself, "I can't make friends".  Go out and actively look for new friends.  Go and try new activities, go to new places, don't be afraid to approach people you think might be good candidates and test the waters.  If it doesn't work out, so what?    Try again.  Don't be afraid of failure.

I wish I could have said these things to my coworker, but I don't know if he would have listened.  I just hope that someone else might read this and give some thought to how their garden of friends is growing.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

To Tattoo or Not Tattoo

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, when tattoos were something that only sailors, ex-cons and carnies had.  When tattooing started to become more popular in the alternative culture a few years ago, I had my doubts, based on my upbringing.  Tattoos weren't something to be proud of, they weren't something "nice" people had.

But as tattoos became more common, I started seeing them in unexpected places, on unexpected people.  I knew they'd become mainstream when I noticed that an otherwise fairly conservative woman from my employer's human resources department had a tattoo on her ankle.  The general quality of available tattoos has also dramatically improved.  They are body art, not tacky things done in a back-alley tattoo parlor in Bangkok.  I started to like and admire them. 

But I still didn't want one.  They hurt, of course they hurt, no matter what some people claim.  It's a needle repeatedly jabbing you.  It's painful, the amount of pain varying dependent on the body location, the complexity of the design, and the pain tolerance of the individual.  My pain tolerance isn't great, so I'm afraid of the pain.  They're also expensive, if you get an elaborate one with lots of intricate design and color.  Tattoo sleeves are often gorgeous, but they take hours and lots of money to complete.  What if you run out of money and can't get your design finished?

But it wasn't really the pain or the expense that made me feel I'd never want a tattoo.  It was the indecision.  What would be the right design for me?  Where on my body would be the best spot?  What happens when I get older and my skin stretches and sags and the tattoo no longer looks as attractive as when it was new?  What if I get bored with the design, or just don't like it anymore after a few years?  I was sure that a tattoo would never be the thing for me, because I'd never be able to pick a design that I could live with for the rest of my life, and I was afraid I'd be stuck with something I wasn't happy with and couldn't afford to have it removed.  Something that permanent is scary.  I have pierced ears, but if I decide I don't want pierced ears anymore I can just stop wearing earrings and in a year or less the holes will grow shut. But my body's natural defenses won't get rid of a tattoo. Once you get one it's for the rest of your life.

A few months ago I decided that I really like the gauge earring styles that have become popular with people who stretch their earlobes.  I don't want to wear huge plugs or stretch my lobes so they hang down to my shoulders, but I do want the option to wear larger gauge "tribal" style earrings.  So I bought some stretching gauges and started stretching my piercings.  I'm up to 10 gauge now.  I haven't decided if I'll go bigger, but I'll probably stop at 10 or possibly 8 gauge, no more.  It's still small enough that the holes will shrink if in the future I decide I don't like it anymore, and I can still wear ordinary earrings if I don't feel like wearing the larger gauge ones.

This act of stretching my piercings has awakened in me a desire for a tattoo.  I have a design or two in mind, things I think I can be happy with for the next 20 years.  I've chosen a spot on my body where the ravages of aging shouldn't have too severe an impact, where I can also easily hide the tattoo if I want to:  My back, between the shoulder blades just below the base of my neck.  I've decided not to go for color, because color fades and I don't want to have to worry about touch-ups.  Now all I need is to make the final decision on the design and save some money for the actual inking.  I'm contemplating getting a henna tattoo of the chosen design first, so I can live with it for a few days and see if I really like it. 

The process of deciding on a possible design is difficult.  I like lots of things and have many interests.  Should I have a tattoo of something that represents my sci fi / fantasy fandom?  A Star Wars Rebel Alliance emblem, or the One Ring verse in Elven script?  I think not.  Much as I love my fandom, I don't think I want a representation of it permanently displayed on my skin.  I can't choose which part of that fandom I love more than any other part.  I also love Chinese language.  Should I have some characters or a quote tattooed on my back?  Lots of people have Chinese characters tattooed on their skin. I don't want to look like every other tattooed person.  I want something that makes me happy, something that I can admire in the mirror, something other people will hopefully admire when I choose to permit them to see it. 

Here are a couple of designs I'm contemplating.

This is a mehndi design.  I like the lotus shape - I love lotus flowers.  It also has spirals in it, a shape I'm really drawn to.  It's detailed without being too intricate, and it looks good as a simple outline without any color.

These are more mehndi designs.  I like the sun face second from the top, although I might want to make some minor modifications to it.  I like the rays, but I'm not entirely happy with the lips.

This one isn't an image file.  In the upper left corner of this page there's a design that resembles an eye.  It also reminds me of a cloud.  I really like it.  It's a good graphic design, it's simple, it's Chinese, and it reminds me of a place that I hope to visit someday.  So it would represent both hope and beauty for me.  

I'm trying not to find too many designs.  I don't want to make the choice difficult for myself.  My first thought was to go with the design from Jiuzhai Valley's website, but it's almost too simple, and looks too much like an eye.  Now I'm leaning toward a design like the mehndi lotus, perhaps with some modification to make it more personal to me.  We shall see if I ever actually settle on a design and take the next step toward getting an actual tattoo.