Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Making of Freedom City Unlimited: Ureka! It worked!

Once again, tons of views have resulted in no comments. It's pretty amazing. Someone on another blog will talk about standardizing the damage of weapons in D&D (everything does 6! It's brilliant! From a dirk to a thirty ton boulder - 6!), AGAIN I might add, and get thirty comments on his genius while I can't get a, "Neat idea, man" or "I like Mutants & Masterminds too". Sigh. Whatever. It's not so much that I want or expect recognition (my page views do that if that was my concern) but moreover, I really wanted this blog to be a place for an exchange of ideas for those of us who don't think D&D is the end-all-be-all of gaming experience. Unfortunately, I get the impression it is for the vast majority, which sometimes bums me out a bit. Oh well. Onward and upward. Or up, up and away-ward!

So why did last Saturday's Freedom City game work where the previous two failed?

Good question and one I have several theories about. Come, peruse my rambling thoughts won't you?

For My Part

There were several key differences in my running of this game as compared to the others but they mostly boil down to knowing my players, knowing my world and having fun with it.

Without Corey in the mix I was left with four pretty serious comic book fans. This meant that my experiences as a comic book fan and the ideas that reading comics for over 30 years would naturally inspire (for me that is) would be understood and appreciated by my group. A homage here, an Easter Egg there, all thrown in to a story that both played on and played against expected cliches, was far more likely, if not guaranteed, to put a smile on everyone's face and get them into the swing of things.

I also knew my world much more accurately this time. Now my first attempt was in my Champions setting, a world first created and developed by my friend William. I do know that world very well, especially the changes I made to it to adapt it to my own campaign style and the players I have. The problem was that the Champions world is a bit too specific in atmosphere and unless I convey it properly, it's hard to get a brand new hero to just pop in out of no where.

The second world was not only too high concept but I never got a chance to fully flesh out said concept. As a result, I don't think everyone really got it and who could blame them.

With Freedom City and it's universe I not only have a well thought out setting that really evokes the kind of comic books I want to focus on but it's also a setting I have run before. It's loose enough to through in my own stuff and, SUPER BONUS!, the Players are not familiar with it so I can alter some of the details of it's 'canon' and no one notices or cares. It is also a setting with a fantastic map and that is always fun.

Lastly, I didn't push to make it awesomely epic right from the start. Rather, as I do tend to like the epic opener approach, I tried only to make it fun. It would likely get epic on its own once the PCs got the hang of the setting, the NPCs and their characters' personalities and powers.

For Their Part

That is, "How did the Players contribute to a better session".

For one thing, they made great characters. They're a pretty diverse group and they are also somewhat traditional comic book heroes at first glance. You've got the Superman/Paragon/Flying Powerhouse guy, the Armor/Techie/Space guy, the Martial Arts Master guy and a Mutant Power/Mimic gal who serves as the wild card.

Each comes with a nice twist in bother powers and perspective:

Our Superman is a city dwelling, blue collar, regular joe. He has a Psychic/Sonic power that causes enemies and allies to hear music the can demoralize or heal respectively.

Our Iron Man from Space is the least experienced and honestly has no idea what he's doing. He not only became a hero by accident but the super suit has no instructions.

Our Martial Arts Master was trained under special conditions by an alien. He is our Asian Mysticism character AND our Cosmic character all in one.

Our wild card is a female character with really unsual powers. Looking at the specifics of the PC, the closest pre-existing characters she resembles are Nemesis Kid, one time enemy of the Legion of Superheroes and Shane Gooseman from Galaxy Rangers. She's got great pathos, wondering if she is really cut out to be a hero.

Although created separately with no real knowledge of each others' ideas, these characters fit together. You can see them being on the same team. Furthermore, their backgrounds overlap somewhat, making it fairly easy to come up with an opponent or plot that will grab them all.

Anthem has an enemy in SHADOW, a Hydra or Cobra like group that deals in sorcery as well as science and tech. Onyx Dragon has an enemy in the cult, Way of the Void. The Way employs shadow soceror types, giving me a perfect excuse to team them up with SHADOW. Onyx Dragon knows about aliens and StarKnight protects our sector of space from alien invasion. Aliens or alien tech could be responsible for the 'flash' that gave Ad Hoc her powers.

