Today I’m going to share one way you might use trademarks in your games of FU – to represent amazing super powers and incredible talents. This is how I actually came up with trademarks in the first place. I wanted a way to simulate the awesome powers and abilities that characters in comics and films have, while not being too hand wavy in defining exactly what characters can do.
Descriptors supported by trademarks
Using trademarks to represent super powers can be done in two ways. I originally had players create characters as normal, with their standard four descriptors (Body, Mind, Edge, Flaw) and then used trademarks as an extra layer of detail. This meant your character could still be “Handsome, Quick Witted, Great Driver and Clumsy”, but layer over that two or more amazing abilities that have a very clear scope in the form of trademarks. If we take a classic hero like Spider-Man, this character might look something like this:
- BODY: Athletic
- MIND: Wisecracking
- EDGE: Science!
- FLAW: With great power comes great responsibility*
- TRADEMARK: Spider-Powers (Wall crawling, Danger sense, Reflexes)
- TRADEMARK: Webslinger (Swinging, Stick things in place, Tangle opponents, Grab and snatch)
This works out pretty well for defining our friendly neighbourhood spider-man and allows us to get a good sense of who the character is. The use of trademarks as super powers is a simple way of keeping balance between all players and ensuring everyone knows the power and limitations of each amazing ability. The trademarks don’t overpower the rest of the character, either, as the descriptors cover skills and abilities quite different to the super powers.
*As a flaw this is pretty vague and might actually make a better drive.
If you were to only use trademarks to define characters, jettisoning the descriptors entirely, then you would need players to really “dig” into what makes the character unique and/or interesting. We might define Spidey as follows:
Spider-Man – Webslinging acrobat
- Budding Scientist (Understanding science, Building gadgets, Solving puzzles, Impressing teachers and scientists)
- Acrobat (Amazing leaps, Duck and dodge, Tumble with the blows)
- Webslinger (Swinging from webs, Stick things in place, Tangle opponents, Grab and snatch)
- Spider-Powers (Wall crawling, Danger sense, Reflexes)
While this particular iteration of Spider-Man has many similarities with the previous one, they are potentially very different characters to play. In particular we lose the wisecracking descriptor, which is a real feature of the character we know and love. Perhaps we need to rethink this:
Spider-Man – Friendly neighbourhood hero
- Wisecracking Hero (Infuriate opponents, Inspire citizens of NYC, Notice small details about people / places)
- Troubled Nerd (Great at science, Solving puzzles, Impressing teachers, Easy target for bullies, Poor timing)
- Web-Slinging (Swing from webs, Grapple and tangle things, Fling webs, Stick things)
- Spider-Powers (Wall crawling, Danger sense, Impressive strength, Quick reflexes)
I really like this interpretation as it captures (for me) the key elements of Spider-Man and provides a variety of tags to use in play. I particularly like the “Troubled Nerd” trademark as it is loaded with disadvantages that might earn the player FU points.
At the end of the day, it come down to a player’s interpretation of a character and their ability to define this concept through the trademarks and meta-tags.
More characters with super powers
I was going to present a list of example super power trademarks, but I had too much fun writing up Spider-Man above! So, instead, here are a couple more of my favourite comic book heroes. This should give you an idea of what is possible.
- Billionaire Playboy (Buy whatever I need, Nobody takes me seriously, Get invited to parties)
- Dark Knight Detective (Find clues, Make connections, Intimidate suspects, Notice things)
- Martial Artist (Hand-to-hand combat, Master of many fighting styles, Subdue opponents, Deflect blows)
- Gadgets (Batarang, Grappling hooks, Handy utility belt, Smoke)
I think the key to making this character really come to life (and perhaps making all such heroes come to life) will be choosing appropriate drive that reflect exactly why Batman does what he does.
- Weapon X (Adamantium skeleton, Claws, Strong, Magnetic, Heavy)
- Healing factor (Amazing stamina, Heal quickly, Endure pain)
- The best there is at what I do (Tear and rend, Threaten and intimidate, Cause violence)
- Old man Logan (Seen a lot, Done a lot, Enemy in every port, Blunt, Protective of young mutants)
While this (once again) doesn’t capture the full depth of Wolverine, I like this interpretation. It doesn’t hang everything on his (awesome) claws, but instead focuses on things like his bestial nature and the curse of his mysteriously long life.
There we have it – some ideas on how you might use trademarks to represent super powers in your games of FU. I will immediately point out that I have stuck to comparatively “low level” powers here, for no other reason than i like these characters! Perhaps I will write a follow-up article with some more extreme powers.
Just getting the hang of these Trademarks. For a somewhat higher-powered hero, here’s Super C, a hero with a bit of bad luck (and star of a webseries I’m producing).
