Saturday, 31 December 2011

Endings And Beginnings

Happy Hogmanay! Or if you're in central Australia or points east, Happy New Year!

This is my 200th post here, apparently. There's a noteworthy number for you.

A year ends, a year begins. It's an arbitrary placement nine days after the more logical choice of the winter solstice, but it's the one I'm stuck with in this culture. Time to look back and reflect, time to look forward and hope.

Fantastical settings sometimes put a lot of weight on the significance of years, dates and numbers and in some it might be more than symbolic. Prophecies tied to specific times or lunar cycles might be accurate, astrology might have a defining power, and that calendar counting down to Doomsday might just be right.

A more SF-ish version might have the significance people assign to dates be a factor. So the world ends at midnight because that's when the new atomic clock goes online, to borrow an example from of all things Doctor Who: The Movie.

And the PCs might not know about every significant date. Without looking, can you tell me when St. Swithin's Day is? That might lead to forty days of rain. And in a setting with a higher Weird Level than our own, this might be literally true.

Or how about the nights that vampires in Buffy are supposed to feast or fast?

And then there's the wider symbolic weight of endings and beginnings, births and deaths, the cycle of seasons, the rituals of entering a new house or christening a new ship with champagne.

As someone who's likely to be first footing at least one house tomorrow morning, I know some traditions have more importance than others, some are just a bit of fun. Does your setting have traditions like that, which don't "matter" in objective terms? They can add a lot to bring a game world alive.

Friday, 30 December 2011

It's A Small World After All

A new (and rather loose) adaptation of The Borrowers aired here on Boxing Day.

People in an out-of-scale world is one of the classic fantasy ideas, starting with mythical Giants and Wee Folk, the modern narrative version appearing around Gulliver's Travels and it being one of the earliest uses of trick photography in the movies and TV.

There have been entire series about it like Land Of The Giants and The Micronauts, miniaturisation episodes in many of the ongoing genre series (Star Trek toyed with it now and then and hit it dead on in Deep Space Nine, which being a modern Trek show dealt with the scientific issues of miniaturised air and how to breathe, while Doctor Who generally didn't give a monkey's) so there's plenty of scope for PCs to face giants, get zapped by shrink rays and have to flee house cats and the like as they try to find a way to reverse the effect.

And if there was ever a time to use miniatures...

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Hacking: Older Than You Think

As in 1903 older. (Thanks to SteveD for the link!)

Intercepting and sabotaging communications is a classic tactic in espionage and warfare, and sometimes as here in social commentary. What methods are there in your game, how could they be subverted?

Communication in Star Wars is super-advanced with across-the-galaxy holograms in some places and pretty basic with radios and camera-to-screen relays in other, so anyone can break into the latter to say “situation normal!” but it’s not the kind of setting that lends itself to hackers even though the Expanded Universe has them.

The psychic message boxes in Doctor Who, last seen in black and white, reappeared in the Doctor’s Wife as a lure to draw the Doctor and companions into danger. So does River Song leaving Gallifreyan messages across history, but at least then he knows he’s being lured into danger.

Kindred in Vampire: The Requiem often suffer the amnesia Fog of Eternity after sleeping in torpor, and some groups have ways of turning this to their advantage - like the German Carthians who find sleeping Elders and indoctrinate them when they wake.

Any giant robot is prone to having a superhero cross its wires. Armoured heroes are in danger of having their technology turned against them.

And scrying stones in fantasy can be bent to the will of any mind powerful enough. So watch out for crystal balls...

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Leviathan - SteveD and company use Smallville to run an HBO post-Napoleonic fantasy series.

I keep thinking I should buy Smallville, despite the Smallville connection, but it doesn't actually come with a SteveD in the book. I'll wait and see what I think of the same company's new Marvel superheroes game.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Further Thought On "Compliments Of The Season"

What is your character doing for Christmas? (Or Hanukkah, or Ramadan, or their birthday, or their S.O.'s birthday, or their anniversary, or Wookiee Life Day, or the Prince's Embrace night?)

I've prattled on at some length about GMing Christmas Specials before, but this can be a more general question for any time of celebration.

Buying presents can be an adventure in and of itself. (I say this as someone who managed to get both my parents books they already had this year. In my defence, my mother had dropped hints about Sir Terry’s Snuff and then went and bought it herself after I did...)

Then consider all the tradition and symbolism of such events. What do you do, what do you eat, where do you go, what games do you play, what do you wear, where did that whole mistletoe business come from?

And how do PCs from Culture A deal with the traditions of Culture B? What’s a good gift for the Ambassador of Barsoom?

Compliments Of The Season

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Feliz Navidad! Joyous Yule! Mazel Tov! It's Doctor Who Tonight! Select as applicable.

And what did you get for select-as-applicable?

No game stuff for me directly, as I am generally the giver of game stuff rather than the receiver. I did have a go at the Black Lion FLGS raffle and got GURPS Who's Who 2 (and if Hitler, Churchill, Napoleon and Nelson are only in 2, who's in 1?) among other things. Expect a Whoblog post about opening it at random soon.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Vampire: In The Bleak Midwinter

More vampires mark the winter solstice than the mortal celebration of Christmas four nights later. The long night is their time, and Christianity has been a plague on vampires down the centuries. And very few of them have loved ones with whom to share gifts and good company.

And yet, painful as it may be, some cling to the reminder of hope and forgiveness that the story promises.

To follow: practical considerations about the season, a decent-sized adventure hook, and two sketchy ones, one about a vampire showing very poor taste which I hope will not offend despite the vampire's attempts.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Fringe, and the resolving of mysteries in games

I am now more than halfway through all available Fringe.

It's pretty much "What if The X Files answered a decent number of the questions it raised?" - The Series.

"Mad scientists did it!" being the main answer, including the "mad scientists From Beyond!" subset. It explains vampires, werewolves, ghosts and the like in the first season alone, like aliens in Doctor Who. Their clearup rate is higher too - if guest stars don't die in the pre-credits they actually stand a fair chance of surviving.

Something like The X Files is a good model for a game - I tried running it once, in fact - but I'd say Fringe is better on balance because of this. The characters more often get to (a) find out what's actually going on, (b) definitely stop it and (c) help people caught up in the episode's threat. It would be a lot less frustrating than an accurate simulation of Mulder and Scully's adventures. Players might let you get away with "you'll never find out..." once or twice in a series, but not once or twice a week.

There are plenty of suitable RPGs, notably investigation games like Gumshoe which already has paranormal and mutant-chasing variants, as well as post-X Files paranormal-hunting games like Conspiracy X, or if you want to go another way model-the-TV-show games like PTA and Smallville. Indeed, I wonder why someone like MWP hasn't licensed Fringe itself.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Would you like some folkloric British monsters?

SFX are nice enough to give away their Paranormal Special's article on the subject.

Nessie, the Great Grey Man of Ben MacDhui, the Lambton Worm... Ten in all, enough to fill a British supernatural adventure show, turn out to be aliens in a series' worth of Doctor Who or cryptids in Primeval, inspire fantasy beasts or horror monsters and more.

Are the Owlmen the Strix from Vampire: The Requiem in their natural form? Is the story of the last Cottingley Fairy picture being real the truth? Is the Black Dog a friend or an enemy?

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Nine Companions

To celebrate my ninth follower here - presumably also my 20th over on The Door, hello!

How significant are numbers in your game world?

Is it bad luck to have thirteen at the table, or in the adventuring party? Is three the magic number, or is it five, or seven? Which number Shall Not Be Spoken?

And how do you apply this when you have an uncertain number of PCs?

Of course, you can make just about any number, or phrase, or physical characteristic, hugely significant in a game world. Omens and pattern recognition have presented us with plenty of examples.

"Five there must be, one for each finger of the hand!"

"2001 is actually the start of the new millennium!"
"Nobody likes a math geek, Scully. "

"Ahh, you have green eyes, you cannot enter by the front door!"

So if you have six players, they could be connected by a prophecy relating to the six senses, the days God worked on Earth, or the luck of a normal die.

And since most RPGs run off numbers and their random generation, you could even throw number symbolism into the game itself. In Nomine, the game of angels and demons secretly battling over the world, is built around the d666.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring came out ten years ago.

In some ways it doesn't seem that long ago, in others (where it connects to very early memories of the books) it seems like it's always been there.

It's why I don't generally run or play standard fantasy - I know I can't GM like Tolkien can. I'd love to have a hand in something like that, but so much standard fantasy is just about fighting through Moria rather than grieving over Gandalf, getting up the mountains rather than the importance of fellowship.

The One Ring goes towards building this in, but I think it might make it too planned out. Really, you need a group who can throw themselves into it.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful

As I write this, the amusingly nicknamed Hurricane Bawbag rages outside, disrupting plans and causing much consternation. This time last year, of course, we were two weeks into six and a half weeks of being snowed in, so I suppose a storm isn’t such a big deal.

So... the weather in games.

Mostly it’s scenery, with dark and stormy nights aplenty, rain most often falling on noirish PIs, vampires threatened by the bright morning sun.

Sometimes it’s a dramatic device that forces adventurers to take shelter in the inn where the murder happens, or miss a vital train due to leaves on the line, or travel through Moria rather than over the mountains.

Sometimes it’s actively involved, under the control of superhuman powers for good or ill.

Games that tend more towards the dice falling where they may and the likes of random encounters might well include random weather, with a roll of the dice always waiting to screw up plans.

But a bit of strange weather could change a regular encounter even if it doesn’t fit the weather’s usual dramatic uses.

Consider a typical battle with a troop of Orcs/brigands/vampires/Stormtroopers and add enough rain to turn the ground to mud as the fight continues. Compare Agincourt in Branagh’s Henry V to Olivier’s to see the difference it can make to a standard narrative.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

An observation caused by the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar

The Yuuzhan Vong are the Tzimisce.

