Monday, January 31, 2011

Secret Wars Marathon

Ahh, has there ever been a comic finer than Secret Wars? Ok, so yeah, there has. Many times.

But I will maintain that there has never been a finer idea for a comic than Secret Wars. In the Speak, Memory-esque words of its creator:

"Fans, especially young fans often suggested to me 'one big story with all the heroes and all the villains in it', so I proposed that. It flew."

That, my friends, is what democracy is all about. Any political system which results in The Lizard playing pattycake with Klaw, Mad Master of sound, is clearly the finest on All Possible Infinite Earths. Aaaanyway...

Relevant point for this particular here blog is that Secret Wars was indeed popular and so got very efficiently turned into an adventure by TSR in short order and this adventure is actually kind of good. (If you don't believe me, you can take a look at it and nearly everything else ever created officially or otherwise for the old Marvel FASERIP system here.)

It's actually not surprising that Secret Wars survived the transition from comic to adventure intact since the plot pretty much could've been one of those framing paragraphs you see in ads for con wargames "A spastastically powerful and poorly dressed god has teleported a ton of A-list villains and heroes to a planet full of random trouble and forced them to do battle. There are some bases for each side to hide out in and, also, Galactus." Or, as finer minds than mine might put it: : "ON THE PLANET ARE VILLAINS, FIGHT!"

The adventure, like the FASERIP system itself, is elegant as fuck: an opening exposition spiel (roughly the same one the heroes from a disembodied voice in the comic), a map of part of the planet (a hexmap, even) and maps of some bases, a timeline of what the villains will do if left unmolested, and a handful of random possible other events to be rolled at regular intervals...and reams of superhuman stats--natch.

Now I could probably write a whole blog entry about how this is a great Archetypal Old School Adventure Format that should be in every publisher's arsenal right next to the Site-Based Adventure and that it could readily be used for any kind of war story or megacrossover emulator and that if you just substitute, say, the Wilderlands of High Fantasy for battleworld you've got a whole factional-warfare-plus-sandbox railroad-free campaign right there but that's not where I'm going with this today.

Where I'm going is: we're definitely playing this. I have never ever ever run anything where people play characters other than ones they themselves have created, but the monopoly-with-squatters-effect possibilities of seeing McCormick play The Mighty Thor is just too fucking good to pass up.

The emails have gone out, and it's on the calendar. So far The Thing, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Nightcrawler, Rogue, and Storm have all written back and I'm waiting for a handful more.

I have scheduled it several months in advance, to be sure everyone has the entire weekend clear. Another nice thing about scheduling it for late spring is: I have several months to think of how to make it more fucked up and complicated.

So: suggestions?

Have you read this comic?* Have you played this module? (Big Fella, Barking Alien and Delta I am looking at you.)

Things I am currently considering:

-Adding random tables for found Kirbytech and room features (convenient water pipes, electrical lines, etc.) (maybe could be repurposed for Gigacrawler, too.)
-Fucking with the Hulk at intervals, Peter David style.
-Making Kang do some stupid time-warp tricks.
-Having my Mac do Ultron's voice for me.
-Giving battleworld slightly more personality.
-Going nuts with the over-the-top karma-awards for hamming-it-up a-la whoever you're playing. Like if you're the Thing and manage to say "Whatta revoltin' development", hey, 5 Karma points there, young sportsman!
-Along the same lines, since "... only FOURTEEN sentences of dialogue in the entirety of the Secret Wars series ended with a period. Every other sentence ended with either a question mark or an exclamation point!!"...Karma points will be subtracted for every time a PC says something in character that is NOT confused or excited!!!??!!
-Adding MODOK

And, hey, if it all goes well, I may run it at a con.

*If not, you should. It is divine nectar from the comic book gods.


  1. Secret Wars was one of the first superhero comics I ever read, and I love it to this day.

    I don't know how big a role the Beyonder plays in the adventure itself, but you could have him turn up disguised as another character every so often, and award bonus karma if the players uncover him.

    I would add Devil Dinosaur, Death's Head and Rocket Raccoon to the roster, but that's just me. Oh, and the nextwave team.

    Also worth reading is Beyond!, which is a sort-of-sequel, and Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine, which has some of the same crazy storytelling energy.

    There may be more later. I've got to think about something at work, after all.

  2. You could go the TICK route and have them fight on Galactus.

    MODOK could be treasure that can be assembled and activated by whoever collects enough pieces. The K-module may also indicate "Kewpie dolls" or "Keggers," if the characters fail their Understand Aliengrish rolls.

