My friend Mark Orr asks, "What do you consider the weakness[es] of Supers games?"
What a question! Wow, huh?
"What's the meaning of life?" too easy for for? Geez.
OK, I had to clarify the question with Mark to make sure I was interpreting it correctly. As it turns out, my understanding of the question was spot on. What is really being asked here is, "What are the difficulties in running a Superhero RPG game", or "What makes it harder to run a Superhero game than say, a D&D game"?
Well...first off, I don't normally find Supers games hard to run, and I don't feel like the genre itself has a ton of weak points that prevent it from being enjoyable in RPG form. That said, there are a few obstacles to Supers games that can be tricky to get through.
Let's look at a two of the biggest...
If You're Not On the Same Page, It's Not Going To Work
More than any other single genre I can think of, the genre of comic book Superheroes has splintered to the point where it seems harder than it should be to find a group where all the members have the same view of Superheroes.
This is do to the various 'Ages' of comics, the deconstruction of Superheroes and Superhero comic book tropes in the late 80s and early 90s, and the exposure people have had to these characters. Some folks have been reading comics since they were kids, others only know them from modern movies, and tv shows, and still others have only a passing knowledge of what Superheroes are.
I've played in a few games now with players who are all gung-ho to play Supers, but having only read manga, or Vertigo comics. They end up playing teen age kids with no costumes and try to kill their enemies.
That's fine if you are all in synch to play that kind of game. If you're not, it can be problematic.
For a Superhero campaign to work the participants must share the same collective consciousness when it comes to what Superheroes are, why they do what they do, and how it all works. You don't just need 'buy-in', you need roughly the same buy-in.
On a related note:
While discussing this very question, a friend remarked that in his view Superman's origin, and his weakness of Kryptonite, didn't make sense. If he were creating a Superhero universe of his own, he would 'fix' origins like Superman's. In what way? Well first, according to my friend, "Planet's do not just explode, so..."
It was at that point I tuned out.
You see, in my view, if Superman doesn't work as a character, then no Superhero character works. Kal-El being rocketed from his exploding homeworld makes no more or less sense than a kid being bitten by a radioactive spider, a pilot being given an alien ring of power, a quartet being bombarded by cosmic radiation...none of it results in super powered heroes. Most of it would result in dead people if the events could occur at all. None it makes sense. It's all thoroughly ridiculous.
Unless you accept that you are talking about a Superhero universe, and the laws of such a universe make these things possible.
Character Power Levels Can Seem Disproportionate
One of the biggest issues when playing a Superhero RPG is handling the massive differences in scale that the genre accommodates, often seemingly without effort. Applied to the Player Characters, this means someone could end up playing Robin, and someone could end up as the Hulk. In comics this is nothing unusual, and teams often feature characters with abilities at different ends of the power scale. In the Avengers films for example Black Widow and Hawkeye are considered key team members as much as Iron Man and Thor are, but there is no way Hawkeye is ever going to contribute as much to a battle to save the world as Iron Man is. Right?
For many, this dynamic is not easy to replicate, or deal with in an RPG. If one player's starting PC can lift and throw a tank, fly at the speed of sound, and shoot energy beams from her eyes, how can the next player's PC be a martial art with Human strength, and a katana. Where's the game balance? How do you make it fair?
Some systems use very abstract mechanics to make this work, sacrificing detail, and genre tropes to maintain game balance. Others deal with it by giving the players points to spend, and saying the a 250 point Superman simply spends his points differently than a 250 point Batman. Clark has flight, invulnerability, and phenomenal strength, while Bruce has a car, a plane, a base, skills up the wing-wang, and wealth.
I'm a much bigger fan of the latter. If I want to play a skilled character with gadgets, if that's what I really want to play, then I'm not going to complain that I can't do what the flying brick can do. I could have chosen that kind of character. I didn't. No sour grapes from me.
I hope that answered the question and didn't veer to far off course.
Looking to move on to December to be honest. A lot of other ideas have been bubbling up.
Up, up, and away...