Apropos of Nothing: Thor (movie) and game design

I was never really a big Marvel comics guy when I was younger. I was at Edinborough Park with my family yesterday, wearing my Superman t-shirt. Seems like it was DC Comics day – I saw two or three other Supermen (all kids, one in full rig), one Green Lantern (adult), and a whole cave full of Batmen. Bat-toddlers?

Anyway, I was never into Marvel much, and Thor least of all, really. Don’t know why. But when the Avengers preludes started coming out, I naturally started watching them. Iron Man was brilliant, and I even did OK with both Hulk movies, though I think I saw only Iron Man in the theaters. But I’m a completist sometimes, so I picked up Captain America, which I’d really meant to see anyway but hey, toddler, and Thor.

I picked up Thor just to pick it up. It even took me a bit to pop it into my player.

Naturally, I loved it. Y’all saw that coming, right?

I find the story compelling. It’s beautifully done, with even the costumes feeling right – with the obvious exception of Lady Sif’s sternum-baring armor, which is an entirely separate conversation.

But still, the story is pretty basic. Thor, son of Odin Allfather, is an arrogant git. He’s also in line to be king (Odinson, right?), but his poor judgement leads him to be booted out of the Realm Eternal in an act of extraordinary Tough Love, by the always-awesome Anthony Hopkins as Odin.

As a by-the-way, in your copious free time, check out the deleted scenes and featurettes. The extended cut of Odin dressing down Thor is worth watching. I know why they trimmed it, but every inch of it is good.

Anyway, I find the story basic but compelling. It’s the “find yourself” plot, done credibly. I found that between Thor and his follow-up appearance in Avengers, it made me want to learn more about the character, and the world.

I find Thor an always-enjoyable popcorn movie with immense rewatch value.

But it also made me think of how I’d include him in an RPG. My game engine of choice is probably capable of doing such a character – and I’ll admit I’ve not absorbed Supers enough to really think about this hard – but it feels to me like it’d squeak badly around the edges.

I mean, just think about Mjolnir (and thanks to the movie for finally telling me how to pronounce it). With it, he can fly, fight, defend against nearly everything, control the weather . . . wow.

I’ve been involved in precisely one game of FATE Core, playing a guest spot as an Indian help-desk operator. It was fun improvisational theater, and an interesting take on RPGs. Yes, one day I’ll do a read-through and commentary; I’d hoped to get through my Pathfinder readthrough first.

Short version: I can see Mjolnir as being an Aspect. It would be an Aspect that would get a ridiculous amount of use given the large number of uses and powers ascribed to it. Heck, just from the Wiki:

Mjolnir itself has several enchantments: no living being may lift the hammer unless they are worthy; it returns to the exact spot from which it is thrown and returns to Thor when summoned; it may summon the elements of storm (lightning, wind, and rain) by stamping its handle twice on the ground;[1] manipulate the weather on an almost global scale;[4] open interdimensional portals, allowing its wielder to travel to other dimensions (such as from Earth to Asgard);[5] and transform Thor into the guise of a mortal, the physician Donald Blake, by stamping the hammer’s head on the ground once. When Thor transforms into Blake, his hammer takes the appearance of a wooden walking stick. When disguised, the hammer’s enchantments limiting those who may lift it are not in effect. The hammer itself has also shown to be unaffected by external enchantments.[6]

Were I to try something like that in GURPS, the temptation to overly prescribe the abilities of the hammer might be pretty large. I think that the old Champions game might have handled this with a Variable Power Pool, but it’s been a long time. This means that Mjolnir itself might need to be used with modular abilities in GURPS – this seems likely – but with a crazy-varied point base. The need for a Pact (Must be Worthy as deemed by Odin Allfather, who you damn well bet is always watching. Everything.) is pretty clear.

Anyway, I really dig the movie, but then, I’m fairly easily entertained by superhero flicks.

5 thoughts on “Apropos of Nothing: Thor (movie) and game design

  1. If you feel the need to include elements of Ásatrú I might suggest further research in to the reconstructed faith of the ancient Germanic tribes. There is a rich setting to be had there. I think you'll find a lot more interesting material for an epic campaign with a historical flavor and a slight fantasy bent rather than an adventure with an über Marvelesque high-fantasy hero flare. That is unless you're looking for that sort of thing, then yes the film Thor hit the nail on the head (pun!).

  2. FWIW, in Kapow! Mjolnir would probably be represented by a Power with the Flexible Advantage, which would give it a limited palette of different functions. Returning when thrown and being summoned probably wouldn't count, being more reasons that it doesn't have some kind of limited uses Disadvantage, but hitting things with it, causing storms, flying, and dimensional travel are perfect examples of the kinds of disparate powers Flexible represents.

  3. Well, I'll begin with a link to the work of others

    The most interesting thing about Mjolnir from a Champions/Hero perspective is that your first reaction – obvious, accessible focus – is immediately made irrelevant. He can't lose the hammer or have it taken away from him by anything less than an act of (a) god, so not a focus – a special effect. I suspect the powers would fit better into a multipower rather than a fully flexible variable power pool. Certainly cheaper that way.

    And now I've got Thor running in another tab, via Netflix.

  4. My experience is that GURPS fails at Supers game because the point accounting gets absurd: no one wants to allocate and optimize 1500 individual units. 400-500 is about the upper limit of sanity.

    I generally prefer Mutants and Masterminds for super-hero games. The ground scale is better, the time scale is better, and the point scale (typically 150 power points for a starting character) is manageable. It's d20, which is annoying, and there are quite a few things I'd house-rule, but it's playable out of the box.

  5. I liked the vaguely Kirbyesque imagery of the film. I don't know why it is that Thor and Iron Man seemed so lame to me in comics… but on the silver screen they are dynamite.

    I could not buy into the love interest bit– I just don't see what chicky babe brings to the table for, y'know, a freaking god. However the dad-sister-babe dynamic successfully grounded the film.

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