Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No Heroics

I've been trying to get a Superhero campaign to work for my gaming group.

I haven't been very successful.

With each iteration of an idea I've come up with to make it fit the interests of the players and myself, it just keeps feeling very off.

To remedy this, I have cancelled the idea for the time being. We will work on something else until such time as we can figure out how to make a Supers game happen.

One of my players, my friend Will, felt it was largely his fault. The truth is it's my fault (although he wasn't helping - Sorry Will, I mean that with love). He offered to bow out of the group so a Supers game could be run. I told him no, that isn't necessary.

I explained the situation to him thusly...


I keep thinking that certain concepts are either universal (everyone gets it the same way I do), or adaptable (I like TOS more than DS9, but I totally get DS9, and could easily make a character that fit there. Why can't everyone else?).
I have a lot more gaming experience than anyone else in the group, and I've played literally hundreds of different RPGs in dozens and dozens of genres and subgenres. The particulars of these genres, the tropes if you will, are what interest me about them.
In a group where the majority of players are unfamiliar with the tropes of most of the genres I know and enjoy, it is me, the GM, who ends up at a disadvantage. I don't know how to properly convey concepts I've absorbed by osmosis for almost 40 years.
Part of the reason Traveller works so well is we all get the universe, the plot, and the mindset of the characters. Each character also fulfills a role in the story (which is far more important that the combat roles you see in D&D or Pathfinder).
Without Hosta we wouldn't have moved the plot forward and become involved with it so quickly, and personally. Without Fujikawa, we wouldn't have reasoned responses to so many difficult situations. Without Amaya, we wouldn't have the connections or resources to take the fight to the enemy. Without Ivan, we don't have that down-and-dirty, survivalist attitude that just goes in and gets the job done.
We couldn't have had such a great game without EVERYBODY being involved. The same holds true for whatever the next game is.
Now, when it comes to Marcus, he could have contributed a lot to the dynamic of the game. In some strange ways he did. Unfortunately, his approach increasingly became counter to that of the majority of players, and so in the end, the game was better off without him than with him.
Whatever our next game is, it needs to work the same way. We all need to get it, we all need to be excited about it on the same level, and we all need to go with the flow of whatever the game becomes as we're playing it.
I don't know what that is right now, but I'm sure it will come to us.
So that is the sad tale of why we are not running a Superhero RPG campaign right now, and probably won't be for the immediate future. You never know, but I think we need time to clean and clear the palette, myself included.
For now, no heroics.
What other trouble can we get into...?
Barking Alien



  1. Well said, Adam. I think you are on to something. In my opinion, what makes Traveller so successful are three factors: 1. Player investment in the world and in their characters through an introductory process (character creation in this case) which makes the characters and world matter to the players. 2. A genre which we all "get" and can run with; 3. A plot devised by the GM which ties all the characters' backgrounds together and to the wider world, thereby generating interest and momentum which propels the game forward. This is, of course, just my opinion, and I put it forward with the knowledge that I am the least experienced of the group when it comes to RPGs, so take it as you will.

  2. I think that "superheroes" in a genre about as much as "fantasy" or "science fiction." There's a huge difference between Superfriends and the Authority. When I ran my supers campaign last year I had one player who was heavily influenced by 80's era Claremont X-Men and one guy who had just seen the Iron Man movies. The difference is power scale alone could cause problems.

    If you're not "all there on the same page" about a campaign, then you have a pretty serious fracture right off the bat that will eventually give as the campaign goes on. Either that or you run this potpourri campaign where one session you're doing one kind of story, and the next session another. And as long as everyone understands THAT, then you might be okay.

    Sounds like you're on top of things, however.

  3. My usual prescription is "everybody go watch Justice League" but that assumes that's the kind of game you want to run.

    A related issue to power level is Tone - Superhero material has so many different tones. Do your villains kill people? Rarely? Indiscriminately? Are heroes looked up to as protectors or viewed as dangerous lunatics? Do they kill people? Aside from player power choices making certain assumptions about the tone of the game can create a lot of dissonance just walking in to Session #1.

    Even if you can come to a general consensus there's always that one guy who wants to be the Wolverine/Punisher type vengeful bloodlust berserker "hero". Getting that guy turned around and pointed in a workable direction can take a lot of effort too.

    Supers seems like such an easy, play anything you want type of game but it rarely works out that easily.

  4. For my current M&M game, I actually made a questionnaire for my players to set the tone they would like. The results were atypical, but it is working. For what I read in the post, however, the problem BA has is his preferences and those of his players aren't very compatible.

    I have been recomended to use known comic characters as PCs, as it hugely speeds character generation. But it now occurs to me that they also come with their own interpretation guidelines, since people know how the famous heros act, so it can serve to set the tone and, to a point, channel problematic players. That may be exactly what you need, and both DC Adventures an Marvel Heroic Roleplaying are great for that.