Dilemma with GI Joe RPG

(*Editor’s note: I’m talking about a ROLE PLAYING GAME! Not real life! If I get hauled off in the middle of the night, you know what happened.)

This is probably going to be a Session Zero discussion.

I’m going to have a couple of conversations with my players before a GI Joe campaign some day if it ever happens. I’ve been wanting to run this game since the mid 1980’s. It’s going to happen eventually.

First, we have to establish the setting of the campaign. It’s probably going to be, as you may have guessed if you follow my Power Rangers design plans, an alternate Earth from the animated and other series. The main question is whether we will be playing in an anime-esque Sigma 6 game, a GI Joe Renegades game, or one that closely mirrors the original. There’s another possibility of a strong Transformers tie-in because I’ve always wanted to see that made into a movie.

Setting is not the real Session Zero dilemma, though. The problem I’m contemplating currently is realism, once again. Not just the violence aspect, although that will come up. No, I’m concerned over the fact that Cobra is a terrorist organization. I’m probably going to make friends at Homeland Security in the real world just for discussing this.
(*Editor’s note: I’m talking about a ROLE PLAYING GAME! Not real life! If I get hauled off in the middle of the night, you know what happened.)

GI Joe, the Roleplaying Game.

Here’s where the proverbial rubber meets the road with GI Joe RPG.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com
Keep America beautiful.

Let’s talk about the real world implications of running a game where good guys, the Joes, chase down bad guys- Cobra. It’s black and white on paper, I guess. But again, Cobra is supposed to be a terrorist organization. After 9/11, that’s a pretty grim title for any organization to latch onto.

Let’s face it, we could be talking some real horrific stuff if we wanted to turn the realism up to 10. (It does NOT go to 11.) Think about how much damage one nutjob terrorist can cause. (*Editor’s note: I’m not giving out any potential plot lines for this game yet.) Major Bludd could go on a Leatherface style killing spree or Dr Mindbender could slip some stuff into the municipal water supply to start off the zombie apocalypse, but it wouldn’t be very cartoon-y even for a violent American cartoon.

It’s kind of like watching the bad guy in a comic book tie up the heroes, execute them and set off the nuke. (*No joke, there’s a comic where the villain did just that.) But this kind of thing translates to zero fun in an RPG. There has to be a legit chance for the heroes to stop the bad guys in time. No one wants to play in a game where Cobra touches off the apocalypse behind the scenes and now it’s basically too late.

It’s not the same without incompetent lackeys and Cobra Commander having a tantrum when he gets beaten.

The enigmatic Cobra Commander.

I’m still living for the day when I get to see Cobra Commander and Starscream having a conversation and then the plan goes to pieces. (*Same voice actor in both cartoons.) It’ll be a hoot in the RPG, too. I live for moments like this in any game, even if it’s behind the scenes. NPCs make the world go around.

My goal with any RPG, especially this one, is to have as much fun as possible. Mass casualties are not fun. Some of us have experienced the trauma of terrorism in the real world and I won’t take it lightly. It’s truly a sensitive topic and should be approached as such.

Much like the widespread use of stun lasers and mercy bullets, we’re going to run GI Joe in nerfed mode. Cobra is going to be dealing in the creation of weather dominators and melting the polar icecaps with a heat ray. They’ll be rounding up a new batch of scientists every week to create giant plants and mutant scorpions.

…and knowing is half the battle.

My goal with all of the Essence20 games is going to be to keep it PG as much as possible. That goes for Transformers and Power Rangers, too. I want my players to experience the excitement and mild drama of the battle against Cobra. I want to mess around with the RPG versions of all the cool weapons and vehicles we had as toys from the cartoons.

I promise to keep my game free of guts and gore. There will be minimal swearing. Death is not going to be commonplace unlike the real world. Injuries will heal fairly rapidly. The parachutes will always deploy and all of the airbags work in every vehicle. Gonna keep it fairly kid friendly. The kind of RPG you can play with a 10 year old on up.

I’m also pretty stoked to do some of the voices from the cartoon and go watch old reruns in the name of “research.” The game is going to be fun, not a bloodbath. If the players do stop Cobra, who’s to say another dastardly organization won’t take their place? (*But that’s another article.)

Yo Joe!

Thanks for being here. I appreciate you. Have a fun and safe weekend.

Keeping it Rated “PG” in RPGs.

It was okay to shoot guns, swing swords and blow stuff up, as long as you didn’t show blood, guts, gore, or dismemberment.

Well, maybe PG-13 because of the “fantasy violence” and stuff.

I think one of the hardest parts of running Power Rangers RPG is going to be to remember to keep it somewhat kid friendly. Luckily, the Essence20 system is written is such a way that there are no death saves to worry about. The GI Joe RPG has a similar situation going where 0 Health means your character is Defeated, not dead. This is definitely unrealistic given the amount of blasters, guns, swords, and other implements of destruction around, but hey- It’s based off of kids’ TV.

