Although I am no avid fan I like superhero comics, movies and computer games. I also own “Mutants & Masterminds“, the superhero RPG by Green Ronin. But I’ve never actually played in or even run a superhero campaign. Especially after watching “Dr. Horrible” I would like to run a short superheroes campaign perhaps using Savage Worlds or the beforementioned M&M. But I am still unsure how I should pull it off.
Homebrew setting or an already existing universe?
Shall I create my own setting or shall I go with some preexisting world like the Marvel Universe? The problem with the latter is that shall the players play their favorite heroes from the comics or original characters?
Silly or serious?
I mentioned “Dr. Horrible” before. The “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was a superhero musical in three episodes by Joss Whedon (you’ve probably seen it). “Dr. Horrible” is great comedy. Creating a campaign following the “Dr. Horrible” route would probably allow funny characters and a lot of laughs. But you also could take the genre more serious and create something like the recent Batman movies. I always had some trouble with running “funny” campaigns, so I would probably run a darker campaign.
What are your thoughts on superhero roleplaying campaigns? Please share your experiences in the comments. I would love to read your ideas on the subject!
Running a horror campaign is very hard work. Imagine a scene where the players should be in horror, frightened, excited and then someone tells a silly joke, a mobile phone rings or your mother calls from the upper floor and asks if someone want some sandwiches. And in an instant all you’ve worked for as a GM is ruined. But there are some simple but efficient tricks to make your work as a GM easier.
Turn down the lights
I usually darken the room when we play “Call of Cthulhu” or similar games. Then I get some candles and use only them for illumination. If someone complains that he can’t read his character sheet just use more candles. Bright artificial light usually distracts from the creepy atmosphere you want to create. If you run a SF-horror campaign you can utilize a flickering neon lamp for quite a nice effect. But this should be used sparingly because it gets old fast.
Another easy trick is to use creepy music in the background. And by creepy I don’t mean the latest Britney Spears album! Soundtracks from movies like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or “John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness” work great. Refrain from using music with vocal and keep the volume down. If used correctly illumination and music set the mood even before the game started.
I love using props. When playing games like “Call of Cthulhu” handing out newspaper excerpts and other handouts to the player makes the game feel more real. And this almost everytime improves the sense of horror. A friend of mine has a sheep’s skull that he sometimes brings along when he runs a game and places it in front of his GM screen. This adds a nice touch.
Turn off the mobile phones
That should be a requirement for every gaming session! Just ask your players to turn off their phones. It makes things so much easier!
No eating at the gaming table
Nothing destroys the mood faster than someone munching chips at the gaming table while the GM tries to describe the supernatural horror in all its details. Instead of having food at the table all the time, make pauses to have something to eat. During the meals turn of the lights again and let your players relax.
Voice and sounds
One way to get your players attention especially when it’s supposed to be creepy is to talk with low volume. Usually they will listen more closely (especially if you robbed them of most of their sight by turning the lights down). When something dramatic happens become louder. Some GM even shout, stand up for more effect or even use maniacal laughter (if it’s appropriate).
In one adventure scratching sounds played an important part, so I scratched with my fingernails over the underside of the gaming table for some great effect.
Don’t overdo it
The most important advice is: don’t overdo it. If you constantly scratch under the table, flicker the lights, do creaky-door sounds all the time, it gets old fast. After a while your players will not be in fear but they will probably throw their dice at you just to make it stop. So use props, voice and sounds sparingly.
I hope these simple tricks will help you improve the mood in your horror adventures! And if you know of more tricks, please let all of us know in the comments!
Last Saturday some friends came over to my place to play some board games. When we couldn’t decide what game to play I offered to run “Pirates of the Spanish Main” for them. “Pirates of the Spanish Main” is a stand-alone setting based on the Savage Worlds rules. I haven’t run SW before and I had only read the setting once but the rules seemed easy enough and I was pretty sure I could come up with some adventure on the go. In the end I used the adventure included in the “Pirates of the Spanish Main” book. Pinnacle Entertainment advertises Savage Worlds as “Fast! Furios! Fun!” and I have to agree that this description is spot on. It took some while to get used to the roll mechanic and the combat rules, but we figured it out eventually and we stopped bothering about the rules and played. The combat is much faster and feels more lethal than in the new D&D for example and that’s a good thing in my book. Player characters normally don’t die but a good hit by an elite NPC could mean he’s lying face-down on the floor eating dust very fast. Normal NPCs go down with one good hit. This makes combats fast and furious, which suits the cinematic nature of most roleplaying settings.
My player group had also a lot of fun during character creation. Especially the Edges and Hindrances let them come up with some colorful ideas for their characters and within a few minutes we had a motley crew of pirates ready for adventure. We didn’t finish the adventure in one session so we resheduled our upcoming D&D night to play “Pirates of the Spanish Main” instead and I am thinking about starting a Rippers campaign (another setting using the SW rules) in the coming weeks!
Savage World is an awesome game to pick up especially if you are interested in a fast and fun roleplaying game.
A Roleplaying Games blog
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