Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Designing a Supers Campaign

So when I really started thinking about doing another supers campaign I decided I wanted to follow 3 basic rules:

1) Silver Age Characterization - Good guys are good, bad guys are bad, and there isn't a lot of crossover between the two. There may be a few honorable villains whose word can be trusted and they might even work with the heroes to defeat a common foe, but by and large there are white hats and there are black hats and not much gray in between. As a result, there will be no lethal attacks for heroes in this campaign - "lethal" = "bad guy" in this kind of world and is a deliberate choice. Heroes only kill under extreme circumstances, at a dramatically appropriate moment, and usually to save an innocent life. Then they go all angsty about it and may resign from the team for awhile or go off and consult with an oracle or a sage or a priest of some kind. I can work with that.

Some of you may look at that and think that it's too simplistic. To a point, you're right - it's a very simple approach almost akin to Basic D&D. But I want it that way for several reasons. First, this is our first supers game in a long time and I don't want a lot of complicated tortured backgrounds of reformed villains. Second, this one is mainly going to be played by teens and tweens and I don't want them going around slaughtering bad guys (we have D&D for that). Third, it will make for a nice contrast when we do play a more modern-age type campaign. Fourth, most of their super experience consists of the Batman/Superman/Justice League animated series and the Batman/Spiderman/X-Men/Iron Man live action movies. Those are pretty clear-cut on heroes vs. villains so that's their expectation. If I was running my 4th or 5th supers campaign this decade and playing with a bunch of 30+ fans then it would be a little different. This will make a nice base to expand from, however, and that's why I chose it.

2) Silver Age Science - Science is the superhero version of magic in this age. If you can come up with a scientific-sounding name for something then it's clearly something that's possible. In Fantasy games, "It's magic" can be used to explain almost anything. For Silver Age Supers darn near anything can be a ray or a field or a special kind of energy or some strange alloy and it's perfectly acceptable. As a corollary to this radiation causes damage and mutation (similar to Gamma World), not sickness and death. It's how half of the Marvel universe gets their powers and that's good enough for me.

This also lets me play around with the technology level of the setting without resorting to design sequence games like GURPS Vehicles or Fire Fusion and Steel from Traveller. If I need flying cars for an agency then they have flying cars. If I need all the cars in the city to run on electrical power (due to the cheap power available from the reactor) then I can. I can have the police carry blasters instead of guns and make traditional lethal attacks out of style.

3) Original Setting - I have at least 5 city settings for supers games - Millenium City, Vibora Bay, Hudson City, Freedom City, San Angelo, Bay City, Metropolis, Gotham City, and Marvel New York. (OK that's more than 5) and I have not run a lengthy campaign in any of them, but I find it's easier to remember details if I wrote them myself, rather than read them out of a book that someone else wrote. It may be counter-intuitive, but by making some broad notes in advance and some large-scale maps, I don't have to worry about contradicting what's in the book and I can make things work the way I want them. Plus, not having a rigid outline in place means that the details develop to fit the campaign, and not the other way around. This is especially important in a supers game where all kinds of crazy stuff can happen.

Thus was born "Atomic City" - I wanted something that sounded almost old-fashioned yet fit a supers campaign, particularly a Silver Age game. Atomic City is a city founded in northern California as part of a government research project during WW2 that incorporated in 1950 and slowly expanded to integrate the surrounding smaller communities in the region. As you might guess one reason for the name is that the first nuclear power plant was constructed here (unlike the real world) and the local nickname for the area became the official name when it incorporated, and the classic atom logo is still used by the city today.

There are other ways to do it - I have pretty good notes on my old "Miami 2000" Champions campaign from the 90's where I adapted a real city to fit my needs. That's a fun approach because you can use real-world maps then alter them as you see fit to make things interesting. I worked in everything from marine life parks to historical sites to the Everglades to Crockett and Tubbs in that game and it was a lot of fun.

I also have notes on my planned-but-never-run Gothic City campaign set in a city much like the Tim Burton Batman Gotham City - set in an unspecified time period with 50's looking cars alongside cell phones - I've always liked the mixed decade design look (Batman, Flash TV series, Dark Conspiracy RPG) and I may carry a little of that over to Atomic City  but I don't want it to be a "dark" setting. I just want a dash of retro-future here and there.

I do have a use for all of those other city settings though - there's really no reason some of them can't exist in the same world as Atomic City. Since AC is on the west coast, Freedom City fits just fine over on the east coast. If I put Millennium City on the great lakes and I put Vibora Bay on the Gulf Coast then I have a decent super-city on each coast. The one I plan to use the most right now will be the one that I detail, but if the heroes take a trip to one of the others, hey, I have a book that's crammed full of details right there waiting. If a second campaign starts up and I don't want it sharing the same airspace as AC then I have ready-made places ready to go too.

So that's the first take on the supers campaign. I'll put up at least one more post on the city as I see it and some plot outlines from the first 12 "issues" over the next week in between D&D updates.

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