Tag Archives: City of Heroes

CoX: The 49th

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Nearly ten feet of solid, ice-cold, star-hot Canadian battle goddess, the woman known as The 49th remembers a world almost like, but not quite like, the one she’s in. Where she’s from, Canada was the dominant empire of the North Americas, not the USA. Where she’s from, humans tapped the power of stars to create champions. And where she’s from, things were a lot more polite and liberal on some topics.

In the event she knows as the Great Collapse, her world is gone – not only that, but it seems it never existed. A portal incident that has echoes throughout time. Still, she survived it, endured it – and now she’s here, on her own, building in her own time and space in this familiar-but-not-quite world.

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Game Pile: City of Heroes Homecoming, Page 4

Oh snap, what’s that? That MMO everyone is always talking about with the cool looking characters, that’s free to play up to level 50 and beyond, has gotten a recent update?

That’s right, mother-havers and non-mother-havers, it’s another City of Heroes Homecoming Page, a content update for the sweatiest of weirdoes!

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CoX: Robyn Hoodie

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


“Fun things to do on a date? Crimes.”

The Etoile’s society is fundamentally a sequence of parasites; very small groups of people produce useful work, and other people steal it. In the process, that theft sheds value onto other people, the traders and thieves and fences and snitches that lead to Superscience Flange Coil getting from point A to point B.

There aren’t a lot of public work projects, especially when all the money is moving valuable super science stuff to the University in Cap Au. That’s what got Robyn started – robbing from the rich and scattering their ill-gotten gains in the street. It’s simpler: No need for a fence when a thousand people are holding the stolen goods.

Where did she get those wonderful toys? Well, she stole them.

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Cox: Dead Beat

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Magic didn’t go away with industrialisation, it just had to catch up, and fast. It used to be that for a thing to become a magical signifier, it needed to be squirrelled away in an old book, a curse with a thousand days of practice, a single phrase empowered with the tragedy of a century, and all that jazz. Now you can print out the magic words a million times in a second, and the problem isn’t finding the magic, it’s drawing it out.

Inevitably, we have the new mages.

The MP3 – a way to treat performances of songs as replicable numbers – was developed in 1993, and at that exact moment of the first release, Cooper Owl was born. We all get into hobbies in high school, and his was magecraft, which he got into to impress hot goths.

He did find magic, woven in the songs that meant the most to people, the songs that lingered after the singers were gone, their dead beats.

Never impressed any hot goths.

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CoX: Trancer

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


One, the story of a cosplayer who looks like one of the most famous girls in gaming, with a relentless online presence. Two, an overachieving supergeek whose boundless energy got an Explorer Position in Portal Corps. Three, there’s the story of a dimensional fold gone wrong, an accident that tethered her to a time-warping extradimensional supertech, and the gun-toting wise-cracking speed demon heroine that comes out the other side.

Zoe (or Emily, or Zoe, depends on the day) is what happens when these three stories collide in one absolute explosion of a girl. She’s incredibly Online, openly queer, and proudly cocksure. You might know her from Cosplay compilations, from her hero work, or maybe from her twitter feed, a high-volume mix of theoretical superphysics, cosplay, more adult content than is strictly professional and all the selfies in the world!

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CoX: The Wild Hare

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Juniper Jacks thought she was pretty boring. She thought she wasn’t special. She thought that if the time came to step up, she wouldn’t, not really. Oh, sure, she had a drive to try – but… like, everyone had that, right? Everyone could see things they’d do, and just lacked the power to do them, right?

Then she became the host for the BOUND symbiote, from a mysterious Praetorian-Primal science project. and found, to her surprise, that when she had power, she absolutely wanted to do something with it. Stepping up, acting, fighting and finding evil and battering it unconscious: She was here to spring into action.

Oh, sure, she’s a rabbit girl – but she’s a loud, brash, brawling, rabbit girl who gives 10,000%.

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CoX — Hexcalibre

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


The witch, it’s said, is someone who knows things. She’s some usually-a-woman, usually old, usually removed, who has Ways of making magic happen. It’s curses and potions and strange, ancient rituals or the turning of the stars, knowledge that the witch has, and you don’t. The witch, it’s said, is the woman who Knows Things.

She’s Bridgitte on her forms, Jett to her friends, to the city that knows her as a heroine, she’s Hexcalibre, and she knows what swords know.

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Game Pile: City of Heroes Homecoming 2021

Last year I ran through some of the recent changes that have been happening in City of Heroes Homecoming, a free MMORPG I play that lets me make superheroes that kick Nazis in the face. I love this game, I like playing it, and I like using it to make characters. You may have seen me post about that.

