Wednesday, April 20, 2011

7 Superheroes Walk Into A Bar

...and only 2 of them exchange numbers.

On Sunday, I played in the first session of a Supers game using the Truth & Justice (PDQ) system. The GM wanted the PCs to form a team or band of heroes, which seems perfectly reasonable.

So she asked us to first focus on our mundane secret identities, and make sure that every PC knew at least one other PC. Presumably, that happened. With 7 players, there was enough chaos around the tabletop that I didn't really catch the particulars of how everyone knew each other, and just focused on my own connections.

Then, for our first session, she had us all attending the University Street Fair when some supervillains showed up. That way, in theory, we'd all respond to the imminent danger, and have our super-heroic debut together. Tie the party to one another via a trial by combat.

As you are no doubt already guessing, it didn't really work. 7 PC superheroes arrive on the scene. 2 get into costume and wade into the thick of it. 2 turn invisible and 1 uses astral projection, and essentially keep their presence hidden from everyone. The remaining 2 participate, but do so in low-key "on the sly" ways intended specifically to prevent anyone from figuring out that they are a Super. The fight is over in about 2 rounds, so anyone who was "waiting for the right moment" to make their dynamic entrance just missed out. Bad guys defeated, police show up, everyone goes their separate ways.

This is why so many old D&D campaigns start with "There's a wizard in the corner, and he says he's looking to hire some brave adventurers, and will pay you lots of gold." Of course, at least 20% of those openers result in inter-party bloodshed before you leave the tavern, but at least they're all aware of one another.

Oh well, as they say in the biz: "The show must go on". I imagine a fair amount of meta-wrangling will have to happen before the first real scene of our next session, to get everyone on the same page.

The lesson is thus: Never ever start a campaign with what is supposed to be the party's first meeting or first adventure together.  Starting with the origin story is virtually guaranteed to be more of a problem than it's worth. It sounds great on paper, but in reality it's a minefield.

It works in the movies, but that's only because scriptwriters and film directors have control in ways that GMs don't. A character in a novel can't misbehave and wreck the whole plotline, but a character at the table will do so more often than not. The self-destructive misbehavior meme is a strong one, and often hides behind the phrase: "It's what my character would do!" We'd like to pretend we're above it, but most of us aren't.

Far safer to run your first session from the perspective: "You've all known each other and been working together for about a year now, and have established strong friendships within the party." Several sessions later, when you've established a group dynamic, and gotten everyone's buy-in on how the campaign functions, then you can do a flashback session for an origin story, if you really must.