  3. You're going to do a whole thing about the part where Spider-Man stumbles into that weird lab and (spoiler warning?) finds the black costume for the first time, right? Or will the costume be a character in its own right?

    Also, the bit where the Hulk has to hold up an entire mountain range! What a classic...

  4. Remember those Marvel Handbooks that gave descriptions of all the characters? One of the descriptive bits thrown into those writeups was that all of the characters who somehow either gained or loss mass as part of their powers (Wasp, Hulk, etc) did so by tapping into some weird mass-based dimension. This has (as far as I know) never actually brought up in the comics, but as it was in the OHOTMU books, it's still kinda semi-canon. Anyways, Battleworld could have ancient alien devices that allowed you to tap into this dimension, which could result in a 50-foot Spider-Man, or a 6-inch Dr. Doom.

  5. You put it: "ON THE PLANET ARE VILLAINS, FIGHT!" but don't forget-- just as important to Secret Wars is "ON THE PLANET THERE ARE HEROES, THERE ARE MISUNDERSTANDINGS, FIGHT!"

    Maybe a PC battle royale is a good way to start?

  6. @mordicai

    Depends on whether my Magneto and Wolverine show up.

  7. * Make Secret Wars actually be about secrets: everyone has a plot-relevant secret bit of information about themselves or someone else that they have to keep from sharing. Ridiculous mode: everyone is a Skrull.
    * Spidey's black costume, but someone else gets it (if it's not in there already)
    * Events of Decimation happens part-way through.

  8. Have I read a major crossover comic from the late 80's by one of the big two? Yes. Yes I read Secret Wars.

    I was not a big fan of it, partially because I'm less of a Marvel guy than a DC guy and partially because it...I don't was ok.

    The later part of it came out as DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths came out if I recall correctly and it paled in comparison so much I lost interest in Secret Wars. I think I went back and reread it later.

    Its a fun excerise and idea for a game (though actually I think Contest of Champions had a cooler premise)but here are some suggestions for making it even better...

    1. Make the Godlike-Entity not SUCK SO MUCH! Give him so kind of motive, personality, purpose to all this or something. And redesign him. Think Kirby all the way.

    2. Random Kirby Tech Generator = Awesome.

    3. Make Battleworld cooler by giving it personality as you suggest but also have the planet actually battle the heroes. Think DC's Warworld or even an insane version Mogo.

    4. Only Hero PCs? Secret Wars was about the Heroes and Villains transported to this place to battle. If its a one shot why not let some people be bad guys?

    5.Expand that Costume Generating Lab thing so more heroes and villains can get the Black Costume effect. Better yet, remember why the Black Costume formed in the first place? Maybe other alien life native to the planet gets in there. Can you imagine Iron Man armor made from a living alien organism. Awesome.

    6. Include MODOK for sure.

  9. Dare Devil was not in Secret Wars, but when the toy line came out he was included for some reason.

    Secret War Toy line might inspire you.

    Series 1
    Captain America
    Doctor Doom
    Doctor Octopus
    Iron Man
    Kang the Conqueror

    Series 2
    Baron Zemo
    Spider-Man (black costume)

    Foreign Releases

    Vehicles and Playsets

    Doom Copter (released with or without Doctor Doom)
    Doom Cycle (released with or without Doctor Doom)
    Doom Roller
    Doom Star Glider (with Kang)
    Marvel Super Heroes Freedom Fighter Playset
    Marvel Super Villains Tower of Doom Playset
    Star Dart Glider (with Black Costume Spider-Man)
    Turbo Copter
    Turbo Cycle

    If you can find them there were some of What Ifs? regarding Secret Wars that included some new characters.

    Bravado is the son of Thor and Enchantress.

    Chokehold is the daughter of Absorbing Man and Titania

    Crusader is the daughter of Captain America and Rogue (although Rogue's body is now dominated by the personality of Ms. Marvel)

    Firefly is the son of Human Torch and Wasp,

    Gator is the son of Lizard

    Malefactor is the son of Doctor Doom and Enchantress

    Moleculon is the son of Molecule Man and Volcana

    Mustang is the son of Hawkeye and She-Hulk,

    Raze is the son of Wrecker

    Torrent is the daughter of Wolverine and Storm.