What’s happened since last year, then, for this MMORPG with no paid developers?

Well, we’ve had two major releases, known as ‘pages.’ These are sorts of releases that are meant to build up to form what would, back in the day, have been ‘issues.’ These are fan-developed expansions that involve adding new class material, new content, new powersets and even new systems designed to make old content feel ‘right’ while addressing balance problems.What I prioritise for these guides is information about things you can make and do.

Like, there are some really cool systems at work here: There’s been a system for guiding you around for exploration badges, and another system for letting you share thumbtacks in a team, and while those are genuinely interesting and cool systems to see introduced to an old engine that works on what we all know as ‘spaghetti code,’ but while those things improve user experience, and definitely have a chance to encourage less-enfranchised players to explore things they hadn’t, they’re not the same as the bread-and-butter of an alt-reckless game with a lot of ways to play superhero dress up dollies: More stuff for new characters.

The big additions on that front this year have been the Travel Revamp and the Bunch of Rocks update.

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CoX — Abra

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Antimatter Breach Resonance Apeture; a phrase first coined in a 1500 page scientific paper about an organically-integrated chemical engine that could create portals limited to the surface of that organic object.

ABRA: The military research program seeking to develop technology that would allow self-deploying mass-driver weapons, objects that teleported themselves and massively increased in volume upon arrival.

Abra: The boy caught up in the experiments designed to make that research real, with that self-same technology integrated into his body.

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CoX: Woodfall

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


They call it Eden, now.

Crey and the Devouring Earth and Nemesis do battle there, clashing over resources, over powerful ancient leylines, over strands of the great thorn tree the Circle claim as their own. When the labs broke down he was left there. The Green crept in. The ancient trees whispered secrets. They told him things that nature knows.

When he stood up again, he could remember nothing what he was, but enough of what he should be.

In time, the new things would die, they would go, and what was before would return. It needed only to be fostered, to be protected. It would be what it was once more.

They used to call it Woodvale.

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CoX: Wolfbit

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Cody always knew someone. He was the kid who knew everyone shifty, who could get you favours, who could find you things off the books. He never really worked out why he was good at it, why he could remember these trades so well, why he could read the people around him for what worked, what made sense about them.

When the wolf woke up, it made a bit more sense.

He’s a fixer, a bit of a crook, certainly a bit grubby. There’s a lot of ways poor people make things happen in the city, and in the dark spaces, sometimes you hope to find the wolf.

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CoX: Vent

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


“So, are they fire, or rock?”
“Oh my god, they can’t be both,”
“Or something else, in between?”
“They’re going to have to make their mind up.”

It’s tough being a lava-powered enby. Humans can handle the ‘my skin turns into lava’ part but they get all weird about the ‘gender’ thing, like that’s somehow the big deal. Elementals don’t know what the gender thing is even about, but they’re also really bad company when you talk about music and fashion.

Vinn’s doing the best they can, with what they got.

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Queerer City

You know that game I talk about, from time to time, that game I play, that game, you know that game, that lets you play a character that you create, made through an immersive character customisation system, then you get to choose how they look, get to pick their graphical representation, get to choose maybe how they relate to the world, some beloved contacts and friends and factions that mean a lot to them, and how there’s a lot of fanart of characters made in that game and how they’re all about getting to express and explore this element of a wonderful world with this really exuberant kind of approach to expressing yourself? That game? You know? Final Fantasy XIV?

I kid, I kid. Final Fantasy XIV is a fascinating game full of interesting stuff, I’m told, and it’s fun, I’m told, and I should give it a shot, I’m told. It’s definitely got all the makings necessary for this particular phenomenon – though I don’t imagine it will cross the final threshold necessary any time soon.

See, what I want to talk about here is how a game dies, and what rises out of it.

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CoX: Boss Rush

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


All the power in the world doesn’t matter if your mind can’t bring it to bear. There’s this whole study of the way brains ‘chunk’ information, neuroheuristics, the way the brain sets up tools for learning and managing what it’s learning about.

Rush was able to make the system containing the hardlight point nanites – but she needed a heuristic to manage the information. The result is her immensely powerful, immensely flexible tech rig, a kind of super suit made to be lightweight, transportable, and heavily adaptable, as long as the wearer can manage to explain to the device what she needs.

The gamer nerd and the tech geek collided, and thus, the hero identity Boss Rush was born.

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CoX: Carcer

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.

In this case, this character’s backstory requires some Content Warning for parental abuse, and themes of mental health and trauma, as well as uh, Death Gods?


