Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Do Not Worry, For I Am Here!

I wanted to update you on my new campaign, My Hero Academia: American Ultra!

I know I haven't even completed the recap of the first session, but we ran the second session already, and I wanted to talk about some elements from both that I've noticed so far.

My Hero Academia plays quite differently from a traditional Superhero RPG in some aspects, and it is those differences that make it interesting, as well as bit more challenging to run. 

My previous post, Question #22 on this year's RPGaDay Challenge, revolves around which RPGs are the easiest for me to run. Well, Superheroes is definitely up there, having grown up on Superhero comic books.

I likewise have little trouble running games that feel like Japanese Anime, and Manga, especially of the Shonen (Young Male Comic) Action/Adventure variety. I get their style of humor as well, or at least most of the time. Some Japanese comedies are too wacky for my liking, though I really love the ones that can balance just enough humor in with the serious stuff. 

My Hero Academia is a somewhat unusual case however. It is essentially a Japanese Action/Adventure-Comedy about American-style Superheroes. If that weren't strange enough, it adds the secret/special school genre in there as well, making it something akin to Young Justice meets Harry Potter.

What makes that combination rather more tricky than a classic Superhero game, is that there are several things to consider that aren't major factors in other Supers based campaigns, and some additional factors as well. 

A Lot of Supers

My Hero Academia is a setting in which 80% of the Earth's population has some kind of super-normal ability. While most people's Quirks (the common term for superpowers) aren't especially powerful, or combat effective, that still means there are easily a hundred million, or more people who are cable of becoming Heroes, or Villains (probably a lot more). 

In the Japanese version, each of the classes at UA High School has 18 students. There are two Hero classes, two Support classes, two for General studies, and two for Business. Just focusing on the Hero classes, that means that in just one grade year there are 36 potential, new heroes. Ignoring the other grades, the other classes, and rival schools, that means each graduating year the school churns out a team larger than many incarnations of the Avengers, and the Justice League.

In our campaign each class has 20 kids. So I need 40 NPC students named, and roughly stated out, minimum [the two hero classes]. There are also at least a dozen or so teachers, a slew of pro-heroes, parents, siblings, etc. Without even getting into the bad guys this is the most NPC-Supporting-Cast heavy game I've run in a long time (and I've run Star Trek with its 300-400 person starship crews). 

A lot of my prep time is spent just making up NPC students, and teachers. The trick I've found is to describe, and stat out only those NPCs who I have a clear idea about, and who are more likely to cross paths with the PCs. Ideas that aren't yet fleshed out are used for characters in the 'background'. They might appear in a crowded lunchroom scene, or in the stands at a sporting event. If a player takes interest in their vague description it tells me that might be a character worth developing. 

It's Limited to Superpowers

The setting's unique superhuman dynamic is one of the things that makes it hard, but really fun. At the same time, it lacks a number of elements one would expect to find in classic Superhero comics. 

There are no aliens, no demons, or deities, no hidden lands, and no mystic artifacts. Up until the year 2017, this world was our world. Then, sometime this year or next, people begin manifesting Quirks, beginning with a newborn baby in a small [ficitional] city in China.

Wait...the setting has fictional cities. Even in the main story, the school is located in a fictional town, in an actual, real world prefecture of Japan. The train station from the battle in the first issue/episode does not exist in the real world however.

So if there can be fictional cities, towns, and the like, can't there be a Latveria, Savage Land, or Atlantis? Er...no? It just wouldn't feel right. It would also draw attention away from that which makes the setting special. 

The end result is that it may be more difficult to create adventures in this setting later in the campaigns run. I don't really anticipate that because of my peculiar approach to adventure construction, but it is something to consider.

One way to remedy this in the short term is to keep focus on the PCs, their families, and their friends. Work out their relationships, keep things personal and relevant to the player characters so they will remain invested in the setting and story. 

If you don't have the over-the-top locales, and props common to most Superheroes stories, try not to bemoan not having them. Instead, rejoice in character development, and exploring the elements of the setting the world does have, such as the nigh-limitless variations on Quirks.

Forget the Villains, Your Book Report is Due

The PCs are 14 year old freshmen going to a school to learn to be Superheroes when they grow up. 

This means that while plots may loom large as to which villain is up to what scheme, and who the new mystery hero is who's got all the reporters talking, the PCs still need to finish their homework, and attend classes. 

