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Author Topic: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?  (Read 1020 times)

Thondor

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What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« on: January 03, 2021, 12:48:03 pm »
As someone who is actively writing a superhero adventure module, I have been thinking about what makes a good one quite a bit.

I have some thoughts of course, but I am really more interested in hearing what you think?
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Chris24601

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2021, 01:28:20 pm »
As someone who is actively writing a superhero adventure module, I have been thinking about what makes a good one quite a bit.

I have some thoughts of course, but I am really more interested in hearing what you think?
First and most important for a superhero adventure is "the buy-in"; i.e. what gets the PCs involved? what does it assume about the PCs motivations/organization?

The buy-in for a PC party that consists mostly of vigilante loners who team up to deal with bigger threats (ex. Netflix Defenders) is going to be different than a group of four-color heroes who regularly operate as a team (ex. Fantastic Four) is going to be different than a team of feared and hated mutants who work together, but don't regularly involve themselves in random acts of heroism (ex. The X-Men).

This generally means you're going to need to present several different buy-ins for different types of heroes because, unless its literally a "the world is about to end and everyone must band together or its all over" scenario you're going to have different motives and ways the PCs are organized. You can't even assume a news broadcast about danger in the city is going to actually get a party involved since their home setting may include bigger name heroes and their group's focus is on esoteric matters (ex. Dr. Strange may ignore an attack on the city by aliens because he knows the Avengers have it covered and he really needs to deal with this demonic incursion before it gets out of hand).

* * * *

The second factor to consider is power level. There's a huge different between the capabilities of Batman (in his own comic), Batman (in a JLA comic), Superman (in a JLA comic) and Superman (in his own comic) so you need to set the adventure up accordingly. Throwing a Bat-family threat at Superman is going to be ridiculous...

Batman (to assembled Bat-Family): We need to find where Two-Face's gang is holed up before they...

Superman (using super-hearing): They're in warehouse 37 down on the docks. (squints) They're loading up a bunch of trucks with the stolen $2 bills now."

Batman: Quick, we have to get down there and stop...

Superman: Aaannnd I got them rounded up and delivered to the police headquarters along with all the evidence and warned them of the poisons they've been laced with.

Batman: We need to get a hold of one of those bills to analyze the poison they were laced with.

Superman: Oh, it was Joker toxin... I analyzed them with my microscopic vision while I was delivering them to the police. It also had trace amounts of a fertilizer that was only manufactured in the (super speed) GreenCo Plant that's been out of business for the last five years and... (super speed) Yes, the Joker was there so I dropped him back at Arkham and the rest of his goons and that evidence to the police too.

Bat-Family: ...

Superman: One-second (zips out and back). Sorry, had to stop a volcanic eruption in Japan and keep an alien starfish from eating London. So, what else is there that needs to be handled as long as I'm here?

Batman: GET OUT OF MY CITY!!!


The point is... make sure you've got a variety of power levels (or else make the power level of the adventure clear). They don't have to be the same thing... street level heroes may have to deal with looters and trapped civilians during an massive alien attack while a higher tier hero group may be dealing with the alien threat itself.

Two Crows

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2021, 03:01:02 pm »
Most of my friends in the late 80's/early 90's were more comic book fans than Fantasy fans, so I ran tons of Superhero stuff.

The most important parts of any superhero story/adventure for an individual hero is/are the Subplots.

Nobody cares if Batman beats-up a group of henchmen for 10,000th time, and because it's a Superhero game, his victory should be assured.  What's interesting (for example) is that in this current arc, he is trying to stop a brand-new villain, while in the Subplot, he has found Alfred staring at his old baseball glove quietly in the kitchen (they used to play catch with), and then various other events between battles/investigation/discovering the depth of the villains plot/power and failing ... culminating with noticing how badly Alfred's hands shake when trying to pour a cup of tea, and Alfred apologizing for no longer being "useful".  He then discovers the new villain's motivation/goal; they have decided to kill every Gotham citizen over the age of 65 "for the good of the city" (save tax dollars, burden on the young, whatever.)

This motivates/gives the missing insight/whatever to Bruce/Batman to stop the villain, and his plot to eliminate the "Old".

