Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Revisiting GRIDSHOCK 20XX Zine 2: Roster


Pink noise, delicious.
My "autopsy" of the GRIDSHOCK 20XX zines I published a couple of years ago continues. This time I'll be looking at Zine 2: Roster, which "supplements hero creation with new templates and adversaries custom-built for dystopian world of toyetic assicking." You know, that still sounds pretty good to me.

I wanna get into it, man:

The Cover

  • Steven De Waele turned in an illustration that I think does a good job of showing off the unusual types of characters players can create and play in GRIDSHOCK. The idea for the scene was a diverse group of Vector heroes watching as a psychic Free Agent telekinetically lifts a truck motor aloft. A truxorcist performs a mystical ritual, perhaps protecting it from daemonic possession. What's important is that I think the illustration is interesting to look at on its own. I think it gets across that trucking is important in the game, and that there are lots of interesting character options.

Power Sources and Vector Templates

  • I spent a page discussing where the different Vector (player character) types get their powers from, and why that's important. This may be a little over-exacting, but my hope was that it would help give players an idea of how their character fits into the world. There are a lot of things like that in the zines; whether they accomplish that goal is a good question. Some probably help, others might just make things more complicated than necessary.
  • The bulk of the rest of Zine 2 consists of the twelve customizable Vector templates that GRIDSHOCK players use to create characters. Each has a two-page spread with an illustration taking up nearly half of it, and each has its own unique layout style. Steven did a great job with the art for each one -- he pulled off an impressive blend of American, European, and Japanese art styles that works really well for the subject matter, and each character has a lot of personality. I'm also glad that I gave Chris the chance to play around with layout and typefaces here. I might have him dial it down a little next time, since a couple of them are less clear as a result. (I think Chris agrees with this assessment.) Giving each template's name its own "logo" is fitting, I think, and I'd probably keep that.
  • Although it might look intimidating to newcomers, I think giving three examples of how each template can be customized is a good idea, considering how much impact power selection has on creating characters. I think it's also useful for players who might be looking to play a specific type of character and don't want to do it from scratch.
  • Next time, I might cut two or four templates from the initial range of options. Eight or ten would still be enough to choose from, I think -- again, choice of powers can completely change how a character plays and that provides a lot of customization.

Threats and Menaces

  • This tries to boil two of the GRIDSHOCK setting's major adversaries -- daemons and Exhumans -- down to a couple of pages. It works, technically speaking, but it's a stopgap measure. It would be much better to provide at least as much detail on each of them as the Vector templates got, but space didn't allow for it. Ideally, each one would have had more flavor text, as well as suggestions on how the GM should use the powers I listed for them. Something to correct next time.
Next time, I'll dissect Zine 3: Regions, maybe the most ambitious one of the four.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Revisiting GRIDSHOCK 20XX Zine 1: Roadmap


It was all yellow.
I Kickstarted and published GRIDSHOCK 20XX as a set of four zines, each presenting a few chapters that, at least in theory, added up to "a post-apocalyptic setting for use with ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying." Zine 1: Roadmap provides "a crash course on the world of GRIDSHOCK 20XX and its history," and includes optional and variant rules for use with ICONS.

Since I worked on the world of GRIDSHOCK for years before I finally released it in this form, there's a lot for me to unpack. The temptation to blather on and on about my creation is strong, but I think the best way to resist that urge is to just tackle the zines section by section, as presented. (I will try not to be too hard on myself, but I also think it's important to point out when things don't work -- or do.)

