RPG: With Great Power… (Part 1 – Origins)

With Great Power...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.

Stay tuned.

13 thoughts on “RPG: With Great Power… (Part 1 – Origins)”

  1. KJ, I’m jealous of you guys playing this. I’m hoping to do so in the future. I’d love to hear more about the process Michael talks about in the book: pencil, script, ink (I’m probably getting the order wrong). I can tell already that the heroes created have more depth than the typical Supers RPG.

    So I have to ask, did anybody leave and abilities on their scratch pad or did they create only enough to bring over the six to fill in the character sheet?

    How was it creating Supers without a list of powers to pick from?

    Follow Your Bliss,
    JJ

  2. [Comment ID #3721 Will Be Quoted Here]

    We’ve not actually done anything with the Scratch Pad and character sheets yet. I went through the scripting questions, then we just started spitballing ideas around the table while I took notes. In our next session, we’ll transfer stuff to the Scratch Pad and characters sheets (probably not the best way to do it, but it’s a new process for us).

    I think we’ve fleshed out both heroes to the point that we’ll be able to identify potential aspects, but I’m not sure how many will be there. I’ll let you know.

    Creating heroes without a set list of powers is at once very liberating and somewhat intimidating. The canvas is blank and your palette is nearly infinite, but the natural tendency is to call upon the superheroes you’re familiar with and use some sort of altered version of their powers.

    Chris’ power is drawn from a Heinlein novel (I believe), and you don’t get much more generic than super-strength. What makes the characters unique is the spin that Chris and Matt put on their abilities (not to mention the rich background stories). For example, the twin sister actually has the same power as her brother (Chris’ character), and the two tend to cancel each other out.

    What makes Matt’s hero unique is that he has no internal gauge of his own strength, and he can’t tell to what degree his power is “on” so he has no idea how much effort to exert in a given situation. His strength operates on a scale, but effort applied is almost a psychological quantity. If he thinks it’ll be difficult to lift a Volkswagen Beetle, he’ll apply maximum effort. If his strength is operating at full scale, he’s likely to inadvertenly toss the car like it was made of Nerf foam.

  3. This sounds so cool! I’m excited that you’re going to be reporting on this.

    Man, I wish that Indie Press Revolution had a wishlist feature because this is yet another game I must add to the list of games I really want.

    I’ve linked to your post over at HHM, by the way. This is something I hope lots of our patrons come over and look in on.

  4. KJ, that sounds awesome. Just your discussion of the character creation process intrigues me, and I’d love to have a chance to play. But I live in the wrong state, and have no gaming group. Alas, such is the way of things.

    Please keep us up to date, I’m really interested to hear more!

  5. Hi, KJ.

    Sounds like you folks had a successful Origin Process. I’m glad to hear it! You mentioned that you haven’t quite translated them to aspects just yet, and that’s cool. I just wanted to add that in my own play, I’ve found 4 aspects to be ideal. With 6, players sometimes lose focus on what they really wanted to do with the character in play.

    I’m looking forward to future installments. Thanks for playing!

  6. It was definitely a good time. I’m glad KJ is writing this up. We had intended to record it, but my kids were rather noisy in the background, and so decided to scrap that idea.

    BTW…the main inspiration for my character froms from Harlan Ellison’s story, “Stuffing.”

  7. [Comment ID #3734 Will Be Quoted Here]

    There’s got to be a joke about the difference between Robert Heinlein and Harlan Ellison in there somewhere…

    Because we are meeting on Wednesdays, the chances that we’ll be able to record our sessions are quite slim, given that there will likely always be kidlings in the background.

  8. So what happened with this game, I’m wondering?

    Alas, we’ve not gotten back together yet. Scheduling difficulties, I’m afraid. I’ve still got all my notes and I’m sure everyone would be willing to play; we just need to get back together.

  9. Man, I hate when that happens. Especially after such a promising kickoff. But heck, I can’t even get that far, getting together the few of my friends who might be interested in a game is problematic to say the least.

    Well, good luck!

  10. I also played “With Great Power”. As for me, this roleplaying game is amazing. I spend hours playing the game with my brother.

  11. @[REDACTED] — Thanks for the comment; With Great Power has a lot of promise, but we were just never able to get back together to play again due to scheduling conflicts.

    If you (or anyone else) wonder why your name is [REDACTED], it’s because I don’t like linking to cheaty, cheaty cheatsters here. I liked your comment, but not the spamtastic website you linked to, so there you go.

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