Lastly but most assuredly, the guys really came to game last Saturday. Much less horsing around, fewer random nerdy side tangents and a real desire to make this particular game successful could be felt at the table that day.

Can't wait for the next issue to drop...

Barking Alien


  1. I wouldn't panic too much - I dare say a number of us are in the "if it ain't useful, don't say it" crowd. Personally, I hate "me too" comments! In my case, I'm often here several days after the post was made - which means any comments I might make tend to just bounce off into the ether...

    IMO, if your viewing and following figures are good, you're doing well. The conversations are the icing on the cake!

    Speaking of which, I discovered Freedom City a couple of years ago and it rapidly became my favourite superheroes setting, for most of the reasons you describe. My number 1 reason, though, has to be the history: this is a setting where we've had three iterations of heroes before the present day, each with their own style and approach to heroism (Golden Age is my favourite vision of the WW2 era). Some of the NPCs are descendants of others and superheroic legacies are a featured part of the setting.

    I used to be a fan of the Champions Universe (at least in its 4th ed incarnation - I loved the Classic Organisations book and even Kingdom of Champions), but went off it when it got rewritten (and substantially redesigned) for 5th... A number of my favourite CU ideas will appear in FC if I ever get to run it though.


  2. I like that your Iron Man guy has some Greatest American Hero in him. There have been times where I've wanted to do a supers campaign where all the PCs get that dorky suit with no instructions and see what they do.

  3. Dude I've barely been able to read my own blog this month, much less yours - but I'm catching up. Pretty much all in one day.

    The characters do all have a "stumbled into it" vibe going rather than a "destined from birth" thing. I like that. Having a group of comic fans also lets you shift it up a gear and that's a cool thing to have. The alien/darkness enemies is a solid two-dimensional way to link everyone together - nice.

    Desperation leads to focus apparently - you should only run once a month to keep them hungry for a 7+ hour run.

  4. Thanks everyone. I really appreciate the responses.

    @Astronut - When I played Champions in High School I loved the universe. Of course I would later find that what the GM was running was a rebooted, much, much cooler parallel world of his own creation (see my previous Champions posts). The default Champions Universe is rather bland in many places, although Kingdom of Champions was definitely the exception. Very well done book.

    @Doug Wall - Years ago I had a buddy who ran a Supers game in a universe where only TV Supers not affiliated with any comic company existed. PCs included The Misfits of Science, Automan, The Bionic Man and Bionic Woman and of course, The Greatest American Hero. I 'guest-starred' in one session/episode as 'I-Man', the Scott Bakula character from a Disney pilot whose series was, sadly, not picked up.

    @Blacksteel - Heh. See, 6-8 hours is pretty much our standard or was and it's something I intend to get back to now that we have a game that merits it.

  5. I've run supers games for almost 30 years, and there is a HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE difference in the total experience when playing with Comics People versus Non-Comics People.

    And I've all but sworn off GMing for the Nons, unless they've seen enough--and "get"--cartoons like Justice League Unlimited or Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

    Theron over at My Dice Are Older Than You has a story about GMing for a guy who wanted to play a character based on Master Chief from the Halo video games. Player had zero comics background, and Theron had zero Halo background. Annoyance ensued, especially when the hero's response to everything was to just stealth and shoot his way through the game.

    That's not comics, son!

  6. @Justin - Agreed.

    Now I don't mind the one superhero-merc/gun guy. I've seen some cool ones over the years. My friend Selim had this awesome dude in Champions called Overload and we converted by friend Luke's City of Heroes character Gun Knight into M&M 2nd.

    It is a question of understanding how that kind of character works in the Superhero Comic Book genre. Essentially, a gun guy on an Avengers type team needs to be a lot more than a gun guy to be interesting a face the challenges of fighting dudes who are going to shrug off gunfire like raindrops.

  7. Oh, sure, sure...The Shooter archetype can totally work.

    I think it was the sneaking aspect that was the main problem. There was no soliloquizing, no be-spandexed derring-do...just "I creep around the side of the building, hide in the dark, and shoot the supervillain in the head" kind of stuff.

    Even The Punisher knows how to give the audience a show.

  8. Exactly! I couldn't have said it better myself.