The Cover 

  • This depicts a motorig (basically a super-semi truck) smashing through a gate while fascist Supremacy goons blast at it. I always like Steven De Waele's art, but I feel like it's a little tough to tell what's happening on the cover at a glance. I probably asked for too many elements to be included for the price point, so I blame the art director (me) rather than the artist here.
  • I still love the logo, but if I was to do it over, I would probably ask Chris to make it more horizontal, to make it clearer that it's "GRIDSHOCK" and not "GRID SHOCK" (which I have seen it listed as on several online retailers).
  • I think having "You can make it if you run" to kick off the back cover blurb is cool. Your mileage may vary.
  • Chris' map on the inside cover looks great -- if you got one from the first print run. The second run is too dark for reasons I have never been able to figure out, and that makes it hard to read, unfortunately.
Welcome to the Shock
  • I'm proud of this chapter. I think it summarizes what the world of GRIDSHOCK is like pretty well, and without over-explaining. It effectively lets players and GMs know how it's different from other settings and gives a quick rundown of how it got that way.
  • The "What Do Vectors Do?" section, which lays out exactly what the game is about, is solid. Next time, I will make it even clearer: GRIDSHOCK is about heroes driving around in big trucks, fighting stuff with superpowers, fixing problems, righting wrongs, and then getting the hell out of Dodge before the bastards in charge drop the hammer on them.
  • Though I see some things that could be improved, I stand by this section, and will probably keep big chunks of it more or less intact in the next iteration. I'll tone down the discussion of how GRIDSHOCK fits into the superhero genre, though, because so many of its assumptions are not part of what most people consider that genre to be, especially now.
Timeline of the GRIDSHOCK 20XX Universe
  • This chapter doesn't hold up as well, unfortunately. It's just too much information. I think I was hoping to impart a sense that this is a rich, complex tapestry of a setting, and I went with a writing style reminiscent of the analytical (and often downright dry) presentation you get in something like the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I think that what it ends up doing is feeling restrictive instead.
  • If I was a GM coming to this setting cold, I'd be concerned that whatever cool stuff I thought could happen in GRIDSHOCK while reading the comparatively fun, evocative preceding chapter might not fit into this terminology-laden, intricate timeline. I think the history that is described in these few pages is cool, but it's so verbose and information-dense that it's overwhelming, maybe even boring at times. There are probably people who liked it, but in retrospect, it doesn't do what I wanted it to, which was to show off a rich setting.
  • Looks cool, though. Using public domain photography was a financial necessity, but when combined with the flowchart layout, it imparts a textbook feel that I think is unique in RPGs and consistent with what's being presented. And the artwork that Grey Wizard made to introduce the section is fantastic. It just happens that what follows isn't a very inspiring read. If I keep the timeline at all, it'll be completely revamped next time. I suspect it may not be needed at all.
Rules Changes for GRIDSHOCK 20XX
  • This chapter forces me to have a tough talk with myself. I think ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying is a great superhero game. It's my favorite. However, from the perspective of moving units and finding players, using it for GRIDSHOCK was probably unwise. The roleplaying game industry is one with a handful of big games that have long lifespans, and innumerable indie darlings which, while often deserving, don't attract long-term attention. ICONS made a splash when it debuted in 2010. By the time I published GRIDSHOCK, over ten years had passed, at which point it had a small but loyal fanbase, who largely use ICONS for its intended purpose: classic "animated series"-style superheroics, not genre-warping post-apocalyptic ass-kicking super-truckers.
  • To be blunt, GRIDSHOCK is really "high concept" and would still face an uphill battle regardless of what system it used, but it should have been a standalone game. Releasing it as a modular supplement instead -- even for a really damn good game like ICONS -- limited its reach.
  • All that having been said, I playtested all of the new rules presented in this chapter and they work well in ICONS. The alternate rules I wrote for things like specialties, qualities, and combat deliver the intended experience more effectively than the standard ones. Some of them are good enough that I have adapted them to an entirely different system, the Year Zero Engine, and after playtesting them again, found that they work well there, too.
  • Let me be absolutely clear that none of this is said with any disrespect for ICONS or its designer, Steve Kenson. Steve is one of the industry's best, and is undoubtedly the most important designer of superhero RPGs working today. He has never been anything but supportive of GRIDSHOCK 20XX, which I sincerely appreciate.
Next week, I'll dig into GRIDSHOCK 20XX Zine 2: Roster, which details the various types of characters you can play in GRIDSHOCK.