  10. I always wondered what was missing from my life, and now I know - I don't have my own Doom Copter.

  11. My terrible confession is that I've never actually read Secret Wars. I suppose I will.

  12. In 6th grade, a guy I went to school with and played AD&D with (once) wanted me to run Secret Wars. He loaned me the book with all the hero and villain stats in it and I was intrigued. Up until then, my only exposure to superheroes was TV - Incredible Hulk show, Spider-Man on Electric Company, Super Friends. So, I actually started reading comics because somebody wanted me to run MSH (which I never did - he moved away before we could organize anything).

  13. David's "What If?" comment gave me a nifty idea: what if the Scret Wars weren't so handily over within however many weeks they canonically took? What if the heroes and villains were so evenly matched that it turned into a decades-long, multi-generational war? That the heroes finally realized the only way to ever get off the forsaken rock was to actually slaughter the villains? And of course during this time they hook up (as people do), have kids, train the kids to fight...

    And then... AND THEN... the stage is set for a bloodthirsty, super-powered version of Romeo & Juliet.

  14. Oh hey, speaking of Galactus, and assuming you wanted to use a premise slightly less weird than the Beyonder:

    Galactus is dying (again! I know, right?) and decides that he needs an heir. Since Earth is the only planet to have vexed him multiple times, clearly it is the birthplace of his new progeny. Whomever distinguishes themselves the most during during this conflict will receive the Power Cosmic and become the next Devourer of Worlds.

    Also, Battleworld is totally comprised of pieces of planets that Galactus has already eaten, meaning the PCs are fighting on what amounts to a crumb casserole.

  15. Geez, I just wrote a big Secret Wars blog myself a few days ago (to be published next Saturday).

  16. ... and now I just realized that your Jedi-mind tricks addressed me in the post. Secret Wars is my single most-re-read comic. I have the MSH adventure but never ran it.

  17. On things your considering: Sounds really good. I would skip using the Mac speech if it slows down the game pacing to activate/listen to it.

    - What you'll see as my number one complaint/fix: Get rid of the Denver suburb. If you're going for "edge of the universe alien-ness", commit to that. (See also: "Giving battleworld slightly more personality.").

    - If you think about scrambling up the roster involved, I definitely would have been unable to avoid having the Juggernaut and the Mandarin in my version. And Kang is definitely underused, he needs more gags.

    - The Karma awards you're thinking about are actually right in the book: "Good role-playing 1-10 Karma" [MSH Campaign Book, p. 23-24].

    I'm so excited I can't stop posting!?!!

  18. Uatu the Watcher. There was a great bit in a terrible What If? issue where the heroes never got off Battleworld and they were set to try again 20 years later. And Uatu the Watcher showed up and they freaked because he only actually shows up in person and makes his presence known if A) something really astounding and fortuitous is about to happen or B) something horrible and cataclysmic is about to happen. Terrible What If (Ultron reprogrammed as a LeapFrog for the kid Doom sired with the Enchantress, taking Thor's sloppy seconds) but for fucking with my PCs it's an idea I'd use. Anyway you can always use more big-headed guys.



    3. VENOM


  20. Also, they could stumble across the corpses of the superhumans who had previously fought on the Battleworld. Whether these superhumans are from an alternate Marvel universe (Earth-789, where the Avengers swear allegiance to Lord Tesla) or from another published universe (i.e. the JLA), some of their high-tech doodads left over might prove useful (what happens when Nightcrawler gets his hand on a Power Prism or a Green Lantern ring?). There might have been multiple generations of battles, which could stretch back quite a while (the steampunk Fantastic Four almost managed to escape Battleword).

    Besides the aforementioned black symbiote costume (which could attach to anyone and possibly enhance their powers accordingly) and the mass/size-change doohicky I mentioned earlier (roll d10 to see what power is granted: 1-4 growth, 5-7 shrinking, 8-9 mass increase, 10 mass decrease/phasing, roll power level randomly, power is always on, learning to control it is a power stunt), there should be plenty of Kirby tech lying around that could otherwise alter or add powers to a character.

    Have more than one opposing group; they don't have to necessarily be villainous, but they still might wind up fighting our heroes unless a lot of diplomacy is somehow finessed. The Shi'ar Imperial Guard and some of the Russian superheroes come to mind.

  21. one thing- The Wreaking Crew. Their best line ( not from secert wars thou :-(
    " I'm going to make eat this bar"

  22. And if your looking for any more TSR Marvel Super Hero stuff, go to
    They have all of the adventures, rule books and supplements their for free.

