Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Supers campaign

Every campaign has a setting and its own rules and options.
However the Supers genre can be one of the hardest, here are components that need to be factored in and understood by all participants. So this post goes over the basics


The setting is the biggest and likely first decision that needs to be made. Time period, is it earth or a different world? When did super beings start appearing?  The earlier they first appear and the more powerful they are the greater the divergence and effects of those beings on history and what the world is like. Is it a realistic stting? over the top? ultra powerful, street level,conspiracy, parody/satire?  Whats the overall mood?

Power Sources

Where do powers come from?  Is their only one source for all powers or multiple sources? What are the capabilities and nature of the abilities they grant? Can they be countered? Are there unusual side effects?  GURPS Powers really describes the anatomy of a power in Chapters 1 and 2 and is worth a read, though many breeze past it and go straight to the crunchy goodness.

Special Effects/Focus

What is the concept or theme of a supers powers? Generate energy? What kind? Telepathic powers? Water manipulation? Temperature control? Super Strength?  This is not the mechanics or specific advantages used to build a super but the concept and theme.
I have always used and heard the term Special Effects but GURPS Powers uses the term Focus, described in Chapters 1 and 2.,


After figuring out the source and focus you should be able to come up with specific abilities. If the first two are chosen well then the potential abilities should be obvious, not just to the player or GM but to anyone who knows what the first two options are.  Actually building them may be more difficult and of course point totals or rules limitations may get in the way but the general type of abilities should be obvious, at least in hindsight.
In fact that last bears mentioning, some of the greatest scenes came when a superhero used their powers in a new and creative way. Not a "Gadget of the Week" but a moment when having seen the new ability used everyone immediately goes "Oh, yeah that was obvious!".
Examples: Source = Mutant; Special Effects = Weather Control; Abilities obscure senses with fog, thunder and rain, attack with wind or lightning, etc.


Why does you super do what they do and not something else?
This is important, not just for the character but also in group play for the team. You have abilities that can do things few (maybe even no one else) can do, so do you fight crime? rescue people? commit crimes? Use them to gain fame or glory?  Rule the world?

Team Capability/Niche Protection

Niche protection is often less important in a Supers campaign, though most comics teams are composed of different niches. I have played in games where everyone was a speedster and others where everyone was a brick.
With a good system you can still have a lot of variety even if everyone is the same class or type.
That means everyone can still be unique which is fun and important to the genre (and likely player satisfaction) but the group does risk being weak vs. certain foes.
In the comics you can have say Green Arrow, Batman, Superman, and the Flash on the same team and the reader can have fun. But how much fun do you think Green Arrow is having watching the Flash and Superman take everyone out before he can even knock his first arrow?
In the comics the author can control the action in a way that is not possible in a group game. A guy who can take out Superman can like;y easily wipe out the rest of the team, unless he used a special weakness (Red Sunlight, Kryptonite, Magic) and if that happens to Supes every game, well that is a problem too.
Balancing a team of supers so they can all fight together, in unique ways and such that most of the time their foes are roughly balanced against them so everyone gets a good amount of screen time is trickier in a Supers game than probably any other genre.


I think that this genre requires the most creativity and forethought in character creation but the individuality is potentially far greater than any other genre. That individuality is both the benefit and bane of supers campaigns, content paralysis is more likely with more choices and you have to try and balance with the others in the group.
However the possibilities, can be their own reward.

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