Colors Explained

Part One: The Mechanics

The idea to run a superhero LARP first came to me, when I was given a superhero character to play in a live-action game set in an insane asylum. My character was the only superhero in the scenario (actually he wasn't even a superhero, just a combat cyborg with a couple of loose screws) and he made a valiant attempt to save the day. Even though he failed, the game got my mind racing. Would it be possible to run a live-action game centering on superheroes? Could it be made interesting, original, playable and true to the genre?

Wonderman, my first superheroic LARP character ever. Picture (C) Jami Jokinen, 1997

The most obvious difficulty with superheroes in a live-action setting was creating a live-action system capable of handling super powers. It would have been relatively easy to create a game with superheroes in it that didn't need a real system, to go around the problem in a variety of ways but that wasn't what I wanted ­ I needed a way to do any kind of superhero story I could think of. Obviously enough, the system was going to be abstract and simulated; much as I'd like to have had gadgets that enabled players to fly, teleport and shoot bolts of energy, I wasn't likely to find any very quickly.

However, a cumbersome rules-heavy system such as the MET wasn't too appealing either. Even though they do fantastic abilities all the time in Vampire, I've found the game to slow down to a crawl whenever people try to do anything complicated. Also, due to the time it takes to use the mechanics, the system is prone to "time slips" where time seems to move at different rates for people doing different things. This is very unfair for characters who are supposedly very fast but tied down to a slow system. Since the superhero genre inevitably has big, hairy battles with a million things happening at once, as well as characters doing things at very different speeds, the game system would not only have to be very fast but include an efficient way of dealing with time slips.

Some GMs put the game on hold whenever a battle was going on somewhere, to make sure that no time slips occur and that everything moves at a similar pace. This was fair, but very awkward: the GM had to run all over the game site to make sure everybody had completed their actions. The players also had no fun just standing around waiting for the next combat round. Maybe if some way was found to enhance communication between the players and the gamemasters - and then the answer came to me in a flash.

Whenever a character does something that requires an altered time rate and affects many characters (such as starts a big fight), the entire game is put on hold, taken out of the live-action format and into an RPG-like conflict resolution model (which would be called 'the tactical model' in the manual). The GM would announce the transfer by blowing a loud whistle. The rules system remains the same, but all the players are gathered in one place, where the GM runs the situation like he would in a tabletop RPG. This may or may not include miniatures and scale models; the most important thing is that the GM takes charge of the entire situation and all character actions are made through him. When the situation normalizes, the game returns to live-action model.

This was not particularily live-action, but it was the only way I could think of that would give combat the right feel for the genre. The rules system itself would not change at all, and most of the time the players would still be able to use it without the need for a gamemaster.

Having solved (what seemed at the time) the most difficult problem with the game, I set out to complete the system. I didn't want a character generation system, and therefore all I needed were fairly simple basic rules, with special observations on how particular super powers worked being given only to players whose characters had those powers. This minimized the amount of memorizing required; it also kept the system compact (from the players' point of view anyway). A modified rock-scissors-paper was used as the random element in the system, tweaked so that it gave out random numbers from 1 to 6. This way we could use dice with the tactical model (and if so desired, even during the course of normal play).

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