My family knows I should come with a trigger warning and a language filter.

I gotta behave.

My wife loves to kid me about how often I successfully stick my foot in my mouth. The common running joke is, “Shovel’s over here if you need it.” Meaning I tend to dig the hole I’m in deeper every time I say anything.

I’m going to have an easier time keeping it clean around the kids with a system that is pretty much designed non-lethal. Basically if it’s something a Power Ranger wouldn’t do on TV, it’s restricted from the game.

“Aww shucks. Golly. Gee whiz that’s sure a lot of blood.”

No. No. Not blood. We’ll say “goop.” The monsters still explode, but they just go off to a different dimension or get revived by the bad guys. Putties still explode and get remolded. (Reduce, reuse, recycle.) Fights against anything remotely human result in defeats or knockouts. No blood.

I’m proud of myself for losing some of my drunken sailor talk around my family. It took the better part of a decade to stop dropping f-bombs like they were someone’s name, but I did it. Certain situations still cause me to let some fly, but I try not to do it around the kids.

I grew up in the 1980’s when cartoon violence was a big thing.

Relatively “normal.”

Somehow I turned out relatively normal. We had Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry cartoons, and some pretty heinous acts would get committed there, but somehow none of the kids on my block turned into ax murderers. There were no riots. Parents could still sleep at night. Makes me wonder…

If only we had known that society was going to devolve even further, we might not have had people freaking out about our beloved cartoons. I remember they talked about bans on D&D, Thundarr the Barbarian, Pole Position (Yup, that was a thing.) GI Joe (duh…) and M.A.S.K. cartoons because they were supposedly too violent for kids. Even the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers took some heat, but somehow it survived.

It was okay to shoot guns, swing swords and blow stuff up, as long as you didn’t show blood, guts, gore, or dismemberment. Something similar happened a couple of decades prior with the Comics Code Authority. It was sort of the death knell for horror comics, but overall a healthy thing.

Besides, who cares if the foam rubber monster disappears in a huge propane explosion. Those buildings were obviously all evacuated and no one really got hurt. Even the guy inside the monster suit is okay. It’s all just pretend, kids.

Tradition keeps it nerfed appropriately.

I intend to run the Power Rangers RPG the same way the TV series presents itself. No swearing. No actual blood. I’m staying away from YouTube indie series such as Unworthy where characters can straight up die. (It’s fun to watch as an adult, though…) Foam rubber monsters still explode and go to a nice, quiet parallel dimension and live happily until resurrected or whatever.

I’m still working out the details regarding civilian casualties. Godzilla stomps out an apartment complex and hoots fire everywhere, there should be some degree of threat there. We have to still show some danger without actually killing any NPCs.

GI Joe can still launch all kinds of missiles and people might get injured a little. But if a vehicle blows up it’s guaranteed the occupants will parachute to safety. If their hummer flips over, they will crawl out of it alive. Yay. Robots and monsters probably won’t be so lucky. That’s how it’s pretty much always been for Saturday morning kids programming.

Hope you’re having a lovely week. Take care. Please stay safe and hydrated. See ya soon.

My spaceship exploded and I still managed to bail out in time.

Essence20. Who Knew?

I really like Essence20 as an RPG system so far. It’s a lot easier to work with and more flexible than a lot of games out there right now.

We’re now a couple of games into this system, and I like it.

This is the GI Joe character sheet. So far very similar to Power Rangers RPG.

I like Essence20 from Renegade Studios so far. The player and core mechanics are where this company really tends to shine. I’ll talk a little more about combat crunch in another article. I wanted to really highlight some of the character features of both Power Rangers and GI Joe RPGs so far.

They’ve kinda cornered the market on borrowing from other systems.

One of the things that impresses me most about Essence20 as a system is that it borrows from several RPGs that have been around for a long time and makes it fresh. Obviously there’s the D&D d20 aesthetic for most skill rolls and damage, etc. It runs off character classes and the Influences are sort of what I expect D&D races are going to start to resemble. Origins are also kind of in that category along with a mashup of backgrounds.

The pips under the Essence categories resemble another classic- namely White Wolf’s World of Darkness. The broader skill categories and specializations sort of remind me of that WoD character sheet as well. I like the way each Essence score has a separate defense tied into it, the way I remember opposed skill checks work in WoD just simplified.

The other mechanic that smacks of both Cortex and Savage Worlds/Deadlands is the way skills work. Each skill has 6 pips and each pip is associated with a die type from d2 (coin) all the way to d12. Skill rolls are accomplished by rolling a d20 + the skill die OR the dice all the way up to the highest skill die and picking the best if specialized.

For example, if I want to make an Infiltration check and I have three pips (d6) I would roll a d20 + 1d6 and try to beat the target number. If I’m specialized in Stealth, I would roll a d20 (always base) +1d2, 1d4, AND 1d6 choosing the highest of the three to add to the d20 and then compare to the target number.

