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Friday, March 02, 2007

Baby, it's a party as long as you're there

Okay. So, I'm supposed to be doing this bachelor party thing the night before my wedding to SuperFiancee. Best man Nate is organizing it. I really wanted to play some HeroClix, but Nate's running into some rough weather there with the other bachelor party invitees, who just "aren't HeroClix kinda people".

I was really at a loss as to what else we could do at a bachelor party for me. I don't drink, and I've long since gotten over any passing attachment I may have had for attention from surgically enhanced women who are being paid to be nice to me, or watching porn with anyone else in the room besides a chick I'm having sex with. So, what to do with myself and maybe half a dozen other guys, on the night before I get married? I've never been big on poker. I can't teach all these people to play Magic, and clearly they're a buncha stiffs anyway so most of them wouldn't enjoy it. I have a few other geek games like WIZ WAR and TITAN, but if they don't like clix, why would they like either of those? Plus, TITAN would take forever with that many people playing it.

So, I'd suggested he get everybody to chip in on a hotel room with a DVD player and we could watch movies. Boring as hell, I know, but honestly, I couldn't think of much else.

Then Nate came back with "What about that game you invented in Florida, back before you started playing HeroClix?"

That game I invented in Florida... What the hell was he talking about...?

Oh, yeah. KILLQUEST!

It's a blast from the past, baby! Oh YEAH! Goin' all the way back to the sizzlin' Summer of 2003 --


Back in college, the Late Great Jeff Webb and I created a game we called KILLQUEST. Basically, we took three empty pizza boxes and put a copy of a detailed dungeon map we’d made in each of them. Then, two players would set up five person teams of superheroes under certain broad guidelines, and those teams would enter the dungeon map from opposite sides. A referee would keep track of both teams’ movements on his master map (each player had 5 push pins labeled 1 through 5, the referee had ten push pins, one set blue, one set red, also labeled 1 through 5 each, and a list of which character on which team corresponded to each number), duplicating each set of moves each player made on his own master map and then examining it to see if there had been any encounters yet. When one character ran into another character on the map, the referee would announce it, pointing out on each player’s map where they saw the other character, and who each character saw.

This was one of the most fun aspects of the game, namely, finding out who was on the other team. The framework for setting up teams was very vague: we divided all supercharacters up into roughly six levels -- level 1, non-super powered characters (Batman, Captain America), level 2, characters with only one, not particularly powerful, ability (like nearly any member of the Legion of Superheroes, or Mr. Fantastic, or Hawkman, or Cyclops, or Green Arrow), level 3, characters with multiple super-powers that still weren’t overwhelmingly powerful (the Beast, say, or Spider-Man, although I always made Spider-Man a level 4 when I was referee, because of his goddam spider-sense, which is annoying, because the referee has to keep track of it), level 4, characters who were very very powerful but not quite top hole (the Thing, Hank Pym, the Wasp, Ultra Boy), level 5, characters who were pretty much just as powerful as we’d let anyone play in the game (Wonder Man, Thor, guys like that).

Then there was the sixth class, characters that you simply couldn’t play -- the Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Iron Man (due to his diversity of technological gimmickry that no one could keep track of and that in the comics, he never uses to potential or he’d just be unstoppable), nearly any DC character at the time (this was in 1981, before Crisis cut most DC characters down to size; you just couldn’t let someone play Superman or Wonder Woman or the Martian Manhunter, they were orders of magnitude more powerful than a level 5 Marvel character).

Basically, within your five person team, you could have (if you wanted) 5 level 1 characters (no one ever did that, though) or up to 4 level 2s, or 3 level 3s, or 2 level 4s, or 1 level 5. Obviously, most people took 1 level 5, two level 4s, and then 2 level 3s, although sometimes for fun people did mix it up and take a level 2 or even level 1 character if they had a theme team going.