Super C – Wannabe Paragon
Socially Awkward Superhero (Bright and Optimistic, Silver-Age Mentality, Easily Discouraged, Distracted by pain from bullets, Reputation as a weiner)
Rennaisance Man (Video production business, Awkwardly charming, Knows a little of this and that)
Strong and Tough (Bulletproof Skin, Can lift a skyscraper, Punches holes in Steel, Ricochet causes collateral damage)
Light and Speed (Jet-speed flight, Laser Vision, Wind Summoning)
Nice. We get a good sense of who Super C is, without knowing anything else about them. I get a picture of a guy who is trying his best to live up to the ideals of being a “real super hero” but things often don’t go quite their way.
That’s exactly what I had in mind! 😀 Especially when the bullets bounce off of him and hit people around him.
I’m thinking, however, that some Trademarks and/or meta-tags used in this way might not ever become unlocked to give a bonus die, but rather become the subject of a beat-the-odds roll. Super C’s “Can lift a skyscraper” would allow him to ask “Can I DAZE Aryan Eagle by throwing this tank at him?” kind of like powers and spells in Vagrant Workshops’ equinox rules, but something else would possibly modify it.
So, the trademarks and meta-tags could serve dual purposes, I guess, is my thought.
I was wondering about something related to Trademarks and Meta-tags. Specifically, if they’re meant as a way to limit the Trademark.
Let’s just say my character is an amazing chef and I have the TRADEMARK: Amazing Chef (Tasty Desserts, Beat Meat in the Country)… Would I be able to use my Amazing Chef Trademark if my character wanted to make some amazingly tasty veggies? Or would that only be possible if I, say, obtain the “Veggie Master” meta-tag from character growth through the game?
Great question. My intent was not to limit so much as clarify, but I can totally see how they might be interpreted otherwise. They have two primary purposes;
1) Ensure everyone knows what the potential for the Trademark is, and
2) Highlight the cool stuff you would like to be doing with the character/trademark.
A trademark like Amazing Chef has a very clear scope as it is and I would be inclined to let a player use it in any cooking-related action. The meta-tags become important as flags to both player and GM, indicating the sorts of things you expect to be using the trademark for in play. You might also use the meta-tags to highlight “edge” cases that you want to ensure your character is competent at, such as “manage a busy team” or “identify poisonous ingredients”.
If the trademark was not as straightforward, however, the meta-tags become quite important. If your character had the Trademark: King’s Personal Chef it could have a variety of meta-tags not related to cooking at all. It would be important to indicate to everyone the potential opportunities to use the trademark in play. This might include “Cook amazing feasts”, “Move about the castle freely”, and “Give orders to servants”.
I hope this helps (if not, keep asking questions!(. ?
That makes a lot of sense! Although I worry that the whole process of unlocking meta-tags might be a bit of a power-creep. Then again, FU itself is so simple that finding venues for character progression is certainly difficult without adding new concepts or mechanics such as that one.
I have another question! It’s something I didn’t quite get after reading through some of your blog posts. How would you handle a typical wizard? They’re usually characterised by having a wide variety of very powerful abilities abilities specialised around a particular field and having some kind of limit in how much they can use them, as far as I understand them.
I suppose Trademarks could be used to define their “school” and then the Meta-tags could help give everyone an idea of what they can do with that magic and. An example of what I’m thinking:
* Fire Magic (Create explosions, fight at a distance, set things on fire)
* Demonic Magic (Summon evil beasts, drain souls, curse items)
But these trademarks kind of outclass the more mundane Trademarks. Then again, this also happens when comparing super-powered Trademarks (“Web-slinging”, for example) with something more simple (“Martial Arts Master”, maybe). It almost becomes a problem of balancing the game’s power-level or, more importantly, the party’s power level!
Your example of the magic “schools” is how I handle it with trademarks. The wizard has a trademark that lets them sling fireballs, while the fighter has “Born Warrior (Slice through hordes, Sever limbs, Drive my enemy before me)” and the thief has “Cat Burglar (Climb anything, Squeeze through gaps, Shadows are my friend, No lock is safe)”. At the end of the day each character has some very impressive powers in a specific arena.
Having said that, I do have one more way to define character abilities and provide balance that I have not yet written about. (You’ve caught me out!!!) At their core, these “features” are a bit like 3rd Ed DnD Feats, or Fate stunts and could be used to add more balance in circumstances where a “wizard” type character has a distinct advantage over other characters. I’ve not written about them yet as they are still a bit “hand wavy” in terms of what they can do and I want to refine the explanation. I also want to explain a few other ideas I have first.
I’m wondering if I’ve got it right, so here are converted hero from my Marvel campaign (Cortex is great system, but kids are sometimes lost in all these dice, so looking for alternative).
Hero wannabe accidentally empowered with alien symbiont.
– Cheerful fanboy (Living hero database, (almost) always positive, irritating fanboy)
– Wannabe hero (tougher than he looks, acrobatic training, combat 101, determined to accomplish goal, yet still human)
– Weird weapons and equipment (battle boomerang, swinglines, light body armor, gizmos for special occasions)
– Zetsubo symbionte spawn (potentially dangerous, senses danger, creates webs, makes stronger, afraids of bright light and loud sound).