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Superhero Games and Stories

DC Universe is letting me watch the old Justice League series too…

Recently, I signed up for DC Universe, primarily so I could watch the new season of Young Justice, but I’ve also taken advantage of all the DC animated movies available on the streaming service. There’s also an excitement in the air related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what with Captain Marvel having come out last month and Avengers: End Game arriving in just a couple weeks. It’s made me think quite a bit about superheroes and gaming.

Anyone who’s gamed with me for any length of time knows I love superheroes and their games. In recent years, I developed a reputation for running Masks at cons, and my regular group often asks me to pick up the GM cape once more and run a supers game for them. Heck, the very first campaign I ever ran was a Mutants & Masterminds campaign.

I already have my tickets…

Thing is, superhero stories are not this monolithic, single type of story or game. While it is easy for many to mistakenly make this assumption, when you really dig down into it, superhero stories are more of a framework you hang over other stories. This is one of the secrets to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve focused on telling interesting stories with compelling characters that just happen to have special abilities, rather than focusing on only the special abilities. It doesn’t matter how cool the costumes are or how awesome the special effects for the abilities are, if the story is boring or the characters just caricatures of people no one is going to care.

(Another open secret to MCU’s success is in how they know how to be true to the essence of the characters and then nail the casting for that character. I could wax poetic about these movies for hours, so I’ll keep a lid on it.)

Back in the late 80’s and 90’s, when RPGs all seemed to be obsessed with simulation, superhero games like Champions did everything they could to provide meticulous ways to emulate the powers of all our favorite heroes. Unfortunately, this often pushed the heart of the story and characters into the background, losing the spark that makes us love super heroics. I’m very careful about the superhero games I sign up for at conventions, because too often, that spark is lost and the game just ends up being a simulation for a superhero smash up fight. There’s nothing wrong with a fun, bombastic combat, but that’s not necessarily the only kind of game I’m looking to play or run.

If you, like me, are considering running a supers game in the near future, here’s a few things to consider before bringing the game to the table for your players:

Another good example of how to do an ensemble cast right…

There are so many options out there for superhero games. So many. Many games come with tone, setting, and limits established within the design of the game, while others come to you more as a toolset to build your own world. Another consideration is the level of crunch that you’re comfortable with. I lean more towards the narrative games these days, but I can understand the draw of a crunchier game. Make sure whichever game you pick actually works with the tone, setting and limits you want to try for in your game. The wrong combination can be painful to work through.

After several of my regular group saw Captain Marvel, they cornered me and said, “Ang, you’ve GOT to run another supers game.” Honestly, I can’t disagree with them, because I certainly feel that pull as well. Between now and when I start, I’ve got quite a few things to figure out. What about you and your gaming crew? Any super heroics on your horizon? We’d love to hear about it.

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1 Comment To "Superhero Games and Stories"

#1 Comment By Tanner On April 15, 2019 @ 5:43 pm

Angela – that’s funny, my first RPG (much less superheroes!) was actually Mutants & Masterminds 2nd edition as well. My old group used the system for a variety of games. Definitely agree that tone is important to communicate before everyone starts building sheets! Like you said, players will have a different idea of what supers are…one of the things I try to include is at least one common trait between all the characters (ie: high school superheroes, everyone was in the same accident that gave them powers, everyone is joining your universe’s equivalent of the Justice League, etc.)

#2 Pingback By Superhero Games and Stories – Spotile On April 27, 2019 @ 10:55 pm

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