For various reasons, but most of all because, for me, neither of them feel like they fit in the universes they were brought into.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

A Buffy Season: Season Roundup Special Feature

Right then. That's ten thousand words.

And I haven't touched on the use of information NPCs like exposition guys, shady underworld contacts, untouchable human villains like Wolfram And Hart lawyers, weird occult things that speak in riddles.

Or much on the practicalities of casting your show - I always stayed within budget, and got into the habit of looking for up-and-coming British actors as well as occasional stunt casting. Strangely, "Casting by The Watch House" became a semi-regular feature on my LJ due to things like Sophia Myles starring in Moonlight, James McAvoy playing a psychic Oxbridge student and then the young Professor X, Emilia Fox as a mystical Big Bad from Arthurian mythology (albeit a different one) in Merlin, and Henry Cavill going from Captain Rugged to Superman.

Or about Buffy's occasional prophetic dreams, dream logic and surreal high fantasy episodes.


So. Questions, comments?

A Buffy Season: 22: The Season Finale

The Big Smackdown. The End Of The Season-Slash-World.

The dénouement of the season is, as a rule, pretty heavy on the fight scene.

This is for the title, so make it big. Failure will lead to an apocalypse and possibly cancellation of the show.

Of course, Buffy being as weighted in favour of its heroes as it is, this isn't really a concern. Individual characters may fall, if it's dramatically appropriate. Generally, however, evil is going to have its ass kicked and it's all about how.

I don't like to restrict the narrative-y flow of fight scenes with maps, but sometimes the tactics get involved enough that it's necessary and this may be one of those times. And if not, then do have some interesting environmental features to throw in, like a collapsing building, shafts of sunlight when fighting the king of all vampires, a horde of zombies in the way, anything that either side can use to their advantage.

But while the monster mash is the main focus, if this isn't a one-session double feature with the Build-Up there may still be time for making plans, joking about the failure to make plans, resolving character plots, pointing out the lack of resolution in character plots, foretastes of next season, last-chance sex, gloating by the Big Bad, extra gratuitous violence like clobbering an underworld contact or casually staking a vampire on the way to the main event... That kind of thing.


Example: Rock Hard

The city is slightly in ruins and the Siren now commands a giant sea monster planning to eat everybody.

Fighting her will involve getting into the ruined, still-quaking arena, or chasing her through the cracking, flooding streets and over collapsing rooftops to get high enough.

Are we gonna let this go?

I don't think so.

A Buffy Season: 21: The Build-Up

"Are you ready to be strong?"

The final phase of the Big Bad's plan, and the Cast's attempts to thwart it.

Allies, enemies, possibly a really cool stand-up fight with a lieutenant of the Big Bad, planning, arguing about plans, relationship issues coming to a head with all the stress and the "You're proposing to me 'cause we're gonna die!"

And the terrible omens of doom and the panicking citizens running for cover and the noncombatant supporting cast expressing their entirely understandable fears and...

Often a good idea to run this in a single longish session with the Season Finale, unless you really want to play on a cliffhanger, because most of the finale's runtime is given over to (a) dénouement and (b) extreme violence, so it's good to keep up that momentum.

A Buffy Season: 20: The Big Bad's Big Bad Plan

The Big Bad makes a decisive move, advancing towards their ultimate probably-apocalyptic goal. Acquiring a magic item, sowing chaos, raising the first of an army of monsters, that kinda thing.

This is about as bad as things get. But also a glimmer of hope.

Because now, after hints and threats and possibly some violence, the Big Bad's plan is revealed. And that also reveals how to stop it.

Because if they're doing that it means they're planning to do that so therefore if we do this...

It's impractical, crazy, dangerous, probably all of the above and then some. But. It. Just. Might. Work.

Oh, and the Cast need a few bits and pieces. And so does the Big Bad. And some of them might be the same things.

And even if they aren't, this is probably the Big Bad's last opportunity to taunt from a position of safety. Use it well.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Buffy Season: 19: A Whole New World

In which a spell, dimensional portal, time warp, or some other kind of phlebotinum drops the Cast into, yes, A Whole New World.

Like The One Where Everybody Acts Out Of Character (which despite the order I'm putting these up, you should not run right next to this) A Whole New World takes advantage of the flexibility and kitchen-sinkiness of the Buffyverse so you can take a break from the regular game while still playing it.

It lets you spend a week in an evil mirror universe where half the Cast are vampires, a future cyberpunk dystopia, a visit to Greyhawk Pylea, a Descent into the Underworld, a world without monsters, a world without shrimp... a Days Of Future Past post-apocalypse nightmare the Cast then have to stop, a House Of M world where everyone is happy but somehow they know it's wrong, a historical costume drama with the Cast fighting knights or punching Nazis or saving Dickens from The Ghost Of Christmas Future... and all kinds of What If? stuff that you can't get away with in some games.

A Buffy Season: 18: The One Where Everybody Acts Out Of Character

Possession, body swaps, misfiring magic, curses, amnesia, evil twins, an existing alter ego like the demon inside an ensouled vampire taking over, de-evolution beer, everybody turning out to be an actor in a TV series...

The One Where Everybody Acts Out Of Character is a staple of the genre, often done every season or two to give the actors and fans a bit of fun.

They can be completely different beings from the regular PCs, or warped reflections or exaggerated aspects of their true personalities. Magically-Paranoid Buffy is different from Vampire Buffy is different from Possessed Buffy.

Whatever the cause, The One Where Everybody Acts Out Of Character lets you play a different game in the same setting with the same players and sort of the same characters, which can be a lot of fun if the players are so inclined.

Warning: Do not do The One Where Everybody Acts Out Of Character in the first few sessions of a game. We need to get to know these characters so we know they're acting out of character. One Cast Member acting out of character after a couple episodes is fine, and easily hidden. But doing The One Where Everybody Acts Out Of Character as your second regular episode will just confuse people. I'm looking at you, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

A Buffy Season: 17: Inconvenient Issues You Can't Just Hit

As the Cast plan a move against the Big Bad something else comes up, often a reminder of how the Cast have to straddle the normal world as well as the weird one.

Grounded on your way to fight the monster? Stopped chasing a monster by the Principal? SATs?

Moved along by police while staking out a lair? The vitally important artefact has been sold at auction?

Or similarly, the Cast could be attacked by a force of good (or good-ish) like the Initiative or the Knights of Byzantium, because they're supernatural and therefore suspect.

Or, horror of horrors, you could be surveyed by the Watchers.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A Buffy Season: 16: The Genre Standard

Into every genre show a few familiar tropes must fall.

Because it's almost been a year, might as well look again at six staples of SF/F series.

The Bodyswap
The Time Loop
Ascension To A Higher Plane Of Existence
Alternate Dimensions
The Doppelganger/Double/Duplicate
The Dream Episode

I'll be addressing a couple of these later on.

A Buffy Season: 15: Whoa, Our Lives Are Really Weird

Our heroes have been stomping the forces of evil for a while now. They may even have special stomping the forces of evil boots. They might have a growing sense of ignorance being bliss, regular folks having it easy and the like. They might not think that much about it, though.

Time to show them just how strange their routine is.

The main way to do this is to have someone (a new PC or a potentially major NPC) come in who is or would be at least as weirded out by the discovery that vampires are real as Willow and Xander were back in the day. And the Cast have to make sure this doesn't get the new guy, them, and possibly everyone else killed.

A Buffy Season: 14: The Special Occasion Or Holiday Episode

Special occasions include things like characters' birthdays and anniversaries, Homecoming, The Prom, Graduation Day... this is starting to sound like a season three episode guide, but there are a few others here and there.

And there haven't been a lot of holiday episodes in the series - every other Hallowe(')en, one Christmas, one Valentine's Day and one Thanksgiving, am I missing any? But that's nearly one a year, so here we go.

(And a comic strip covered New Year's Eve for 2000, featuring - yes! - a bug concerned with the millennium.)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A Buffy Season: 13: Format, Schmormat (aka The Episode Joss Directs)

One of the advantages of the Buffyverse as an ongoing setting is that you can excuse just about anything and the players will accept it and probably make jokes in character. A silent movie? A musical? A shared dream? Parallel universes? The Hero turning into an off-brand Muppet? A three-episode visit to Greyhawk Pylea?

Examples I got away with in The Watch House included Natalie discovering she was a fairytale princess, Victorian times leaking out of a cursed mirror and infecting the world around it, a descent into the underworld complete with an army of evil ghosts including undead Nazis, a Days Of Future Past post-apocalypse nightmare, and (borrowed with thanks from Eerie Indiana and latterly used in Supernatural) the one where William and Sunita discovered The Watch House was actually a TV show and everybody else was a bunch of actors.

So as long as your players are up for it, you can get away with just about anything. The only real trick here is going back to normal the week after. Too much of this and you could end up in total format meltdown - The Xena Syndrome. So only go this kablooey once a season. Maybe twice.

A Buffy Season: 12: The Two-Parter (Part Two)

Cliffhangers need to be resolved. Gamechanging results need to be looked at. The Big Bad's plot or MOTF's rampage need to be put down. Differences need to be put aside for the moment. Mangled friendships need to be patched up, or space and time need to be given.

And most importantly, after all the fallout something that people will still want to play needs to be left. This is shaking things up, not changing the series into something unrecognisable and unwanted.


Example: All Fall Down

The band has split up - and the Siren has Adam and wants Billie to steal the Stone of Fire in exchange for his life - and Josh made a pass at Zora - and the Watchers have sent a group of agents to try and clean up this mess - and -

A Buffy Season: 11: The Two-Parter (Part One)

We're halfway through the season (unless we're making season one) and we've covered many of the real classic episode types, with a couple of exceptions. And here's one.

