Thursday, May 1, 2014

Masks on Lakefront

Until recently, my experience with Super Hero roleplaying games was limited to a couple of abortive sessions as a player of Champions and Villains and Vigilantes from the the 1980s.  Recently, I decided to try my hand at running a Supers game, with what I will charitably call mixed results.  I have always had what I considered to be a decent ability to jump from one genre to another, but I tend to shy away from high powered games.  When the players have all the toys, how do you challenge them?  Super heroes games have always seemed to lean toward that over powered situation.  I looked for over a year before I found a system where I felt like I could provide a challenge for players who can fly or turn themselves to smoke.  I finally settled on BASH! which I like pretty well.  It has a fun central mechanic and a gentle learning curve.  The game itself has suffered from schedule disruptions and missing players, but if there is a problem to point to, it is that I really do not have a good feel for how to make the game flow like a comic book would.  I realize that comics and tabletop games are separate animals that behave differently, but even allowing for that, I just don't feel like I had a handle on it.

What I have had a handle on in the past, however, was the pulp genre.  I have run several well received Pulp style games over the years in GURPS and Savage Worlds.  In addition, one of the first games I came across after Dungeons and Dragons was the magnificent (for its time and still pretty spiffy)  Gangbusters.
How did they cram this much greatness into such a tiny box?
   I still have my original copy of this groundbreaking game and played a pretty nifty campaign in about five years ago that ended with the fiery death of two of the bootlegger players who unfortunately drove their truck full of Canadian hooch off a bridge and into a deep ravine.  One of the best parts of Gangbusters is Lakefront City, the city setting for the game.  It is a lovely analog for Chicago, without having to deal with all the nasty politics of the Windy City.  I like Lakefront so much that I used it as the modern day setting for my current Supers Game.  If you will indulge me for a moment I am getting to why I think this is important.

As my current supers game began winding down, I started to mull over why I felt it wasn't what I hoped it would be, and what I could do to make it better. And that got me to thinking about other super hero concepts that didn't work out.  "Masks" a mini-series by Dynamite comics came immediately to mind.  Dynamite has cut a niche for itself in the comic market by utilizing a number of older intellectual properties like Green Hornet and the Shadow. "Masks" was supposed to be a BIG crossover story line where all the various pulp era masked characters they licensed would team up.  Look at this cover and think about how awesome this concept ought to be:
Standing together since 1825.  Wait?  What?
The Green Hornet and Kato standing side by side with The Spider and The Shadow.  That sounds like ten kinds of awesome!  I am sure that is how it sounded in the pitch meeting.  But look a little closer and you will see that the fifth member of this picture is Zorro.  Yes, in Dynamite comic book land a hero from Spanish Empire era California (which ended in the 1830s) is fighting crime with pulp characters from the 1930s.  This makes even less sense than when the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie insisted on shoving Tom Sawyer into the otherwise very British mix.  The story for "Masks" was pretty terrible as well which didn't help the absurd lineup choices.

The central concept of "Masks" is a pretty good one.  So like the old Reese's Cup commercial, my concept for the Masks of Lakefront campaign takes two great tastes,  Masked Pulp Heroes, and Organized Crime in Lakefront City, and mashes them together.  The power levels of the Pulp Era masked heroes is not so high as to be unwieldy, the cultural touchstones of the gangster genre are familiar to most of the players I play with, and Lakefront City, especially once you throw in all the info about the place added from the various Gangbusters modules from the past, is a helluva potboiler location to mix it all together.


  1. I think that sounds really cool. I grew up listening to Old 20s-50s radio shows and I love the Shadow (Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.) and other great pulp heroes.

  2. The Shadow is a favorite of mine as well. The Pulp sensibility finds its way into a lot of the games I run, as my Savage Mars players will attest. My first encounter with the Shadow was as a child in a 70s era DC comic book in which he was chasing a guilty party across a rooftops. The atmosphere had me hooked immediately!

  3. I have no real experience other than the more recent movies forThe Shadow, and for the Phantom, but I do like Pulp in general...we were once in an Epic Pulp Cliffhangers game using GURPS..Pulp Superheroes might be one of the few ways I would enjoy Superheroes...I read the main titles back in the day, and was Madly in love with Spiderman, but I am much better now, thanks.

  4. Ooo...! The concept is madly glorious! ...At least I think so. Two great tastes that tastes great together!