The personal Subplot of Bruce Wayne ties into the Who, What, & Why of Batman.  Superheros and their powers get boring fast.  It's the people and weaknesses that hold the interesting bits.
If I stop replying, it either means I've lost interest in the topic or think further replies are pointless.  I don't need the last word, it's all yours.

Thondor

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2021, 03:19:11 pm »
The personal Subplot of Bruce Wayne ties into the Who, What, & Why of Batman.  Superheros and their powers get boring fast.  It's the people and weaknesses that hold the interesting bits.

Good point Two Crows. Characters in Simple Superheroes have a "relations" mechanic for this reason. Beyond urging the GM to work in the character's relations and pointing to NPCs that new PCs could have a "relation" too, this can be a tricky thing to write for.
I have a section started on this, but it does need some beefing up and follow through. Thanks.   
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Thondor

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2021, 03:28:32 pm »
First and most important for a superhero adventure is "the buy-in"; i.e. what gets the PCs involved? what does it assume about the PCs motivations/organization?
snip

The second factor to consider is power level. snip

Both good points Chris. I do have a section on power level. Vigilante, and empowered work best, with planetary requiring more changes, but still viable. Cosmic could mine it for ideas, but that is probably all.

On buy-in . . . it's there, and can handle a few different possibilities but could probably be more explicit.
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Theory of Games

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2021, 05:01:52 pm »
The most important parts of any superhero story/adventure for an individual hero is/are the Subplots.

The personal Subplot of Bruce Wayne ties into the Who, What, & Why of Batman.  Superheros and their powers get boring fast.  It's the people and weaknesses that hold the interesting bits.
That's nice but Chris Perkins and many adventure-designers like myself would argue you can't tailor sub-plots in a published module because you have no idea who the PCs are. Also, using superpowers gets boring for certain players while others could spam powers all session long while avoiding any and all unnecessary social interaction.

Don't forget your audience is diverse. Plan for all types of gamers not just storygamers.


Two Crows

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2021, 05:11:51 pm »
The most important parts of any superhero story/adventure for an individual hero is/are the Subplots.

The personal Subplot of Bruce Wayne ties into the Who, What, & Why of Batman.  Superheros and their powers get boring fast.  It's the people and weaknesses that hold the interesting bits.
That's nice but Chris Perkins and many adventure-designers like myself would argue you can't tailor sub-plots in a published module because you have no idea who the PCs are. Also, using superpowers gets boring for certain players while others could spam powers all session long while avoiding any and all unnecessary social interaction.

Don't forget your audience is diverse. Plan for all types of gamers not just storygamers.

I don't get your point?

The OP asked what we thought made a good Superhero module, correct?
I answered, and honestly.

Nothing dictates that a SuperHero module must be for player-generated characters, nor that diversity creates a better module than specificity.  Nothing like that is in the OP. I'd actually argue that trying to please everyone (regarding playstyle) is an enormous mistake.

You and I are not required to agree, so what is the problem?  Why not just state your own answer to the OP?
If I stop replying, it either means I've lost interest in the topic or think further replies are pointless.  I don't need the last word, it's all yours.

Chris24601

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2021, 05:32:47 pm »
The most important parts of any superhero story/adventure for an individual hero is/are the Subplots.

The personal Subplot of Bruce Wayne ties into the Who, What, & Why of Batman.  Superheros and their powers get boring fast.  It's the people and weaknesses that hold the interesting bits.
That's nice but Chris Perkins and many adventure-designers like myself would argue you can't tailor sub-plots in a published module because you have no idea who the PCs are. Also, using superpowers gets boring for certain players while others could spam powers all session long while avoiding any and all unnecessary social interaction.

Don't forget your audience is diverse. Plan for all types of gamers not just storygamers.
I think that's probably why you don't see many "Adventures" in the superhero genre, but instead a ton of "Settings" where they include the bare bones of all sorts of potential plots and villains the GM can then adapt to his particular band of heroes.

Theory of Games

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2021, 06:08:05 pm »
The most important parts of any superhero story/adventure for an individual hero is/are the Subplots.

