Tag Archive for Campaign Advice

Superhero GM Advice Borrowed from Kelly Link: Fine Tune Your Subconscious

For the most part I’ve been writing about superhero gaming while my regular game was on hiatus due to a player being in the UK, but as of last night the hiatus is over. We got together despite some jetlag and played the thirty-first session of Shock and Awesome, which involved some call-backs to the very first sessions of the campaign in addition to the events of session 30. The character’s school trip to the Museum of Natural History was interrupted when Doctor Jurassic and his three Demon Dinosaurs (velociraptors with superpowers) attacked and made off with the prize of the museum’s new exhibit – fragments of the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs several billion years ago.

It was probably the most fun I’ve had running bad guys in a long while, which is a sign that the villain audit I talked about last week is doing it’s job. I don’t think I’ve got my problems with combat licked yet, but this certainly *felt* like a very different fight compared to a lot of the other villain battles we had prior to the hiatus (admittedly, it was also marred by some abysmal die rolls for one of the players, which meant one of the dinosaur powers didn’t quite get the play it should have).

The other reason the fight was fun comes down to the choice of bad guys: Jurassic and his henchmen were geekily fun to stat up and create, largely because they appeal to the part of my brain that loves comic books.  It came about cause of a little exercise I borrowed from an SF writer named Kelly Link, which is all about connecting your conscious processes with the subconscious part of your brain that throws up ideas. In a lot of ways, this process is a spiritual successor to the Villain Audit when it comes to breaking out of a rut.

Superhero GM Advice Borrowed from Kelly Link: Fine Tune Your Subconscious

You can read about Kelly Link’s theory about collaborating with your subconscious here, but the short version goes something like this: your subconscious throws up ideas without regard to quality, providing you wish a mess of good ideas, bad ideas, and mediocre stuff. You consciously seize on certain ideas as being worthwhile, effectively training your subconscious to provide more of that type. The more you choose a particular idea, the more likely you are to see the same themes or approaches coming up over and over.

There’s no doubt that repeating myself over and over was a big problem in my campaign after looking over my villain audit, and it’s something I really wanted to do something about. Repetition should be a conscious thing used to generate effect, especially since my players aren’t the only ones who get bored by the same thing week after week – I lose interest in things as well, on some level, and that listlessness carries over to the way I prepared and ran my games. It was time to fine-tune the kind of ideas I was generating as a GM, so I borrowed one of Kelly Link’s exercises for doing so.

Link’s fine-tuning method is deceptively simple – she writes a list of the things she most likes to see in other people’s fiction, which serves as a guidepost for her subconscious. She works fast and the list covers a lot of ground, ranging from the thematic to the very general to the crazily specific, and eventually new ideas started appearing as the items she listed triggered something in her brain.

I’ve used this exercise dozens of times in writing since I first came across it a few years ago, but somehow it never actually occurred to me that it’d have a use in gaming until last week. In hindsight, it’s a near-perfect tool for GMs looking to have more fun in their games – we usually start campaigns because we’re fans of a particular genre, but how often do we sit down and work out what it is about the genre that we really like? More importantly, how often do we let the list of things we like seeing stay static, when in reality it’s constantly evolving. Go on a forty-issue Iron Man binge, for example, and you’re probably going to be a little burnt out on the Armoured Avenger and his slew of technology-based villains, but more than ready for the change of pace provided by some mystical Iron Fist action or pulp-like Hellboy horror or even some space-wahoo-craziness Green Lantern storylines.

With that in mind, I sat down and created my Things I like to see in comics list, hammering out as many things as I could in the space of twenty minutes. The result went something like this:


battle suits


giant robots that aren’t goofy

interpersonal angst

Golden and silver age villains updated with a modern look

Homage’s to goofy silver-age tropes a-la early Invincible


evil girlfriends who aren’t really evil

cops in trenchcoats

Kirby quartets

lame villains reclaimed for cool purposes

creator owned universes

“greatest hits” villainous team-ups (ie the Sinister Six)


villainous teams built as a homage to heroes and villains in another company (IE the Extremists in DC)

crazy plans

Creator owned universes

time travel


martial arts heroes

Plans that make no sense on the surface, but perfect sense to the villains

fight scenes in dramatic locations

Masked/bizarre crime lords

retro villain concepts

weird science

evil cults

chasing people through the sewers

bitter cops who secretly like the hero

ineffectual secondary characters who are oblivious to all that’s going on under their noses

secondary characters who gets something up, but don’t drag out the investigation

inappropriate guest stars

investigation montages a-la early Power Man and Iron Fist

evil goatees

Mercenary soldiers

jobber villains – guys so low-rent and/or weird you wonder why they were created; working class crooks who are just interested in the money despite their powers.