As I say, the most fun aspect of this primitive version of Killquest was discovering little by little who was on the opposing team. It was the sort of game where nearly anything could happen -- Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., could come around a corner in his skintight blue SHIELD battle-suit with a blaster-pistol in his hand, and find himself face to face with the Super-Skrull! (a favorite villain among Marvel geeks; he’s an alien invader who possesses all the powers of the original Fantastic Four, nobody you want to run into in a dark dungeon if you have no superpowers and your only advantages are James Bond-type training, a blaster, and a battlesuit full of useful spy type gimmicks that aren’t going to do much to prevent something with the strength of the Thing and the stretching powers of Mr. Fantastic and the flame powers of the Human Torch from simply grabbing you and ripping you to shreds while incinerating you at the same time).

This version of Killquest was a lot of fun for whoever was playing it, but had two overwhelming disadvantages -- first, it was ALWAYS a three person game, because you could only have 2 players and you NEEDED a referee to keep track of the different teams on their maps and describe encounters and make difficult judgment calls. And it is sometimes difficult to get three players to play anything in a gaming clique, you can generally always find at least one other person for a two person game, and you can often find four or more people who want to play something, but three people is an odd number that doesn’t come up much.

Second, and worse: being the referee blew. Nobody ever wanted to do it. Everyone wanted to play, but no one wanted to be the referee. There were two major factors why this was true:

All the referee did was, well, referee. It wasn’t like being a roleplaying game master, where you have NPCs to run and you’re telling a story and describing a whole world. Killquest took place in a simple map of indestructible hallways with very few features to them. There is no story or arc, simply ten people trying to kill each other. Being the referee was kind of boring; you didn’t get to play or do anything fun, you just kept track of the different moves and described encounters when they occurred.

Worse, however, was the fact that the game really had no rules structure. Any game without a rules structure is simply rife with potential for endless acrimonious arguments by its players, and the referee’s job, supposedly, was to settle these arguments by making final judgment calls one way or another. However, no one in my gaming clique from college had the kind of willpower or charisma or sheer force of personality necessary to simply make the other players back down -- none of us were ruthless enough to say “okay, I’ve made my ruling, you assholes forced me to be the referee, now I say Thor CAN’T call his hammer back to his hand if it’s on the other side of the dungeon from him, because the hallways are indestructible and the mystic signal can’t penetrate them”. Oh no. See, the guy running Thor will know damned well that if Thor can’t call his hammer back, he’d turn back into Dr. Don Blake in 60 seconds and Hyperion would squash him like a bug, and in our group, that meant endless and eternal bitching. Nobody was EVER willing to accept a call against their own interest, and without a set of rules to point to, a referee has a really hard time enforcing his own arbitrary whims. However, SOMEone has to make these decisions to keep the game moving.

So, as referee, you didn’t get to do anything fun, and worse, you got screamed at a lot by both players any time a controversy came up and you had to rule in some way that annoyed one of them. So, everyone wanted to play, but no one wanted to referee.

As a side note, all of that could have been settled simply by any one of us (we all refereed at one time or another, and we all D.M.ed our own superhero RPGs, too, in a similarly rule-free environment) just putting his foot down and saying “okay, I’m sick of this, from now on, if people give me shit about my judgment calls as referee, I’m just going to stop running the game and you can find something else to do”. But there was a vaguely uneasy and never articulated sort of social contract between all of us that I think we were all very hesitant to break; the notion that if one of us just decided he wasn’t going to run his RPG any more, or referee games any more, nobody else would, either, or he wouldn’t be allowed to play in other people’s games. No one wanted to test it, anyway. Which meant that, well, we all refereed, and we all played in each other’s games, and when someone made a referee judgment we didn’t like, we screamed bloody murder about it. It was a fractious time.

Regardless of the problems, Jeff and I always fondly remembered Killquest, and we both felt that at base, there was a core concept in there -- teams of interesting and detailed characters entering a limited environment to kill each other -- that no other game we’d seen had incorporated yet. Oh, some of the DOOM type games, where people could hunt each other through virtual reality mazes, came pretty close to our original vision of Killquest -- but still, the idea of teams, made up of legendary or famous characters that people would be interested in seeing pitted against other legendary or famous characters – hadn’t been used. And as far as I know, it still hasn’t been used.

