Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When Not Preaching To The Choir

I've got a few things I want to talk about in the fields of Science Fiction (Our Traveller campaign!) and Supers (Our upcoming, brand new Champions campaign!) RPGing, so I hope I have time available to do so this month. At the moment, things are looking to be pretty busy.

February was, as I noted recently, pretty low on page views, very likely because it was also pretty low on posts. A real bummer and a little bit of a surprise since the posts I did make were largely focused on Traveller and Supers, two things that usually bring a lot of people 'round the campfire. Ooh, s'mores are almost done! Where was I? Ah yes...

I did get more comments than usual and that's a good sign but my goal is to get a little more of both. I want a lot of people to come visit, stay a bit and talk. It's lonely here in this orbital pod all by myself.

Moving along...

As recent as yesterday morning, I was having a conversation with Erin Palettle about some material she created for a Traveller game she is running. The conversation inspired me to post something about the particulars of Jump Drive 'In My Traveller Universe' (IMTU TM*), which differ a bit from the traditional canon of the game.

I would prefer to post my material after she posts hers, so I am going to hold off on that for the moment. Instead, I will address something of the Superheroic persuasion, which I feel is of interest to gamers in other genres as well, although I've seen it in Supers more than anywhere else. This posts inspiration comes from conversations I've had with a fellow you may know as WQRobb. If you don't know him, well, consider what you're missing out on!


A Superheroes RPG is an extremely difficult game to run if your players aren't comic book fans.

I will amend that statement slightly. A Superheroes RPG is an extremely difficult game to run if your players aren't comic book fans and you are hoping for a Superhero Comic Book style campaign.

While it isn't too difficult to explain Dungeons & Dragons to someone who hasn't read Lord of The Rings or get someone who's never seen Babylon 5 into a session of Traveller, I would wish you good luck running Supers for someone who doesn't have a few dozen issues of The Avengers or Teen Titans under their belt.

With the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres, you can easily point to the medieval period of European history or an issue of Discover Magazine that discusses exo-planets and space travel. Fantasy goes back to fairy tales and the time of kings and knights. Science Fiction looks toward the future and the What If? of where we are going with technology and culture.

Supers is a strange bird (no, it's a plane...no, it's Super...ahem). It postulates an impossible now in which certain utterly ridiculous constants are common place and excepted.

For example...

One running gag in our previous Champions campaign was that one player refused to have his PC wear a costume, when all the other Supers of the world thought of it as not only normal but a given. Decked out in his leather jacket and shades he viewed himself as looking way cooler and more logical than any of the colorfully garbed, spandex lot. Unfortunately, all the NPCs, from fellow Supers to the Police to Reporters failed to understand why he dressed so strangely for an official Superhero. Many times our SHIELD-like organizations (PRIMUS and UNTIL) would tell him to get out of the way and get to safety, thinking he wasn't supposed to be at the battle.

PRIMUS Officer: "I'm sorry sir. This is a restricted area. There is a superhuman battle going on. All civilians must get to a safe distance."

ARCANE: "I'm a member of Project: UNITY. I have superpowers." (Shows Officer his ID).

PRIMUS Officer: "Oh I see. Sorry. Why aren't you in costume? How is anyone supposed to know?"

It was viewed as normal to wear a costume and a mask if you were a Superhero. It was tradition. Otherwise you're just some metahuman yahoo or worse, a poser.

On a related note, here is something that gets me (mini-rant warning)...

Sometimes, you have a group of players, all about the same age, who ARE big comic book fans. They've read and like a lot of the same comics and talk about what's happening in different titles all the time. Then, when you get together to create characters for a Supers RPG (Yes CREATE, not Generate, as the most popular Supers RPGs, Champions and Mutants & Masterminds, are both point-based systems that let you create the character you want to play) you get characters you would almost never see in an American Superhero Comic.

Why?! Please someone tell me why this is! It defies all logic. I get it if some of the players are familiar with comics and some aren't but when you gather a group of comic book fans and get un-comic book like characters...well...What the Hell?! Seriously.

(End rant)

I have tried to run Supers RPGs for those who don't know much about or even aren't into comics and it never goes well. It has gone less-than-horribly a few times but rarely close to what I would deem 'really good'. Maybe once but I got lucky, I had great players.