Born losers

crazy plans that just might work

magic that doesn’t really feel like magic

rival teams

secret societies taking over the world

playing games with continuity

rewarding long-term readers by linking back to old plots without making it explicit

interesting double-teams


police forces who actually realise there are super-villains and have protocols for dealing with them

enclosed spaces


lamp-shading series absurdity

Weird colours to costumes

big scenes full of people

plans that are slowly revealed and proven to be crazy ambitious


Now I’ve got a copy of this list posted into the front of my GM folder where I can revisit it, add to it, and alter it every couple of weeks. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a pretty good one – it captures many of the things that give me a little frisson of pleasure when they’re well-handled in comic books. In essence, they’re the things that make me a comic-book fan.

A lot of these things have also been getting plenty of play in Shock and Awesome as well – secret societies, battle-suits, and mercenary soldiers have all made regular appearances, enough so that they were going stale. They’d started bringing me less pleasure than I expected, which meant they weren’t as much fun anymore.

Fortunately, the list also touched on plenty of stuff that’d fallen by the wayside – we’d had one really strong homage villain in the early days of the campaign, but that was more or less it. He overstayed his welcome a bit, but It’d been long enough that I felt like was ready for another homage – and this time it was a homage to a very different set of characters. For the last week I’d look at their character sheets and feel that little thrill of excitement that said man, I really love comics, even if that thrill would have seemed weird to anyone else (hopefully it carried through into last night’s game).

It occurs to that at this point that while this kind of list is useful for a GM, it’s probably one of those exercises that makes sense across the board in a gaming group. RPGs are a collaborative storytelling exercise, after all, even if the GM has the busiest job of the process. GMs and players are, in effect, co-creators who are constantly negotiating how the world works among themselves. Anything that lets a GM get a feel for what the players truly love in the genre is a useful reference point. More importantly, other people lists are likely to inspire a few additions to your own, and a group that can get a firm cross-sections of comic tropes they love is probably in a pretty good place.

So here’s your chance: there’s twenty minutes on the clock and space in the comments to post your list of things you love to see in comics. Have at it, and let me know if any cool ideals spring up as a result.

Running a Villain Audit

A lot of people have been offering advice since I admitted that the fights in my Mutants and Masterminds campaign, Shock & Awesome, haven’t exactly been up to snuff. I’m still in the process of compiling it all, since the conversation seems to have spread to multiple message-boards in addition to the blog, but it’s useful stuff (also, you guys rock). Hopefully, by the time I get around to posting the lessons I’ve learned after sixty sessions, things will have improved a whole bunch.

‘Course, given that we were on a three-week break from the game while one of the players is overseas, I’d already started tackling ways to fine-tune the campaign during the downtime. It’s one of the nice things about taking a break when you’re gaming weekly – it gives you the space to look back and reflect. In this instance I had a sneaking suspicion that my own habits were a  part of the dull-fight-scene problem, so over the last couple of weeks I’ve gathered up my campaign note and performed:


It’s easy to get stuck into a rut when it comes to bad guys. As GMs we have a natural inclination towards certain times of opposition, usually because they’re either statistically easy to prepare and run (in complex game systems) or the kind of antagonist who resonates with us in more traditional narratives. Either way, in the back of our brain, GMs have a short set of Ur-villain archetypes that they reach for out of habit.

So when I started looking the combat problems in my superhero games, I figured this was one of the culprits. I’ve had this problem with non-supers games in the past, especially when prep time grew short. I’d spend D&D games overusing bugbears, say, or demons, ’cause they were solid opponents, mechanically speaking, that I found easy to run. I’d frequently lean towards clerics and fighters when I added classes to bad guys  ’cause I knew those classes best and, system-wise, they made for better antagonists due to their superior hit-points.

In superhero games things are far more free-form, even in mechanically complex supers systems, largely ’cause every villain us unique (well, except for the mooks. And the duplicators). Falling into a rut is even easier when you start grabbing for familiar concepts, so during the downtime I fired up a copy of Excel and did a thorough audit of the bad guys who have appeared in the campaign so far, to see which tropes I was overusing and which needed a bit more work.

I should note that I’m not including every villain in the campaign in this list – there are some who have merely made appearances that are basically foreshadowing, or didn’t get a chance to actually engage in an action sequence due to player choices. What I’m focused on here is purely the characters involved in action sequences, whether it be a fight, a chase, or something similar.

