Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Big Hero 6 and Supers Character Design

I caught a showing of Big Hero 6 (It's good; if you like Supers you'll like it) and walked away with a couple of ideas on designing super-heroes. 

First is that the heroes in this are very focused (and if you've seen the previews I'm not spoiling anything): 4 of the 5 humans have better than normal physical stats, heightened intelligence and a single device. Hiro has a Giant Robot (or Animated Servant in V&V speak). Gogo has her magnetic wheels (Heightened Speed Device). Wasabi has his short range plasma generator (Disintegration Ray Device) and Honey has her chemical mixing kit (Poison/Venom Device is how I'd stat that). Our fifth hero, Fred, lacking Heightened Intelligence, has an armor suit his friends built that gives him 'monster powers' (Armor Device). This is very much in keeping with Marvel idiom of characters built cleanly around a single theme. 

As you can guess, I’d argue that V&V can build out a Big Hero 6 team very quickly and would be my go-to system for this. Not only does its random power generation work well when you have small number of powers to integrate, but it generally produces heroes who are both super and in spitting distance of the ‘man on the street’. That catches the vibe here really well.

It also fits for a team idiom where no one of the heroes has the classic super set up of Movement, Damage Resistance, Damage Delivery and Detective/Sensing Ability. Yes, Baymax (Hiro’s Animated Servant) has all of those abilities, but Baymax is still extrinsic to Hiro – he can be separated from him, have to recover him, lose control of him – which carries a different feel both in the narrative and in play from him having his own Iron Man style armor suit. That forces the heroes to work together and provides strong niche protection.

You can tell the design session for the characters was ‘everyone is a tech genius from the college Nerd Lab who builds their powers’. This is followed instantaneously by the special snowflaking of
Fred: can I be the non tech genius school mascot who hangs out in the tech lab?!?!
GM: sure Fred, we’ll let you be the school mascot.
Fred: Can the school mascot actually be a Monster?!?
GM: No Fred, the school mascot is not an actual monster. But the tech geniuses can build your normal person a monster suit.
Fred: Awesome! I’m a giant monster!
GM: Fred, What’s your characters code name?
Fred: Fred

Fortunately no one else tried to special snowflake; more importantly by making being super-smart a requirement the characters have to differentiate on something else. Like Pendragon demanding that all of the PC be knights that restriction generates creativity – everyone is a different kind of smart, has a different take on their smartness and produces different powers from that. Something to keep in mind next time you’re building out a hero team. 

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