|September 7, 2006||Posted by Martin Ralya (TT)|
This guest post by Patrick Benson (AKA VV_GM) is the second in our Genre Advice for GMs series. In this post, Patrick tackles three ways to make your supers game shine.
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Roleplaying games and comic books go together like bacon and eggs, Elvis and Cadillacs, Super Bowls and Sundays, thirty-sided dice and… Okay, for the record a thirty-sided die doesn’t go with anything, despite the best efforts of many a gaming geek.
Anyhow, a good supers RPG is one of the true delicacies of the gaming world. You can throw in an element from any other gaming genre and it will fit right in to your supers game. The PCs may fight an evil wizard, or team up with androids from the future, or even travel to a dimension where the era of the Wild West never ended.
Very few genres are as open to possibilities as the supers genre, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Yet running a supers game requires some unique planning for the GM to really create a memorable gaming experience. Players often have high hopes for their characters right from the beginning of the campaign. You know — defeat evil alien armadas, stop cataclysmic natural disasters and save the world from fiendish doomsday devices all before bedtime.
After all, the whole point of playing a supers campaign is to enjoy being a hero with abilities far beyond that of mortal people! You’ve got to have a game that lives up to that kind of expectation.
Well, here are three tips that will help bring that kind of a kick to your supers game without causing you too much agony as a GM! Read on, and remember to use your newfound powers for good and not evil (not too much evil at least).
1) Balance the abilities of your players’ characters. There is nothing wrong with adjusting a player’s character to better fit the rest of the team, and this especially true in a supers campaign.
If your system uses points for character generation this may not be as big a problem for your campaign, but even with a points system some players design better characters that are simply more powerful than the rest of their team. If your group plays well with this sort of setup then by all means let it ride, but often what happens is that one player becomes the focus of all of the combat and the other players get bored.
There is an easy fix for this, though, that has been used throughout comic book stories for years — make a weaker character more powerful through a character-changing event. Shrinking Girl not powerful enough compared to her teammates Astro Guy and the Fantabulous Bulge? Well, have her get stuck in a particle accelerator during one of the battles and thanks to her amazing shrinking powers not only does she survive, but she emerges with the ability to project herself at will like a shooting neutron!
Is this possible? Who cares? This is a supers game! Just make sure that your players are having fun and the rest will take care of itself.
Note that the opposite approach — making one PC significantly weaker to balance the team — rarely works. Most players feel like they have been cheated in this scenario. Surprisingly, though, it can make for an interesting session if the whole point of the adventure is to restore a PC back to full power.
2) Balance your world with the PCs’ abilities. There is only one way quicker to take the fun out of a supers game than having every villain be more powerful than the heroes combined, and that is to have a world where all of the villains combined wouldn’t stand a chance against any of the heroes.
Batman has his Joker, the X-Men their Magneto, and your PCs need their own arch-rivals. The evil counterpart to their heroic identities is a well known plot device used in many comic books, and for good reason. Nothing makes a hero rise to the occasion faster than a villain worthy of their abilities. Let’s face it, Superman would be a real boring read if he spent all day lecturing jay-walkers.
Give your players challenges that engage their PCs on both a physical and psychological level. Equals not just in might, but also in dedication to their own villainous ideals. Soon your players will look forward to the next time their characters will get a chance to match wits against such villains. You will be doing more than just playing a game, because you will also be building a mythos.
3) Use miniatures for everything when possible. The supers genre is one of the few RPG genres that is truly enhanced by miniatures. While fantasy and other genres are often complemented by miniatures, a supers game is really brought to life by the use of miniatures.
You don’t need to go crazy here and spend tons of money to create a good scene for miniature combat. Many stores have excellent sets of toy cars with small plastic props like street lights, traffic signs, oil drums, and occasionally buildings. Most HO scale model railroad buildings will also do very nicely for supers games.
With the right kind of toy you can have a great one-shot adventure, such as using a large plastic dinosaur toy to represent a rampaging monster attacking a major city. Voila! Your players now have the classic Japanese giant monster movie adventure to play, and only their brave heroes can stop this gigantic beast!
The reason miniatures work so well with supers games is because they inspire the players to try different things. Without miniatures your typical strong guy type character might only attack with his fists, but it sure is tempting to pick up a mailbox to clobber the bad guys with when one is sitting nearby.
Maybe Lady Winter will suddenly have a flash of inspiration in the middle of combat if her controlling player sees a miniature fire hydrant full of water to freeze right there on the game mat. Supers genre games tend to be combat heavy, so don’t fight it but instead encourage it through inventive miniatures play. Your players will soon begin playing at a whole new level.
So whether you have been running a supers game for years or are just thinking of starting one up, remember to keep balance not only amongst your players’ characters but also between the PCs and the villains that they face. This combined with a good battle scene spiced up with simple miniatures can really make the difference between a good supers game and an amazing one!
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I’ve played my share of supers games, but never run one before. Considering Patrick’s tips from the other side of the screen, though, I can see why they would work very well. Thanks, Patrick!
What do you do differently when running a supers game? What are your favorite sources of alternate supers minis? Have you ever balanced a character with a particularly cool in-game event?