Planning the Game

by David Meadows 30. September 2016 20:36

(Number 5 in an occasional series. See sidebar for others.)

I had a set of rules for a super-hero role-playing game: Golden Heroes. And I had a group of players I hoped would play a super-hero game. All I had to do was make a game that they would like playing.

The first thing you do with new rules is try them out by yourself before letting the players anywhere near them. Starting at the beginnng, you create a set of characters in exactly the same way that he players will have to.

I decided I needed a super-hero team of five characters. I created Gemini, Hammer, Image, Lotus and Littlejohn. (Observant readers will have noticed them name-checked in Strikeforce Chapter 2 as an in-joke to myself. Persistent readers will actually encounter them, eventually.) As I created each one, I gave them background stories, explained how and where they got their powers, and decided they would be police officers in the 24th century.

(One of the great things about Golden Heroes is that the rules actively required players to create a background, or in comic terms a "secret origin", for their characters, to explain where their powers came from. At the time, this was a pretty innovative concept in RPGs. And it's one of the key things I credit to the Game's longevity. Because when I told the players, "Now give your character a secret origin," they really put their imaginations to work, and gave me story ideas that I could run with for years. Much of the Game's story arose from the characters. Which is what stories are supposed to do, of course. But I'll get to that in time.)

I wanted a heavy SF flavour to my game, which is why I decided to set it in the future. And I didn't want the players' characters to be randomly thrown together. That works in a one-off game, but in a long-running game you start to look at this collection of mis-matched, type-A personalities who probably hate each other and ask, "Why are these guys even in the same room, let alone on the same team?" And the worse question, "Why are these characters doing this crazy thing the GM has placed in front of them?" The answer to both questions is often, "To make the game work," but that's a terrible answer. You need an answer that makes sense within the story, not just one that's convenient to make the game work. And unless your players are going to work together when they create their characters and build in their own relationships between the characters (never happens; even when they try, it doesn't work), the GM needs to impose a reason.

So, that was my reason: the characters are police officers. They're a team because that's their job.

So far, so good. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I didn't want to set my game in the future. I wanted to start it in the future, but I would send the characters back in time and strand them there. Of course, I wouldn't tell them that. As far as they would know, I was running a futuristic game. I was sabotaging my stay-together-because-of-duty idea by moving the story to the past, but I hoped that it would be replaced by the mutual need to stay together because of the strangers-in-a-strange-land thing. Plus the sense of heroic duty would still be there because the characters would have been created as selfless police officers, so they would happily do the crazy things I placed in front of them.)

With that established, I had to create a number of threats for the characters to encounter in the 20th century. I had the "Warscout" concept as the reason for going back in time, but you need more than one threat. That's good for a single gaming session. What comes next?

So I created a team of villains: Neutron, The Dragon, Cosmos, Skyrider, Greywolf, Astra, Siren, Silver Streak, Hellfire. Each one had his or her own background, origin story, motivation, and personality. This was stuff that the players wouldn't necessarily ever find out, but I needed to know. Because if I don't know where a character comes from, how can I decide how he will act at any given point in a game session?

Now I had my second game storyline covered. But I needed more. I added in the Department of Intelligence and Counter-Espionage (pinched from an example game in the Golden Heroes rules) and spent some time working out how the organisation worked, where their secret headquarters was, who the key agents were, and so on. I needed other super-hero teams, to act as either friends or rivals to the players. The Defence League of America was a group I used to make up stories about as a child, so I dredged them out of my memory and worked out game statistics for them. I started to put together a history in which the DLA had been around for about five years, DICE had been set up to deal with the Anarchist threat at about the same time, and the world of 1987 was quite used to costumed heroes and villains running around.

It was enough to start. I understood enough about the world to answer any "What about...?" questions the players asked. The big short cut to this was that I was setting it in our own world, in our own time period. This gave me a huge advantage over running a pure science-fiction game. I didn't need to invent all the little trivial details such as how people cooked their dinner in this world, and the players didn't need to ask me. And of course that's exactly why I decided to time travel back to 1987 instead of setting the whole thing in the future.

But I still had a lot of inventing to do. To sustain a long game, I would need dozens of characters for the players to interact with. And I would need long-running, recurring plotlines. If an antagonist keeps coming back, or is a constant background worry, players get a lot more invested in how to overcome him. I had some ideas (the Warscout and the Anarchists were both intended to be long-term threats) but I was soon to get a lot more, and from an unexpected source: the players' characters, who would breath life into the game into ways I couldn't foresee.

Tags: ,

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview

About this blog

The Heroes Universe is an ongoing work of fiction, conceived and chiefly plotted by David Meadows, with help from a group of friends, over a 30-year period.

I am slowly documenting the Universe on this web site.

This blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that history.

If you're new here, the series of posts listed below will explain what it's all about. I hope...

Post history

Recent comments

Comment RSS