Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Atmospheric Conditions

The other day, Erin (Palette) and I were talking and she wanted to know if I'd developed any more for my gritty golden age Superhero RPG campaign 'THE BIG ONE'. Since she helped me get the idea rolling she was eager to help with the development of characters, especially or specifically ideas for villains.

And why not? I mean, the creation of stuff to fill our fictional gaming milieus is one of the great joys of being a Gamemaster right? We love to create villains, NPCs, locations, items and all other manner of toys to throw into the sandbox and see which ones the players take to and want to play with.

That's definitely a fun factor of 25 on a scale of 1 to 10 for me but it's not where I begin. No. See, I'm Adam of Barking Alien. I gotta be different.

I start with thinking about Atmosphere.

How is the setting going to look and feel? What words or visuals can I use to convey the campaign's style and theme to the players from the first moment of the first game? To me this is the single most important thing I can consider about the game before I get started actually designing stuff for it.

For this game specifically, I'm researching two different approaches side by side in search of the right balance between the two. Source material that is perfectly in line with what I'm looking for does exist (most notably the RPG
'GODLIKE' for example) but I'm actually saving the reviewing of such material for last as not to cloud possible inspiration gained by starting from scratch.

From the comic book superhero side of things I'm focusing on my personal favorites The Justice Society of America, the All-Star Squadron and especially the original Freedom Fighters (all DC Comics though Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters were originally owned by Quality Comics and published later through National Comics which eventually became DC). In addition I am looking at the
Nedor/Better/Standard Comics characters (mentioned in the comments of my last post by Velaran) which include American Crusader, the Black Terror, Fighting Yank, The Ghost, Miss Masque, Pyroman and The Woman in Red among others.
I'm looking for golden age stories that define the look and feel that most people think of when the term in mentioned as well as those moments that are, to some, 'uncharacteristically' deep and edgy (kudos to Velaran for bringing that up and reminding me of it).
From the World War II side my source are a bit...eclectic. My initial focus is on films. From personal favorites like A Bridge Too Far, The Guns of Navarone, Midway and Tora! Tora! Tora! to more recent entries like Saving Private Ryan and Inglorious Bastards. From there I'm looking into a number of different history books, especially anything with good photos or illustrations. Osprey Books are a must as is anything entitled, 'An Illustrated/Visual History of World War II' or anything along those lines.

I also have a number of old stories my grandfather told me about when he served in the war. Those will be reviewed along with my own comic book universes' less than stellar golden age period.

What I want to end up with is a means of describing what the PCs see and hear and having that convey a sense of what the situation is and what's to come. I've considering several different opening sequences already, going over the 'cinematography' in my head and I think I have some good scenes. What I'm waiting for is more info on the PCs so I can figure out where they are when the events start to unfold. Timing and placement is crucial to capture a sense that they are in a living, breathing world as well as giving it cinematic pacing. It may sound strange but its been a big part of how I GM for over 15 years now.

I want a living movie if they makes even a lick of sense.

Do you worry this much about the words you use to describe things? Do you plan out what your adventure will look like 'onscreen'? Let me know.

This is going to be AWEsomazing.

Barking Alien


  1. I'd LOVE to play in that campaign. It's funny, my (at the time five year old) son came up with a great Golden Age style Superhero. His name is Fire Bull. Fire Bull found a mystical trident that lets him use all sorts of fire based mystical powers. Of course, Fire Bull is an adventourous paleontologist in his civillian life. My wife made a costume for him that he wore for two Halloweens ago (we all went as a superhero family). I'll have to post pictures on my blog. It was awesome.

  2. Two thoughts.

    For atmosphere, you simply cannot beat Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will". Yes, it's Nazi propaganda, but since those are going to be the opponents in the game, that makes it okay to watch for research purposes.

    Second, and this is trailing right on the heels of the first, watch the 1997 version of Starship Troopers and note how it's basically a WW2 movie (complete with scenes that rip off/are an homage to Riefenstahl) with Space Nazis. Also, Gestapo Doogie Howser.

    Watching these two will give you a credible one-two punch for games set in the European Theatre: one for historical accuracy, the other for ideas on how to add super-science to the setting.

  3. The second of the two suggestions (the one I am familiar with) is spot on. I totally agree with the idea that Starship Troopers, the film and the book, are excellent points of reference for a WW II themed game. Nice observation.

    As for the first I'll do some digging.

  4. For some reason JB I thought of the Red Bull from Peter S. Beagle's 'The Last Unicorn'. I'd love to see some pics.

  5. Your wish is granted! Here's a post my wife did on her blog today showing off her costuming skills: http://creativecompolsive.blogspot.com/2011/02/fairy-wings-and-tutu.html.

  6. Some thoughts:

    On 4th December 1933: A supplementary decree to the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Progeny makes it compulsory for physicians to report those who are 'hereditarily diseased' to the authorities.

    On the 25th of June, 1935, another amendment to the same law allows compulsory abortions to be carried out on 'hereditarily ill women, or women who become pregnant by a hereditarily ill partner' up to six months into their pregnancy.

    Not only do those provide some of the atmosphere, but looked at in game terms, it allows them to capture or kill those with superpowers or those whose parents have superpowers, but unacceptable political leanings, even before they're born.

    25th November, 1935: Couples are required to prove fitness to marry.

    Again, in game terms this could be another covert way of tracking those with superpowers.

    15th July, 1936: 'Gypsies' are corraled during the Olympic Games.

    15th July, 1937: Buchenwald concentration camp opens. Prisoners are sorted by 'type'.

    Once again, possibly a method of sorting the superpowered out. After all, they'd probably be a bit more willing to work for them if it meant they got out of there, and it sets up the possibility for them to have quite a bit of buried hatred, rather than having been brainwashed.

    14th May, 1939: Ravensbruck concentration camp established for women.*

    Nope, I'm not some kind of history savant. I used a timeline, which can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/timelines/nazi_genocide_timeline/index_embed.shtml

    *I couldn't find anything about this there, but I'm fairly certain that there were some very nasty experiments done there. However, the site I think it was on has changed, and I can't find it there either.

  7. I don't want to reveal too much but some of what you came across would only apply if there was indeed some method of determining superpowered individuals. In most comic book universes (including my own) this ability/technology doesn't really come up until after WW II.

    That said, the Germans may be performing medical and scientific experiments in order to develop said technology.

  8. Yeah I'd save most of the super tech for the NEXT campaign when they can pop out of Antarctica with flying saucers or something. Although fighting some kind of Raptor Legion using jetpacks ala Rocketeer would be pretty cool if a lot of your heroes fly.

    For historical grounding there's a book called Campaigns of WW2 Day by Day that dies exactly what it says showing timelines, maps, and pictures of each regional campaign.

    There's also the Chronological Atlas of WW2 which shows month by month for each year what is going on all over the world so is very nice for running headlines from another theatre in the background to keep that world wide feel and for helping to decide where you want to mess with history.

  9. Those sound fantastic Blacksteel! I am definitely going to search for those. They sound like exactly what I want and need. Thanks!