They break it down into fewer scores and skills to remember.

When you look at a D&D or SWADE character sheet, there are a lot of moving parts to consider and character creation is slightly more involved than Essence20. 4 Essence Scores- Strength, Speed, Smarts, and Social. That’s it. There are only five or six skills under each Score, and only a few specializations for each skill. It’s like a streamlined version of Shadowrun or D6 Star Wars. I hope and pray they keep it that way going forward. We like simple here. Really.

I think Essence20 was really developed with fans of specific franchises in mind like GI Joe and Power Rangers. It’s fast to learn and build characters and emulates whichever series in question quite well. They’re almost as good at genre emulation as Spectrum Games. You can already recreate just about any character from either GI Joe or Power Rangers series pretty rapidly just by knowing the character and looking at Essence20.

Let’s look at one of my favorites from GI Joe lore. He was a Martial Artist (Influence.) Former Hollywood stunt man so Civilian (Origin) and trained pretty extensively under good old Snake Eyes- Commando (Role.) Give him a sword and some shuriken. Fill in the rest of the bells and whistles accordingly prioritizing Speed and Strength for the most part. That’s Quick Kick. It’s easy.

That day of GI Joe vs Transformers is right over the horizon. It’s gonna be beautiful. I hope my voice holds together through my Starscream and Cobra Commander dialogue.

I would love to see Essence20 as a “generic” game system.

Maybe there’s a larger plan at work here?

I could easily see Essence20 Core selling as a book on its own. The only thing the GM would have to figure out would be Roles for whatever specific genre or franchise they wish to emulate. Influences and Origins have been pretty consistent so far as have the general skills. There might be some genre or series specific tweaks, but really it’s pretty easy to master as a framework.

You’ve literally got the start of a generic universal RPG franchise here with a little work. There is so much potential for this system to expand into specific setting and genre books just like d20 Modern, SWADE, GURPS, and FATE did before it. On the other hand, it could also get bonkers out of control like some of those games did. Could this even be the future of D&D? Time will tell.

Star Wars, WWE, Street Fighter, Marvel Superheroes, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and so many other franchises could all field Essence20 games and they would run quite smoothly. I’m not sure about horror yet, but I suspect it could work. The time consuming part is going to be figuring out the Origins, Roles, specializations, equipment/vehicles and threats for each genre/franchise. The character framework could readily be hashed out by a designer or two in a couple of days. It’s really not that daunting compared to using D&D 5E for everything.

Thanks for stopping by. More on Essence20 to come in future articles as I am enamored with this system so far. Please stay hydrated. Think positive. See ya soon.

A Little Surprise in the Mail Today.

So far I have very, very good things to say about this game. Renegade has outdone themselves on this in terms of RPG playability and nostalgia/fan content.

I’m pretty excited about this!

I’ve only been waiting something like, 35+ years for this one. Yo Joe!

An early birthday present from my wife. Dang.

Foreword by Luke Gygax. Unbelievable. I’ll have a full review up when I’ve had more time to drool over this book. My physical copy showed up and the pdf dropped. (Giddy noises.)

So far, it’s been flashbacks and good crunch.

While I’m still pretty much obsessed with Renegade’s other recent release, Power Rangers RPG, I will say GI Joe is very impressive so far. They seem to have gotten their acts together between books somehow. The system is the same Essence20 System used for Power Rangers. It’s a much better fit for this game.

I grew up playing with GI Joe toys among other things. I remember pretty much all of the characters listed in the book and wondered about several they haven’t mentioned. I think the sourcebooks for this game have the potential to be loaded with awesomeness.

The art in this book brings back so many fond memories of both the toys and their packaging. I’ve lost track of the “oh yeah” moments looking back after opening this book. There are characters, vehicles and stories in here that I haven’t thought about in years.

They realized they couldn’t fit 500 dossiers into the first book. Go figure.

I remember when I was first introduced to roleplaying games for the first time when I was nine and thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a GI Joe game.”

Other than Spycraft and Cartoon Action Hour, I don’t remember anyone really doing much of a knockoff. It’s just way better with the actual GI Joe cartoon art and characters. Conveniently, Hasbro appears to be working closely with Renegade on GI Joe, Transformers, and even My Little Pony.

As another side note, I absolutely adore the book referring to “Knowing is half the battle,” throughout. I still think there should be extra XP given if characters want to do a public service announcement vignette between episodes.

I sincerely hope they put together sourcebooks with more Joes, Cobras, and lots of vehicles very soon. Renegade seems pretty determined all around on this one. I also should mention that another dream come true is on the horizon- Transformers RPG. Imagine the crossover between GI Joe and Transformers in an RPG. Almost as good as that movie we’ve always wanted.

Thank you for being here. Stay safe. Stay hydrated. More to come.

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