The vitals; Poor and poorer for it. Born in Croatoa. Raised in Kings. Single father. Bad father. Empathy powers, started in high school. Got hurt. Got insular. Had to deal with his feelings, and everyone else’s feelings.

Then Mot happened, and he had to deal with nothing but Mot’s feelings.

Carcer, only name given, has done some dumb things to try and deal with his situation. Ink black skin, a death god’s powers, the damage persisted after the sealing of Mot. A damaged, surly, aggressive boy, he’s been trying to use what he’s got to do some good.Continue Reading →

CoX: Brambles

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


In the fey realms, there are courts; courts overseen by great powers, lords of realms or even of ideas themselves. The greatest and vastest powers, strange and incommunicable, are overseen by the Great Courts, with the fey royalty, the names people know, the names so important that they slip through even into the mortal’s realms.

But one court, the Court of Voids, lays hidden and secret, ancient beyond even the knowing of the Fae. A mystery of mysteries, with its Secret Queen, She Who Touches As Iron. Precious and few are the fey of this court, paying fealty to this secret queen, with blessings of stealth, secrets, combat and healing for the maimed.

His name, he says, is Brambles, and he lays fealty to this Secret Queen. But the Secret Queen wants secrets and justice – and where better to find those than the City of Heroes? 

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CoX: Lifts

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


The conventional vision of the hard suits is that they’re hardware that makes everything else easier. Which, yes, technically, true; they can do things like manage gravity extenders or hard-light impact gauntlets. A hardsuit lets a normal human operate on the level of a superhero.

The problem is the suits themselves are heavy hard suits. They’re only doing so much of the work – to pilot one at peak efficiency, you have to be an extremely accomplished athlete, fit and extremely strong. And you can take the training and the parts, and strike out without them to much of the same effect.

When people first meet the ex-Hardsuit pilot – the hard-body hard-head Lita Kinamo – the question ‘What’s she like?’ is asked. The answer’s always the same: She lifts.

In the Paragon Police Department, there are squads of officers who are entrusted with the task of operating a PPD Hardsuit, which is basically a walking frame mecha. These hardsuits have a range of control and suppression tech in them, and usually come with stunning energy gauntlets, to help the officers subdue and then detain superpowered threats that will not respond to alterative methods of containment.

Lita isn’t one of them, any more. She was one, once, but transferring and politics and all sorts of other demands means that she wound up in the Paragon Police Department’s Special Offenders Unit, and had to rely on their alternative tech to replicate the hardsuit.

Taciturn, serious in a way that makes people uncomfortable, and more than a little bit angry at the way systems she’d worked to enable had treated her, Lita now works with the members of her small, unimpressive, and underfunded division to try and do superthreat containment without support from the main body of the PPD.

Mechanics

Lifts is a Gravity Control/Energy Assault Dominator, a combination famous on live for being one of the ‘slowest levelling characters that existed.’ If you’ve not looked at them before, Gravity Control has a really strong pet (available at level 32), and that means it’s not very good up until then – many of its control powers are slow to animate, or work in ways that teams don’t like. Also a bunch of its powers do knockback, which players are often not wild about having around. Energy Assault has knockback in its ranged attacks, and its melee attacks are kinda slow and ponderous, which can mean that levelling up naturally, you’re going to have a lot of time when you’re waiting for something that you can do to recharge.

Not fun, lemme tell ya.

Still, Lifts has a mature build. For Dominators, there’s a special recharge target number: 70% global recharge and a 95% enhanced Hasten. If you can hit that, you’ll be able to fire your Domination power before it’s run out, meaning that you avoid the ‘crash’ and the need to recharge. Domination gives you mez protection and knockback protection and makes all your control powers extra good, so it’s obviously desireable to hit that target.

Lifts has:

  • 33% defense to ranged attacks
  • Soft-capped Smashing and Lethal resistance
  • 100% global recharge and hasten, meaning she has permadom
  • 30% global damage
  • All her knockback powers are turned to knockdown powers

If you want to look at her build, check it out.

History

All cops, let’s be clear, are bad.

Time has not been kind to every character I made from back in the day, but some of the things that changed were not the characters as much as my view of the world around them. Back when Lifts was first made, she was a member of a group called the Special Offenders Unit, a joke based on the cop show. The idea, formed from a group of friends was that these were police, in Paragon, who operated within the Paragon Police Department as we knew and saw them, and then we asked the question: Why don’t these cops fix the problems in the city? Why Are Cops All Bad?

