Thursday, 2 May 2013

On The Tyranny of Awesome

Awesomeness is unsustainable.

This is going to be a rambling post, but maybe there'll be a point somewhere.
This one time, back when the word "epic" still had a skerrick of meaning, I ran a one-shot I called Heavy Metal Bards. It remains one of the best sessions I've ever run, and I'm beseeched to do a sequel every time it comes up in conversation.

Harpies and naked fire chicks on motorbikes and spiky hell-machines and other album cover monsters were defeated while riding on top of a speaker-bedecked doom-truck.
Justin Bieber was defeated and cruelly murdered when a concerted crescendo by the players overcame his evil music.
Gods of Metal granted them big black smoky wings and the power of flight, and then the volcano they were flying towards unfurled its wings and revealed itself to be a mountain-sized dragon which was defeated when my own girlfriend ran down its throat and severed its spine.
It was pretty much the greatest thing I've ever run, and widely held to be the best thing they've ever played before or since.

So I'd love to do a Heavy Metal Bards campaign, but it's unsustainable. There'd be no sense of progression, just bigger and bigger things. Once they've killed a mountain-sized dragon, where do I go next? A dragon the size of the moon? Of the world? And suddenly I realise Heavy Metal Gurren Lagann would be balla as fuck.
Well there you go, possible sequel, but its no campaign.

Skipping back round to some sort of point, this Tyranny of Awesome idea I'm trying to chew my way around to is the fact that once you decide that This Will Be Awesome Stuff Happening The Whole Time, you're locked into this cycle of making things cooler and cooler until you can't think of anything better and it all falls apart and you have to stop.

I've reached my limittttttt

So if you want to sustain awesomeness for the longest possible time, you've got to hold back and make it less awesome so you have more of a run-up at the most awesome stuff.

And that's lame.

This is probably the reason why Exalted is such a shit system. They tell you that you're a crazy anime kung-fu Sengoku Basara motherfucker who gets extra points for describing stuff in an awesome way, then arbitrarily apply limits and rules and checks and balances.
Suddenly you can't just take "I'm a demon sword guy who can run up walls!" and just do it. You have to be a Strifekind Hemi-Demon with Sword Specialty 3 and Wall Running 2 which means you can chop at +2 or pommel strike at +1 but you can't stab because you don't have Crystal Dragon Stabbing Strike, and you can only parry if you haven't used the Energy Point from your eighteenth sigil, and you can run for precisely 7 metres on wood or stone but not metal because they needed to add some more limits so that you feel like your wall running guy is getting better at wall running, and you can only run on walls not ceilings because that'd steal the thunder of the guy with Spider Climb 5.

So I guess this is, overall, why I'm enjoying running Flame Princess so much more than Fourth Ed. Less "start off awesome, END MORE AWESOME!" and more "Start off shit, end cold and alone in a ditch". I feel much less concerned about making the next place Even More Awesome, and much more concerned about how the world reacts to the party in general.
It's really quite liberating.


  1. I wonder: does the problem truly lie with the awesome, or does it have more to do with the expectations of growing power and ability? I feel like a game that offered rewards other than just more power, offered other forms of progress in the game, would be very satisfying even if you're playing it up to 11, as it were.

    Good post!

  2. I try to supply The Goofy / The Oddball, and let my players bring The Awesome. They never fail to surprise me with their hijinks.

  3. I think that's it, actually. Since in Heavy Metal Bards they were pretty much as powerful as they could possibly be, there's no scope for progress beyond trying to make the session itself even more awesome, and so you get stuck in this loop.

    I suppose you could go with a God of War-style "You're super great and KILLING EVERYTHING oh shit there go your powers" type of deal, too.

    And Justin, yea, gonzo stuff is another way you can bypass this Tyranny of Awesome.
    Rather than being More Awesome it's Continuing Zany, and Zany is much harder to judge relatively.

    1. Metal Opera:

      Strangely enough this is also a game about being heavy metal bards. However, I actually want to bring it to your attention because of its central mechanic, which is that the players start out low-powered and work up to high-power during each game. So you begin sort of stumbling about and unfocused, but slowly and inevitably the band comes together during the course of the story and ends the game in a blaze of glory.

      It's not a concept that would work in a weekly game, played every week for a year, but once a month? I think yes.

    2. That's pretty sweet, actually! Good idea to have a mechanic for building up the session until the big finale.


    The post about this thing, for any who might come across this post later!