Lets play Super Dungeons and Dragons

In which ol’ Greywulf looks at tropes from the world of Superheroes and cherry picks those which could make your D&D gaming faster, stronger and…. well….. super!

Fourth Edition D&D goes a long way in this direction all on it’s own. The character classes are geared toward teamwork with the players encouraged to work together to a far higher degree than before. Classes such as the Warlord are all about team play with the majority of their Powers aimed at supporting your allies (in a cool way, of course). Teleportation is now the favoured means of locomotion, laser Clerics abound and it’s a trivial matter to smash through that 18 score on your attributes. Fourth Edition is D&D writ large.

But you, humble GM, can do more. Here’s a handful of ways you can embrace the Super in your game.

Other worlds and alternate origins
“I came…. from up there, among the stars.”

Picture the scene. A meteor hurstles to earth and a curious farmer comes to investigate. Inside the burning crater he discovers…. a baby! No, not Superman – but perhaps the character possess unique Powers or traits unknown to this world. This is a great way to introduce a new Class to your gameworld (the Swordmage, maybe) or allow the player access to a Race otherwise unknown. If you don’t want all that messy hassle of retconning Dragonborn into your campaign, a meteor from another world is the way to go.

Superhero origins are a great source of inspiration for characters. Here’s a few to get your brainjuice flowing:

– Wizard inheritor of a powerful ring. Treat as the source of all his spells (combined Ritual Book and Orb)
– Amazonian Fighter and Priestess of a distant island
– An Elven Ranger whose parents were killed right before her eyes. Obsessed with bats.
– The last Doppelganger from a nearby realm, currently disguised as a human investigator

They’re a team – so give them a team name
“Revengers, assemble!”

Name any superhero team without a name. Bet you can’t; obviously, because they’ve not got a name. From the Justice League to the Defenders, a team name makes it clear that the members are united under a single banner. It defines who they are and what they do, and shows that membership is exclusive. Being a member of a group (especially an established one) is a badge of honour. Not every hero can call themselves a member of the Justice League, and not every mutant is in the X-Men. Almost, but not quite.

Over in fantasy-land, giving your adventuring party a name gives it an identity. It becomes bigger than it’s constituent parts. As your characters gain levels and reknown, the name of their group will be spread far and wide. Which won’t happen, if it doesn’t have a name.

Call ’em the Ptolus Four, the Greyhawk Guardians or St Cudgel’s Mob. Call them anything, but for heck’s sake, call ’em something!

Which leads us on to…………

“Whitecloaks, you die this day!”

I’m not suggesting your party all head out wearing the latest chainmail spandex (itchy!), but give them something to wear that identifies them as members of their group. Perhaps all members wear white cloaks, or a signet ring with a cockatrice emblem. Maybe it’s matching Amulets of Protection, or a style of armour that’s unique to the region. Knights have their heraldry and in the Realms agents of the Harpers all wear a stylized brooch; your adventuring party could adopt a similar emblem for it’s core members (the PCs) and supporters (their contacts and lackeys). This gives the PCs something tangible they can award to their allies, and allow them to become a force in the world that’s bigger that their core membership. It’s also plothook heaven for the GM; what do the players do when folks wearing copies of their emblems commit crimes?

Base of Operations
“Quick! To the Rat Cave!”

When your heroes have a team name and a costume or emblem, they’re going to need a rockin’ base too. Make available something unique; in a world where castles and Wizards Towers are ten a penny, the player’s home base REALLY needs to stand out. Just like the Titan’s Tower, it needs to be a landmark that advertises that the entire region is under the heroes’ protection. A floating castle is the obvious choice (especially at higher levels), but don’t discount the good old fortified manorhouse. Heck, if it’s good enough for Bruce Wayne, it’s good enough for them. Add in a secret underground cave complex to keep the Rogue-types happy, and you’re done. All they have to do is clear it out first………..

Nothing says “we’ve made it” more than giving the characters a base of operations. Classic D&D did that at 9th level with its rules for Strongholds, Towers and Thieves Guilds. In 4e there’s no reason to wait until then though; drop something on their lap whenever it’s an appropriate reward. Now the adventure patrons will come to them to offer work – no more hanging around taverns waiting for a mysterious stranger to appear :D .

