|August 18, 2010||Posted by Walt Ciechanowski|
With Villains & Vigilantes back in action this summer, I thought I’d revisit a topic that had always bugged me about that system. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was a great game at the time and actually found it rather elegant compared to some other contemporary supergames (and V&V‘s ads in Dragon Magazine actually included a fully statted hero or villain–how cool is that!?). But the one thing that really bugged me in the “crawl up my rear end and refuse to die” sorta way was character generation.
Rather than roll up or design Clark Rogers, Steel Patriot, Defender of Metro City, I was expected to play Walt Ciechanowski, overweight gamer who randomly rolled his powers and, with his other two unexceptionally physical superfriends, bravely defend the local mini-mart and pizza joint from supervillains with questionable ambitions. That’s right, you were expected to play yourself and defend your hometown (to be fair, I think the rules suggested using the closest city, but I’m pretty sure Philadelphia warranted better superheroes).
Needless to say, character generation was a nightmare, with the rules suggesting arm wrestling each other to determine Strength (how we figured out the baseline is another matter) and comparing I.Q.s or SAT scores to determine Intelligence (I guess we had to go to the local mall and try to pick up dates in order to determine our Charisma scores…looking back on my 12 yo social calendar, I must’ve ended up with a very low score). I don’t think we ever actually played, as giving ourselves scores created such a fuss that we abandoned it and used the “optional” character generation system buried elsewhere in the book.
So can having your group play themselves work? I don’t know. I only have one other experience to go by, and that was a Vampire: the Masquerade game. My buddy decided to run a campaign with all of us playing ourselves. While I protested (still obviously emotionally scarred from my V&V experience a decade and a half prior), I gamely played along. We were allowed to stat ourselves normally, so apparently my hedge mage self worked out a lot more often and spent more than a month and a half in a dojo.
Unfortunately, the campaign failed to capitalize on our backstories other than to give us a common bond to get involved in the adventure. We really could have made up completely new characters and been given the “you’re all childhood friends” speech and we would’ve been fine. The GM felt a little stung when we told him it wasn’t very interesting and he ended the campaign rather quickly.
All that being said, I could see playing yourselves as something very cool for a one-shot Call of Cthulhu or Wild Cards (assuming you don’t pull a Black Queen) adventure, but in my limited experience I’ve just never seen it done well.
There is also much stock to be put in the argument that you roleplay yourself all the time, so why would you want to do it at an RPG session? There’s also the consideration of real-life loved ones being harmed in such a campaign, as well as “interesting” complications (“why is your character hitting on Rob? We’ve been a couple for three years! You’re cheating on me!”).
So today’s hot button is this: Have you ever been involved in a “play yourselves” situation? If so, how did it go? If not, would you consider running or playing such a campaign? Why or why not?
About Walt Ciechanowski
Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.