Superhero campaigns

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Although I am no avid fan I like superhero comics, movies and computer games. I also own “Mutants & Masterminds“, the superhero RPG by Green Ronin. But I’ve never actually played in or even run a superhero campaign. Especially after watching “Dr. Horrible” I would like to run a short superheroes campaign perhaps using Savage Worlds or the beforementioned M&M. But I am still unsure how I should pull it off.

  • Homebrew setting or an already existing universe?
    Shall I create my own setting or shall I go with some preexisting world like the Marvel Universe? The problem with the latter is that shall the players play their favorite heroes from the comics or original characters?
  • Silly or serious?
    I mentioned “Dr. Horrible” before. The “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was a superhero musical in three episodes by Joss Whedon (you’ve probably seen it). “Dr. Horrible” is great comedy. Creating a campaign following the “Dr. Horrible” route would probably allow funny characters and a lot of laughs. But you also could take the genre more serious and create something like the recent Batman movies. I always had some trouble with running “funny” campaigns, so I would probably run a darker campaign.

What are your thoughts on superhero roleplaying campaigns? Please share your experiences in the comments. I would love to read your ideas on the subject!

8 thoughts on “Superhero campaigns”

  1. My longest running campaign (23-ish years and counting) is all Superheroes, all the time.

    I reckon it's by far the best rpg genre (but hey, I'm biased) as it covers everything from four-colour to grim and gritty with everything in between. No trope is unturned in superheroes. Name any other genre where you can stage an alien invasion one week and a magical kidnapping the next.

    We've used pretty much every system there is (including HERO, V&V, GURPS, Golden Heroes, Marvel RPG, DC……) and have settled on Mutants & Masterminds. We rate it as THE best supers-RPG (if not the best rpg, period) and nothing comes close to it's perfect balance of simplicity and complexity. Seriously, it's award winning, and deservedly so. It's a complete, one-book system where you really don't need anything more to play. And what other system can claim that? 😀

    With superhero games, you're not limited to either/or when it comes to choosing between homebrew or existing universe. In the case of M&M, the "ideal" is to use Modern-Day + superheroes. Add in Freedom City as a default base (so you've got somewhere neutral to blow up!) but let the players visit New York, Istanbul and Paris too. Add other heroes in other places as the need arises, but don't sweat it – I ran news stories on TV about UltraGirl in Washington for 3 years before statting her up.

    If you want, get the players to generate several characters based in different locations. for example, you could have a PL10 superteam, PL8 college super-kids and another PL8 street-level team.

    That way you can easily change the tone but keep the shared world. The PL10s could be 4-colour optimistic, the PL8 college-kid X-Men wannabees played for fun and the street-team grim and gritty. Occasionally toss in an event that affects them all in different ways (Secret Invasion, World War Hulk, etc) and your work is done.

    I suggest avoiding the Marvel or DC universes because there's always going to be an annoying comicbook expert who knows more than you. If you want them to team up with Spider-man, one-shot wormholes are always handy 🙂

    If you want to know more about superhero gaming, just holler!

  2. Wow! You are obviously THE superhero roleplaying expert. And I agree that M&M is a great game. Do you recommend that I get the 2nd Edition? I currently own the 1st Edition book and no sourcebooks but I heard that the 2nd Edition is superior. Are there any sourcebooks for M&M you could recommend?

  3. 2nd Edition tightened up a lot of the rules, and made official some of the most common house rules that folks were playing with (most notably, 1PP = 4 skill ranks, which made skill use MUCH more useful and usable in the game). If you've already got 1st Edition, grab the 1e-2e conversion guide (http://grfiles.game-host.org/files/MM1e-2e.pdf) and the Chapter One Preview (http://grfiles.game-host.org/2e_files/MM2eCh1.pdf) and you should be fine for while. If you get bitten by the supers bug, grab 2nd Edition then. It's worth it.

    M&M us unusual in that you really don't need any other books to be able to run a long-term campaign.

    That said, the two books that get the most use on my bookshelf are Instant Superheroes and Freedom City. The first is packed full of generic hero templates that the players can use, adapt or draw on for inspiration – and so can the GM. I've used it a lot to pull a villain out of the hat for an unprepared scenario. One of the current bad guys in the campaign, for example, is Garnet, who uses the Ring Bearer stats straight from the book. Evil Green Lanterns. I love 'em!

    It's the book the players reach for when they want ideas for a new character, fast. Get it as a PDF so you can print only the pages you want and scribble all over 'em.

    Freedom City is M&M's default city. It's a beautiful, gorgeously written book that oozes history, context and scenario ideas. It really is a fully detailed read-made city – here's the map (http://grfiles.game-host.org/2e_files/freedommap.jpg – warning, huge!). There's existing heroes a villains galore so there's plenty of folks to fight, team-up with and rescue. The book also covers the world beyond Freedom City too and there's enough info about global organizations, USA and the rest of the world to keep a campaign busy for years. Here's a link to the free 25-page Freedom City Encyclopedia which should give you an idea of the depth and scale of this book (http://grfiles.game-host.org/2e_files/FC-encyclopedia.pdf). I reckon it's one of the best city settings ever made; kinda like Ptolus, but with superheroes.

    And that's a scary thought 🙂

    Hope that helps!

  4. Hehe, you have me convinced. I think I will try to run a short superheroes campaign using M&M. Savage Worlds' superheroes setting "Necessary Evil" is not exactly what I was looking for and making something up myself is a bit too much work for my taste, since I am still working on my gaslight fantasy world.

    I am not sure if I can convince my group to try some four-color fun, but I am all for it. 🙂

  5. Greywulf,

    You really need to start posting more blogs about how to run and structure a superhero campaign. I'm thinking of throwing it in the mix if we do a second campaign at my table, and I've just ordered some M&M books!

  6. After reading some more reviews I decided to order the 2nd edition of M&M and I'll give it a try as soon as possible. I will let you know of how things went.

    By the way: You said that your superhero campaign ran for 23 years. How did you manage to change systems, introduce whole new cities (M&M's Freedom City for example) without having to start a new campaign?

  7. I've played Mutants & Masterminds since 2006, and the strength of the game is really its ability to model any type of superpower you can think of.

    I quit the game recently due to a lack of interest and fell in with a new group that's playing a superhero game with Wild Talents, which uses the One Roll Engine (ORE) system. It's quite cool, and just like M&M there's a fairly robust system for building your own powers from the ground up.

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