Thursday, June 2, 2011

Building A Supers Campaign

Since it seems my idea to run Champions again is picking up some traction, I thought I'd share the process I go through in putting a supers campaign together, hopefully in a coherent fashion.

The Basics:
The first step is figuring out the scope of the campaign.  Is it a wide-open, four-color world, or is it going to focus on street-level heroes, fighting it out the shadows of the inner city?  Am I looking for high-tech heroes,  mystic masters, or oppressed mutant freedom fighters?  It all comes down to the sort of campaign I want to run.  In the past, I've had specific stories and setting elements I wanted to explore, but in this case, it pretty much boils down to "I want to run Champions." Furthermore, I don't have the sort of time to spend on campaign-building I did in my youth, so I'm looking to use as much published material as I can.  So I'm going to use the published Champions Universe setting as a starting point.  It's got the advantage of well-developed source material, over 300 published bad guys, and a common point of reference for most folks who've played the game (in D&D, if you put a Beholder mini on the table, the players generally know what to expect; it's the same for, say, Foxbat in Champions).

Also, I recently realized that the CU is pretty much a "toolkit" superhero setting.  While used as-is, it makes for a satisfying Four Color setting, it's remarkably easy to drill down and ignore or remove the parts you don't need and focus on the stuff you do.  High-tech heroes? Use Interface and Mechanon as your big bads, and throw in a host of high-tech enemies.  Is mystical stuff more your thing?  Takofanes the Undying, the Crowns of Krim, and Tyrannon the Conqueror are your guys.  Paramilitary stuff?  Try the Warlord and the War Machine.  And those are just the top tier baddies.  There's plenty of lesser lights in each category.

So, I'm using the CU and looking to start things off as a fairly standard superhero campaign.  But the CU is a big place, so where I set the campaign is just as important as the theme of game.  In fact, it's an integral part of the game's theme.  In my experience, a superheroic city has to have a personality of its own, something to set it apart from other locales.  Metropolis and Gotham are both portraits of New York, but take their inspiration from different aspects of the city.

The Champions Universe offers us two fully-fleshed out cities (three if you count Hudson City of Dark Champions, but it's really it's own thing, so we'll leave it off the list).  Millennium City, built on the ruins of Detroit, is a metropolis of gleaming skyscrapers, with self-driving cars, elevated pedestrian walkways, and a sentient gorilla scientist.  Vibora Bay, located on the edge of the Everglades, is smaller, more urban, and with a distinctly mystical vibe.  Both have plenty to recommend them, but neither quite strikes my fancy.  Millennium City always feels a little contrived to me, and it's also home of the titular Champions, the world's foremost superheroes.  And while it's easy enough to write them out of the setting, it's hard to do without tragedy, and I don't feel like doing tragedy right out of the box for this game.  Vibora Bay feels more organic and is less top-heavy with superheroes, but it feels too far out of the way for my tastes.  Also, it's role as a mystical crossroads means that any game I run is going to end up veering into the magic stuff.  In and of itself, that's not a bad thing, but I have no idea what the players are going to want to do, and I don't really want to start this game off by restricting choices.

So, in this case, I'm going to use a setting of my own creation, an old one I originally came up with back in '95 or so (albeit updated to suit my current needs), a city called Meridian.

(Next time, revising and updating Meridian, with musings on the things a superhero setting needs.)


  1. Holy dang. Meridian is back?


  2. Well, A Meridian. Definitely not the original, though some of the old buildings may still be standing.