Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Know Thy Audience And Play To Their Weaknesses

Last night, we playtested some DC Adventures encounters for Owlcon.  Not mine, some from another guy in the group who's running a "Crisis of Infinite Batman" session.  It was good fun and helped me see some rules I need to brush up on before my game rolls around.

The session did bring up one sad truth of an established gaming group:  The need for buy-in.  About half our group are hard-core comics nerds.  The other half like superheroes, but they're not walking encyclopedias of nerditude.  As a result, only about half of the stuff the GM threw at us (like King Solomon Grundy and the Kryptonite/Venom Joker from "Elseworld's Finest") had the desired impact on the audience.  And that's unfortunate.

I've experienced this myself in the past when I tried to run a game on the heels of our very successful "Fair City" Champions campaign.  Unfortunately, the player mix in that game was similarly half and half and I didn't handle or prepare well for the blank stares I got from describing something as "A Thor's Hammer pendant designed by Jack Kirby."

All of which reminds me that in my upcoming Justice League Unlimited game, I can't assume the players are all going to be fans of the animated series or understand the differences between the show's Hawkgirl and the comic version(s) of the same character.  Or even know who the characters are at all, for that matter. 

In short, I need to to a lot more writing between now and then, as well as work up some spiffy visuals.


  1. I think that is why a M&M3rd game set in the DC Universe (or even a simplified version like the animated version) would not work for that group. I'd be going for continuity porn, and get blank stares from half the table.

    It's possible that a Ground Zero supers game, where the playing field is level in terms of setting knowledge, might go over better.

  2. That's my thought as well. The other problem with a DCA game is one of individual preference. All it takes is one person to get their nose out of joint over how Superman is portrayed and suddenly it turns into a "tastes great/less filling" argument.

    Just look what happened when I verbally pitched a Checkmate game a few months ago.

  3. Nail on the head, both here and over on Rick's LJ.

    I'd actually be open to the prospect of a supers gaming experience, but the level of a priori knowledge needed for me to achieve a fulfilling experience playing in an established setting is too high.

    Homebrew up a good setting that the players can help shape, and my level of interest goes from "oh yeah, that'd be fun for a bit" to "cool; let's try it out!". The problem for me with a setting that's already densely populated with well-known comic book figures is that there's too much inertia for me to make fun waves as a player.

    Clearly, catering to those in the know with tons of meta-references and crossover mash-ups is fun for lots of folks, but I don't do meta very well and won't be able to come up to speed quickly enough to enjoy myself.

    Give me a shared world, all fresh and new, that can be evolved and realized through a mutual storytelling experience (the player-GM interaction is ideally a two-way street), and I'll be much happier.

  4. @schroedingerbat: I know what you mean about about an established setting shutting out player opportunities. I've seen it happen too many times.

    What about a published setting where the amount of player knowledge is available in more digestible bits? I'll admit, I'm thinking ahead to a line of products that Green Ronin is putting out for M&M3 that uses their World of Freedom City, but setting it on the other side of the US, in a city that hasn't had much in the way of superheroes (and villains) until recently. From a GMing perspective, I like the fact that much of the heavy lifting is already done, but there's enough room for the PCs to matter.

  5. And before Justin chimes in, the above is purely an academic question. At the moment, my plans are to go ahead with the game we've discussed after Owlcon.

  6. A published setting is fine, and totally reasonable; it's a monumental task to develop a whole game world from scratch!

    The sort of "established" I'd like to avoid is something where there's 60+ years of comic (dis)continuity and rebooting with which to contend. If encyclopedic prior knowledge is an ace to the player who has it and the established ground rules of the world have calcified into near-immutability, then it's a no-go.

    On the other hand, a setting where most of the group (including the GM) is on a similar level of "hmmm, let's go look up that thing to see if it's here in this world yet" would be nearly ideal.

    I've never been categorically opposed to supers, but the game I could enjoy would need far more wide open spaces for me to cavort in than any major comic publisher's universe would allow.

  7. @Theron: That made me laugh. Despite me giving you grief, you pretty much always get a free pass when it comes to supers.

    @Schroedingerbat: Your concerns are exactly why I made up my own home-brew universe (and by "made up" I mean "pretty much just filed off the serial numbers of established properties").

    Although I've been reading comics for 30+ years, the Continuity Porn aspect holds ZERO appeal from a gaming standpoint. But I'd happily run a Marvel or DC game, and do it like cartoons--or the published modules--of old: "Daredevil, Iron Fist, and Power Man team up to battle Kraven The Hunter in a park, and stick together...." Just set it on Earth-Whatever, and let the players run with it.

    Hell, before things got all Roy Thomas-ed, DC used to play pretty fast and loose with continuity. Villain-of-the-month shows up, fight ensues, and it's just business as usual until the next time.

    Let the PCs create their OWN continuity, and forget the funnybook canon.

  8. Whenever I run a supers game that uses the rules for a game based on a licensed property, like FASERIP Marvel (TSR) or DC heroes (Mayfair), I assume it's an alternate continuity Elseworld with the alternate part being anyone I want alive and powered up as a PC candidate or NPC is, and anyone I want dead or faded from the scene also is.