Saturday, June 25, 2011

Don't Spare the Innocents

Recently, some of my friends have learned Heroclix and their fresh eyes on the game have made me re-examine ideas for improving and varying gameplay.

As we have discussed here before, Heroclix is well designed for comic book style battles, but not for the other elements of comic book plots.

In most comic book stories, you don't have two big teams of super-characters rush up and fight, apparently over nothing. I mean, unless it's a Marvel comic.

Usually, it's a heroes working together to solve a problem, villains working against each one other to take something, or heroes trying to capture villains while the villains try to get away.

Yet, the creators have never succeeded in coming forth with usable adaptations to the games or scenarios for play that would replicate more typical situations (e.g., villains trying to grab valuable objects or people and abscond with it/them as a group of heroes try to stop them).

Where are the tokens for priceless collections of Etruscan snoods? Where are the innocent bystanders who constantly get in the way of full-fledged super-heists?

Wizkids (the makers of Heroclix) used to make "bystander tokens" (or, as the were more commonly called "pogs"). But Wizkids thought little about those would work in gameplay. The tokens were, in essence, one-click figures; perfect cannon fodder, meat shields, and moving terrain. The result was the civilians (cheap figures) were being used to protect heroes, rather than vice versa. Once you see Superman save himself by using Lian Harper to absorb a shot from Brainiac, you know how wrong those bystander tokens were. Wizkids, wisely, stopped making them long ago.

However, I haven't given up on the idea and this post is a refinement of previous attempts.

Below I detail how to use these Innocent Bystanders in a game.

To the right are a bunch of Innocents tokens I threw together. Many of them are designed specifically to go with previous maps I've created or maps from Wizkids.

The Sommelier and the Chef, for example, go nicely on my Iceberg Lounge map. The Art Dealer and the Parisienne are for an Art Gallery map I'm working on. The Actor and Magician are for my Civic Theater map.

Here you see them large, for detail. Naturally, I print them out at a diameter of 1.5 inches so they fit on one square on a Heroclix map.

Regular Heroclix figures have five different combat values (range, speed, attack, defense, and damage). Innocents have only one combat value, which we'll call "Evasion". An Innocent's evasion value tells you two things: how fast they can move and how hard it is to capture/attack them.

An innocent can move as many squares as its evasion value. For example, the Scientist can be given a move of up to four spaces, whereas the Schoolkid can move no more than three spaces.

The Innocent's evasion value also tells you what their defense value is in any given game situation. Their defense value is their evasion value plus the final attack value or whoever is attacking them. Much more simply put, their evasion value is the number an attacker needs to roll to succeed in attacking them.

A successful attack against the burdened Shopper only requires a roll of 3, a 4 is needed for the healthy doctor; and the wily stage magician requires a 5. These are not difficult rolls to make, but it is still possible for an attack to fail.

So to recap with an example...

The Customer has an evasion value of 5. So, if The Customer is moved he can be moved up to 5 squares, and it takes a roll of 5 for an attack against him to succeed.

Experienced Heroclix players will already notice something neat about using the evasion value for defense: it levels the playing field a bit for figures with low attack values. Whether you're a high and mighty Sinestro with an attack of 12 or a lowly Street Thug with an attack of 7, you still have to roll the same thing when attacking an Innocent.

This makes taking a hostage a good tactic for less powerful figures and figures that are on their last legs.


Innocents may be used as part of a regular game or as part of a scenario game. In either case, Innocents are placed on the board at the beginning of the game.

1. Innocents are placed near the middle of the board; their evasion value tells you how close they have to be to the center line across the map's width. For example, a figure with an evasion value of 4 must be placed within four squares of the center line. Innocents of different evasion values must be placed in equal numbers, with any inequities favoring the higher evasion values.

2. In a regular game, Innocents may be placed instead of Objects. For every figure on your team that starts with Leadership, you can place an extra Innocent.

3. In a scenario game, you may place one Innocent for each figure you have on your team (plus extras for Leadership, as above).

4. Innocents do not block line of fire (probably because they've already hit the floor when your crazed cape 'n' costume crowd burst in).

5. Similarly, innocents do not hinder movement (they are fairly easy to step over, after all).

6. Innocents can be captured by a close combat attack.

7. Once captured, Innocents are 'carried' along by a character in the manner of an Object.

8. While captured, Innocents reduce their captor's speed value by 3.

9. Captors of Innocents cannot be subject to ranged combat attacks, nor can line of fire be drawn to them. Exception: figures with the "Sharpshooter" ability can make range combat attacks against Captors. This rule does not apply to heroic figures who 'capture' Innocents in order to protect them.

10. When a Captor takes a click of damage or receives a successful attack, the Innocent is 'released' and placed in an adjacent square of the opponent's choosing. Note the attack merely has to be successful; it does not have to do damage.

11. A player may use one of his allotted actions for a turn to move an Innocent that he did not place on the board.

12. An Innocent cannot move to or through a space that is occupied by a regular figure or is adjacent to one that is occupied by a regular figure.

13. An Innocent's evasion value cannot be altered by any game effect.

14. A Captor may release an Innocent at any point, as a free action. His team may not capture that Innocent during the remainder of that turn or the player's next turn.

15. A heroic figure can "capture" an Innocent and become its Protector; Rule 9 does not apply to Protectors.

16. Innocents do not receive action tokens.

Several things to note.

The rules of Innocents are designed to make them useful in a game with a villain who has Leadership, who has lots of minions.

Furthermore, grabbing a hostage makes you immune to Outwit and Perplex, because line of fire cannot be drawn to a Captor. Hm, what does this sound like? Yes, Innocents are great for a Bat-villain with a bunch of goons facing a Batfamily Team. Sorry Batman... no more picking us off one by one with a batarang from the shadows, not while we have hostages!

