Don Bisdorf

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Articles in the Game Design category

Limited Series Playtest, Part 3

Fri 03 June 2022 | Game Design

Now that we have some heroes and some villains for my Marvellous Heroes TTRPG Jam game, let's write some comic books!

In this phase of the game, the players take turns drawing cards to decide what occurs in the next issue of their hero's comic. Based on the prompt that matches the card value, you briefly summarize what happened in this issue and what dramatic tension escalated as a result. I'll go through this step-by-step for the first issue of Zephyr's comic series.

For this issue, I draw the two of diamonds. Consulting the events chart gives me this prompt:

Event: You need your relationship partner's help to break the law.

Drama: Public Image or Relationship

Looking at Zephyr's character elements, I come up with the following story for this issue:

Zephyr wants to sabotage one of the city's most polluting factories, and needs help from her husband, Storm Giant. He's wary of breaking the law, but he agrees. He distracts factory security by approaching the factory in his giant form, while Zephyr transforms into wind to slip inside. She breaks some critical equipment, and when the guards finally show up to apprehend her, she uses her wind powers to scatter them and escape.

I have to choose what sort of dramatic tension to escalate, and I choose drama associated with my public image. The factory security cameras have captured images of Zephyr, and those images go public. Now a suspicious public knows what Zephyr looks like, and knows that she's perfectly willing to trash private property. I make a note that I've escalated Zephyr's public image drama to level 1.

Now I visit the rest of the team, round robin, like this:

Storm Giant Issue #1: Storm Giant pursues an elusive serial killer and realizes that he needs expert help gathering intelligence. In desperation, he asks Deus Ex for help. Deus Ex's utopian ideals are opposed to human predators, and the robot is happy to assist. Deus Ex uses their digital and telepathing information-gathering talents to locate the killer, and Storm Giant uses his giant size and his lightning bolts to apprehend the perpetrator. However, Deus Ex secretly also collects sensitive information about Storm Giant, storing it away in case the cult leader ever needs to confront the thunderbolt-throwing superhero. Our drama level for Deus Ex escalates to 1.

Salamander Issue #1: The crimeboss Vrykolakas threatens Salamander, claiming that he will help the government find and apprehend Salamander, who is, after all, a strange and unknown life form. To avoid this fate, Salamander must shut down a criminal organization that rivals Vrykolakas's own operation. Backed into a corner, Salamander uses his fiery duplicates to burn down the rival group's headquarters, and uses his sticky tongue to capture the fleeing criminals and turn them over to the police. We escalate drama for Salamander's public image to level 1, because the people of the city now believe that Salamander is working for Vrykolakas.

Gearhead Issue #1: After the events of Salamander #1, Vrykolakas commits a series of crimes and frames Salamander for them. Gearhead initially believes that Salamander is guilty and confronts them, but eventually comes to believe that Salamander is innocent. Angered, Gearhead climbs into his steampunk burrowing tank and goes hunting for Vrykolakas, which results in a city-wide chase where Gearhead pursues the crime boss's ghost limousine. In the end, Vrykolakas escapes and goes into hiding. We escalate the relationship drama between Gearhead and Salamander because Gearhead was willing to believe Salamander was guilty, and this has driven a wedge between them.

Zephyr Issue #2: A vicious real estate baron hires the Operator to evict a pack of stubborn residents, by any means necessary. When Zephyr intervenes, the Operator takes a few residents hostage. Zephyr wind-teleports in to rescue the hostages, and the Operator sets off a series of poison-gas bombs. Zephyr uses her wind powers to blow away the gas and save the hostages, but the Operator escapes. The hostages, unfortunately, believe that Zephyr was reckless and nearly got them killed, escalating her public image drama to level 2.

Storm Giant Issue #2: A criminal from Storm Giant's home dimension arrives on Earth to commit more crimes. The twist: the criminal and Storm Giants had been lovers back home, and though he had apprehended her for her crimes, his feelings for her led him to release her. Now he tracks her down again, wracked with guilt for letting her escape once, and struggling with his lingering feelings for her. After a battle in which both Storm Giant and his ex-lover become giant-sized and slug it out with fists and lightning, Storm Giant captures her again, this time turning her over to Earth authorities. His guilt over releasing her the first time, combined with his guilt for incarcerating her now, leads him to doubt all of his principles. We escalate the drama for his personal struggle to level 1.

Salamander Issue #2: Vrykolakas publicly declares that Salamander is "an alien threat in our streets" and gives the city police enough faked evidence to put Salamander high on the list of public enemies. Salamander goes on the run, using his fire duplicates to evade and confuse the police, using his sticky tongue to tangle them up, threatening them with fire blasts when he's cornered. In the end, Salamander remains free, but the public is convinced that he's a menace. We escalate his public image drama to level 2.

Gearhead Issue #2: Gearhead believes that Deus Ex's ideals might lead the robot to abandon his malevolent tactics. He tries to persuade Deus Ex to abandon the "manipulative cult leader" gig, but Deus Ex exploits Gearhead's sympathy and tries to ambush the hero. Deus Ex's cult troops nearly fry Gearhead's tank with electrical cannons, but Gearhead drives the cultists off with blaster fire and lifts his tank to freedom using the tank's crane arms. We escalate Deus Ex to a level 2 villain.

We're only two issues in and we have scheming villains, romantic entanglements, and heroes who are misunderstood by a suspicious public.

I'll present issues 3 and 4 in my next post.

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