The answer comes back as to why cops generally don’t solve problems, of course. It’s a combination of perverse incentives and budget bullshit. The perverse incentives mean that cops aren’t rewarded for making things better, earning respect from their community, keeping people safe, ensuring people are healthy and any conflicts around their area aren’t simply determined by a function of who has the most immediate physical power. Typically, cops are rewarded for enforcing an image of the orderly that capital can exploit. The budget bullshit is the other side of it, where cops are not given adequate resources for things that are actually useful for that incentive system.

If cops have homeless people in their area, they don’t have access to budget to just house those people. If homeless people are a problem you address with the cops, the sensible use of police budget would be to house those people (or you know, deal with the system where homeless people can exist, but anyway). Buuut no room in that budget for that. Instead, cops have room in their budget for tanks.

“Um actually, it’s not a tank tank,”

Look you know what I mean and you know what it costs, so shut up.

That creative space was pretty fun to work with. It presented this group of superhero cops who were all being bound by bureaucracy, and having to respond to the demands and needs of a community around them that needed to call in a supercop to fix some kind of problem that it was too dangerous to use standard police force to deal with, but also doing it while being disrespected by standard police, and by being frozen out from access to the resources they actually need. Thanks to being a small force that had an assumed special standard of power, run by someone that the police didn’t like, they were regarded by other cops as being too good to deserve assistance and too bad to take their requests seriously.

Essentially, they were a small group of good cops, and therefore, were treated like crap by the non-good cops.

But still, I’m a firm believer in superheroes as fantasies for believing in the way things could be, for our own moral character that we could live up to, so I don’t think the idea of ‘what if cops, but good?’ is an impossible thing to imagine in a fantasy space of a MMORPG.

But look, there’s a reason we’ve largely stopped talking about this SG lately.

Game Pile: Homecoming Issue 27

Hey, this December, I’m going to try and make sure that I talk a little bit about games that you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to play. I liked how I did some folk games last year and I thought this year, since social distancing is a thing, that it was worth my while pointing out some ways you can have fun, online, and ideally socially.

This is obviously not the easiest thing in the world, but the good news for me at least is that just in the tail end of November, City of Heroes: Homecoming launched a whole new issue, ‘Issue 27’ and that makes it a great time to talk about that, and how to get involved if you want to.

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CoX: Heartbeep!

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing, and hopefully interesting.


Dot is a bright, funloving, extremely geeky young lady, who’s prone to odd stutters and occasional lapses in conversation. This is because while she is a geeky young lady with a bright personality, she’s also a superpowered Clockwork drone from Praetoria that was handled through a variety of somewhat dubious projects on her arrival.

It’s not that she’s ‘really’ a robot. It’s not that she’s ‘disguised’ as a girl.

She’s a cute girl.

And she’s a robot.

And Dot has decided the kind of cute girl she wants to be is also a crime-fighting superhero robot.

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CoX: Offshore

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing, and hopefully interesting.


 

There’s a lot of old gods in the deep.

Calling Offshore a sharkboy is true, sure; he’d call himself a Deep One if you asked him to, because that’s the English word his people use for what they are. If you asked where he’s from, he’d say Devil’s Reef, which, yes, is a name for one of the dozens of small, treacherous coves up on the New England coast.

It’s not that that story never happened – though it’s not his Devil’s Reef. It’s that it wasn’t his story; it wasn’t the story of his people, who are as different as other surface people. If you ask him who his people worshipped, he’d tell you a name, then tell you the translation:

Poseidon.

Offshore knows the ocean is important, knows Poseidon’s will is important, and he has a reason to believe that in this City of Heroes, where Greek Gods are seen and echoed all over, there’s a reason for him to be here, rather than down, in the old and glimmering libraries.

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CoX: Xixecal

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing, and hopefully interesting.


Not all hells are hot. Oranbegans, for example, knew of a hell that was frozen, an intense jagged land of ice and pain, numbing and biting. It’s the home of the hellfrosts, and shards of that frozen hell extrude through the power of the gods to this world.

We all get our power from somewhere. There’s a title, long since handed down, a title designed to sap even the tiniest power from the name of the beast that wore it once, slumbering deep beneath a trap of ice and water. Nightmares of the old sea, the dark and dreaming deep, all woven together, in the name of the Xixecal.

To most? He’s a frost mage. Nice guy. Knows things. Knows people who know things.

And every spell he casts is sapping the strength of a dreadful beast that can never be permitted to awaken.

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CoX: Shaping Moonheart

A few months ago I mentioned Moonheart, my Resurgence Magical Boy, and how I figured I’d go in on him when I had the chance.

