Thursday, August 6, 2009

Campaign Postmortem: Bloodlines (M&M 1e)

So I'd thought I'd talk a little briefly about the last two Mutants and Masterminds campaigns that I ran-- mostly in terms of background set up. Eventually I want to do full campaign postmortem write ups on them, but for now I wanted to talk a little bit about what my intent was in each for theme, how I tried to get at that and a little of how well that went.


The Bloodlines setting focuses on family lines of superheroes and how they exist in the world. As the Cold War of the 1950’s intensified, the US tested its most powerful thermonuclear weapon. Contrary to models and expectations, this blast’s effects continued on in what came to be known as the Promethean Wave, a series of aurora borealis which lasted an entire year, spanning the globe. Somehow, it activated genetic potential hidden deep within humanity. Within the year the first natural occurring superhumans made their mark. However it became clear quickly that the Promethean gene was held only in a few bloodlines. As humanity takes its first tentative steps into the 21st Century, the superhumans are with them as well. Now with the third and fourth generation of these beings there are still many more questions yet to be resolved.

The background theme for the game would the implications of superpowers being within the genetic lines- rather than the classic democratic everyman image often in comic books. It echoes a little of the issue of Mutants from X-Men, but takes a different approach. Here there's a more science-fiction acceptance and consideration of the consequences.

There are a couple of interesting implications that I wanted to play with in that set up. Even in Superhero games I've played in with no “magic” there are always people who gain their powers through strange accidents and projects. Here I'd have something a little more limited and a little more hierarchical. I mean that in the sense that only “special” people get powers-- and how would others react to that. Some of the Bloodlines of the title had tighter ranges of blood-- meaning only close relations to a particular branch might have powers. Other lines might be more dispersed, with distant relatives possibly gaining them. I considered some of the geopolitical implications-- if particular lines were limited to a region, then how would the government of that area react. One player character, Grey, came out of an oppressive Chinese regime which took for granted control over the genetic potential of its citizens.

The Anti-Mutant theme of Marvel echoes certain things of course-- racism and homophobia. Grant Morrison expanded on those ideas a little in his run on the X-Men, to broaden the implications. Bloodlines would be a little bit about public reaction being awe, fear and a little jealousy. There'd also be an undercurrent of anti-elitism, questioning why people should get any special treatment for being different. On the supers side there would be a certain degree of arrogance and craziness arising from being gifted and super-talented-- a belief that simply possessing those powers made them all around excellent.

One of the other advantages for me as a gamemaster is that the structure of these bloodlines created some nice templates for the players. Each bloodline had associated with it certain powers and sometimes certain other character traits. Interestingly a couple of years later, I'd see some of that echoed in Robin Laws' excellent Mutant City Blues-- where that association became a vital path to handling forensics in a super-powered world. Players could decided on a power set they liked and then build their relationship to the bloodline or come at it from the other direction and choose a line and then pick powers. It also gave a nifty shorthand for the PC when meeting new characters-- a decent sense of what kinds of things they might be able to do. If you're running a superworld that doesn't build on existing continuity, I think that's really important and gives the players an easier entry into the setting.

The other thing I did with the campaign was to begin with the death of many, many superbeings-- both heroes and villains. This occurred in something called the “Zero Incident” (no exact reason given for the name but it had a proper weird sound to it). It left a power vacuum which the PC group could then fill. In particular they went to Chicago to set up. Previous to the Zero Incident, that city had been generally controlled by super-villains and heroes stayed away. This device worked well for the campaign, and could be easily adapted to other campaigns. Sine this was run as a limited “issue” game, everything eventually tied back to explain why the incident had happened, but a GM could leave that more open-ended.

I think the important idea here for games is about a way to establish a place for your heroes while at the same time having there exist a population of established supers. How do newbie supers fit into the establishment? Having an incident like this (retirement, vanishing or destruction of a significant bloc) provides a dramatic story moment and also gives the group a motivation. It also removes some of the “why wouldn't we call X?” to deal with the situation question. I've seen it in other forms, but I think this worked pretty well especially as it played strongly into the plot of the limited series.

I ate way too much at the farewell dinner for my sister, so I'll cut it short here. I'll finish up tomorrow or the next day talking about the other game and the structural necessities of the mini/maxi series a little bit.