The personal Subplot of Bruce Wayne ties into the Who, What, & Why of Batman.  Superheros and their powers get boring fast.  It's the people and weaknesses that hold the interesting bits.
That's nice but Chris Perkins and many adventure-designers like myself would argue you can't tailor sub-plots in a published module because you have no idea who the PCs are. Also, using superpowers gets boring for certain players while others could spam powers all session long while avoiding any and all unnecessary social interaction.

Don't forget your audience is diverse. Plan for all types of gamers not just storygamers.
I think that's probably why you don't see many "Adventures" in the superhero genre, but instead a ton of "Settings" where they include the bare bones of all sorts of potential plots and villains the GM can then adapt to his particular band of heroes.
Eh --- V&V has a lot of adventures. ICONS has quite a few. Now M&M has more setting/genre books.

2. Make everything over-the-top: superhuman fights are like a hurricane and an earthquake hitting a city simultaneously. NPCs should be melodramatic rather than merely interesting. Exploration isn't limited to the world: take the party into space or another dimension.

Omega

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2021, 11:18:04 pm »
FGU produced a series of superhero modules of varying quality for V&V. But overall they tended to be fairly good. And broad enough in presentation playstyles of varying sorts could get some fun from it. Some of their modules even won awards.

TSR's MSH line of modules were also pretty good for much the same reasons. If anything TSR presented even broader allowances for playstyles.

The main thing to consider is the setting and especially the tone of that setting.

When I was briefly working on the SMT RPG I had to go even further because its a parody setting with alot of oddball and risque humour so you had to design with that sort of scope in mind. That would totally fail for play in say WW's Aberrant setting.

Examples since I had to sit down and consider this more than once for IP based projects over the decades.
-Pulp Era: Is it a deadly serious grim world where death is on every bullet? Or is it a mix lie in say the old Green Hornet serial where things were a little lighter, but still overall serious? Or is it a much more lighthearted romp like certain other serials of the era?
-Golden Age and on. Also the same factor of how serious vs light is it?

Theres also other factors like how prominent are vehicles? How potent are they? Contrast the serial version of the Green Hornet's car with the TV series version for example. Or even more heavily vehicle themed superhero shows like Knight Rider, Streethawk, Airwolf, etc for more example. Theres a reason why many supers RPGs leave out vehicles.

Thondor

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2021, 10:38:21 am »
Don't forget your audience is diverse. Plan for all types of gamers not just storygamers.
I'm pretty "traditional" but yes, I hope there is something for most gamers without completely losing focus.
2. Make everything over-the-top: superhuman fights are like a hurricane and an earthquake hitting a city simultaneously. NPCs should be melodramatic rather than merely interesting. Exploration isn't limited to the world: take the party into space or another dimension.
Great point. I would suggest that the degree of the hurricane should depend on the power level that the game is set at.
Melodrama is part of the fun!
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robertliguori

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2021, 07:16:21 pm »
*Account for various combination of superpowers, or their lack.  More than many other genres, you need to account for "Oh, the central conflict of this adventure is something I regularly resolve in my downtime."  Murder mystery? Needs to deal with super-science, super-senses, necromancers, reanimators, and many more things.  So, you'll need a pretty strong understanding of the underlying system, and what is and isn't possible, in order to make the adventure feasible.

*Absolutely no "Your powers don't work here!" areas.  They're tedious and played-out.  What are fun are "This villain or scenario has these effects, here are some interesting ways they interact with other power sources in the setting."

*Strongly-characterized NPCs.  This, I think, is probably the most important part of any module; in my experience, PCs are far more likely to stick with a module and care about the outcome if the people they are interacting with are fun and interesting, and if they want to keep said people around after the adventure is over, you've got build-in sequel hooks.

*Good (but not overwhelming) ties to the existing setting / metaplot.  Most games will at least gesture in the direction of the existing setting, so having things that tie into that

---

One of the favorite extended modules that I ran for my group was for Mutants and Masterminds 2E, called Time of Vengeance.  It's a fun and involved adventure featuring a crises themed around the Ten Plagues of Egypt.  One of the things that it did well was that it let me pick out which of the plagues were going to be fully-realized encounters, and which were going to, as a result of player choices, be mere side-notes or supplements.  (For example, the plague avatars who used insects or frogs were very ineffective against the ghost PC, and so those encounters mostly instead because showcases of the underlying baddie, and what happened to the avatars when they didn't fulfill their role.)