A two-parter generally marks the Big Bad stepping its game up, or some other change to the status quo. Welcome To The Hellmouth introduced the status quo and changed it, What's My Line? brought in a second Vampire Slayer and Surprise and Innocence and then Becoming were all pretty big news too.

So what merits a double-size session in the middle of a season?

Monday, 21 November 2011

A Buffy Season: 10: The Funny Magic Episode

Another of the archetypal episodes, where we find that magic is capricious and troublesome, often in a funny way, and particularly when applied to Cast Members.

These mostly happen to Xander.

Sometimes they hit somebody else (like Giles in A New Man) or everybody, as seen back to back in Once More With Feeling and Tabula Rasa. Some of them abruptly segue into a different plot type entirely, causing dangerous narrative whiplash, and I only recommend this for the brave amongst you.

A Buffy Season: 9: The Horror Episode

Horror isn't actually that big of a thing in Buffy, it's a ways behind fantasy and superheroics and comedy and drama. "Vampire" may be the longest word in Buffy The Vampire Slayer but it's just ahead of "The" in actual importance. So most of the vampires and demons just ain't that scary, and seeing Buffy demolish horror stereotypes is part of the fun.

But now and then they crank up the nightmare fuel and go for it.

We'll be using Hush as our set text here. Open your DVD collections at Season Four.

See also Killed By Death, Helpless, Where The Wild Things Are, Bring On The Night, I've Got You Under My Skin, less seriously Halloween, and in a different direction Normal Again. Look at how they work compared to regular episodes as well as how they work compared to the pure horror genre works they take inspiration from, how focus shifts and the characters behave differently.

A Buffy Season: 8: Buffy In Pain, Show Better

... Buffy Not In Pain, Show Not As Good

Often closely paired to the romantic episode, the heartache episode. Buffy is urban fantasy superhero horror comedy drama, and here's the drama.

Loss, romantic pain, the crushing burden of responsibility, the essential meaninglessness of existence... These can be woven into regular episodes and dealt with somewhat obliquely, or put front and centre for memorable results if the director and players are up for it. Some folks are just here for the lighthearted monster-hunting after all. Personally I can watch Passion again with relatively little wincing when running through the series, but I pause before putting on The Body and don't always go through with it.

So big emotional episodes are generally talk-to-your-players territory, but this can ruin surprise and immersion for some players. You can crank up the drama and angst for some at the table even if not everyone is keen, as long as the rest of the players don't mind being close to the fireworks.


Example: Haunted

While investigating a supposed haunted house, Billie meets the perfect guy... sixty years after he died.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Buffy Season 7: Love Makes You Do The Wacky

Romance, love, sex, heartbreak - these are often as key to Buffy as the monster violence and snarky asides.

I've seen from personal experience that a romantic plot (especially a complicated one with multiple interested parties where someone's bound to get hurt) can turn a regular monster-hunting game into full-on Buffy with all the trimmings.

There are articles, even entire sourcebooks and indie games dedicated to romance in gaming. They show how it can drive plots like nothing else, and also generally demonstrate that the players have to be willing to let their characters get hurt emotionally for it to work.

Romance can be an awkward thing for a lot of gamers, so there are some who won't want to go for this. If that's the case, there's no point pushing and annoying your players. You could suggest a limited single-episode romance plot and see if they're willing to try it in a clearly separated box, but the answer might still be a no.

If Young Player Characters In Love is a no-go consider a romantic plot at one remove, with NPCs as the fools for love. It'll lack the defining hugeness of a PC-centric affair, especially if you don't like playing multiple NPCs in a single scene, but it's enough to reflect the importance of love in the setting hopefully without squicking anybody at the table.

Anyway, PC or NPC, what does a love-centric Buffy story involve?

Generally, a happy couple is a subplot, not a plot. We're here for angst, people.

A Buffy Season: 6: The Spotlight Episode For Somebody Quiet

Spotlight episodes for big damn Heroes are pretty easy. Spotlight episodes for the Zeppo, the wallflower, the Watcher, those can be a bit trickier.

So look at the quieter, less automatically attention-getting characters - and players. Of course, there are players who pick these characters because they don't really want the spotlight, so don't drag them into it kicking and screaming. But there are also players who would like a "look at me" moment for their less front-and-centre characters or playing styles.

So look at ways to get them in trouble. Conspire with the player if they have ideas of the kinds of conflict they want, or the other players if you need them to step back and let our White Hats save the day.

Friday, 18 November 2011

A Buffy Season: 5: With Great Power Comes Great Inconvenience

So this show's about supernatural heroes as well as mundane ones, and even the mundane ones now have "secret identities" by association, as telling everybody you hunt monsters is not good for your safety or liberty.

So the practicalities of fighting the forces of evil on the down-low can make for interesting additions, with the obvious "nobody understands me" metaphorical dimension.

This gets even stronger when the PC having these problems is full-on supernatural as well. There are a whole lot of puberty metaphors in werewolf stories for a reason. Likewise there's a fair bit about the duties and responsibilities of the slayer in Buffy, and these are often about finding your own way to be a hero.

"Clark Kent has a job! I just want to go on a date!"

A Buffy Season: 4: The Big Bad

Whether they were introduced in the Season Premiere or not, it's time for the season's Big Bad to make a play and get a bit of spotlight time.

This could be a scheme that looks like a MOTW and can be stopped like one but the overall threat proves larger than expected, a feint where the Big Bad is introduced under false pretences, even a blatant attack that leaves the Cast wondering what just happened.

So this seems like a good place to discuss what makes a good Bad.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Buffy Season: 3: The Metaphorical Menace

Sort of a MOTW, this one leans particularly heavily on the central metaphor of the series premise. In Buffy, it's "high school is Hell" so look at the episodes that warp a particular high school event, like wannabe cheerleaders eliminating the competition, or other parts of her life, like someone she doesn't like dating her mom who then (fortunately) turns out to be a killer android.

So look at the metaphorical dimension of the series you're creating. Probably focus on the Hero in the first of these, with others directed at the White Hats and other Cast Members later on.

A Buffy Season: 2: Monster Of The Week

As the name implies, the Monster Of The Week is the bread and butter of a monster-fighting action series. I could list this as 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10-12... but as the show tries to ring the changes I'll show some different ways to do one. For now, this is the ordinary episode that the others deviate from, where the really important things are any resulting developments between the Cast, which are largely up to their players anyway.

All you really have to provide is a monster. These should be something you can imagine a weekly TV show being able to afford, for that matter. A subplot (which may also connect to what the monster is about) is good too.

These can involve variations on your standard monster like Dracula compared to regular vampires, classic archetypes like ghosts and killer cults, knockoffs from popular culture that you duly lampshade, scary things you thought up yourself. Grab some from here if you're stuck or use Scream Team as a visual guide or open another game's monster book.

Optional variants include the Minor Recurring Villain Monster, the Mystery Monster, the Creepy Monster and the TV-Friendly Eight-Strong Horde of Monsters.

What matters is that it threatens the peace and provides a decent fight, ideally with something interesting about it like a tactical option or a setting that could add flavour.

Their plans tend not to be very complicated - "get all up in the Hero's face until you get smacked down" is surprisingly popular - so you can always have them attack the Cast or kidnap one of the designated helpless victims if the players get stuck.

Mostly, MOTW episodes let the players talk in-character and air various issues without a serious danger getting in the way. If the MOTW itself is fun that's an added bonus. It's a dirty job but something's gotta do it.

A Buffy Season: 1: Season Premiere

In which we meet the Cast, possibly get a hint of things to come, maybe introduce the Big Bad, and most importantly show what the series does.

It's probably largely a Monster Of The Week episode, so see below for talk about those. It differs from a regular MOTW because it shows the Cast coming together to fight some threat and save the day, re-establishing the group dynamic, and also proves the power of the Chosen One, which has to be demonstrated generally by being questioned.

"I'm Buffy. The Vampire Slayer. And you are?"

A Buffy Season for the use of

Since the feature that attracted most attention to The Door In Time was a series-ful of plots, I thought I'd steal my own idea and bolt together a short campaign for another game here.

Obvious choice: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Applicable to any monster-hunting urban fantasy or low-key superhero game with a sufficiently high Weird Level.

Some ground rules before we start: It's a world that looks like ours, but has monsters and magic and sundry other kitchen-sink stuff going on. One of the PCs is a slayer or similar marked-by-fate monster-killing superhero. Some kinds of supernatural beings, such as run-of-the-mill vampires, are there to be killed by our heroes without a second thought and no "paladins killing orc babies" moral questions. The police and other authorities don't generally get involved, and when they do it's a problem. Buffy canon may or may not have happened, depending on whether we do a crossover episode. Either way, I'm making every effort to make the series feel Buffyish...

Before the game begins, establish premises in your pitch as well as ground rules. You could let the players create any kind of somewhat applicable character, but this would probably result in a very strange Cast and very possibly some characters that are only there because they're PCs.

For example, The Watch House was about the training of Watchers, the occult experts who guide slayers among other duties in the war to save the world from evil. This gave all the PCs and recurring NPCs a reason to be there (they were trainee Watchers, or people/beings of interest to the Council, or in a few cases voluntary hangers-on) as well as giving lots of monsters a reason to attack them (kill the intelligence division of the forces of good) that could be added to on a PC-by-PC basis. It was also set around a normal campus so there were normal characters and normal activities to highlight the strangeness of the Cast's lives, and an option which was occasionally exercised to bring in clueless PCs.

So, to give us a working example, a game idea I had at the same time as The Watch House and have recycled for an RPGnet play-by-post game and my Nationals one-shot.