Again, in a fashion similar to the Harry Potter books, there will be an attempt to ground much of the day-to-day activities of the students in the knowledge that they are students in high school. This means they're not the ones going after the major super-baddies right now. It is the professional Superhero, that which the PCs aspire to be some day, who goes out there righting wrongs, rescuing people, and the like.

Well...sorta kind of. 

We all know that in the Harry Potter world it isn't Miss McGonagall who uncovers the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets, or Flitwick who battles He Who Shall Not Be Named. It's Harry, and his friends, and it has to be. That is the world they live in.

Likewise the PCs heroes of My Hero Academia: American Ultra are the heroes of their story, and will periodically face dangers even the pro-Heroes would have trouble with. 

Have their butts saved by the pros only sparingly, and make it a reward for the players thinking on their feet. Promote the idea that teamwork, and techniques learned in class can tip the tide of battle against seemingly unstoppable foes. Play to the strengths of the genre, and its tropes. 


[Very often, while playing in a Hogwarts/Wizarding World game my friend runs, the other players try to alert the teachers, get them to help solve the problem, or otherwise engage in doing what makes absolute, practical sense. That is, instead of being teens and young adults in a Harry Potter book.

No, they approach it logically, with the most prevailing logic of all being that they are kids and this-or-that is dangerous, and an adult should take care of it.

All, but me.

Why? Because I freakin' love tropes! Tropes are how you tell one setting, and genre from another. Tropes are the metaphysical laws of a fictional continuum.

Harry Potter-style universe Trope #1 is that the adults are not able to perceive what the kids can. Especially not at first. This might be because they are occupied with other, seemingly bigger issues. It could be because they're not as open minded as the children. Whatever the reason that helps you work that out for yourself, the bottom line is it's a story about kid heroes, so the kids get to be the heroes. Yes, this also means they get to be in danger too. Par for the course, part of the deal. Enjoy it. Stop being so smart you remove the fun from the setting. No one is going to say, "My, my aren't you clever. Now there's no game. Thanks!"]

The PCs have already pursued the opening metaplot, with one fellow coming up with some crazy creative ways to find out what really happened when the Number 12 rated villain supposedly took out the Number 1 rated hero. 

Eventually the investigation (which occurred three days before the official first day of school at AU High School) lead to a confrontation with a group of villains who appeared to be attacking the school. They weren't. Mr. Number 12 villain, Killjoy, wanted to turn himself in. He claimed he didn't do it, but was turning himself in because he's spent every moment since running from heroes who want to kick his butt eight ways from Sunday, and then some. Unfortunately, some less calm, cool, and collected friends of his decided to tag along. 

Tempers flared, his buddies got edgy, and so did some of the pro-heroes. The situation eventually devolved into a fight, and the PCs lent the pros a hand, with some of them delivering serious blows to their opponents (while still realizing that were far from being on the pro-level yet). 

Eventually, the calm, rational mind of one of the pro-Superheroes prevailed, and the villains, including Killjoy, surrendered, and were taken into custody. 

[It was pretty friggin' awesome actually].

So there you have it. The challenges posed by this particular campaign on someone who is normally good at this sort of thing, and what can be done to overcome them. In brief at least.

catch you later,

Barking Alien


  1. Can't wait to hear more. I'm looking forward to getting my daughter into My Hero Academia so I could see something like this in our near future.

  2. Thanks for the interest Monkapotomus! Nice seeing you around again by the way.

    So far we've had two sessions, and damn if they haven't been two of the best, fastest, smoothest, character-driven-est, superhero-action-est sessions I've had in a long while. As I said in a previous MHA post, we get so much done in just 5-6 hours that it's hard to believe.

  3. "Young Justice meets Harry Potter" sounds awesome!! I'll really like to play something like that. I once planned to run something similar, but we never got to it.

    And regarding tropes: players should realize that yes, the away team should be composed of the captain and his senior officers, not a marine squad. And you should totally spend the night in that abandoned house where your car broke off. The sounds in the basement are for you to investigate. Just as you go into cursed towers of dark sorcery for a living and burn a million gold coins into a new sword instead of building an army.

    1. It absolutely astounds me what players will been rational while completely ignoring other, utterly ridiculous things.