Sunday, August 9, 2009

Campaign Postmortem: NOLA Nightwatch (M&M 2e)

The other half of a post I began here-- about two Mutants and Masterminds campaigns I ran.

NOLA NIghtwatch
When I was asked to run a short superhero campaign a couple of years ago, I decided to go to the players to ask them what they wanted. Most comments remained fairly general-- higher powered, not street level, some four color action. But a couple of players suggested that they wanted to do something set in New Orleans. They'd been there several times and had run some campaign set there pre-Katrina. I'd opened the floor to their input and decided to go with it. However to avoid a lot of the political and cultural potential baggage I made a couple of changes.

Since this was a superhero universe, I opted to have the disaster which had visited the city be of a super-powered nature. Katrina had occurred the year before, and had been slightly ameliorated by the presence of super-beings. Then the following year, a major villainous calamity destroyed the city. That event coupled with the suspicion that supers had deliberately directed the menace towards New Orleans, or at least had done little to really prevent it would hang over the campaign. That theme of distrust towards supers following such devastation would serve as an important element.

Also, I wanted to show repercussions which would last for some time in a supers game. I've read many comic books which have had these “crises” happen and then the next issue, it seems to be forgotten. In the Avengers, Kang took over the world for several issues and put all the supers in camps, but once that arc was over-- no one talked about it or the fact that he had trashed New York. In fact the only one which kept those consequences going that I recall was “The Pitt” arc from the short-lived New Universe line from Marvel. Another might be the Gotham DMZ arc from Batman, but eventually that got washed away.

My goal would be to have the group work on two fronts-- fighting villains but also trying to reestablish trust with the community. I'm not sure how successfully both elements worked, but we had a generally solid twelve session max-series campaign with a beginning, middle and an end. I think a real weakness in the running of it came in my sense of what might be called in an essay “the controlling idea.”

I believe campaign sketched out for a short run have to have a stronger thematic to them. Well, they don't have to, but I believe they operate better inf they do. If you're just doddling around to get a feel for a setting, then perhaps not. But generally I have a tighter sense on my plotting and ideas for these kinds of games. In a longer or even open ended campaign, you have the room to explore through things. You can run and flyby arcs and themes. In a mini or maxi series campaign, having a better sense of your goal will help you craft more.

For example, in the case of the Bloodlines campaign, six sessions, I knew I wanted to bring things back around to exploring the reason for the big event at the start of the campaign. Add to that my wanting to give players an overview of the consequences of a limited genetic origin for super-powers. In the case of the NOLA game, I knew I would end the campaign with theme dealing with some fallout from the original threat to the city. That things had been done to stop the Big Bad and there remained a price to pay. Beyond that I also wanted to have the trust of the populace and their media treatment improve if they worked on that.

But given the room outside of that-- twelve plus session to fill, I don't think I had as stronger a sense of things. NOLA, in my mind, lends itself to magical events and plots. Or at least there's an occult theme worth running there. There's also the theme of local corruption, popular in Noir literature of the area. I played with some of that and some other things, but it ended up being more of a sampler platter of appetizers-- the kind you get from a restaurant which is never really all that satisfying. Some of that came from my own realization that despite New Orleans being a great setting, it didn't grab my interest like other cities did. I wasn't invested in the local color and mythology as I have been with games set in Chicago or elsewhere. Some of it came from a vary diverse group of players who wanted different things from the game-- some wanted gritty, some wanted four-color, some had a hard time hiding a dislike of magic plots, and so on. So in many ways I grade myself a C on execution of the campaign, but a higher grade for background prep and some structural ideas.

Another thing worth considering is how this campaign provided another answer to the question of how one begins a new supers campaign in a world with a “continuity”. Mind you that continuity is all artificial. In both Bloodlines and Nightwatch, I built everything pretty much from scratch. But Nightwatch gave another disaster as a starting point-- the devastation of a city as opposed to the supers populace-- and gave a motivation to the players. I'd like to try that again since I'm fond of building games-- perhaps in another genre or setting.