The list of things I track in the excel document is as follows:


 Every villain gets labelled with one of six classifications on this front, three of which I’ve borrowed from the new Marvel Adventure Game and the other three I’ve just adapted as a means of keeping track. The labels are Solo, Buddy (for a villains who appear as pairs), Team, Mook Squad (for opposition that used M&M’s minion rules), Armed Force (for opposition that used M&M’s mass-combat rules), and Leader (for a solo villain who leads a mook squad or armed force).

Each of these approaches represents a different kind of tactical challenge, and they don’t have to be consistent across each villains appearance. I have one villain, Blackhawk, who started as a Leader in the first session he appeared and ended as a Solo when he was finally taken down several sessions later. It has very little to do with who the villain is, and everything to do with how they were used when they were actually pulled into an action sequence with the players.

The goal here is to track the basic dynamic of the fights I’m presenting to my players. If I finish the audit and notice that a whole bunch of sessions have been 2 PCs versus a Solo villain, I know it’s time to shake things up a little.


The vast majority of point-based superhero games, such as M&M, provide players with a series of common super-human archetypes that find their way into most comic books. A lot of it just seeps into your day-to-day conversation after a while – you get used to thinking of big, super-strong guys as bricks and energy controllers as blasters.

Odds are, if you’re reading this, you’ve either got (or you’re developing) your own short-hand for various archetypes based on your system of choice. I’ve included my list below (or, at least, the parts of it that have been used in the campaign thus far), which has been cobbled together from a handful of different game systems and articles about Superhero tactics over the years. Feel free to skip it if you’ve got this part down.

Battlesuit: high-tech battle-armor
Brick: big, strong, indestructible guys
Cyborg: used for cyborgs
“Energy” Controller: usually labelled alongside the power they control
Gadgeteer: high-tech power sources that aren’t armor-based
Illusionist: powers based around manipulating heroes perceptions
Martial Artist: highly-skilled combatants, usually favouring hitting over damage
Magic: powers based around spells and/or occult backgrounds
Mentalist: mind-controllers, telepaths, and telekinetics
Mook: cannon fodder whose purpose is to get beaten up
Paragon: characters who mix movement powers, ranged attacks, and strength
Shapeshifter: Powers based around changing appearances
Speedster: Primarily focused on using movement powers
Summoner: Powers based around brining in additional combatants
Soldier: trained, well-armed combatants who aren’t necessarily super-powered
Warrior: combat-focused types who rely on a more-or-less even combination of power and skill
Weapon Master: See Martial Artist, but focused on a single weapon

Again, my goal here is to look for patterns. If the players have been facing a lot of flying paragons with eye-beams of late, then another enemy with the same basic archetype probably isn’t going to excite them.

One thing I will note, though – being able to separate out particular archetypes can be enormously useful. You could make a good argument for Soldiers, Warriors, Martial Artists, and Weapon Masters being much the same thing, but the open up a variety of different tactical options for the players. For example, if you disarm a Weapon Master archetype they’re usually much less effective; disarm a warrior, however, and they’re still a major threat.


I don’t need to get specific with this one – I really don’t care that Blackhawk’s powers come from an electromagicnetic harness for the purpose of this exercise. “Tech” is an easy catch-all in this instance, and one I long suspected I’d overuse (I’ve been reading a lot of old Iron Man and Captain America comics of late).

Interestingly, this is probably the one point of the audit where I actually want to see consistent patterns. There’s a tendency in superhero comics for heroes to face villains that are either dark reflections of themselves or extreme opposites. Iron Man faces technological villains, Captain America faces would-by patriots, mutants face other mutants. If I’m doing my job right in Shock and Awesome, this list should be full of Military/Tech types (one character is a super-soldier), Occult/Magic types (the super-soldier was made to hunt demons), and mutant types (one character is a mutant electropath).

When I break from that pattern, it should either be a big thing or a minor villain.


This is the real meat of the exercise – narrowing down every combatant the characters have faced to their core tactic, whether it’s firing from a distance (Blaster), hitting people hard and absorbing lots of damage (heavy-hitters), hit-and-run tactics (Skirmisher), going hand-to-hand with enemies (Brawler), manipulating the terrain to their advantage or hindering opponents (Terrain Controller), treating other people as their puppets (Mental Controller),  or simply altering perspective, using misdirection, of being irritating as hell for their opponents (Trickster).