Example: Band On The Run

The PCs are a college band. One of them is a Chosen One of some kind. (Let's say the drummer as a slayer.) Others can have supernatural connections as well - they could be musicians who are coincidentally magical, or as less of a stretch non-band-members could be there because of the Chosen One. This could set up a bit of friction between the norms and the supers, which might be good for story fodder if it doesn't lead to trouble out-of-character. Supernatural stories will revolve around the Chosen One and others, mundane stories will revolve around college and music, trying to get gigs, trying to get through gigs without monsters attacking the stage... On a metaphorical level it's about how hard it can be to do what you want, and balancing it with what you need to do.


Monday, 14 November 2011

So how does one run a 24 hour game?

Consider your sleep patterns and food intake and such, not just on the day/night but for a few days beforehand. Okay, that's how to be active for 24 hours, but run a game?

Don't ask me, I avoided even trying.

Alright, I have observations.

Nothing too intricate. That would take a lot of prep and be subject to you and the players passing out and forgetting everything. The chances that they'll recall the enigmatic phrase of the mysterious man who appeared in the first five minutes is very low, even if there's a handout in front of them.

Likewise, nothing too atmospheric. Horror from dusk till dawn might work wonderfully, but then you have till dusk again and you've had so much sugar that everything could suddenly be funny.

A milieu you know well enough to run in your sleep, as at times you may well be doing so.

Go for action and stuff. It's a good basis for many games, being able to go "sod it, ninjas attack" helps when stuck, rolling dice is a physical activity that keeps players awake, and the charity reroll is a valuable addition to the fundraising effort.

It being a milieu that can go surreal as you get increasingly wonky is a bonus.

The four that went for it this year (one of which managed the 24 if you count the power nap in the middle) were two dungeon bashes, a non-dungeon standard fantasy, and an SF zombie apocalypse with lots of explosions.

Jumping on and off points. Essentially eight three-hour sessions, or six four-hour ones, or something to that effect. You could try running a shortish campaign or series (it's been done) but episodic with a bit of escalation and a biggish final battle would be safest.

You might consider GM relays, as playing while loopy from exhaustion and artificial stimulus is less game-exploding than GMing in such a state.

Before half a dozen people offered to run games the whole day through I did consider some options, though none over twelve hours seriously.

All Night Vampire and then sleep through the day. Not seriously thought through.

Superheroes, which we had too many of already.

Buffy, which I've fallen asleep GMing once at a convention (I had a cold) so could do again. Basically superheroes, obvs.

Doctor Who And The Most Episodic Game Ever, where every couple of hours it's a new planet and century. And if somebody wants a Dalek episode they can put money in the charity reroll jar.

Uncharted because, hey, successful video game launch recently apparently.

I had my Buffy and Uncharted adventures from the Nationals ready. I halfway wrote a World Of Darkness plot but decided it was too heavy for the target audience.

But as is I played and administrated, did not GM. And not even for 24 hours. And that was tiring enough.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


... has already raised £300, before sponsorships have been collected.

... had 38 attendees, which isn't bad for a foolish endeavour such as this.

... included a 22-hour game (with a nap in the middle) and another which ran a mere 20 hours but made over £100 in charity rerolls alone.

... also featured a World of Darkness game in Polish.

... gave me time to write a WoD oneshot that would probably be too intense for such a setup.

... proved that nobody apart from Ben played Mythos.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Propulsion: 24 Hours Of Gaming

... starts 9pm Friday night at the Pleasance here in Edinburgh.

... will not feature me attempting the full 24, I plan to be there at the start and then on the Saturday from lunchtime-ish.

... will feature me offering to GM various things, while others GM one thing for the full 24. Not that I have any particular ideas what I'm going to offer yet. Erk.

... is in aid of the Sick Children's Hospital.

... will hopefully go well. Wish us luck!

Monday, 31 October 2011

A Night In The Lonesome October: Vampire plot hooks

After the Buffy adventure, and similarly a 1900-odd-word Doctor Who adventure, The October Country, I figured I should do something different for Vampire (Masquerade or Requiem, these would fit both with little effort, although the references and font style are Requiem-ish) so here's a cryptic essay and five somewhat developed plot hooks to catch unsuspecting vampires unawares as the nights draw in...

The Skies They Were Ashen And Sober

Part of A Night In The Lonesome October.

Last one. Couldn't resist.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

A Night In The Lonesome October: Buffy Hallowe(')en Adventure

PDF version - which is nothing fancy, but I trust is legible.

Probably also useful for other urban fantasy monster hunters, or supernatural-dealing low-level superheroes or the like.

Part of A Night In The Lonesome October. The idea's simple: something of unspecified length based on the above title. It comes from a Poe poem, and became the title of a Zelazny novel, but in general it suggests autumn, isolation, the approaching Hallowe(')en and general creepiness.

So what to do... well, restrict myself to adventure hooks, or slightly longer somewhat-developed adventures. There's one up already that runs over 2000 words. But what games? Well, my defaults tend to be Adventure!, Buffy, Vampire and Doctor Who. Adventure! doesn't quite mesh, although I have a plot hook to do with a fake haunted house that could work, that still leaves three...

Applicable photo, by Joanna Wilson

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

New Bremen: The Classic World Of Darkness chat game

New Bremen was the official moderated DigiChat game for White Wolf's classic World Of Darkness, like a global LARP (but played in a chatroom) running from 2000 to 2004 with thousands of players at its height.

Following a series of discussions about chat games at The Grand Masquerade, Ian Watson acquired the rights to revive New Bremen, as well as the official New World Of Darkness chat games, so as one of those several thousand players, I sent him the email bolded below to ask about his plans for the game.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Vampires and technology again

After this post: Masquerade Anarchs in the present specifically but relevant to modern characters in any urban fantasy setting with old stick-in-the-mud authorities.

Of immediate relevance - my one house rule for Requiem is to eliminate the blurring of vampires on cameras and reflections, since London has half a million CCTV cameras.

See also Me Versus Dracula from the TGM guest photoshoot.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Vampire: The Requiem Actual Play trailer

APs take a while to write, and I only have one session's worth, so a bit early to show, but here's a hint of the creepy things that have happened so far...

Something lunges out of the dark.

Jerome wakes face down on a warehouse's concrete floor. The only open entrance is a skylight twenty feet above him.

Derick scowls as Camille looks down from a rooftop and casually drops off.

Stan's lip curls as Williams smiles and beckons over a half-starved runaway.

Carter looks at Jerome and sneers, and just for a moment we see blazing yellow eyes and a mouthful of serrated fangs like a bat's.

The Sibyl sits alone, dressed in white, sticking plasters on her fingertips.

Strange, Dead Love interview II

Following this, there's this. S,DL is getting a lot of press, it seems.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Fades

A new genre show from the BBC, and it's... Hunter: The Reckoning? Well, not far off it. People with "Angelic" powers fighting the flesh-eating walking dead, ghosts trapped on Earth unable to ascend who have figured out how to return to life and whose plan threatens an apocalypse. And our saviour is a dorky Inbetweeners-y kid. So no worries there...

One interesting note is that some of the Fades are individualised, notably the charming Polus (add him to your visual library of Nosferatu types) and the twitchy what's-her-angle Natalie, who the leading Angelic warrior seems to have known for a long time.

Having monsters whose behaviour suggests there's more going on than simple threat might intrigue players, and if they can seemingly appear and disappear at will this will help prevent "there it is, kill it" syndrome.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

V20, observations

I have discharged my duty and given the not-mine copy of V20 to its waiting owner.

Some reactions to it: "Ooooh, so shiny..."
The Bradstreet Toreador illo: "oh, that's perfect, all the textures..."
The new Toreador clan weakness: "yeah, that works..."
Generally: "this is so cool, thank you!"

And in case that's made you want a copy, there might be a few left.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Sunday, 2 October 2011

And so...

Vampire: The Requiem is go, Uncharted is not. Not a big surprise, evening is bigger than afternoon, so playing Matt's space opera game in the afternoon.

Four players, all somewhat (or in one case very) familiar with Vampire in either iteration, playing characetrs about to get thrown into the war about to begin. Heh heh heh.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

V20 trailer

On Youtube to mark the general release of the PDF.

Compare the Requiem trailer I made last year and you can see I'm using the same DVD library. I could have gone more different, but I likes it.

(Indeed, thanks to the "vampire" episode I could probably cut a Vampire trailer together entirely from Alias. Cities at night, dark streets, boardrooms and ballrooms. There's a fair amount of imagery overlap between vampires and spies, especially superspies mingling with high society. It would lack Nosferatu, though...)
V20 Companion open development has kicked off.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Jim Henson

Today's Google Doodle marking Jim Henson's 75th birthday with digital puppets created by the Henson Company.

I talked a bit about how you might reflect his ideas over in t'Whoblog, but I thought I'd talk a bit more here as well. His "will this work, try it and see" attitude ran through his work, from seeing The Muppet Show when I was a kid, learning with Sesame Street, seeing films like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth when they came out.

I've been involved with puppetry here and there, and it's definitely affected my storytelling, writing, and of course my GMing. Everything from reinterpreting mythologies to a bit of Brian Froud in some character art.

And above all the desire to entertain. Because...

"When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for... the storyteller."

There will always be a place by the fire for you, sir.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

This year's theoretical games

Adventure! (or Hollow Earth Expedition) in World War II... or now.

Vampire: The Requiem - or V20 in theory but I'd rather have the two-standard-books version of the latter to actually take to a gaming table, though. My Masquerade always looked fairly Requiem-y anyway.

Supers, probably Icons.

Emergency fallback Doctor Who like the last two years.

That's about it, plan-wise, really. Depends on players.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Grand Masquerade

That longer post I promised ya.

V20 is heavy. Really heavy. Really pretty too. And a nice minor update, a "Revised, Second Edition" with things like the Tremere being more susceptible to Blood Bonds and the Gangrel animal features normally being temporary and the Toreador weakness making them obsessed by beauty rather than frozen in awe by it.

The print-on-demand or Now In Print version will be two books, which might well be more handy session-to-session, certainly more than the limited edition super-shiny version signed by about twenty people which I don't want most gamers getting their grubby paws on. So hopefully that'll get into FLGSes and I can buy it there.

No Big Huge Announcement this year - Onyx Path and Mummy The ? were both known about already, and the big presentation at the Succubus Club was about the fashion styles being planned for the MMO, rather than something like a gameplay demo. It was cool though, and you should have heard the collective groan when the Brujah guy jabbed himself in the cheek. And it did slyly reveal that the seven classic clans would be the only ones available to begin with.

Tim Bradstreet was very cool all round after sitting by him on the flight from Atlanta to New Orleans (which was the flight after the one I was supposed to be on, so I lucked out there). I'll have to let him know how much the original VTM portfolio he gave me goes for at the Conpulsion auction. In like seven months time.

I bought one for myself too, naturally.

I played a tabletop Requiem game, then went to the MMO Q&A, where I got my question answered... How are they dealing with night? Since it's Vampire and Mortal in the main, it'll be night all the time.

The chat panels got me all nostalgic about New Bremen. There'll never be one that big again, as it was The Official Moderated Chat, and eight years after it closed all the others seem to live in its shadow to some extent.

I stopped myself prodding Russell about Requiem too much, instead chatting quite a bit about Buffy and Doctor Who and Cavaliers Of Mars. A bit about Never Let Go, and of course some direct Requiem talk, about Strange, Dead Love and how Mirrors and Dance Macabre go to make Requiem Second Edition in suitably toolkit-y form.

And, Dracula bodypopping.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Grand Masquerade

A lengthier report to follow, but for now...

Hello Russell!

Hello Ian!

Winning the "it's a small world" category, the Spanish couple who organised the V20 Europe collection campaign made a trailer with people from... Embraced in Edinburgh.

With any luck I will soon have a new facey-book photo.

V20 is enormous.

The Gangrel animal features weakness is now temporary.

Tim Bradstreet is made of win as well as the widely-known awesome.

At 3.51 this morning I saw Dracula bodypopping to a song I know from glee.

... Life is strange sometimes.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Hello from the Grand Masquerade

I will have more to say next time I post, I imagine.

In the meantime, Matt M McElroy is compiling a book of essays on Vampire: The Masquerade and held this page up to me specifically. :) So expect to see some early ramblings here and then a sharpened up version there.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Miracle Days and when everything changes

101 Different Miracle Days. It hasn't reached 101 yet, but we'll see.

SF premises that would be wonderful in some ways but could totally mangle the world.

Of course, you have to consider the effects on the players' characters. Does the miracle tie in to the special powers of a PC?

For example, how would it alter play as well as the world in general if everyone affected suddenly developed telepathy? Including the PCs, so now you have to deal with near-total knowledge on the part of the PCs? Or excluding them?

This is definitely something to think about before starting a plot along these lines. As well as the world, changes to humanity as a whole would affect the PCs, changing them from what the players originally envisioned. Reassuring them that this is temporary will help in most cases, but not all. Imagine something like The Midwich Cuckoos - "Immaculate conception. For every woman able to bear children. All at once." Then consider the players of female PCs. That could have effects far beyond not being able to die for a few months. The more deeply it affects the characters, the more problematic it may be.

Army Of Ghosts doesn't touch anyone physically until the Cybermen arrive, but we see how it affects society, in some cases deeply affecting people. That one step away might make it less troubling, although it could still hit raw nerves.

When something changes the setting profoundly, and doubly when something alters the PCs themselves, you have to make sure the players will want to take this on board.

Critical Miss 11

After five years, Critical Miss returns. With features on James Wallis's almost legendary Cop Show RPG, convention reports from back in the day, absentee players, and an improvised board game called Yes I Sank Your Fucking Barge after one of the great legends of Warhammer.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Star Trek

Star Trek is 45 today.

It's been sequelled, prequelled, rebooted, cartooned, ripped off, referenced, RPGed rather a lot. Not least by me ol' mate Dave, who has been GMing the Decipher version (a game that was in dire need of a playtest) for my Friday group on and off for almost two years.

But with so much of it out there, in different series and styles and universes - Siskoid's running review count stands at 1419 for episodes, movies, comic issues et al - what people mean when they say Star Trek is pretty variable.

Dave's current game is very much inspired by his favourite series Deep Space Nine - that era, practical issues on a frontier, a tough little ship, a crew heavy with war veterans, a new section of space opened up after the fall of an empire in the Dominion War with a smallish number of major races and a lot of war secrets, religious fanaticism and opportunistic use of religion as Big Bads. But we've still had time for a Q episode and the one where we found the wreck of our own ship from a few hours in the future.

Conversely, the idea I had to GM was in the style of the new movie, a rollicking space opera with a lot of fighting and arguing and snogging and colourful uniforms and gigantic explosions. And that's Star Trek too.

Who wants what was the core of Federal Space by Shadowjack.

I won't ask you to wade through all 433 replies to, but I'll just show you this, explaining why we keep going back there.

Gosh I had no idea.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Nationals 2012, Day -222

Apparently they have 25 GMs for the Nationals so far. And need twice as many.


I do wonder if it will be as busy in Cardiff as this year's Sheffield event. How many GMs did that have in the end?

Pretty much every Nationals adds some categories. Some run, some don't. Some that do are never seen again. Next year, they have several ideas. I believe Pirates! has already been kicked into touch, with a reminder that apparently there used to be a Swashbuckling category. Naturally that was the one I liked most of these changes. Of course I'd happily run Doctor Who, but I'm not convinced about giving it a category of its own.

Of course, I'm looking at this from a perspective of not getting eight (eight!) people to run my "Film & TV" category in 2007, having Urban Fantasy only start in 2011 and fill up immediately, and wanting to do it again. Possibly fitting Doctor Who in there as I considered well before giving it a category was suggested. But not if that category's going, naturally. (Grrr.)

I get a bit obsessive about categories. This is because having been to the Nationals almost a dozen times, I know it can be all players have to go on when they get to the table. And if I sign up for Category X, I don't want something that really belongs in Category Y. It might be fun, but...

Not that any of this really matters, ultimately it's the wargames categories where the points are. But hey, I want to give the people something like what they want.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Game Table Team-Up

Turns out the only comic I actually bought on New DCU Launch Day was issue 1 of Angel & Faith from Dark Horse and Mutant Enemy. (I probably would have bought the new Batman or Action Comics, and have some others tagged for interest, but never mind.)

Angel and Faith have only worked together briefly on-screen, so while giving them a shared byline makes sense due to their connection, it still looks slightly odd on the cover.

Which, inevitably, got me thinking...

What do you do when you only have a couple of the players from the group? Not enough for the regularly scheduled adventure. Assuming you have enough warning not to be sitting there with the adventure ready and wondering where everyone is, you can put a bit of focus on the players and PCs you have.

Would the PCs work together successfully without the others there? (Hopefully the players would...) What can they do in a crisis when the others are unavailable? How much of an "odd couple" would they be?

Then hit them with an adventure that brings out the best and/or worst of them, possibly hauls up any conflicts between them and generally lets them air things they wouldn't with the whole group there.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Universe Is Slightly Different - But Why?

Following on from The Universe Is Slightly Different, we reach the end of Flashpoint and the start of the reboot-in-some-places-renumbering-in-others-try-not-to-think-about-it DC Universe.

One thing I didn't discuss last time was reasons why the universe is reshuffled. Obviously it has to be some pivotal event right at the start of the change, or several events changed deliberately, to have such wide-ranging effects.

i.e. not really what Flashpoint did.

So yes, come up with a solid reason which makes sense, even in a Butterfly Effect kind of way. A central change or changes where the connections hang together logically. If this reader's first reaction is "but that makes no sense!" then it's not a good sign.

Oh well, it did lead to some amusingly wonky not-very-parallel alternative scenarios like "Alaska, Land Of The Undead".

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Pilot Season

I just got back from seeing the pilot of Once Upon A Time. It's a very low-key urban fantasy, apart from some big “wow” flashbacks to the storybook world most of the cast hail from, with nothing much fantastical bleeding into the real world... yet. Still, the people who have been trying to adapt Fables to TV must be spittin’.

But anyways, it got me thinking about recruiting for games, taster sessions, connected or unconnected one-shots and stuff like that. Round these parts (these parts in this case meaning GEAS, the university games society) games run by the academic year, and the first session every year is generally given to one-shots.

I seem to be in a minority here because I tend to run one-shots of the same games I want to run from then on. This seems logical to me at least.

“That was fun, are you running it next week?”

But how much do you put in an intro session, “sizzle reel”, pilot, whatever? Pregen the kinds of PCs who’d star in the game generally, or focus on something else in the setting?

For example, when I tried out my Heroes-y plainclothes supers setting Next Step, low-grade superhumans on the run from sinister government agents was the obvious way to go as that’s what the game would have been about.

But for The Stars On Fire, a military SF game that starts with just-about first contact, should I put that in the not-necessarily-canon intro session? Well, I never ran an intro session for that one, but if I had I’d have done one of the previous contacts where (almost) nobody survived. The game started with the PCs finding one survivor in a wrecked ship, who could have been a PC in the imagined “prologue” game.

Way back when, The Watch House replicated Buffy accidentally a bit more than intended, when in the first session I discovered that generating four characters can be done in half an hour, and needing a plot I stole one I didn’t intend to use. When I lost one of the original players (grrr) and picked up a couple more (yay) next week, I reset with the canonical first episode. Had I actually been planning something like that, I'd have run a Buffy one-shot in that slot instead.

Equally, you want it to be a fun one-shot in and of itself. So my theoretical Buffy one-shot would have involved plenty of monsters, very possibly a BIG monster, and probably the TV characters for ease of use. If I’m running a game like a TV show, the intro week one-shot is less likely to be a “first episode” pilot than a big blow-the-budget standalone episode of the show. More The Christmas Invasion than New Earth. A reasonable taster of the show, but tending to have more monsters and explosions than an average episode.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Genre Awareness, Or Lack Thereof

This page comes from the first issue of Warren Ellis's run of Secret Avengers. Note the character descriptions.

Have you ever been in a superhero game like that? Have you ever been in a superhero game not like that?

I've seen my share of players and characters who stick out like sore thumbs. Generally this is a most significant issue in genre-simulation-y games, which are the kind I run. But then all games have genres, even if they're genres that only exist in those games, and I'm as out of place in a classic dungeon crawl as classic dungeon crawl styles are at my table. But hey, I know that.

Maybe it's because I've played a lot of superhero games, but these seem particularly prone to That One Player. Perhaps because "superheroes" is purposely all-encompassing, in terms of tones and styles as well as powers and backgrounds.

I've had some out-of-kilter PCs in Buffy but I've never had someone try to play a costumed superhero, whereas I've seen plenty of plain-clothes vigilante PCs in superhero games that were meant to be four-colour.

I've seen game-crashing moral dissonances in several games (some which killed games in one session flat) but I've rarely seen a superhero game that didn't have any.

It seems some people hear "you can play anything..." and not "... that would fit into this comic." And so we get 90s antiheroes in retro-60s games, uberbeings in games about street-level heroes, murderous vigilantes in city-sponsored rescue teams.

So yes, bit worried about offering super-y games this year. But fortune favours the brave. And the bold.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Sort Of Progress Report

Okay, still drawing a blank on a system for Of Gods And Men and it might need a particular mix of players, so might go more straightforward and do WWII Adventure! instead. Something I can do pretty casually by comparison.

Also, dinosaurs and planes.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Beware The Moon!

And today is the 30th anniversary of An American Werewolf In London. Which isn't all that gaming related, but is awesome.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

And today is the seventh anniversary of the new World Of Darkness and Vampire: The Requiem.

Which I'll run tabletop someday, I swear.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Adventure! Tenth Anniversary

... is also today!

Gratuitous fanart!

Ten years (admittedly mostly in the first year, alas) of fighting the Ubiquitous Dragon’s unstoppable minions, stopping Doktor Zorbo’s quest to destroy the surface world, teaming up with Houdini to discover the secret of the Screaming Skulls, uncovering the Holy Grail, hiding the Holy Grail, wielding the Spear of Destiny, punching Nazis before everyone was doing it, strapping yourself to experimental rocket packs while diving out of a zeppelin, influencing later Dramatic Editing systems and being the game I wanted when I bought the Indiana Jones RPG when I was twelve.

Thanks to Ian Watson for the reminder, and thanks to everyone who got that game in my hands, and everyone who played it with me.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lovecraft.

You crazy old bigot/misanthrope, you. Thanks for all the hours of gaming you would doubtless find baffling and inappropriate.

It's also James Marsters's birthday, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind gamers nearly as much. I'll spare you my Spike impression, though.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Coming soon. I should really check my plane tickets have arrived.

V20 on MTV Geek with new big looks at some of the Bradstreet photo/illos.

The Who's Who of your universe

Via Siskoid, DC Fifty-Too, in which independent comics folks come up with another 52 DC Comics before the relaunch.

A sideways look at former PCs and lesser-used NPCs could prompt reappearances. What have the survivors of Evil Cult X been up to for the last two years since the PCs blew up their half-manifested god? Is the first supervillain they took down still in jail, planning to break out with a new power upgrade to seek his revenge? What about that guy that dropped out of Wizard School? The street-level vigilantes to your public superhero team? The minor friendly NPCs? Or the PC whose player decided not to play after all?

Once a setting has been around long enough, you could run a one-shot with the players taking the roles of other characters we don't see very often.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

How mysterious do you want your mysterious groups?

V20 (that's the 20th Anniversary edition of Vampire: The Masquerade) has spurred (a) new supplements and (b) a lot of chatter. Some nostalgia, a lot of edition wars, but also people picking the games up and looking at running them. I just commented on a couple threads at the WW forum about Sabbat packs and the like. Which reminded me of this...


Overheard in a Camarilla classroom:

"Why were the Anarchs even fighting us? Why wouldn't they look to be more civilized?"
"I hear they're diablerists!"
"That's only Sabbat."
"Sabbat aren't real!"
"Full well they are!"


This links on to a current RPGnet thread on use of cutscenes and presenting completely OOC information to the players.

How in the dark do you want to be?

Obviously this varies from genre to genre, but also group to group and player to player. During The Watch House I got so into cutscenes, "next time" trailers and discussing plot possibilities with the players that one of them became a regular co-plotter while another asked specifically not to be spoiled on future events.

Are the on-stage Sabbat more interesting than the original unknown threat? Well, I have some issues with what they were like, but they have their own fans.

Would you play a mystery game like Columbo where you know who the murderer is and have to work out how to prove it? Maybe occasionally, but not regularly for the years Columbo ran.

Would you be more likely to play a Doctor Who one-shot called - Of The Daleks than one with a less on-the-nose title? My one-shot games tend to have attention-drawing titles these days, so I suspect that one's a "yes"...

Con-Quest Crikey

Bumping into Darran's RPGnet sig, I found the RPGs being run at Con-Quest in April are already starting to fill up.

By comparison, this week's Consternation has less games posted on its equivalent page and less info per game.

Certainly puts the requests for blurbs two to three months ahead at Conpulsion into perspective...

Greg Rucka outs himself as a gamer

Perhaps not a huge surprise as he's a comic writer as well as a prose author, but still. He talks about Space 1889 in the commentary for his steampunk adventure webcomic.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Time Loop!

SFX on twelve Groundhog Day episodes.

This was mentioned in the Six Staples Of SF/F Series but it seems rather apt to go over it again...

This would be a tricky one to do at a gaming table.

Obviously the PCs are the ones aware that time is looping (or most of the PCs, if some of the players are game enough to go along with playing ignorance).

You'd need a lot of notes for what the "Whoa, déjà vu..." moments are, and probably a big dramatic rocks-fall-everyone-dies ending to the day for them to fight against rather than the go-to-bed-in-a-bad-mood example of Groundhog Day itself.

They'll try various solutions and mad ideas, you'll have to consider what carries over for them if anything... and someone's likely to try the "let's make everything perfect" trick.

Doctor Who listed because, well, yeah.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Worf Effect

So-named on TV Tropes for one of its most frequent victims, a new character appears and flattens a character who is reputedly a badass to prove how dangerous they are. It happens to Worf enough that his badass-ness looks pretty questionable, but used occasionally it can be pretty effective.

But generally not on player characters.

Where a PC is built to be really good at something, there's a good chance (not 100%, but good) that the player will be annoyed if someone trumps them in it. They'll go after the offending NPC and pour any roll-boosting resources they have into hammering them into the ground.

So maybe ask first. "Is it cool if Ubervillain knocks out Brickman?"

Having a new threat demolish an enemy they've had trouble with can work as effectively and doesn't step on the PCs' personal shticks.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Who Am I? The Mysterious Past, AKA Plot Hook #1

The thread I refer to here about character-centric games also concerns a PC with amnesia, where the player asked the GM to come up with her backstory. A player saying "can you give me a mysterious past?" can be a chore, but it can also be one of the best darn plot hooks you'll get. If it’s good enough for Luke Skywalker, River Tam and Jason Bourne...

Of course, it's up to you (with or without some input from the player) to make this interesting.

Back when White Dwarf was about RPGs, issue 75 had an article about mystery in games, including PCs being mysteries to each other and even themselves: "The classic example is the character with no parent(s) - who are they? This poser is not very interesting if player characters aren't special - he may be the heir to... a baker's shop!"

The trick is knowing how far to go. This can vary with the game, the genre, the character and the player.

An amnesiac character in Vampire suggests dark secrets, possibly removed from her mind deliberately, an absentee sire, as well as the potential shock of meeting those who knew her as a mortal... or indeed learning she has not been a mortal in a lot longer than she thought. Doctor Who has its own variety of possibilities. A high-fantasy amnesiac could also discover that her memory loss was mystical, but is less likely to be appalled by what she learns. The heir to a baker's shop would suit Warhammer but not Star Wars, but not everybody who says "can you give me a mysterious past?" wants something as big as "no... I am your father."

One option would be to sketch out some possibilities, perhaps in deliberately vague terms, for the player to consider.

Of course, all this makes the revelations a surprise to the player as well as the character. This makes for more natural reactions, but there's a lot to be said for the player being in on the joke. They'll often make things far worse for their character to be more entertaining if they know what the "worse" would be.

Character-based games, an ideal, and an issue

A thread on the White Wolf forums (here) concerns three Vampire players whose characters don't mesh. I've been there. When running Vampire at college, there was rarely a reason for the PCs to be in the same room, and as such rarely a reason for the players to either. Especially when the PCs' reasons sometimes clashed, so the players wanted to advance those in secret.

Some is fine - some is great, in fact. I was always happier with character-centric plots than mission-based games. I'd love to play a game as character-heavy as that at times. But there are limits. About a quarter of an average session, say. More than that and you should look at Skype. (Happy 20th birthday, World Wide Web!)