Why is this? That is to say, why is Supers hard to comprehend for the non-comic reader? Aren't comic books and comic book heroes the modern myths, filled with present day Daedaluses and Dianas? If you can understand a Wizard battling a Dragon why is Superman striving to fell Chemo so hard to wrap one's head around?

I honestly don't have an answer for this since I get it.

What do you all think?

Barking Alien

*There is no actual trademarking going on here. ;)


  1. First, thanks for the bloglove.

    Second, I think one of the issues why is because superheroes require a little suspension of common sense. In a sci-fi game or fantasy game, you're basically navigating in a fantastic realm, but what you're doing is reasonable, given the circumstances.

    In comic books, there's a certain amount of that lacking. For example, I remember years ago someone wondering if there would be that moment in the X-Men when they would square off against a villain and the villain would just pull out a pistol, shoot Storm and Cyclops, and then run away.

    A person who doesn't "get" the genre might say, "my character is going to do just that," or a host of other rather reasonable things.

  2. Agreed. It is more than 'suspension of disbelief'. It's accepting from the onset that 'things work a little differently here'.

    What is normal to the entities living in a Superhero universe is simply not normal to someone who's thinking originates in another genre or in the real world (to some extent).

  3. First, I agree with your rant - I have seen some really weird, incoherent concepts over the years even from people who should know better.

    But your main premise ... I don't know, with all of the superhero movies since 2000, all of the cartoons on TV, and all of the videogames featuring them I don't think superheroes are a particularly exotic concept anymore and I don't know that comic book knowledge specifically is required because some of that other stuff is really good.

    I will say that it's better if your players are superhero fans, regardless of their chosen medium, than if they are not, more from an enthusiasm and getting-on-board-with-it point of view than any other reason.

  4. I've learned to never, ever, EVER run supers games for people who don't enjoy comics or the assorted cartoons. They don't actually have to be funnybook fans proper, but they have to at least "get" Saturday morning spandex theatrics. (And liking superhero video games isn't enough.)

    These are questions I actually ask players as they make their PCs: "Is this a character you'd want to read about in a comic? Is this a character other people would want to read about in a comic? Would this character fit well with others in a team comic?"

    That usually prevents designs like Captain Shoot-Them-In-The-Head and Dr. Mentalist-Who-Hides-Invisibly-And-Mind-Controls-From-Afar.

  5. I never understand why players who like superheroes create anything but...!

    Usually 20-40% of my players want to play PCs that don't fit in the genre. It seems they are trying to "be original."

    1. Allfather and Galactus please save me from those trying to 'be original'. ^^;

    2. "A four-color, heroes-avoid-killing, Silver/Bronze Age Marvel game set in NYC? Oh, I should play a teenage vampire who hates his heritage and preys only on criminals to survive while I wander the earth seeking a cure!"

      "Hey, that's great, and I'll be a gun-toting vigilante in a trenchcoat who is a former Mafia hitman but now seeks revenge on the Mafia for double-crossing me and leaving me for dead!"

    3. Indeed *Sobs into his collection of various Kryptonite colors*

    4. Those comments were based on a real 5th ed. Champions campaign I ran for about 6 months...I should have rejected 2 of the 6 players at the outset but was fairly new to GMing and thought they'd come around after they made more appropriate characters. They wound up quitting but only after (deliberately, I think) torpedoing the campaign for the others. I like to think I'd do better now.

  6. This entry really talks to me. I've been trying to figure out how to brisge the gap between my Players and I. They have little comic book lore. I have decades of reading experience. It is a difficult interaction.

    1. Welcome Teresa.

      It's tricky and while I could also say the tried and trite, "Give'em some comics and let'em catch up", we all know its not as simple as that.

      That is, there is very little chance that reading through the last two or three trades of Avengers or X-Men is going to suddenly give them the kind of deep mythology a long time fan has.

      Heck in the current Avengers title they have new members including Captain Universe, Smasher of the Shi'Ar Imperial Guard and Hyperion of the Squadron Supreme. To me THAT'S FREAKIN' AWESOME!!! To many people its more of a curiousity. It's, "Huh? Who are these guys? I guess I'll learn about them as I go and decide if I like them."

      Very different experience, though both a valid.

    2. The Avengers is definitely rocking a Cosmic vibe right now.

      By the way, you can see for my first superhero session went right here: