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MASS Part Six – Demonstrating Generic


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Or, Puppets and Cartoons and People, Oh My.

When I thought about what to use as a base scenario and setting for MASS, I had one objective in mind: It had to be in some way unique. I wanted to demonstrate that the rule-set would support play in a setting that was overlooked or at least highly uncommon, or had been given a treatment that was from the mindset of the eighties; that is, describing elements of the setting but building them into a combat engine.

One system that stuck in my mind was Toon. It emulated the concepts of Tom and Jerry, Loonie Toons and other similar five minute animations, with extreme violence and basic caricatures. I ran a number of Toon games, all one-shots, and all exhausting (but fun) back in the day, and that delineated the limitations.

Since then there have been a number of forays into animation emulation, with games aimed at replicating 80s cartoon adventures and of course Supers games where animation and comic book realities cross over.

One other area that had very few published RPGs was treatments of Puppet (and Muppet) settings. There have been some treatments using forums and Fate, but nothing mainstream.

Animation is an interesting space for consideration in RPGs. By its very nature, animation relies on a suspension of disbelief, and buy-in to a fantastical world where special effects are limited only by the animator’s art. RPGs however have an infinite special effect budget, reliant entirely upon the GMs descriptions and the players’ imagination. In and of itself Animation is not a setting or a genre, but a tool to create setting. So RPGs that are based in emulating an animation seem to me to be Inception-like: a suspension of disbelief within an imaginary reconstruction of a suspension of disbelief.

There is a rule that applies to suspension of disbelief for universe building. I like to state it as, ‘Tell one big lie, introduce it gradually so the audience buys in, and be internally consistent to that lie.’ As such (and for animation budgetary constraints) you don’t have much media that has Cartoon animation and Puppet animation interacting at the same time. In examples like Sesame Street, there are Toon segments and Puppet segments, and sometimes the Puppet segments get some special effects via animation, but very infrequently will they exist in the same frame otherwise.

The idea to bring them all together in the one RPG setting became manifest. As it turns out, I had had a similar idea about ten years ago but hadn’t found a gaming group to play it, or a system I was happy with to bring it to life. As the idea to create MASS eventuated, it became a natural fit for what I wanted to demonstrate.

So in this new setting there would be Animated characters of all kinds, existing alongside mundane humans. Who Framed Rodger Rabbit meets the Muppet Show. Clearly this would be an example of the Fantastical Genre (see MASS Part 2). Suitably challenging to emulate and support form a system perspective, and hopefully a good example for what might be possible using the MASS system.

I didn’t want to go down the path of creating a detailed setting with full background, as per my Design Goals. I would need to put enough bones together that the skeleton of the setting would appeal to anyone interested in picking it up, and allow them to then go off and do their own world-building and fleshing out the game. I resolved to stay on this target, and build a game setting and plot a scenario with enough keys for style, theme and characters so as to be a springboard.

And so the Neighbourhood Watch game was plotted out. A simple arc, with some red herrings and tangents, and a what if we fail alternative.
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