Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Problems with Actually Running Supers Games
Looking at this post over on Barking Alien where he points out all the awesomeness of supers RPG's it made me start to think a little more about why that genre isn't more popular. I mean I have a pretty strong attatchment to it but even I haven't run an ongoing supers campaign in years. Why not? I blame the players...
1) Throw out a "Let's play supers" at a let's-play-something-session to start a new campaign and people tend to be a little fuzzy. Some start seeing Justice League, some start seeing 1980's Avengers comic books, some see the X-Men movie, and some are going to see The Tick cartoon or Mystery Men or even TMNT. Compare this to "Let's play D&D" (where the only questions are which edition and what setting) or "Let's play Star Wars" (Which era?) and you have a laser-like focus and clarity in comparison. Supers is mushy. Probably not as mushy as Science Fiction (Starships? Robots? Lasers? Cynernetics? Post-Apocalyptic? Time Travel?) but it's a suggestion that requires a fair amount of further explanation - Silver Age? Four-Color? Tights and capes or leather/goretex? Straight or ironic? Black and White or Shades of Gray? Planetary scale adventure or street level vigilantes? Cinematic or realistic? If you're lucky this discussion involves an entire group and settles on something that everyone likes pretty quickly. If you're not lucky then everyone wants to do something different and no one can agree on enough to actually put together a campaign. I've seen the latter happen more often than the former.
2) It's goofy - tights and capes are the most common form and it takes a certain amount of security in oneself to play Captain Tremendous and especially to speak in character, and especially especially to do it in a public place. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but people seem to be a lot twitchier about this than they do about playing an elf or a paladin in the same sense. Maybe there's an unconscious role-playing element in many people's heads where it's OK to play yourself as a Ranger or Wizard but people feel like they have to stretch more to play Stupendous Man and they shy away from the opportunity.
3) The tremendous flexibility blows many people's minds - it is an awesomely open type of game - magic, robots, alien invasions, atlanteans, greek gods, space stations - pretty much anything is fair game for this kind of game, so people don't know what to expect. Clarification: They do know what to expect as far as their character, but they do not know what to expect that they will be doing so much ala D&D, Star Trek, and Call of Cthulu and that goes back to the lack of focus and clarity I mentioned above. People tend to like to know what they're going to play and with Supers there is more unknown than in many other types of games.
4) It's for kids - despite all the graphic novels and movies and "maturation" of the genre over the last 20-30 years a lot of people still equate superheroes with kids and kid stuff. Less so than in previous decades but it's still a factor. D&D has been around long enough and has been well-known enough, and Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and World of Warcraft have also helped make fantasy more mainstream. Star Trek, Star Wars and a bunch of other movies and books and shows have made science fiction pretty mainstream. Supers still lags behind.
5) It's more effort - thinking up, constructing, and then playing a superhero takes quite a bit more effort than "Roll these three dice 6 times, write it down, pick a race and a class, jot down your equipment, and then let's go" or even "pick a template" ala Shadwrun and Torg and others. Unless using a random roll system there's a lot of creative brain exercise involved in making a hero and sometimes after a day at work players would rather not invest that heavily in it. Just look at something like Champions where to build a character you need to decide on hunteds, dependent NPC's, psychological limitations, and physical vulnerabiolities and limitations - that's a darn sight more involved than "neutral good sword and board human fighter". It's a deepr level of thought than a lot of players want to put in when sitting down for a game
Now none of these are reasons not to play the game. They are just some brainstorming and reflections on why there seem to be more barriers to this sort of game. In the end I don't know why superhero games aren't more popular, but maybe if some of us consider these kinds of things when bringing them up we can find a way to push past them.