  23. I can SO not wait for the post-play, play-by-play on this one.

  24. @baronzemo

    Zemo, I linked to that site in the post. but thanks

  25. Also - just recently, Marvel did a mini-series that has been collected to trade called SPIDER-MAN AND THE SECRET WAR(

    Ostensibly, its for Marvel's kids line of comics, but there's a fun sequence with a de-powered Ben Grimm and Spidey in the Denvere suburb while Dr Doom is recruiting Volcana and Titana. There's also a fun bit with The Enchantress dealing with The Wrecking Crew, Spider-Man and a few others and just being bored because they're too easy to set against each other.

    (also - random Kirby-device-inator kicks ass!)

  26. Knightsky's idea is so awesome is rip-off-able.

    I apologize for the opening line of my previous comment. I meant it to sound humorous but it just sounds like I'm being dicky.

    Don't comment at 7am after 4 hours of sleep folks.

  27. Knightsky: This has (as far as I know) never actually brought up in the comics
    Yeah it has, the Avengers had their "infinite mansion" in this space for a while.

    Menace 3 Society: Ridiculous mode: everyone is a Skrull.
    Oh no, not again, please. Although that said, it would probably be more fun as a Paranoia style game than it ever was as a comic.

  28. As I recall, and it's been decades since I read it, everyone arrives on Battleworld at more or less the same time. Why not have a few late arrivals turn up during the scenario? Particularly if the players are good at dealing with their opponents; it would be a fun twist to have them deal with the Wrecking Crew then BAMF! the Juggernaut and Fin Fang Foom turn up.

  29. FASERIP was the very first RPG I ever played. I was in 8th grade and someone was running as part of a Teddy Bear picnic or something. I remember playing Collosus and punching things. Most of my characters since then have been similar.

    I'm going to raise my vote for two of the cooler ideas above. First I like the idea of Battle World as a multiversal vattle ground that has seen this sort of fight over and over again over the years. Finding Superman's corpse with a shard of kryptonite sticking out of it... or if you want to keep it Marvel based Hyperion with a shard of argonite. I think it is a nice reward for people with some extra bit of comics knowledge.

    Secondly the introduction of the Venom symbiote in the form of the black spiderman suit really is the most lasting legacy of Secret Wars. In the interest of old school, I'd avoid the newer school of thought that has symbiotes giving their users spiderman's power set and either enhance the wearer's physical abilities or enhance their powers. I was never clear if Spiderman got stronger wearing the suit because it enhanced his normal strength or because it enhanced his 'proportional strength of a spider' ability.

    Additionally, how about adding some random weather. Sand storms, blazing heat, and deadly lightning strikes all should make the battles more interesting. A long enough lasting storm could also serve to drive the players down into the dungeons below the planet's surface in hopes of finding escape.

    If this ends up happening at a convention near me, I call dibs on Colossus.

  30. Yeah it has, the Avengers had their "infinite mansion" in this space for a while.

    Huh, I always wondered if that would ever be used in the comics. What issues of Avengers did that happen in?

    and Fin Fang Foom turn up

    Actually, having various non-aligned 'monsters' which would randomly show up on the map for the heroes or villains to deal with could make for an interesting 'environmental hazard'.

  31. Knightsky, it was quite recently, in the Dan Slott run on Mighty Avengers.

  32. Never read the original series, but tasted it's aftermath as Secret Wars II percolated thru the Marvel comics of the day and the Beyonder manifested as a be-mulleted David Hasselhoffoid being who wanted to be a real boy. (That whole thing wrapped up pretty weirdly.)

    As for the module, it was probably the best gaming experience I ever had in high school, when me and my friends played it over a weekend, each one taking the role of an entire team. (I played the X-Men.)

    I stumbled on this post late so I can't really make any coherent suggestions, besides throw some Celestials in there if you really wanna be Kirby-riffic.

    Hell, if you really wanna mess with your players have some New Gods drop out of a boom tube for cross-continuity laffs.

    I'll wrap up with this:

  33. Instead of using Mac-synthesized speech, you could record bits of Ultron's dialogue and process the hell out of them in GarageBand, to make them sound robotic.

    Could also be useful for Galactus, Doom, etc.

  34. @Menace 3 Society & @kelvingreen

    "Ridiculous mode: everyone is a Skrull."

    That is just stupidbrilliant enough to work!