My superhero campaign, “Humans Are Useless,” has come to a premature end. It seems my players are tired of superhero gaming, or maybe just my campaign. I think this is a chance to learn something about GM-ing and I have decided to ask myself a few questions about what went wrong, and what to do in the future.
1. Were my players interested in the genre and/or setting for the campaign?
This campaign was a New York superhero campaign. In order to really enjoy it, my players needed to either like superhero comics or some aspect of New York. In hindsight, one of my players was not a huge fan of the genre or the setting in question. He told me beforehand that he wasn’t into superhero stuff, but I thought that I would be able to figure out a way to draw him in. He also is not a huge fan of cities in general, being more of a rural sort of guy. In keeping with the two facts I just presented to you, this gamer eventually got to a point where he just didn’t want to be involved with the campaign anymore. My other player is a big fan of superhero comics and movies, but he eventually got bored with the campaign either out of my own failings as a GM, or perhaps inadequate time and effort spent on designing his character.
2. Did my players spend enough time on their characters?
I have previously seen a player make poor decisions during the character creation stage that have ultimately led to a great deal of frustration for both the player and the GM. I am not sure that this sort of thing can be entirely avoided, but I think that I need to convince my players to take more time to develop their characters, and especially need to encourage them to develop a back story. I feel like some players skimp on this stage of the process, only to regret it later. (Though often they think that either the GM has failed to develop the character, or it just didn’t happen and no one is to blame.)
3. Could I have handled the “death” of a character better than I did?
During the superhero campaign, one of our PC’s was defeated. He technically did not die, though he was knocked out and was rendered useless for the duration of a major battle. The system we used for the campaign (the free and obscure MEP Light from Mind’s Eye Publishing) says that superheroes that are defeated in battle (who lose all of their hit points) cannot be used as PC’s again for the duration of the current story arc. I mentioned this to the gamer in question, but ultimately decided to allow him to keep using that character if he wished. It turns out he was frustrated with that first character he made, and he ended up deciding to create a new one. Unfortunately, I think he was less attached to this new character than he was to the first one. I can’t help but think that this pushed him further down the road of quitting the campaign.
4. Did I choose the right system?
I chose MEP Light (aka Hero 8) because it was simple and free. I only had two players, and one of them was inexperienced and I did not think it was a good idea to force him to use GURPS, which was probably my first choice in a vacuum. There was a point when a third player joined us and he tried to convince me to switch to Mutants and Masterminds. I took a look at the system, and saw some cool things, but the third player drifted away from our campaign and I couldn’t justify changing the system without the guy who suggested it still being around. My other two players expressed misgivings about switching, so none of us really had the desire to move to a more rigorous system like M&M or even ICONS. Also, I felt that it would not be the right thing to pressure my players to buy core rulebooks. I definitely feel differently about that now.
There are some things I could have done differently, but I am not sure that it would have made a difference. The campaign would probably still be over if I only handled the defeat of “Shadowman” differently and used a different system. Perhaps if the setting were vastly different and the players developed more rich and satisfying background for their characters, we would still be going strong, but the fact that one of my players doesn’t particularly like superhero fiction might have been too much to overcome.
The next time I do supers, I want to use ICONS for my system and I want to develop a setting with input from the players. I also hope to really challenge my players to come up with interesting biographies for their troubled yet supremely talented heroes. Another thing I could have done is a shorter-term adventure with an emphasis on action. I know ICONS is somewhat oriented toward that, and frankly Hero 8 was as well. Hopefully I will find gamers that are really into supers, and someday I’ll get to try out ICONS. I bought the PDF a couple years ago and have looked at it from time to time. When the next opportunity to get super shows itself, I’ll be happy to whip out ICONS or consider M&M, Champions, or something else if that’s what my players are more interested in doing.