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.


  1. Anonymous11:49 AM

    It is a very classy naming convention, but he started on his all-the-wrong-reasons kick right at the beginning, when he expressed "... without seeming derivative" as the basic goal.

    But as I'm fond of reminding folks: Hitler gave us the Volkswagen, which in no way de-groovies the Volkswagen.

    Hopefully this doesn't come off as too snarky ... But I'm meeting some new gamers to town this evening and I have a sneaking suspicion that they're middle-class types, which means I'm spending most of my energy contemplating oh-my-look-at-the-time escape routes just in case they are :(

    Still. Ambassadorial duty and all.

  2. Anonymous9:31 PM

    Turns out they were groovy :)

  3. Awesome!

    BTW, "I have a sneaking suspicion that they're middle-class types" stings just a little, because I work at a bank.

  4. Anonymous12:28 PM

    Oh, sorry about that. :(

  5. Well, if it helps any I know exactly what you mean. Still, my first reaction was "Hey! Waitaminute! Except for my (unhealthy?) fascination with orcs and spaceships, my life is pretty middle class."

  6. Anonymous12:00 PM

    Well, if it helps any I know exactly what you mean.

    Heh :)

    If it helps the perspective, my own subculture is usually called "trailer trash," in my case descended from south-Philly Italians who moved into coal mining back in the day. So kind of an urban-Italian coal-mining redneck trailer-trash thing, is me. As a Marine brat, I'm a bit loose from any mold thanks to the worldliness (and rootlessness) of constant travel as a kid, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

    So I'm pretty comfortable with virtually any group, and have friends in all of them. Hell, I'm on a first-name basis with half the homeless in South Austin, and as a literacy volunteer I got to know virtually every neighborhood around.

    But ... the middle class. It's just a whole different planet to me. I'm not hostile to MC types; I just can't hang with them in numbers or for a long period of time. As a gamer, I do mingle with the North Austin crowd in small doses and bear them no ill-will ... I've got some MC types who are dear friends.

    Spending a short evening with middle-class gamers is, to me, like spending seven hours in a particularly somber and colorless church, being told to sit still and stay quiet. And being made to wear a tie.* That's as close as I can get to summarizing what I was fearing the other day.

    Anyway, sorry again for commenting in a way that stung; stinging you is never a goal, I promise. Even if we couldn't really hang out, you're still My Kind of People, as far as I'm concerned. Such is the nature of fandom; we're family.

    * I'm theorizing here, as I've never actually worn a tie.

  7. Anonymous12:02 PM

    (And to be clear on the homeless thing: I don't do social work or anything ... It's just that we dress the same way, so usually a friendship starts when they assume I'm homeless, too ...)

    It happens less when I remember to get a haircut.

  8. I pretty much dress like the homeless when I can get away with it. (Actual quote from my wife: "I'm buying you a new coat. You look like you're homeless in that thing.") And I hate getting a haircut. I know it sounds preposterous, but I shaved my head for almost a decade because I can hardly stand to have a real "hairdo". Right now I slick my hair back with gel so I can disguise from my co-workers how unmanageably long it is.

    "Anyway, sorry again for commenting in a way that stung; stinging you is never a goal, I promise. Even if we couldn't really hang out, you're still My Kind of People, as far as I'm concerned. Such is the nature of fandom; we're family."

    I think I'm getting a little verklempt over here

  9. Anonymous12:37 PM

    Just as I believe in the Healing Power of Motown, I believe that all fen are brothers and sisters (in the case of some very unusual fen, some are _simultaneously_ brothers and sisters). :)