I’ve thrown in Mooks as well, for those folks whose sole purpose is getting the hell kicked out of them with no real hope of hurting the heroes, and Negotiation for the villains who weren’t really looking for a fight and weren’t forced into it by the heroes.

This isn’t comprehensive – there should probably be a Finesse category, for example, but I haven’t used anyone whose modus operandi is being exceptionally skilled in combat but relatively light on damage (Trading damage for attack bonus, in M&M terms). Anything that doesn’t fit, I’ll usually improvise a listing that makes sense to me or put them in as a hybrid.


I’ve uploaded a PDF copy of the villain audit for anyone who wants to follow this next bit, although the details probably aren’t interesting to anyone who isn’t part of my campaign. What’s useful about the Audit is the ability to look at the campaigns patters in a single glance and spot the absences and repetitions. If I’m overusing a particular tactic or power-set, it shows up pretty quickly when I glance down the list.

I start off focusing on the Tactics column, ’cause that’s the place that’s going to have the most direct bearing on my problems with combat. I’ve been very heavy on the Brawlers (the focus of 18 session entries) and Blasters (13 session entries), followed by skirmishers (6 entries) and heavy-hitters (4 entries). The others tactical approaches are bringing up the rear with a handful of entries each.  More importantly, when I have included some variance, it’s inevitably been in situations where there’s an entire team of opponents.

Most of this ties back to the reasons I mentioned in the introduction – I’ve avoided terrain controllers ’cause the M&M Affliction system which handles such things was a big shift from the 2E rules I’m more familiar with. Every time I’ve used a terrain controller, I’ve found the game slowing down as I had to look up the effects, which means I’ve shied away from them rather than using them more often and getting familiar with those rules.

Fortunately, that’s a relatively easy fix – I’ll make a note to use more Afflictions and I’ll just copy the details I need directly onto the villain’s character sheets and keep doing that until I combat flows smoothly and I’ve got the details memorised.

Similarly, I’ve shied away from using Skirmishers ’cause the chase rules which inevitably become part of their appearance bored one of the players. This, too, can be navigated around by finding alternate approaches to a chase (personally, I’m just grabbing the 2E rules and using them; they’ll have a higher learning curve, but I think the dynamic will suit the players better).

Finally, as a note, I’ve avoided using a lot of mentalist types ’cause of the PC builds – one of the players didn’t buy up any mental defense so he’s wide open to things like Mental Control. I didn’t particularly feel like spamming the duo with mental attacks ’cause it’d seem like a punishment; I’d rather hit him with one mind-controller to expose the weakness, then let him buy up some mental defenses before hitting him with another one.

This is actually one of the few things I’m really happy with in terms of the Audit, although I’m making a note that I should probably hit the group with another mental effect in the next session or three to keep that particular weakness on the player’s radar. I don’t necessarily wanting him spending his power-points on that to the exclusion of everything else, but having it slowly improve widens the scope of villain types I can use without totally ruining his night.

The next columns I’m paying attention to is the Power Level and Affiliation sections. Again, I’m remarkably heavy on Solo villains and Leaders with squads of mooks – thus far we’ve only had two teams, one of which was a rival hero team that didn’t get much of a look-in during the fight they had. Power Levels have frequently been in relative parity with the player characters as well.

In part I can justify this by the fact that we’re a small group with only two PCs, but it also means that there’s rarely a sense that the PCs are going to need to overcome superior odds. Overcoming more powerful opponents is one of those things superheroes are meant to do – there’s a reason a new villain usually debuts by kicking the heroes butts, setting up the expectation that they’re unstoppable.

Next step – power source and archetype. Fortunately I’m pretty happy with the spread here. There may be a preponderance of tech-powers, mutants, and supernatural but that’s in keeping with the campaigns characters (a mutant and a super-soldier trained to hunt demons.

Finally, charting this by session lets me roughly gauge when and why our most successful fights have been. The Triceratops fight in issue 2 (a PL 10 Solo Brick vs two PL 8 heroes) is probably the most fondly-remembered of the campaign, followed by the sequence between sessions 14-16 where there was the most tactical variance in their opponents and significant storyline depth associated with the fights. At least one of the players reads this blog, so it’s possible he’ll weigh in and let me know whether my memory of notable campaign battles matches up with his.

The least successful fight, in my eyes at least, took place in session 20 when I introduced the first NPC heroes into the setting; what could have been an interesting fight-scene failed utterly due to some poor set-up on my part.