Well?

I have the chance.

Okay, first up, we’re talking about a character I roleplay on the game City of Heroes. This is a fakey-madey-uppy superhero I pretend to be in my free time. If you’re looking at this and missed this introduction, you might be going ‘hang on, what story is this from?’ and ha ha, you fool, I’ve got you to read about a thing I made up.

Gotcha!

Moonheart is a young man from that category of legacy heroes; not directly, as neither parent was Moonheart before him, but as someone who inherited powers from each parent. If you meet him on the street, chances are you might read him as a woman, because of his hips and hair and his not exactly packing the masculine codifiers voice. He’s what might get referred to as a femboy – he’s cis, but his presentation is pretty girly.

(And that’s it, mind you.)

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Purpling Out A Warshade

I swear to god, my last fucking brain cell.

In City of Heroes, the game was – and is – pretty easy. The game was made to have a broad appeal to an audience that mostly liked playing with the costume creator, and at shutdown, over 50% of all characters made never reached level 10 of 50.

There was a gear system introduced after the game was live, a system designed to be optional to let players push their characters to a higher level. It was called the Invention system and it relied on interconnected sets of things in limited sockets. I’ve spoken about it in the past and it is not an easy system to grapple with.

This was, I repeat, optional. Then when that system appealed to players, the developers released another group of inventions that could only be used by characters at the level cap, at 50. This is content for a minority of players, mind you, and they found it worked well getting players engaged with the game, and it seemed to do well. They were known as ultra-rares in the game text, and ‘purples’ to the players. For some players, doing normal late-game content, a single purple drop could be sold on the market for enough money to satisfy your needs for good.

Another thing in the game was the presence of epic archetypes. If you had a level 50 hero, you could make one of two more types of hero characters – a Peacebringer or a Warshade. Of the two, the Warshade was the weaker and less popular. There were a lot of reasons why they were less popular, and you should totally explain to me why you think that is I promise I won’t ignore it because I don’t care and it doesn’t matter, but okay, this is the framing you need.

One day on the forums, a typical thread got kicked off; someone talked about how the game market was broken and it was too hard to meet basic needs and it was too expensive to function, a position that largely, I and other market people didn’t regard as very serious, because the market was very easy to make money off if you were patient and so on. It was a libertarian paradise – all goods were luxury goods and everyone had equal access to the means of generating capital.

Then Chris Bruce, aka Back Alley Brawler, responded to this thread, and pulled the vital quote from the start of the thread that we’d all missed:

I’m sorry, did you say it was too expensive to purple out your warshade?

This quote haunts me.

This quote is the kind of rhetorical bodying that I’m honestly afraid of earning. It is a statement from a position of such flawed base assumptions that even a reasonable sounding conversation can be formed around it, but to anyone who bothers to pay attention, it is completely farcical on its face. The most entrenched of entrenched players bemoaning the difficulty doing one of the hardest things that casual players were never expected to want to do, showing their populist position was just selfishness in disguise.

I worry a lot about when I explain things or share things or call for change that I’m not complaining about purpling out my warshade.

CoX: Burnwillow

Science fiction, fantasy, and the hyper-reality of genre media lets us explore things that aren’t real, or true, but make sense to humans who are used to things that are.  We can set rules for the way a world is, and the audience is just going to go for it while you get around to explaining it.

Burnwillow is a superhero who I’ve had around for a while; first created back in the original City of Heroes, then expanded in the Generation 4 roleplaying space, and then remade in the new City of Heroes Homecoming, she’s had a lot of time to have her backstory revised. The person who made her story to start with and the person I am now are two very different people and know very different kinds of things about the kind of person she is. Tracing her origin, I think she may have been created as early as 2007, when the term ‘Burnwillow’ came up from the Magic: The Gathering set Future Sight.

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Iron Angel

I tried, hard as I could, to not talk about this this month.

Media is very often, these days, replicable. If I liked Voltron I can tell you to go watch it and usually you’ll find the same show and be able to reference the same text even if you had wildly different responses to it. If I talk to you about D&D or tabletop games, I can talk to you about types of experiences the game makes possible. I’ll sometimes show you characters I built in those spaces, because I can provide you insight into how I did that and what that means.

Once, when writing about Saints Row 3, I remarked that whatever I thought of the game was hard to tease out when I’d had so much fun playing it with my friend Casey. I rated Casey five stars, and the game was just a way to connect there. You can’t download my friend Casey, though, though I’m sure she’d be happy to charge you $15 for the download code.