The rules for placing Innocents ensure that they are likely to be in the way of battle. Villains get an advantage for Innocents being on the battlefield; heroes get a disadvantage. Also, in a regular game, you're not going to see more than 3,4, maybe 5 Innocents on the board. They are meant to help make the gameplay more realistic, not totally take over the regular mechanics.


In a later post, I'm going to outline some scenarios that Innocents might make possible, mostly variants on rescuing hostages and getting them off the board or kayoing any potential threats to them. I also intend create a parallel token for "Treasures", objects that villains want to steal.

But meanwhile, I'm still having fun thinking up more "Innocents" to endanger such as:

The Professor
The Architect
The Bank Guard
The Museum Guard
The Collegian
The Nanny
The Movie Star
The Mayor
The Waiter
The Usher
The Patron of the Arts
The Millionaire
The Sports Star
The Heiress
The Fisherman
The Sailor
The Stewardess
The Pilot
The Schoolteacher
The Chauffeur
The Courier
The Newspaper Boy

Anyth other thematically interesting "Innocents" that would interest... YOU?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Scipio sees "Green Lantern"...

Bottom line up front? I enjoyed it.

I certainly enjoyed the 'tightening up' of some of the GL plot elements. This is a staple feature in cinematic adaptations of comic books, out of necessity. Hollywood (and its audience) have neither the time nor the patience in a two-hour flick to slowly unroll 40-70 years of a comc book character's history. Often this results in a lot of exposition, but, hey, that's part of comic books themselves.

Sometimes this can go spectacularly badly, usually when Hollywood is not sufficiently sensitive to the movie's base property ("Hey! Let's just make the JOKER the guy who killed Batman's parents!"). Sometimes it's "okay except for those fanboys who know better" ("Gwen Stacy? Never heard of her! Go with the incredibly hot MJ! What? Kirsten Dunst? Oh; well, then just make that 'go with MJ'...")

In Green Lantern, the tightening is appreciated and helpful. It's the kind of thing that writers like Geoff Johns like to do, but have to swim up stream against decades of continuity to try to accomplish (such as his changes to the origins of Black Hand and Hector Hammond in his own GL run). Having Parallax being an actual person possessed by the power of fear, rather than some awkward personification of it makes much more sense than the comic book version. Plus it helps ground the Guardians' and Sinestro's subsequent behavior more realistically. In fact, I really hope DC takes the opportunity to use this as the new backstory for Parallax in the DCnU. They won't, but I still hope for that anyway.

Tying Hector Hammond into the Parallax story was also sensible. Hector's comic book origin is about getting his power somewhat unintentionally as a result of exposure to alien life; might as well have that alien life be Abin Sur/ Parallax. Now, I'd rather have seen Hector carry his own film.... but that's not realistic. While he's definitely a GL Big Bad, he doesn't exactly have the Q Rating or audience appeal of a Joker or Lex Luthor.

There was other "tightening" I appreciated wasn't really plot-altering, just time-efficient. How Hal's dad's death was shown; casually noting that Hector and Hal know each other (as they would, given how absurdly and inappropriately chummy the military contracting process is portrayed); and mercifully reducing Kilowog and Tomar Re's time on screen to exactly what was needed to convey their personalities and their roles in Hal's training, rather than the entire process.

And Bzzd was in it. Which is an instant win.

I'm always surprised when I hear people talk about 'wasting' an actor in a role (in this case, Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller and Tim Robbins as Senator Hammond). Actors are not a natural resource. They don't get 'wasted' (um, well, not in that sense). Are both those actors capable of much more? Yes. Should they confine themselves to starring roles in Oscar-worthy vehicles? No; not everyone needs to be Daniel-Day Lewis, folks. Let these people earn their money and keep themselves visible. If one of your complaints about a film is that the lesser parts are being played by people who are too good or too famous, then you should probably just shut yer trap.

Ryan Reynolds is just perfect as Hal Jordan. He looks the part (check the early drawings of Hal Jordan, who, like Reynolds, had creepy eyes that were too close together), acts the part, and gets his face bashed in just like Hal would. I was shocked that people were worried that Reynolds would be too funny. TOO funny?!?! Hal Jordan is a veritable baggy-pants, pratfalling comedian (as any longtime reader of this blog knows!) who makes Plastic Man look like a Shakespearean actor. If anything, Reynolds was not funny enough.

Oh, and he danced with Carol Ferris. That's good; Hal should dance. In fact, his whole relationship and chemistry with her worked well (something you can say about almost NO comic book movies outside of Iron Man), and Blake Lively was good in her role. I also appreciate the inversion that's going on in the GL/HJ/CF triangle. Carol is not an unattainable woman, barred from Hal by his role as GL. In fact, they've already had a relationship together. Carol Ferris isn't smitten with GL, she's smitten with Hal. And finally, when she finds out he's GL, that knowledge winds up making her more disappointed in him. Their relationship is realistic, humanizing, and felt essential to the plot, rather than being a shoe-horned Hollywood love interest.

The same feels true of Hal's other relationships in the film (with Tom Kalmaku and his family). And since the point of the film is the (Potential) Glory of Being Human, making sure that Jordan is humanized as a character is essential.

Oh, and insert appropriate and obligatory praise for the CGI/SFX here.

Was this my favorite comic book movie of all time? No; but Green Lantern is not my favorite comic book character of all time, so I would not expect otherwise. Can I imagine this inspiring kids to want a power ring and developing the backbone to wield one? Yes.