All of which tells me some important things – we pick up the campaign again next week, and my original plan had been to run yet another Leader villain with mooks at his beck and call. My initial sketch for the session had the leader as a Brick/Blaster combo, with the mooks all Brawlers. I’m now thinking I might shelve that plan for a couple of sessions, and see if I can think up something with a little more spice.

This kind of variety isn’t necessarily going to fix our problems with less-than-exciting combat all on its own, but it’s a good first step and it gives me a template to work off. I’ve made a note in my GM diary to update the Audit file every five or six sessions from this point on, which means I’ll spot any trends as they emerge instead of looking back on them with the benefit of hindsight as I’m doing here.

Campaign Resource Round-Up

So this is a heads up for the non-gamer folks – I’m dedicating my Friday blog post to the topics of Superhero RPGs for the next forseeable while, largely ’cause I’m a big ol’ gamer nerd who enjoys writing about games (and, lets be honest, I don’t have the time to spend on gaming messageboards that I once did). What this means, if you’re not a gamer, is pretty much this: I’m about to spend Fridays talking about things that’ll seem a little…well, esoteric. The rest of the week, on the other hand, will be my usual mix of ranting and writer-geekery.


I’m fairly system agnostic when it comes to superhero RPGs. I’ve run a lot of them, accumulated the rules for a whole bunch more, and while I’ve finally settled on a system that works for me in Mutants and Masterminds 3E, I’m always interested in seeing how new superhero systems work. This means that my campaigns tend to have a weird little grab-bag of influences from other systems, just ’cause solid advice for Superhero gaming tends to be that little harder to come by than it is for systems like D&D.

As a follow up last weeks list of 13 lessons, I figured I’d spend some time looking at some of the essential campaign advice/resources I’ve accumulated over the years. The following are the five of the most commonly-referenced Superhero books in my collection (plus one I expect I’ll be using fairly often in the future), and together they make for a pretty kick-ass primer on how to run a superhero campaign that lasts longer than 5 or 6 sessions.

Where I can, I’ve tried to explain the reason I recommend a book – some are chock-full of great stuff, some have a handful of pages that were a revelation to me when I first read them.

1) STRIKE FORCE by Aaron Allston (Hero Games, 1988)
Reason to track it down: It’s damn brilliant.

So sometime back in 1988 Hero Games dedicated an entire sourcebook to writing up Aaron Allston’s home campaign. In the hands of most gamers this’d probably make for a pretty dry read, but the Strike Force sourcebook is notable for being on the earliest (and best) breakdowns of the types of players who get involved in superhero campaigns that I’ve come across. Better yet, it charts the kind of issues that Allston came across as his campaign grew and evolved, and the advice offered made it a whole lot easier to run a successful superhero campaign after I read the book.

‘Course, being over a decade old and long out of print, it’s going to be damn hard to track copies of this down. I picked mine up on ebay about…well, eight or nine years ago, I guess. A lot of the advice has filtered down into other supplements since the eighties, but I’m still a big fan of the Strike Force package, which blends the savvy advice with the kind of enjoyable gamer-voyeurism that comes from getting a sneak-peak at a well-run campaign. It’s still the book I break out and re-read before I start running a new campaign.

2) CHAMPIONS SUPERPOWERED ROLEPLAYING by Aaron Allston (Hero Games, 2002)
Reason to track it down: Advice for constructing campaign worlds and running campaigns

In a lot of ways the advice offered in the 2002 edition of Champions is the logical progression of Allston’s advice in Strike Force fourteen years earlier. There’s a lot of useful stuff in the Champions genre book for Hero 5th ed, even if you’re not  entirely conversant with the Hero System (I’m not, which is odd, given my tendency to accumulate Hero sourcebooks). The guidelines for dealing with power creation and system balance may be Champions specific, but the general gist of it is still usable if you’re using a similarly gear-headed power creation system (and many superhero RPG systems do).

The most useful part of the Champions book for non-Champion’s GMs is the chapters devoted to thinking out your campaign world and maintaining the course during a long-term campaign. Such things aren’t a big deal if you’re primarily interested in running a game in an established comic-book universe, such as those that have been licensed from Marvel and DC over the years, but most Supers GMs I’ve come across tend to build their own worlds and Champions has decades spent doing just that.

3) DC HEROES: THE RULES MANUAL (Mayfair Games, 1989)
Reason to track it down: Subplot Guidelines

This was part of a boxed set of the DC Heroes rules (I think, perhaps, the second edition), which I loved for all sorts of reasons that had nothing at all to do with it being an RPG system. That said, there’s eight pages towards the back of the red DC Heroes Rules Manual that I routinely photocopy and slip into my campaign folder, ’cause the DC Heroes write-up on establishing and running subplots throughout the campaign is great stuff. I mean, 8 pages is a lot of real-estate in an RPG rule book, particularly one that fits all the rules of the game into 72 pages.

