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Running a Dark Champions game


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I haven't run a dark style superhero game in 30 years.  I have mainly stuck to Fantasy Hero games and am looking for some advice on running one.  I would like some advice one how YOU run your game.  What elements do YOU use.  What things do YOU pay attention to.  What things should I avoid.  What do YOUR players enjoy and hate.  Thank you in advance.

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One thing to clarify is exactly what you intend and mean by "Dark Champions".


One definition, and what I go by is "Street level gritty vigilant style characters like the Punisher that are not actually super-powered but have high skills and abilities. Spies, vigilantes and assassins."


A dark style superhero game is just Champions run darkly. 




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For me it was a lot of gritty, war gamer, paramilitary mercenaries, versus drug cartels, and Marxist guerillas, in Fictitious foreign countries. The games were essentially 80’s and 90’s action movies, with strong tactical element. And at the time in the 80’s and 90’s, the games started as Danger International games with the occasional weird pulp element or talent. The players were a number of prior service, law enforcement, and cold warriors looking to lay a game with looser rules of engagement, and clear goals. Role play was strong, but combat was careful, as it was a heroic level game. But it usually proceeded like the movies it was inspired by, with a lot of explosions at the finale. This may not be precisely your cup of tea, but it was fun.

Suggestions from this, is that you need strong role play at the start, to give the upcoming conflict a strong emotional context so the players are deeply invested. Sympathetic NPCs, really despicable villains, and clear stakes help. Combat in these situations can be wildly unpredictable. As a GM, plan the villain’s forces intelligently for the opposition they expect. This might require a bit of research into real world analogues for your fictional forces , but will give them a firm base as to what they capabilities and equipment are, and give idea and flavor to the players. A Toyota Hillux with a 12.7mm DShK, and a T-55 tank present two levels of opposition to the players. The key is for the players to plan something unexpected, then game it out. Miniatures on a mat will help. This sort of thing is very poor for theater of the mind style play, as distances, cover, facing, and fields of fire, become very important for player decisions and actions. The consequences of poor decisions could be fatal, and giving the characters good situational awareness will keep them thinking and involved.  As this is generally a heroic level game with plentiful mil spec weapons, chances of death are high, so warn the players ahead of time, that character death is a possibility. Don’t fudge the die rolls if you can help it, as this can ratchet up the tension up quite a bit. Open rolls during combats, and saving hidden rolls for non combat or unseen actions in the background also help the tension. But a caution Is that some players do not enjoy a high level of tension. Know your players. If a character goes down during combat, hand them Mooks, and enemies to control. It keeps everyone involved, lowers the amount of work the GM needs to do, and may add some variety to the opposition. Keep the goals clear, and never plan the scenario to be completed in only one way. The usual way these scenarios are approached are, direct guns blazing, stealth, indirect through persuasion (“Let’s you and him fight!), or some way that seems plausible that you didn’t think of. Say the group doesn’t have any resources to smuggle their weapons into this exotic, foreign land, but all of them are trained and deadly martial artists, each a master of a different art?  This gives the adventure a very different flavor than if the group were made up of CIA special operators. Same set up. Different protagonists.

Now, this may not entirely be the flavor you are looking for, but it’s a good formula for running a convention game. Hopefully these suggestions are helpful. 

Edited by Scott Ruggels
typing one handed at the Dyalysis clinic on my iPhone. Typoes galore!
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  • 1 month later...

For me its about 2 key things, Power level and tone. If your characters are so powerful no normal can ever challenge them, then they do not fit. Superman can never fit. Tone means the heroes do not always say the day, that you can tackle topics that are uncomfortable and that there will be problems. 

 I like the netflix shows as a prime example, with Power man being immine to small arms, but still capable of being taken out by a skilled martial artist or a shotgun to the head. Where the characters out of combat skills and stories matter at much as the fight itself.  Thats just my personal take on it.


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15 hours ago, DusterBoy said:

So, Spider-Man isn’t Dark Champions, even though he tackles a lot of street level situations and the series also focuses on his personal and domestic problems?



I would go with Dark Champions: The Animated Series for him. To me the Ultimate Spider-Man series really showed how it could be 50-50. At times pretty light but can get into some pretty dark situations when he meets other heroes.


Dr. Strange and nightmare demons, Iron Fist/Power Man and the Kingpin, along with the X-Men on Genosha running from a live mutant hunting show.

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