There were ten separate villains, each with their own motivation, and a strong selection of side characters; one of my PCs ended up picking up one of the de-villainified plague avatars as her own kid sidekick based on his literal scenery-chewing (he was Locusts), and the final villain's story and history was both key to defeating her in the non-violent path, and doled out surprisingly well over the course of the module.  And because her backstory tied interestingly to decades-old history of the Freedom League (the setting's JLA/Avengers equivalent), the group was motivated to learn about her not just to resolve the current situation, but to learn more about them. M&MM is a specific, simulationist-over-narrativist rules set, which is not the most popular these days, but if you're in a similar ruleset or setting, I'd recommend seeing if you can score a copy to look it over.

Lurkndog

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #12 on: January 05, 2021, 10:44:50 am »

The second factor to consider is power level. There's a huge different between the capabilities of Batman (in his own comic), Batman (in a JLA comic), Superman (in a JLA comic) and Superman (in his own comic) so you need to set the adventure up accordingly. Throwing a Bat-family threat at Superman is going to be ridiculous...

SNIP

The point is... make sure you've got a variety of power levels (or else make the power level of the adventure clear). They don't have to be the same thing... street level heroes may have to deal with looters and trapped civilians during an massive alien attack while a higher tier hero group may be dealing with the alien threat itself.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't most superhero RPG systems assume the "JLA" power level as the default? So Superman is mostly strong and tough, with some heat vision and cold breath, but doesn't have Flash levels of super-speed. Flash's super-speed lets him do speedster stunts, but doesn't let him actually do more per round than anybody else. (Systems like HERO which do allow speedsters to have more actions generally result in speedster bans at chargen.) Batman is the detective/brains/tactician of the group, and has enough plot armor to keep him from getting squished in the first round of combat.

Characters also tend to lose limitations that would interfere with operating as a group. For instance, Aquaman usually doesn't have a limit on the time he can spend out of water.

Thondor

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #13 on: January 05, 2021, 01:47:30 pm »
Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't most superhero RPG systems assume the "JLA" power level as the default? So Superman is mostly strong and tough, with some heat vision and cold breath, but doesn't have Flash levels of super-speed. Flash's super-speed lets him do speedster stunts, but doesn't let him actually do more per round than anybody else. (Systems like HERO which do allow speedsters to have more actions generally result in speedster bans at chargen.) Batman is the detective/brains/tactician of the group, and has enough plot armor to keep him from getting squished in the first round of combat.

Characters also tend to lose limitations that would interfere with operating as a group. For instance, Aquaman usually doesn't have a limit on the time he can spend out of water.

I think this depends on what you mean by "JLA" power level. If you mean -- what they are most likely to do with the characters most of the time in stories and cartoons, then perhaps. I would guess many games are actually closer to what Avengers characters can do, though.

By their nature a lot of JLA members are what I would call Cosmic Tier in my system (Superman can hold a mini-black hole in his hand, push planets around, the Flash can choose to move so fast as to eliminate all non-metahuman crime in a metropolitan region - including littering). You are more likely to see this sort of capability in their solo series. I rarely run this tier at conventions and events, because it is a challenge for every player to come up with a concept that works at this level.

Most games I run tend to be "empowered" tier. Roughly analogous to Spider-man and his foes. You can have pretty much any power, but no one can cut loose and destroy most of a city in a handful of minutes (that's for Planetary tier characters).
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Theory of Games

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Re: What makes a good Superhero Adventure Module?
« Reply #14 on: January 06, 2021, 10:26:23 am »
3. Bring the Dungeon!: what I like from many of the V&V modules is at some point the PC supers have to infiltrate the BBEG's HQ, which brought a 'dungeon-crawl' kind of experience that connected to my D&D play.

4. Media Attention: the PCs' public activity should find its way onto TV, radio, newspapers and the web. Maybe the heroes are portrayed as heroes or vigilantes or criminals or a combination that impacts how NPCs react to them.