In this case, in smooch month, I kept circling around how fantastically hard it was to get good, interesting, engaging romantic media in games to talk about, because games do it badly. But if they do it so badly, why is my context seemingly aware of ‘good’ romance that these games aren’t hitting? What’s forming the foundation of my vision of good?

And well, that’s where we get to non-replicable media, and my friends. Specifically, the romance stories I’ve had in RP spaces, especiallythe stories in City of Heroes have been absolutely excellent, and one example of this I want to bring forward is the incredible character Zex, aka Iron Angel.

Zex is a character I’ve mentioned on the blog in the past; she was a neuroatypical character who told other characters she was a sociopath, which led to them assuming that was her neuroatypicality, including me. The last day the game was alive, the player stated that she wasn’t a sociopath – she was just neuroatypical in a different way, and impersonating sociopathy was a way to make other people respect her neuroatypicality rather than having to explain it every time.

Zex has been in a relationship with a character of mine, Cearmaid, pretty much since late 2011. They met, they flirted, they dated, they engaged, they had a breakup, they got back together again, they moved in together, they got married, and they took up careers as superheroes working together and apart to make the city they lived in a better place. Literally all those details are however, plot points worth explaining and expanding on their own, because for example, the breakup happened when a rogue AI created by Zex’s own paranoid internalised dissasociation turned into a global-threatening supervillain that used Cearmaid’s trust in Zex to launch him into space where he crashed into the moon, and that’s one of many plot points.

Zex is interesting. Zex is thoughtful. Zex is fantastically difficult to communicate with. Cearmaid carries around his phone so he can draw diagrams of his ideas. Zex, noticing that he responded to a pretty girl wearing a baseball cap just recently attempted to seduce her husband by wearing multiple hats, because hey, more is better, right? And all this is while she’s also doing her job as a former villain turned superhero in powered armour who flies around punching baddies, saving the day and rescuing people because she has deduced that doing good is the logical thing for her to want to do.

Zex is neuroatypical, has physical disabilities (she has no feet, amongst other problems), is full of anxiety, afraid of dogs and needs comfort, communication and reassurance on a regular basis and yet the relationship between her and Lock has always felt like a meeting of equals, engaging in different ways with a complicated world in which they live.

I love this character, and I am kinda sad that I can’t help you, random strangers, enjoy or appreciate romances – yes, even a het romance! – where the characters involved are interesting, and good, and fun and learning about them is interesting and every day they interact, they get to enjoy one another and engage with one another a little more.

I am blessed to have some truly fantastic RP partners around me, and in this smooch month, I wanted to just share with you an example of how great romance in games can be, when the game lets players create in shared, respectful, engaged spaces.

CoX: Rift Girl

I’m a superhero fan, which is to say I’m someone with a lot of very firm opinions the way the superhero media industry is just ruining everything, and completely messing up. This is a natural part of the progression as you get older, but I at least am at the point where I can bring myself to acknowledge it’s much more I don’t like this rather than this is good or bad storytelling.

Comics love weirdo aliens that are human-mindset compatible (like M’gann M’orzz). Comics love alternate dimension characters that come from a different universe that’s somehow meaningfully mostly like ours (like Power Girl). And despite loving M’gann and Peej, I really dislike these two ideas. In a shared roleplaying space like City of Heroes, you don’t get the leeway to just tell people hey stop making characters I don’t like, though, and I’ve come to terms with that.

When presented with a problem like this, though, a good impulse is to work out why things are different, work out what you’d do to make the thing you don’t like work in a way you do. Which is why I wondered how I could make a Suspiciously Human Alien or Extradimensional Person in a way that didn’t make my brain flip sumersaults at the math involved.

What I got out of it is Rift Girl.

First up, here’s her in-game bio:

“But what are we doing here, at home, to fight the dreadful menace of The German Imperialism? Why, there’s some, like the top-secret RIFT project, storing away examples of the finest cities of the 20th century, in alternate dimensions where the people can grow and thrive, and become brilliant bosch-bashers! And as long as there’s funding, there’s no way to lose track of them, or see them fall to the work of the Hun! Stay tuned, for partial excitement!”
– Project RIFT explained, unreleased educational film, 1939

Madison Max came from a place that’s a bit retro, a bit far away, and plenty, plenty weird. But that doesn’t matter – what matters more, to her, is that she’s here, in Paragon, to be a hero, and contribute to the fight against fascism!