Friday, 5 August 2011

Gen Con 2011 reports

I'm not there. But I have agents abroad, relaying information. And, y'know, RPGnet.

So far, we've got the FFG Star Wars announcement, MWP doing a Cortex+ Marvel game, a big White Wolf docket including a paranormal romance book for Vampire, a new Mummy game and the never-finished Convention Books for Mage: the Ascension, Delta Green apparently to become a standalone game... looks like there's some interesting gaming times ahead.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Star Wars RPG System IV: A New Hope?

FFG have the licence for Star Wars hobby games.

This'll probably mean a big lots-of-nice-plastic-minis game like Descent at some point. Maybe chasing around the Death Star, with lots of cardstock corridors and white plastic Stormtroopers, temping me to buy it even if I never play it?

And it might mean a shiny Dark Heresy type RPG. Or a lots-of-little-bits-for-players-to-lose game like their variant of WFRP. Still, it wouldn't be the first time Star Wars has been attached to a system I don't get or want.

It's also the most hacked licensed setting, seems like just about every game gets the "can you do Star Wars with it?" test at some point. I've played it in first and revised edition WEG, first edition d20, Feng Shui, Cinematic Unisystem, boffer LARP, non-boffer LARP...

What about Star Wars makes it the benchmark setting for adventure-ish RPGs? Well, for me, it's up there Lord Of The Rings and above the likes of 2000AD, Marvel and DC, Doctor Who and Star Trek as the myths of my childhood. And unlike Middle-earth, I feel like I can do it justice. I don't have to describe the setting as evocatively or thematically as JRR Tolkien, just sketch it in and get to the action as fast as George Lucas. Back when George was fast.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Star-Spangled Man With A Plan!

Damn it Marvel, you got me with Thor, now after Captain America I want to run a pulpy WWII Golden Age superhero game.

I figured this was possible - after all, my one year of Adventure! had Rocket Man as a PC and I felt I could go back and do more there - but yep, darn it, totally worked.

I've followed war before (most successfully in The Stars On Fire, following the PCs from first contact with a hostile alien race to nuking their battle station, in a grim Galactica by way of Elegiac Halo Adverts sort of way) so I know the setting works, with PCs generally as irregulars (and possibly out-and-out oddities like Cap) doing commando raids and entangling with NPCs on various sides so it's not just mission after mission after mission...

And of course I've given some PCs the chance to fight Nazis - in The Watch House itself I grabbed the chance while Milli was in Hell, while in Doctor Who Series A I had a slightly more nuanced approach with good and bad German soldiers, a heroic traitor and, yes, some out and out mad scientists Hellboy would be happy to clobber.

But there are always more Nazis to fight.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The End

So I saw Harry Potter 7.2 last night. Wizard School's out commmmpletely!

How many series have you brought to a definitive end? Most games fizzle at the end (sometimes the middle) of an adventure, with a plan to maybe go back which doesn't actually work out.

Putting a cap on things if you don't have a real intent to go back seems like a good idea, but it's pretty rare in gaming. A lot of games seem to get cancelled mid-season with no warning, so their final sessions lack finality.

In my case as a GM I can say I've really managed it four times, and only one of those was over an academic year long, the others having been built to run for one year and stop conclusively. And one of them ran half a year due to... events... but I still managed to pull a final session together.

I could have ended The Watch House at pretty much any season finale, and pretty much expected to end it at the end of season one, but we kept on going.

I had a theoretical end point, seven seasons like Buffy itself, complete with the Watchers' Council being destroyed halfway through season seven as it had been on TV, but was rather surprised to actually get to it.

And by the end I knew it was time to wrap things up, knock things down, kick things over...

The whole season had been billed as the final one, the last Big Bad was as big as I could make it, and I emailed descriptions of trailers with the James song Destiny Calling and the verse "tell us when our time's up, show us how to die well, show us how to let it all go..." playing over the PCs going into battle.

By this time the Buffy Season Eight comics had started but while I've joked about an equivalent I'd need to get several players around a table who haven't been at the games soc for a couple years. So this was to be it, the end, and I'd built towards it for most of the season.

I had The Battle Of Hogwart's partially in mind (as much as The Battle Of Pellenor Fields and The Battle Of Sunnydale High) but I messed up and made the most tactically useful location a field outside the city, rather than having the final conflict smash up the heart of the setting. Ah well, can't have everything. It would have meant rather too many people in Cambridge seeing a horde of vampires lead by Death itself attacking King's College, anyway...

We were so far from let-the-dice-fall that we'd discussed killing one of the PCs fairly openly for a few weeks before, because somebody had to die along with potentially rather a lot of friendly NPCs and of course the villains. An interesting way to play, but not for everyone and not to be used very often.

For various reasons it took about three months to get that final session organised with everyone there. But we managed it, in the end, and I think we can be proud of that. It was absolutely worth the wait.

A definitive ending (with or without loose ends, a Blake's Seven style TPK, or just the players and PCs taking a moment to consider the possibility of going on) really does give a game a stronger set of memories than a final session with no hint of impending cancellation.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Democracy in action

Go vote in the ENnies!

... "Happy Birthday Robot" seems like the runaway success, and I hadn't heard of it at all until now. Apparently it's a story game for kids and families. Which is cool.

Monday, 18 July 2011

There's always more to learn.

Some medieval portrayals of St. Christopher show him with the head of a dog.


I tripped over this fact in a thread about annoying out-of-genre character names in RPGs. It's a reminder that years of study of a period still won't give you a full picture. There's always something new (and possibly very strange) to find out about.

An icon of a saint with the head of a dog would weird out a lot of horror or urban fantasy PCs, and these images could be used directly as handouts in something like WFRP or Werewolf... and that's without actually meeting a priest who looks like an Alsatian under his hood.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

When Geek Worlds Collide

Coming soon: Knights of Badassdom, in which fantasy LARPers have to stop a succubus accidentally summoned through a spellbook bought as a prop.

(Portrayals of gamers on screen skew heavily towards LARPers becase they have far more visual interest than people sitting around a table rolling dice. See any news report about a gaming convention for examples. See also cosplayers versus everyone else at Comic Con.)

Having genre savvy characters deal with genre threats (even to the point of the players playing themselves as PCs) is fairly common, because hey, we're genre savvy so it's easy to reflect in-character.

I never had gamers appear in The Watch House (even though Cambridge has a biannual RPG convention) but I did have references to authors drawing ideas from Buffyverse reality. I'm tempted to set a Doctor Who adventure in a parallel world where Doctor Who is a hit TV show...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

How many friendly NPCs is too many?

If you can't name them all without checking your notes, as player or GM, that's a good sign you have too many.

A recent thread on The RPGnet asked for suggestions to add to the roster of a superhero secret agent support team, and this reminded me of something a wise man (hello Dave!) once said, about how James Bond works for MI6 but he only interacts with about three people from this organisation staffed by hundreds. They all have strongly sketched in personalities and they're memorable. Having a different briefing officer for every adventure, and a different member of Q Branch, would dilute the flavour of the setting.

Give the organisation a boss, with some interesting eccentricities and foibles, and a small number of other NPCs just as broadly drawn.

A large organisation might have specialists on call for specific weird situations. If they can be reached as soon as the PCs need them (directly or by phone or the like) this can result in the PCs using "call a specialist" as a crutch, rather than, say, going in and trying to defuse a bomb themselves with no demolitions training or tools like adventuring heroes are supposed to. So it often helps to strand the PCs away from direct contact with backup. Or if that feels too forced, just limit the availability of specialists from the get-go.

Delta Green, for example, lets PCs work as members of government agencies, but as they're working an unofficial and illegal agenda they can't call in too many favours. Angel has the organisation rules, where the GM and players decide what resources they have - and since you can limit the points they have to spend, the bigger a group is the less PCs will matter to it.

If the PCs know in advance they'll need a specialist for a mission, that can bring an NPC into the party - feel free to characterise them pretty broadly. And if you need someone to be killed to show how this week's monster works, they're always a good choice...

There's also the possibility of an NPC full-time member of the party. Avoiding the horrors of the GMPC and making ure they don't hog the spotlight, this character can be very useful. You can fill a gap in the skillset of the group, possibly taking over a necessary but unwanted role like getaway driver, and it gives you a direct voice in planning (and arguing, and making jokes) in-character, and it's someone you can hit with plot devices as much as you want.

No magic-user among the PCs? Well, the local witch might be friendly, but she can also mess up at just the wrong moment bringing in magical problems the group wouldn't otherwise suffer, has her own agenda, and would make an interesting wedge in the relationship between two PCs...

Playing the thing you'd normally be fighting. In a horror SF game.

Russell Bailey brings us The Bugs - 3:16 as murderous inhuman hordes made from suicides.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

This takes me back...

40 Buffy Episodes Based on REM songs by Kammerice. Currently actually 39, so I threw down the gauntlet with one whole title.

Who's Who

Over on t'Whoblog, I mentioned the old World Of Darkness portrayals of Rasputin in the context of Celebrity Historical episodes. On the whole, these tend to "print the legend" as in Westerns, as Mark Gatiss put it when talking about his depiction of Churchill.

So how to portray real people in other games?

An urban fantasy or horror game like World Of Darkness might focus on the strange mysteries of history, where someone like Rasputin seems fair game, but the third-party Call Of Cthulhu adventure "Secrets Of The Kremlin" which had Stalin actively studying the Mythos seemed a bit tacky. (To say nothing of one of those Rasputin appearances being in the same book as vampire Himmler, since quietly ignored.)

Of course, this is the real(ish) world, and care must be taken to cause offence in some cases.

Teaming up with the President in a superhero game? Or possibly Prince William, ace helicopter pilot? Heroic portrayals can be pretty amusing. Conversely, use of real "villains" makes me twitch with discomfort.

