Last week I wrote about some recent adversity that had befallen my gaming group.  Out Call of Cthulhu campaign had suddenly come to a half (at least temporarily) and there was an urgent need to fill the gap.  I had two days to come up with a campaign that needed to last at least two months.  I worked through my options logically, and when I left off last time I thought I had a good idea of what genre and rules system to use.

I was wrong.  

I really tried to come up with something great to put into the fantasy genre that could be played with Hackmaster Basic or Pathfinder, but nothing would come to me.  Every time I thought I had a good idea I always ended up back at one of the other fantasy campaigns I'm currently developing which had already been deemed unsuitable for one reason or another.  I've come to a realization recently that I'm just  not very good at running any campaign but the one I am most passionate about at that time.  I just can't seem to focus and my attention just begins to wander back to the campaign I really wanted to be working on.  

Fortunately it was about this time that I got kicked out of the house.  My wife is the Maid of Honor in an upcoming wedding and bridesmaids were coming over to do bridesmaidish stuff so I had to make myself scarce.  Feeling that what I needed was inspiration I made a beeline for the nearest bookstore.  Now admittedly the store's RPG section (like most these days) was small and modest to (put it kindly) but there were still a couple of books I thought might spark my imagination.  The first book I picked up was one I had wanted to check out for a while now, Mutants & Masterminds.   It may as well have been the only book I picked up because it is the only one I ever looked at.  

It was perfect.  The game looked great, my group had wanted to play a Superhero game at Gen Con but wasn't going to get to, and perhaps most importantly all of the other ideas I had for a fantasy RPG wouldn't distract me because of the leap in genre.  I've never run nor played in a Superhero RPG, but I had a number of ideas.  I have read comic books after all.  Before I had even bought the book and returned home to my Bridesmaid free home, I had selected a simple and straightforward campaign idea that I thought would serve as a great introduction to the rules and Superhero RPGs in general.

Now it was time to buckle down and get to work.  I had already spent  some of what precious little time I had just picking a rules system and coming up with an idea for a campaign.  At this point it was time to do what needed to be done to get the game ready to play.  To do that I employed five strategies to make sure I got to where I needed to be.

#1 - Cutting Corners
Normally I don't advice cutting corners.  It's a shoddy thing to do that can some times ruin a game or a setting, but early on I decided it was a necessary evil.   I cut corners in a number of ways, but the two major ones were with the Pre-Generated characters I made for everyone, and the map I used for the games' setting, Empire City.

Mutants & Masterminds offers a number of templates for characters that serve as a great starting off point and I took advantage of those by giving each of the four PCs one of those templates.  Lowering their power level meant more work than I initially had thought, but in the end cutting this corner took much less time than building the character from scratch.

As for the map of the game, as much as I wanted to build a city map from scatch I just didn't have time.  So I cut a massive corner by taking an old map of Chicago and modifying it.  The map that I came out with looked pretty good, though when it shifted to gray scale to be printed it lost some of its detail.  Color wasn't really an option as the printer allows for massive printing (the map is 3ft by 4ft) but only in black and white.

#2 - Relying on Technology
Unlike Cutting corners I fully advise taking advantage of technology to save time in any game.  The first way that I did this was to purchase Hero Lab.  Now it might not look like much, but believe me this is a pretty cool program.  The one problem I have with it is how expensive it is.  If one were to get all the games offered, and there are several, with the base program then I wouldn't have a problem with it, but that isn't the case.  When you buy the program ($30) you get a single rules system.  Oh well, I needed it.

With the help of Hero Lab I was able to make the four pre-gens I needed, and could be sure that each was balanced and within the confines of the rules.  M&M can be very tricky in this last regard so that alone with a huge help.  Hero Lab also creates it's own character sheets for each player which is also cool.

Those sheets have a spot for a portrait for each character which was something I really wanted to do.  I once again took advantage to make this happen.  I used HeroMachine 3 to quickly and effectively create character portraits for each of our heroes.  Each had its own unique look which spoke to their powers and personality, and helped to introduce each player to the character that they would be playing. 

#3 - Not Getting Fancy
There were a number of cool ideas that I had or cool things that I wanted to do that just weren't possible in the limited time I had.  For example, normally I favor complex with layers of intrigue, but given the short length of the game, the limited time I had for preparation, and the fact that everyone was was learning a new rules system, I thought it was best not to get too fancy.  I created a fairly basic and straightforward Superhero plot in which the heroes battle a number of Super Villains on their way to the climactic conclusion.  Getting fancy can be a sure road to defeat when you are in a time crunch.  Get the job done simply and effectively and your players will be grateful for the game that you put together; spend all your time on a cool but possibly unnecessary idea and you'll be explaining to a group of angry and disappointed players why you had to cancel the session. 

#4 - Surprise!
I love surprises.  I think they are a fun way to get everyone off balance and excited about what is coming.  To that end I never told the group that we would be playing Mutants & Masterminds.  When they arrived everyone expected the same old thing, and no one was too exited about the game.  When I handed out the folders with their characters and set up my M&M GM screen momentary confusion gave way to excitement.  As I mentioned earlier, we had really wanted to play a Superhero RPG at Gen Con this year, but were unable to get into one.  It was a nice surprise that got everyone into a good mood and ready to have a good time.

#5 - Relax and Have Fun
In the end number five is the simplest and most important one.  You won't have finished everything you wanted to finish.  There will be things that you wish you could have done a better job on.  In the end you have what you have and you have to make the most of it.  When I sat down at the table I wasn't wondering if what I had would be enough, but thinking about how much fun the night was going to be.  As it turned out I was right.  The first night went really well with the PCs defeating the Villain and rescuing the hostages. 

This entry was posted on Saturday, June 18, 2011 at Saturday, June 18, 2011 and is filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Wow !It sounds like you really put a great campaign concept together! I hope the wedding goes well, too. :)

June 18, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Thanks Christian! Fun is the primary objective, and as long as people are having it then I am happy.

June 19, 2011 at 2:09 AM

I honestly don't see anything wrong with using a real city map as a base, even if it's just to establish things like what districts are where. I'm not much cop at town planning and if left to my own devices would create some hysterical immersion-breaker where the midden was sited nigh the well or something similarly offensive to the senses. Putting interesting things in those districts is the part where I kick my creativity into action...

June 19, 2011 at 2:17 AM

I'm not saying that it is always a bad thing, but it isn't ideal. If you have the time and the ability I fully advise making your own, but in this case the map of Chicago proved invaluable and worked out pretty well.

June 20, 2011 at 12:49 AM

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