Alternate dimensions and alien cultures are great if you want to give a character a kind of contained metaphysics. You don’t have to explain how they relate to the things in our world or why they may have missed something or other, you can just say that those things don’t exist where they’re from. These are societies you have complete control over, and it means if you want a character to come from a place where things work differently and people just have to accept it, you can. Consider a lot of our societal ideas we have that can be just different in a different society. Ideas like marriage, gender, violence, heroics, education or capitalism can be wildly different if you control a different space.

Alternate dimensions bug me though when they’re just one of a million options because it opens up too many questions for me. After all, why this and not that. Why are these changes able to have such wild transformations? Alternate dimension are written in between the space where they’re not realistically similar (in this world, one flower evolved to be peach instead of purple, and everything else is the same) or realistically different (if the mass of earth’s trajectory was off by a meter a billion years ago, literally none of anything would be ‘there’ when you went to reach into the other dimension). How do I get an alternate dimension that’s meaningfully like what we have here?

My idea was to make the alternate dimension a dimension built out of this one, and that gave me the idea I wanted: Nonsense Wartime Propoganda Super Science!

Rift Girl’s world is a pocket dimension made in the 1940s as part of the War Effort against the Super Science Nazis of the superhero universe. We blame so much stuff on this era of science (just look up the weird stuff people believe about the Philadelphia Experiment), and that gave me an aesthetic to start from. Bonus, it let me talk about the natural followup to a good thing (fighting Nazis) and the way our cultures managed that project (not preventing more Nazis later).

Rift Girl is from a city that was built as a self-sustaining environment in the desert in the United States, then super-science blinked into its own little parallel dimension where they could set the rules enough to make sure that entropy wasn’t going to be a big problem. The idea was that these cities would work as both safeguards against Nazi invasions of countries, and places to recruit and train the best possible Nazi-fighters ever. Then, because of funding cuts, these entire cities were lost to paperwork and time, and the Rift Cities fell out of contact with the Primal Earth. Some were decommissioned properly after only a few years, and one, Maddie’s home, was forgotten, lost in the shuffle, or deemed ‘too hard’ to recover.

Fast forward Some Years, and Rift City contacts Primal Earth, opening a portal they developed on their own with their limited materials, and send through messages and an Emissary – Madison Max. Thanks to a delay on broadcasts arriving in Rift City, she thinks it’s Prime Material Year 1999, and party for the millenium, even made herself some of those party glasses, and oh yes, to beat the shit out of Nazis.

Rift Girl punching hitler in the face
edited panel from America #1

Madison was chosen for her task because she was basically a super over-achiever student, someone who was both obsessed with the Primal Earth broadcasts they were able to decipher and well-trained and disciplined. Smart, educated, extremely strong in a super-sciencey way, and given special, strange, rift-warping powers by having broken the ‘seal’ on the Rift City tunnel to Prime Earth, she’s ready to be a full blown superhero, punching Nazis and Saving the Day, just like all the TV shows she’s been bootlegging from Primal Earth have shown her.

Also, thanks to the way light worked in Rift City, she – and the rest of the Rift City people – have no idea that the time spent in the Rift has made them all green, or rather, that anyone is any colour other than green. She thought everyone she was on TV was green, just like her, and now she’s having to adjust to that. Also the twenty year time gap. Also discovering that contrary to how she was raised, Americans think Communists are bad, even though they fought Nazis so well. That’s weird.

Mechanically, Maddie is a Radiation Armour/Street Justice Tanker. In a way, she’s a pastiche together of Superboy and Miss Martian from Young Justice, a super-strong but visibly strange person from another world. The City of Heroes universe has four clear examples of actual honest-to-god fascists to fight and you know, that’s on my mind lately.

Building A Character in City of Heroes

I love building characters in City of Heroes.

This is going to be mechanical, by the way, not narrative – I have lots of views about how to build a character in a shared roleplaying space. This is about how I prioritise stats when I’m building characters in this game.

For those not familiar, City of Heroes characters get a number of abilities that let you do things, and then they get ways to improve those things. This is typically divided into ‘powers’ and ‘slots.’ Slots can hold things that improve things the power do – accuracy, damage, the time it takes to recharge, the duration of effects like stuns or holds – and so powers you want to do lots of things, you’ll give them lots of slots. You can’t just fill them with the same effect because there’s diminishing returns after the first two, which means powers tend to get a little bit of one thing, a little bit of another.

Now, that’s probably all that you’re going to get out of this unless you’ve played the game, because this is a big, complex system. If you really have no idea about it, the rest of what’s coming is going to be gibberish, so I’ve put the useful conclusion to all that here up front:


What we can see then is that – perhaps accidentally – this great big confusing mess of a game, that when you have a lot of systems at work, even if you have a fairly simple, linear method of progression (defeating baddies), there’s still a lot you can do to make the individual choices of a player expressive. Players can build towards their priorities.