Beyond our history, some fictional settings have detailed enough backgrounds that you might have stories of modern, historical and legendary figures ready to go. "So who's this Conan guy anyway?" You could add characters the PCs would know about, but it's more involving if the players recognise them as well.

I can imagine historians in fantasy worlds arguing about portrayals of ancient heroes. That "Know, O Prince..." opening has always made me wonder who's talking, and to whom.

And if the PCs are ever flung forward in time, they'll probably be rather surprised by how history remembers them. "We gotta go to the crappy town where I'm a hero!"

Sunday, 3 July 2011


I just clocked up my 35,000th post on RPGnet.

Explaining why if you have a katana, you should have a trenchcoat too. It's the required concealment level.

Need 220 plot hooks by HP Lovecraft?


Some of them are rather short: "Hideous sound in the dark."

Not all are likely to be much use: "Phosphorescence of decaying wood — called in New England "fox-fire"."

Lovecraft being Lovecraft, a couple of them are cringe-inducing.

Others might be more viable: "Daemons, when desiring an human form for evil purposes, take to themselves the bodies of hanged men."

And there's at least one that's appeared in Buffy...

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The (X) Musketeers

How much can you change a setting before it becomes something else?

I just saw the second trailer for the new The Three Musketeers and it looks (a) barking mad and (b) not much like The Three Musketeers except in basic outline, as its big standout action scene involves airships firing broadsides at each other, a mere century and a half before the Montgolfier brothers' first flight. It looks more like the counterhistorical slam-all-the-most-fun-eras-together setting of 7th Sea than anything.

As a historian, this might bug me, but it does it with a big goofy smile on its face. It isn't presenting itself as a historical drama (like Braveheart to pick my least favourite example) any more than X-Men: First Class is the true story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. After all, The Three Musketeers itself didn't really happen.

But anyway, if I signed on for a swashbuckling game and there were century-early airships, or voodoo turned out to actually work, I'd want "this is going to be a bit mad" to be signposted fairly early. Which showing airships firing broadsides at each other in the trailer achieves. And equally, I'd want to be able to swash said buckler in this new situation, and be able to swing from airship to airship as readily as swing from regular ship to regular ship. The setting may have gone wonky, but I can still get my swashbuckler on and be useful in it.

(7th Sea does bug me, but mostly for plundering the good bits of history and divorcing them all from context by putting them in a non-Earth setting... and making pirates a supplement...)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Relaunching without rebooting

So your game's been away a while, in and out of character. Circumstances like players coming and going encourage you not to pick up exactly where you left off.

Not enough to reboot but enough to consider what's happened and what to change about the format as a result.

(Inspired in no small part by the DC Comics reboot/relaunch/rebrand/rethink/remake thing, but also by a page of Buffy Season 9 Issue 1 online for Joss Whedon's birthday. Happy birthday Mr. J!)

So how has the status quo changed by and for the PCs and major NPCs?

How long has it been? Last time DC rebooted itself it went "one year later" to excuse various changes to all sorts of titles. TV series may or may not acknowledge the gaps between series, often depending on whether they ended with a cliffhanger last time. The Buffyverse is always quiet during the summer, but things may still happen before the first episode of the new season kickstarts the year's mayhem.

Who's around, who's not? This can reflect changes around the table, but applies to NPCs as well. Season three of SteveD's The Night Watch started with the Watchers' much-loved invigilator replaced by a much sterner instructor. A new academic year (in and out of character) brought new PCs and NPCs to The Watch House as well.

Has a PC powered up or down or changed in some other significant way? If so, how and why? If there was a major change at the end of the last adventure, how is that being dealt with?

Are two nations over there now at war or making peace, have the stars fallen from the sky, has Atlantis risen, did someone behead Vecna again?

Depending on how you left the game, this could be a slight streamlining of the setting, a "back to basics" issue 1 relaunch, a "nothing will ever be the same again!" development where things may or may not ever be the same again depending on the players' preferences, a post-apocalypse nightmare where the PCs were around for the apocalypse, a the-PCs-ascended-to-godhood-what-now? emergency depowering, a Next Generation...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Gaming 101: How I got started.

(See what I did there?)

I was pre-geeked. My earliest entertainment memories are Star Wars for movies, The New Avengers for TV, 2000AD and Doctor Who Weekly for comics and hearing The Hobbit being read to my brother and I for books. So I was primed and ready when, about age ten or eleven, a cousin gave me City Of Thieves and I got The Forest Of Doom with my own money. (So a lot of this is the artist Iain McCaig’s fault.)

And from there to miniatures as they were stocked nearby and were shiny, back when local big department store John Menzies (a) existed and (b) carried that kind of thing, to playing once and then GMing Fighting Fantasy - The Introductory Role-Playing Game to visiting my first FLGS (Gamesmaster, on Forrest Road), to my first proper game (let us never speak of the shortcut again) to starting high school and finding players for an ongoing thing, to getting one of the first copies of Vampire when it came out (Mac’s Models, on Canongate) as I was getting bored of mission-based games, to writing for The Last Province to university- and pub-based game societies to RPGnet to...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Free Stuff For Kids

It's my hundredth post here, so have some free stuff.

Free RPG Day was Saturday, and now the pdfs of the free adventures and things are sttarting to hit the web (as well as the physical copies horrifically marked up on eBay by grasping scum).

Among others, The World Of Darkness now has a quickstart separate from Vampire: The Requiem which is cool.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Building a superhero universe? Consider some stock elements.

The relaunching and partial rebooting of the DC Universe, the Green Lantern movie, and all that has me thinking about archetypal superhero universes.

1: A Semi-Coherent Mass Origin
The Marvel Universe started with this, with science empowering some deliberately, some accidentally and some by birth. Until Stan got bored and the wizard and the Norse god turned up. This can provide a useful shortcut when the players are stuck for an origin, can suggest interconnections between characters, and if the effects can be duplicated it can lead to new characters with similar power sets showing up and fighting the originals.

2: A Golden Age
Running from some time in the 30s until the end of World War II, starting with pulp mystery men in fedoras and masks and ending in Hitler-punching patriotic supersoldiers who remain an inspiration and whose scientific advances have never been duplicated seventy years later. Few of these characters are still around, unless someone wants to play one. Other historical periods include the Silver Age (the Swinging Sixties, and quietly ignore that the characters from the era are about five years older now), the Western/Victorian period, and World War One (British comics only).

3: The Big Team
If the PCs aren't the Big Team, consider what the Big Team is like. Archetypal characters, world-challenging powers, and the all-important question of why they don't solve the problems the PCs have to deal with. One trick (seen in Superhero 2044, Champions: The New Millennium and Mutants And Masterminds) is to kill off the previous Big Team so the PCs have to make a new one.

4: Secret Organisations For Good Or Ill
With superheroes running around, it makes sense that governments and other bodies are going to take an interest. It may make slightly less sense for them to come up with snappy ACRONYM names and flying aircraft carriers, but don't let that stop you. Likewise, criminal organisations may resemble Dick Tracy style exaggerations of genuine groups or shadowy conspiracies that worship snakes or something.

5: Legends Are Real! Ish.
Like history and pop culture, mythology and storytelling can be brought in and used as inspiration. (The more genres you can pull in, the better for a large setting.) So feel free to have gods, demons, vampires, King Arthur... or not, if your PCs are science heroes.

6: Space Police!
Science heroes might feel more at home with space opera - alien invaders, clashing intergalactic empires, Lensmen-style groups of alien defenders who can grant power to an Earthly hero. Rhyming oaths are optional, but if you're going full ersatz you might as well.

7: Legacy Heroes
If this isn't a universe where the PCs are among the first demonstrable superhumans, then think about who went before, and what legacy and spinoff characters might be around these days.

8: Dinosaurs And Gorillas
I trust this point needs no explanation.

9: A Plucky Reporter Romantic Interest
The Plucky Reporter is a good thing to have in a setting with lots of organised crime, espionage, and heroes and villains with secret identities. The Plucky Reporter also makes a good Romantic Interest due to a tendency to run into trouble armed only with a notebook and a stubborn streak.

10: An Archvillain
He can kick the ass of the whole team. He has his own country, or a satellite base or moon colony or something. He wears a lot of black (or green and purple). He may have a wide variety of powers, or one power used as cleverly as a PC would. Some writers will show up his sympathetic side and the reasons for his wickedness, and he'll team up with the heroes to save the world because he lives on it too.

11: Some Piker Villains
A superhero setting has mooks (nameless Snake Cult soldiers, killer robots, any number of ninjas greater than one) but it also has its jobbing villains who have a neat gimmick they use to rob banks and who show up often enough that the players will get to enjoy running rings around them.

12: Another Title Or Two
If you aren't using an established universe, the PCs being the only team of heroes can feel rather isolated. So think up some archetypes and stereotypes not represented by the team (like the Big Team or the Space Police or the hero of the Legends that Are Real or the legacy of the Golden Age or a heroic Agent of ACRONYM or somesuch) and work out what they're up to elsewhere every session. If you're feeling particularly meta, you could work out blurbs for their issues in a 'Bullpen Bulletins' page. They can appear in crossover issues as well, optionally fighting the PCs over some misunderstanding before teaming up to fight Doctor Sordid.

13: Crisis!
Now you have a universe, it's time to threaten to destroy it. (This is only recommended if the PCs are of a suitable power level. Much as I'd like to see the Punisher fight off Galactus I'm willing to admit it's a rather silly idea.) A really big invasion that might connect to a prominent PC's backstory, a big play by the archvillain, a parallel universe overwriting ours... something that'll make the PCs team up with ACRONYM, the Space Police, the mythic gods, the Golden Age heroes returned from the dead, everybody and anybody. Imagine George Perez doing the cover.