Friday, February 10, 2012

Bad Medicine/News for Dr. Drugs

***Normally I’d say only potential GMs should be reading this review, but in this case the most effective way to get the players into the adventure may be for them to see how goofy it is for themselves***

If there’s one thing I like out of an RPG, it’s an adventure that’s both fun and thoughtful.

Too bad Bad Medicine For Dr. Drugs is about as subtle and well-written as Avatar. The movie, not the show.

Gee, was this released at the height “Just Say No”? For that matter, you know you’re in good hands when they weren’t even sure what the title was.

And I wish I could say that’s where the competence on display stops being called into question. Despite the cover and front page both making a big deal about the heroes taking on drug dealers to avenge a dead friend, the setup for the adventure tells us that by the time he OD’d, he’d become just another face in the hall. Would seem to dull the effectiveness of his grieving mother grabbing one of the heroes and demanding they do something about the blight upon society that took her son. Which the designers make a point of being something that leaves such a profound impact on the players that they should feel they have no choice but to do as she asks.

Perhaps I’m jumping on the adventure’s faults a little too quickly, though. After all, there are some things about it that--at least conceptually--I like. The main thing is its emphasis on having the players run teenage characters, something I don’t know that had ever been done in the superhero genre of RPG’s back in 1983. Accordingly, the adventure’s meant to involve stopping the drug dealers as much as it is the characters having to deal with being unsure of where they fit in the big scheme of things, an activity which is of course only complicated by having superpowers.

The booklet even contains a team of precreated teenage supers known as the Grenades (it’s an acronym for what each of them brings to the table). They seem like a fairly interesting group bent on truly doing some good, but as a bunch of headstrong teenagers, each does things their own way, and one gets the feeling that the only thing keeping them from splitting up or killing each other is the fact that this group is the only bunch of people who understands them enough to be willing to have their back against the establishment.

Marvel at the efficacy of proofreading in the top right, too...

For that matter, the teens being somewhat awkward with their powers or the choices of their costumes and such show that they haven’t quite figured this all out yet. Which goes hand-in-hand with the booklet trying to give an idea of how to create teenage superheroes not just with tweaked rules, but through providing a list of unwritten laws they’re expected to observe. I like, I mean I really like, characters having to struggle to find their place in the world on top of other, temporary difficulties; can you tell my favorite version of X-Men is Evolution?

Which leads back to the booklet’s problems, though. This seems like it was written by people who had strong feelings on the matter at hand, and thought that equated to strong knowledge on the matter at hand. I’m a little temped to disbelieve the seriousness of the material not just by the kick-you-in-the-face obviousness of the primary villain’s name, but by the name of the local street gang: the Monkey Thugs. Yeah, the Monkey. Thugs. Sounds like a gang that got laughed off the set of The Warriors.

For reference, some of the ones they kept.

Sort of doubt the authenticity of their unwritten rules for teenagers, if that's what they think a self-respecting gang would call itself.

For that matter, the module seems kind of uncertain of its morality. Mainly, Dr. Drugs honestly thinks he’s performing a public service by furnishing the means to get high. He “may even honestly regret the ruined lives and dead kids that are a necessary side effect of the service he is offering.” That’s sort of the problem of trying to have a drug dealer character who isn’t thoroughly evil: drug addiction isn’t pretty and it’s hard to come up with someone who makes it possible, yet honestly believes he’s doing a good deed for his clients. Unless you’re trying to say their connection to the real world has been damaged to the point they don’t realize what they’re doing anymore. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be how they intended Dr. Drugs, whose profile has him come across as a savvy if shady business operator with a healthy respect for worthy opponents. He’s even with it enough not to judge his semi-unstable gangster father, what with the man’s grim background.

Dr. Drugs comes off as kind of an idiot, then, when he tries to psych the heroes out by attacking their moral superiority in trying to save people from their own choices. Seemingly totally ignorant of how a lot of people get into drugs because of reasons like peer pressure or overestimating their ability to ween themselves off it. And how easily mind-altering substances can destroy lives, and how it usually is something that takes outside help to cope with. Sorry, having trouble seeing how easily this guy could be to like if only he’d stop selling mind-altering substances.

So the main villains don’t really work as intended, and so it’s hard to get behind the story’s anti-drug agenda. Is there anything about this adventure that’s good besides the pre-gen characters? Well, there’s the fact that it was meant to be compatible with two different superhero RPG’s, presumably to get its message out to a wider audience. One of them was Champions, the other was a game called Superworld with which I’m not too familiar and unlikely to become so. Especially when this is the first thing I see after opening the book.

And there’s how while the various character sheets were redone into Champions statistics, the adventure itself was written with Superworld rules in mind. Things like determining a player’s chances of overhearing something useful, or penalties for breaking The Code. Granted, these aren’t things that would be hard to replicate in Champions rules, but it seems kind of lazy all the same.

In the end, in spite of trying to cover new ground with teenage superheroes, Bad Medicine For Dr. Drugs is pretty much just another relic of its time. Something probably cranked out to generate some good PR from coming out against an issue gripping the nation. It could make for some great cheeseball fun, but I don't see it opening anyone's eyes to the horrors of drub abuse even back when it was brand new (fueling the paranoia is another story). If you really want to see some quality 80’s anti-drug entertainment, there was this show called BraveStarr that had this one episode…


  1. I agree that the plot was pretty weak, but I liked the goofy teen superheroes like Quicksilver and Masked Avenger and the goofy villains like (you guessed it) the Monkey Thugs.

    And the art by Jackson Guice was really good for an RPG product!

    1. That was the intent behind the top paragraph. This module can be fun, but you have to run with the silliness. And because of the anti-drug message, it takes itself more seriously than it probably should.