Developing a Superhero Campaign: Inspirations For Superhero Gaming

I've been giving some more thought to a potential supers game. It still might not come to anything, but it's a fun exercise.

Currently, I'm engaging in a bit of a catch-up on Arrow and The Flash. I've also seen the bulk of the first two seasons of Agents of SHIELD, but I'll admit to having lost interest. I'm also caught up on Daredevil and Jessica Jones. I mention all of these as of late I've found superhero television shows offer good inspiration on how to build a superhero game. Why not comic books? For me at least, I've found that comic books of late have been far to centered around "events", with dramatic shake-ups of the status quo, massive crossovers, and stories in one book being dependent on those on another.

On the other hand, television shows, even when part of a larger universe, are nevertheless largely self-contained. Arrow and The Flash will occasionally have characters from one show appear on the other and they even do the occasional crossover between the two shows, though even crossovers are still far more self-contained than you'll find in your modern comic book. Similarly, Daredevil and Jessica Jones are influenced by events in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (for example, the rebuilding in Manhattan as a result of the alien invasion in Marvel's The Avengers) and Claire Temple has found her way to both Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

All of the shows I've mentioned have made use of the "big bad" concept pioneered in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - there is an overall villain who must be defeated. Initially, the hero or heroes might not be aware of who that is and they need not behind every story (though in a tightly linked campaign they might very well be).

From a gaming perspective, this model has a lot going for it. It allows for a GM to link his or her adventures together and have some sort of mental template for the opposition the heroes might face. This doesn't preclude going a little bit afield - for example, Daredevil's first season, while maintaining Wilson Fisk as the main big bad, also made use of The Hand. The Flash deals with both the "metahuman of the week" and further develops the story-line of the Reverse Flash.

Of course, GMs need to be aware of certain genre contentions that often work better in comics or television than they do in gaming. For example, comics and shows will often allow the hero and villain to have an early skirmish which will either involve our hero losing horribly or ending inconclusively, with the baddie getting away. I've learned that if the PCs get to engage your big bad, you must be prepared for them to win - or to die trying. Similarly, you will want the PCs to all be roughly equal, whereas many shows feature the hero and his or her supporting cast.

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