Now, you might not be making an MMO, but you might be making a tabletop RPG. If you’re building in the modded space of games like Pathfinder or 13th Age, you’re in a similar space, and that’s when the time comes to look at your own creative efforts rather than necessary in terms of perfect balance, as instead about competing balance. See if you’re presenting players with enough choices that character building is full of interesting choices.

Also, if there’s something players should just have, then just… give it to them.


Now, if you want to keep going, here we go:

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Decemberween: City of Heroes!

City of Heroes is back.

City of Heroes is back and based on these past six months, it might be able to last.

I don’t know how to tell you how unnecessarily happy this makes me.

The game is still a clunky, 2004 content churn of a game. It’s a space full of people who, like me, didn’t get over losing it last time, and have kept their personal roleplaying stories going, or just brought back old ones, and that means I get to see a bunch of people I genuinely hate and never wanted to see again running around and having fun but it’s okay because City of Heroes is back!

As far as free games go, a customisable superhero MMORPG is a pretty sweet one to offer, and here’s the link. I don’t think it’ll be to your taste – it’s a limited appeal kind of work at the best of times – but it’s something I’m so glad to see around, and part of what I love about it is that I get to play this game again and it somehow survived.

There was a lot of anger at the discovery of a secret server this year. It was a big deal, and a lot of people close to me were super pissed about it, because the idea that they didn’t get to play, but someone did was really unpleasant. But what stood out to me was the idea that a population of what, a few hundred people were able to keep this kind of thing a secret, even through breaches on Reddit and multiple attempts to attack it.

I don’t think Corporations are good. I don’t think NCSoft, despite making a thing I love, are a good company. I don’t think that Nexon, the company that owns NCSoft are good, and I don’t think Tencent, the company that wants to buy Nexon are good. Simply put, I do not see a reason to want to defend a corporation in face of people taking things from that corporation. I don’t like the Disney Vault for example, and I don’t feel there’s any shame to be had in making a corporation surrender control over something. Corporations aren’t the heroes. They don’t need us to stand up for them.

We sure don’t want to be their unpaid enforcers.

Instead, for years, years, people kept that secret.

Like you would, for a superhero.

Digital Archaeology at Paragonwiki

I mentioned that I’ve been looking at the rehabilitated City of Heroes, and that it’s for work. This is ostensibly true. I’m obviously also playing a videogame I love to bits and finding people to pretend to be a superhero with. I have a spreadsheet set up, and boy, that’s the kind of thing that leads to silly behaviour.

How silly?

What I’ve done to start with is a big sheet that starts with a bunch of fields, then as I need to track things about characters that aren’t unique, I just add a column and put stuff in it. That means sometimes I get charts as a result like this, sensible chart that shows my current distribution of character origin. Think of it as a kind of character genre:

That’s sensible! That makes some sense.

Then there’s this:

A chart mapping how many of my characters have secret identities versus how many have public identities. Or there’s this chart:

Which of my characters are men (dudes) who use the StanceVillain2 emote as a default standing position around people. That’s this emote, here, which I was able to obtain from the Paragon Wiki really conveniently, because that was archived.

When I started working on this new version of the game, I made a choice to not just replicate my old characters. I wanted to make sure I made new characters, or ‘corrected’ the powerset choices of older characters. A character who was built and levelled as a Dominator once might become a Brute this time. A character who was a Brute became a Tanker. Still, I wanted to play with the old looks I had, and update them, and play some of my old characters again – oh hey, another chart –

And then I realised just how what I was doing, and more than that, I realised the resources I had at hand. Because to check the emotes, I looked up Paragonwiki. To check out my old characters, I looked up a community wiki. To set up my characters ahead of time, I looked at old binds I’d had saved in a text file for five years.

Five years is not a long time, not really, in terms of data storage. There are people with computer data from twenty years ago, thirty, fifty years ago. When this game disappeared, there were all sorts of people making the conscious choice to spend money and time and storage to keep things saved, to keep things available, in the name of… what? Hope? I don’t imagine we were expecting the game to come back.

Keeping these things around was itself a form of cultural practice. A feeling of comfort, a sort of wistful joy that came from knowing what had been lost and wanting to make sure whatever of it we had was not gone. We grieved this game, and in many ways, we grieved it through memorialising it. Not with maudlin pledges, but with the careful sorting of documents and notes and historical preservation.

And now we don’t have to.

For a little while.

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