Tuesday, April 6, 2010

RPG Mash Up: Masters of the Universe + Jack Kirby x Marvel Superheroes = WIN

A recent post by Jeff Rients got my cylinders re-firing on an old idea I've had to work up a Masters of the Universe campaign using the Marvel Superheroes RPG. I think there's great overlap here: the system is infinitely flexible and great at supporting both superhuman abilities, technology, and magic.

D&D and it's immediate derivatives (clones, etc.) would do okay, but the FASERIP system is an excellent complement to the kinds of characters, feats, and frivolity generated out of comics and the Marvel system "feels" right for He-man and co. I also think that the Universal Table--arguably the heart of the FASERIP system-- would make an great fit for MotU, especially when it comes to handling combat.

Now here's where it gets weird: Jeff's post was about Jack Kirby's (not worthy! not worthy!) Fourth World being run with 4E rules (Stay focused! We're not talkin' 4E here!).

It turns out that--apart from the obvious Conan/Sword & Planet references--Kirby's Fourth World was one of the inspirations behind MotU! At least--it was for the 1987 film. There's also a good case that several of the MotU characters are damn-near direct analogs from FW. Now it get's sticky when you assume that the entire MotU franchise was in fact a He-man muscle on a FW skeleton, as some have asserted and yet others have refuted. But the visuals--if not the characterizations--were greatly influenced and inspired by Kirby, and I think the assessment is still a fair one.

For my own campaign, I pictured Kirby-esque visuals blended with a few other ideas even before I knew this connection existed. I guess it's not that far a stretch given the melting-pot-like environment of 80s fantasy--but it was definitely a welcome surprise! To be honest, it's not like I'd want the Mattel characters as PCs, but I'd jump at the opportunity to develop the setting and ability to make up new characters that could go toe-to-toe with MotU contemporaries. And yet, I'm not looking to make it cartoony. Ya dig?

Okay, so now my brain is cooking and--oh, I've got zero time to run with this idea as I'm getting ready to fly to Toronto next week for work. Gah! Why do all the good ideas bubble up to the surface when you're busy?!

Comic maestro Bruce Timm did the He-man images for the MotU 80s mini-comic, Kirby is a hero of his..


John Matthew Stater said...

I often threatened my old group with a Mutant Future or Encounter Critical game set in the MOTU universe. I was too old for the figures and cartoon when they came out, but in retrospect I respect the weirdness.

Brutorz Bill said...

I've done some MOTU conversions to Mutant Future. I was "too old" to get into the toys and such when they came out, but there was a coolness quality to them.

Trey said...

FASERIP would be great for MOTU.

I have to say I'm not bying a FW unfluence on the pre-movie MOTU concept. The original mini-comics written by Donald Glut (where most of the characteization came from) are very much post-apocalyptic S&S.

I think the more super-heroized cartoon version is what might lead one to that conclusion.

M. L. Martin said...

The series bible by Michael Halperin (the baseline for pretty much everything after the original four mini-comics) contains some decided Fourth World echoes, with the oppositional planets set-up of the hyper-advanced paradise Eternia (before the Ancients disappeared and turned the Hall of Wisdom into Castle Grayskull) and the blasted war-ravaged Infinita. See http://www.he-man.org/cartoon/document.php?id=44&mid=18 for the details.

Jon McNally said...

I've only marginal experience with FASERIP, but I know well the temptation of a MOTU campaign.

"And yet, I'm not looking to make it cartoony. Ya dig?"

I dug until this part ... Not cartoony? How? Why?

Jay said...

@Jon, I'm not saying it can't be silly here and there--by all rights it SHOULD have the rollicking whimsy that Kirby was so good at portraying in his work. But I'd also like to explore the moody/dangerous side of Eternia found in the earlier mini comics. And I'm not afraid to say it--one where the TV version of Orko doesn't exist! Here's some initial thoughts:

* Jungle barbarian super guys in a savage, far future
* Ancient technology/magic
* Lost civilizations hiding among super-advanced kingdoms
* Highly stylized and weird landscapes
* Piecemeal armor, gaudy melee weapons and ray guns
* Animistic themes in technology, races, culture

I'm still open at this point, but I think these are good parameters for starters.

Jon McNally said...

That's an awesome set of starters, Jay.

Honestly, I'm just quibbling with your use of cartoony as a synonym for silly.

Play on!

M. L. Martin said...

The cartoon could get pretty dark or bizarre as well--consider "To Save Skeletor," where He-Man and Skeletor have to team up against the Lovecraftian menace Sh'Gora (and the Sorceress gets mutated into a monstrous harpy-like creature), or "Wizard of Stone Mountain", where a young magician makes a deal with a demonic creature to try and win Teela's love--and finds out that he's sold his soul.