When Chris Miller returned from GenCon last month, he brought me a copy of With Great Power…, a roleplaying game from Incarnadine Press. The title is taken from a classic line spoken by Peter Parker’s uncle, Ben Parker. “With great power,” Uncle Ben told his nephew, “comes great responsibility.” This, perhaps more than anything, is what drives Peter to don the mask of Spider-Man day after day and put himself in harm’s way to protect the innocent from all manner of malevolent villains.
With Great Power…, as you might have guessed, is a superhero roleplaying game, in which players create their own heroes to battle evil and injustice in the world. Unlike so-called “traditional” RPGs, characters in With Great Power… are not defined by a series of ability scores like Strength, Dexterity and Charisma, but rather in more abstract terms, such as their relationships, convictions and sense of duty.
Wednesday evening I walked through “The Origin Process” with Chris and his friend, Matt. With Great Power… is all about collaborative storytelling right from the start. Players (Chris and Matt) and GM (myself) first decide what the overall theme of the game will be. This is expressed in terms of a struggle that each of the characters must face throughout the story. Chris latched onto “Justice vs. Vengeance” almost immediately, and we ran with it.
After the Struggle has been chosen, character creation begins. As with everything else in With Great Power…, character creation is a collaborative process. Players do not create their characters in a vacuum, armed with a set of dice and some general parameters provided by the GM. Instead, each player answers a series of questions about his or her character and the other players are encouraged to add details as the hero is being fleshed out, a process referred to as “penciling”.
None of us were used to this type of character creation, but after spinning our wheels for a few minutes we started to have a lot of fun with it. The characters began to take form as ideas about their origin, powers, relationships and responsibilities came from all directions, some concepts blossoming and others withering on the vine.
Chris’ probability-altering hero is the twentysomething son of a wealthy defense contractor. Young and idealistic, he wants to see the family’s wealth and influence used for more humanitarian purposes, a goal that is directly contrary to his twin sister’s bloodthirsty ambitions. While their father lies in a coma (thanks to an “accident” arranged by the sister), the conflict between the twins will likely escalate from sibling rivalry to a full-fledged familial war.
Halfway around the world, Matt’s hero—struggling to understand and control his newly-emerging superhuman strength—mourns the murder of his Lebanese fianceé and begins his quest for vengeance against those responsible for her death. Little does he know that the trail of her killers will lead him back to the United States, and the arms-dealing daughter of a comatose billionaire…
At this point, The Origin Process isn’t quite complete. We still have to boil the characters’ aspects down to their essence to make it easier to gauge how much they suffer during the thematic Struggle. Suffering is key to the conflict-resolution of the game, which is accomplished through negotiation and playing cards rather than dice rolls. Scenes are built much like characters are created, through a collaborative effort by everyone involved. How well this storytelling concept works for us will be discovered over the next several weeks as we complete The Origin Process and move into enrichment, conflict and the story arc.