Distance has no meaning
“I grab hold of Telos and teleport to the moon. No one says that about my mom!”

D&D is a game of limits. The players are limited by how often they use their Powers; they’re limited by the dimensions of the battlemat and limited by the distance they can more in a round.

Tear up the limits!

Considering D&D postulates a world full of magic, we used prescious little of it in our settings. Use Portals to send the characters to strange, wonderful places where the Rules of The Game don’t quite work the same. Run a combat on the moon, underwater or in space. Let the players known that Teleport Can Go Wrong, then make it fun. Maybe your Eladrin uses Fey Step and doesn’t return, but a (level appropriate) monster does instead – that’s the player’s character for the rest of the day. Have time behave differently in some parts of the world. Perhaps their Daily Powers become usable At-Will, and vice versa. It’s not bending the rules when you ARE the rules. Honest.

Here’s something I did for one game. Set up two battlemats a foot or so apart. Say there’s a portal between them and things can travel between them, but magic can’t (so no sneaky lobbing Fireballs through). Sit back and watch the players pushing monsters back through the portal and chase ’em through. Then turn off the portal for a few rounds and watch the panic as some of the players are separated from the team. Turn the portal back on (on the roll of a 6) and enjoy the chaos that ensues.

More, another time!

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22 Responses

  1. Stargazer says:

    Wow! I was totally blown away by that article! Keep up the great work!

  2. Maestro says:

    Very cool ideas! I can’t wait to try out that battlemat/portal idea. And the idea of getting a team name/costume/etc together. Loved it! As a fan of superhero comics/games, this article resonates particularly close to home. Kudos.

    Maestros last blog post..Character Stats: Mr Incredible

  3. ChattyDM says:

    That’s what I call embracing the new to make it hum…. newer?

    Incredible post Greywulf. Kudos!

  4. Geek Gazette says:

    The Battlemat idea was great… I’ll have to use that.

    Geek Gazettes last blog post..Preacher HBO Show Canned

  5. Sean says:

    I’ve used the two battlemat idea once. We almost lost the druid, when she and her animal companion got caught on one side of the portal facing a green dragon. But she survived, and she had a great story to tell afterwards.

  6. SeiferTim says:

    Wow. Great article. Some things I’d never thought of… thanks!

    SeiferTims last blog post..…gonna need a bigger boat…

  7. David says:

    Hey, neat post. I know most of the heroes you mentioned; up until about three months ago, I read all DC lines religiously. The PCs in 4e are certainly superhero-ish, and sort of canonizing that sounds like it might make for an interesting campaign. Even besides that, being able to teleport to the moon certainly sets a different tone for the game.

    Davids last blog post..Prejudice in Fantasy Worlds

  8. Bob says:

    Forgetting basing the characters on superheroes everything else has reminded me of the wee things we used to do when I first started playing. The uniforms and the strongholds were always my favourite bit with our first characters! :)

    Bobs last blog post..New Blood

  9. Mike Lemmer says:

    You’ve gotten your players to agree on a group name? Every time I’ve tried to foist that on the PCs, they immediately complain about it, toss out 3-4 corny suggestions, and reluctantly agree on one they never speak of again.

    If you’ve gotten D&D players to agree on a group name for them, please enlighten me as to how.

  10. Greywulf says:

    @Mike I think the superhero mindset of my group helps; naming their group comes naturally to them.

    If you need to give your group a push, say that the local ruler has issued an edict that all adventuring parties much register with the State or be declared Outlaw. Hand to the players an Adventuring Charter Form (I’m sure there’s ones for download over in the Forgotten Realms forums somewhere) with space for a Party Name and say that the local Magistrate won’t accept it until they’ve completed it in full.

    Being chased by soldiers and barred from trading will get boring Real Quick :D

  11. nice! says:

    Normally I don’t leave a reply, but I really enjoyed your post. Well done!

  12. Louis says:

    Thank you Greywulf, thank you a lot, right now I’m setting up a custom Super Heroe campaing using the 4ed base, but even thought I have lost of ideas I was kind of lacking a lot of conntent, you gave me lost of ways to set it up just the way I wanted.

  13. Greywulf says:

    @Louis Happy to oblige. Let me know how you get on :D

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