Years later, living in New Jersey, Jeff sat down and re-configured Killquest to make it more of a conventional board game with a real rules structure. He created a set of very basic stats you could define characters by (I think he had STR, CON, DEX, and IQ) and a fairly elaborate list of weapons you could equip them with. He kept the two five-man team feature, but gave up on the refereed aspect that was so difficult, so we lost the whole “teams move around covertly until they run into each other” factor that had made the game so much fun. Instead, the characters simply entered on opposite sides of a limited arena, approached each other, and fought it out to the death.

Jeff’s rules were interesting, but had at least one crucial flaw in them (which I exploited to slaughter him in the second game we ever played; Jeff not being a good loser, that was the last game we ever played under those rules), and I thought his approach lost a lot of the fun of the original. However, Jeff also came up with half a dozen beautifully illustrated game arena boards, all of them different, with different features on them, and I wish to hell I still had those. But they seem to have vanished when Jeff committed suicide; I imagine he mailed them to someone (I wish he’d mailed them to me!) because Jeff’s friend Patsy couldn’t find them in his effects and Jeff didn’t mail them to either of us. (Patsy did send me Jeff’s TITAN game, though, which I still have and play occasionally when I can find other players.)

Anyway, while we were playing Wiz-War last week (which is an amusing little game, obviously largely derived from Magic: the Gathering, in which various wizards scramble around on this ever-shifting dungeon type board stealing each other’s treasures and hurling horrible magical spells at each other) it occurred to me that my Wiz-War boards would make an adequate arena for Killquest. So I spent some time this weekend creating my own set of rules, which you can find (badly formatted, which always happens with an HTML conversion, at least, to me) at the other end of that link.

The one crucial thing I want to incorporate into this version of Killquest, however, is that I want to encourage players to make individuals in their teams into pop culture characters -- either real people, or fictional characters, that will be interesting and recognizable to the other players, and that the players will enjoy seeing pitted against each other in battles to the death -- kind of like MTV’s Celebrity Death Match, except in Killquest, you might very well have five residents of Gilligan’s Island, armed to the teeth, striving mightily to blow away Matchbox 20, all of whom are carrying Uzis and wearing body armor. (Paul would enjoy blasting Matchbox 20 to shreds, since he loathes Rob Thomas.)

Okay. So, there's a link to the alpha version of KILLQUEST rules... well, it's not the alpha version, since I guess the college pizza box game would be the alpha, and Jeff's later version in New Jersey would be the beta. But it's my alpha version. Playtesting did cause me to make some changes, and I may have those around somewhere, but I don't know where right now. That link up there will give you an idea what the game is like, though.

A few other details -- each player was given 5 markers (I think we used poker chips with the numbers 1 through 5 daubed on them with white out, actually) to represent their team on the map. They wrote down who each team member was on a piece of paper. Players were not required to have 5 people on their team, and due to budget restrictions, few of us actually ever did field 5 man teams... but you'd put all 5 chips out on the board, and move each of them around on your turn, and an opponent wouldn't know until one of his pieces came within line of sight of yours who your chips represented, or even if there was really someone there. "Ghost" chips quickly became very useful as distractions.

KILLQUEST enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity while I was living with Paul... everyone in his gaming group tried it at one time or another. Then it got set aside for other games, and then Paul gave me HeroClix for Christmas that year, and clix became the default game for... well, for as long as I continued to hang out with those guys, which was maybe another three months.

In a great many ways, HeroClix is the ultimate version of KILLQUEST. With KILLQUEST, there is a lot of paper upkeep that has to be done before, during, and after the game. This was typical for this sort of game and I didn't think twice about it when I was designing the rules -- anyone who has ever built a battlecar for CAR WARS, or a fighting starship for STARFLEET BATTLES, knows what I'm talking about there. But once you've played HeroClix, it's tough to go back to a game where you have to set everything up on paper and keep running track of your hit points during a fight, because all that clutter is built right into the power dial of your HeroClix figures, and it frees you up to concentrate on the important stuff, like beating the living crap out of your opponent.

