Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Paul Czege Effect, part 1

If you know Paul Czege's name, it's probably because of his indie role-playing games My Life With Master or Nicotine Girls. Or maybe he registers on your radar as simply as one of the usual suspects in the indie gaming scene. But for me I'll always associate the name Paul Czege with one beautiful, half-throwaway idea of his that has been reverberating through my skull for the last five years. At one time Mr. Czege was playing Theatrix, which happens to be the first diceless RPG I ever owned. Theatrix is basically a set of light cinematic generic rules, which Mr. Czege's group was using to power a superhero game. If you can stand diceless games and aren't one of those points-crunching power-minutae freaks, then I could totally see using Theatrix for the cape-and-cowl set.

Anyway, back in '01 I must have still been regularly reading the Forge, because I stumbled across a thread where Mr. Czege talked about this game. The thing that stuck with me all these years later was the naming convention he came up with. He breaks it down like this:
One thing I haven't described about the game is the naming convention for superheroes and supervillains. It's an idea I had last summer, that you could create a superhero scenario without seeming derivative if you invented an alternative naming convention. So all names have prepositions in them. The gun toting villain in the very first scene of the game is Quick on the Draw. The villain that bursts into flames is Point of Ignition. My character is No Appetite for Pain.
Other characters in the game include heroes War on Crime (the local Batman-type), Champion of Fair Play (the Superman equivalent), as well as Keeper of Faith, Justice of the Piece (gotta be a gun-toting Punisher type), Day of Salvation, Spirit of America, Mind over Matter ("who's a brain in a jar"), and Up from the Earth. The campaign featured villains with names like Life from Death, Born from Concrete, Impossible to Find, Falling through Reality, and Harvester of the Weak.

Hot damn, but that's good stuff. By a simple change in the rules on how you name your supers, Czege has left an indelible stamp on the campaign. If you think about it, you can see a little of this in the comic books themselves. If I tell you a character is Magma Man, that's pretty blank. It's tells you nothing but the dude's power base. But if he's Magma Lad, suddenly I read into that character a lot of Silver Age innocence without knowing anything subtantive about the dude. Similarly, if you called the guy The Magma it's a pretty good bet he's one of those grim and gritty guys that stunk up so many 90's comics.

It must be noted that Mr. Czege came up with this delightful technique for what I personally think of as all the wrong reasons:
And I think for us, it enables the game to have to work less hard to achieve a mature tone. Traditional superhero naming conventions have become somewhat associated with Saturday morning cartoons: Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Superfriends, X-Men. I think the alternative naming convention kind of breaks down those associations and defaults us to treating the characters and their relationships with seriousness..
But in part 2 of The Paul Czege Effect, I will use this technique to outline a superhero world my way. A way that is less mature, less serious, and more stupid. Stay tuned.