However, it appears that I have come to a very strange place in my life where very few of my friends, or, at least, the guys I sporadically hang out with, have much interest in comic book superheroes, and therefore, they are not responding well to an invitation to a game of clix. So... KILLQUEST. Anyone interested in setting up teams of heavily armed and armored pop culture characters and stalking each other through an alien dungeon with them? If so, and you're planning to be at the bachelor party, let Nate know.

I will need to do some work on the rules, and it's occurring to me that if WIZ WAR game components worked well for KILLQUEST in the past, then HeroClix maps and game components should be the bomb, and if there's an interest, I'll probably work on coming up with a good dungeon map for a KILLQUEST match.

If not, well, then, I won't.

One final note -- if you read this and are at all enthusiastic about the idea, don't post comments like "Ah ha ha HA, my Joliet Jake and his silent but heavily armed brother Elwood and their whacky band of blues musicians will DESTROY you!" One of the most enjoyable features of this game is picking out your own zany crew of pop culture characters to load up with weapons, and not knowing who the opposition is... until you come around that fateful corner in the Kill Zone and suddenly, Ross and Rachel from FRIENDS, each carrying a .38 revolver and a hand grenade, find themselves facing Dr. Peter Venckman in his Ghostbusters jumpsuit, holding a tommygun in his hands. So... no spoilers!

Did I say that was a final note? Well, I lied. Here's the REAL final note -- if people don't want to play HeroClix, or KILLQUEST, then all y'all no funs need to start bringin some suggestions of your own. Or it's gonna be movie night in a hotel room somewhere, or, I'm just going to cancel the fucking thing entirely, because apparently, I'm just so goddam ornery and boring all at once that it is impossible to come up with anything that I and half a dozen other guys might all want to do at the same time.


At 3:26 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Yeah, see, watching porn with any other guys around at all has NEVER worked for me. The last thing I ever want to have on my person in the presence of other males is a boner. Thank you, no.

I think this could be a lot of fun.

Imagine gearing up like, two or three WWF bad boys and goin' out fer some whompin' time, and finding out your opponent has Oasis running around? Think of the sweet, sweet, carnage!

Or what if one of us sick bastards decides to go with something truly vile and wretched, like Care Bears or, or, or My Pretty ponies?!? Think of how much pleasure you will get from destroying their team. (And conversely, what a perverse thrill they will get wiping the walls and floor with you.)

It our chance to revel in pure, unadulterated, cave-man thuggery on a scale of evil so epic it beggars imagination.

I think there ought to be a sidebar contest of who comes up with the the most truly horrifying team concept.

At 5:09 PM , Blogger Tony Collett said...

Sez I, it's a party for you, and if you wanna play HeroClix, you should. I'd be game to whip up a 600 point team.
But that's assuming I'm invited to the party, but again, it's your party, and your call who you (or Nate) want to invite. No guilt with no invite on this end, I'm cool either way.

At 8:58 AM , Blogger Highlander said...


I'm trying to hope that as we get closer to the event, people may show more interest. But the event isn't that far off at this point, and, honestly, I'm just finding it all discouraging. This is why lifelong social misfits like me don't throw parties -- it's too exasperating when nobody shows up. I appreciate the effort you're making, though.


I'd assumed you were invited... I'm pretty sure Nate had included you in all the emailings... but if for some reason he didn't, he should have. The only reason I would have figured you wouldn't show up would be if you weren't going to come into town the night before the wedding.

However, with interest in any activities seeming so low, I'm doubting right now that anything is going to happen anyway. And perhaps that's just as well. I'm getting everything I've ever wanted or needed on the following Saturday, I don't need a party the night before.

But I deeply appreciate you and Nate for being willing to show up at one, regardless.

At 11:06 PM , Blogger Tony Collett said...

Right now plans are for us to be there Friday-Sunday.
I'm having some problems with (one hotel) but (another hotel) has (really cool amenities) so I might switch there.

At 6:50 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Ok, well, I thought I had everyone in there, but, well, I AM a flibberdegibbit...


Tony, party, coming?


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