I tend to find the subplot guidelines particularly useful for the third edition of Mutants and Masterminds because it’ gives a framework for addressing Complications in play. I can say many positive things about the Complication mechanic, but among them is the fact that players get to foreground the kind of subplots they want their characters to be involved in. Aside from the handful that are based off powers, almost all Complications make for a story element that can be carried over through multiple sessions and evolved as the campaign goes on.

4) AVENGERS:EMH BLOG SERIES by Steve Kenson (Online)
Reason to track it down: Lots of interesting thought about how games can replicate superhero tropes

Between Icons, three editions of Mutants and Masterminds, and work on a handful of other systems, it’s a safe bet that Steve Kenson’s credentials as a game designer with a love of superhero games is fairly well established. What makes really interesting reading on his blog, however, is the series he’s done about the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon where he goes through the series, episode by episode, and asks what can be learned about game mastering and game design from the show. He’s finished the entire first season, which starts here, and he’s now started on the Justice League cartoon.

Turns out, there’s a whole damn lot that can be learned, and it also provides a convenient excuse to rewatch a particularly excellent superhero cartoon in the name campaign research. Printed the entire series out for future reference.

5) MARVEL HEROIC ROLEPLAYING BASIC GAME (Margaret Weiss Productions, 2012)
Reason to track it down: Event-Based approach, Initiative System

One of the new kids on the block when it comes to superhero RPGs, and one that I’ve only recently acquired at that. I picked it up off the recommendation of Patrick O’Duffy, who (quite rightly) pointed out that the system disrupts the basic paradigm of superhero gaming. As he put it in a recent blog post:

This (the game) is a huge departure from the traditional campaign models of pretty much every superhero RPG, or indeed every gaming group, which have been solidly emulating Claremont’s X-Men for something like 30 years – a broth of long-term plots, multi-session plots and character-focused subplots that move in and out of focus as part of an indefinitely-ongoing game with a high degree of player-PC identification and the GM solidly in the driver’s seat. Once again the focus is on the setting rather than specific heroes, and the play of events that are bigger than they are (one of the things that tends to distinguish from DC, where heroes are often bigger than events). The subtext is that exploring the setting and the Event is where the fun is, for both GM and players, rather than tying yourself to a single character or coming up with your own story scenes.

I’m not sure that the MHRBG is the first time this event-based approach has been attempted – I’ve got a copy of the old Marvel FASERIP module for Secret Wars II and it did something very similar (albeit poorly) – but they’ve certainly streamlined the approach and made it workable.

It’s interesting enough that I’m eager to test the system out properly, assuming I can find some willing players, but I’m far more interested in the bits of the Event-Based approach that can be borrowed and adapted. ‘Cause, honestly, I kinda like the Claremont approach to campaigns.

The other thing to take a look at – and this part I plan on stealing ASAP – is their initiative system. It rather elegantly discards the usual RPG approach of randomizing the action order and replaces it with the simple expedient of picking someone to go first, then allowing them to choose who goes next. For systems that require a high level of trust like superheroes, giving that kind of control to the players strikes me as a great way to create the right atmosphere.

Reason to track it down: Really, it’s Alan Moore explaining how comic narratives work

This one isn’t exactly a game supplement, but when it comes to understanding how comics do what they do, my go-to recommendations are Moore’s short guide and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Both treat comics like the unique storytelling medium they are, but Moore spends a lot of time explaining how *story* works (and character, and plot, really). Plus, come one, it’s Alan Freakin’ Moore explaining how comic books work. When you plans for a session come into contact with the player group and fall apart, leaving you to improvise a session based on the fumes coming from the burn wreckage of your plans, having an instinct for the way comic book stories unfold is useful.

And that’s my list. Some of these are out of print, but if you’re lucky you can pick them up by scouring ebay or looking for a PDF version (I know the DC book still exists as Blood of Heroes, but I don’t know if it still contains the Subplot advice). I’m always looking for new books on the subject, so if anyone’s got any recommendations, let me know.

I’ve left of a handful of obvious choices – the M&M rulebook is pretty much a given for me, given that it’s my system of choice (although I do wish it had a more expansive book on running campaigns). Also absent are the various messageboards associated with a particular game system, which are often packed to the gills with GMs who are willing to offer advice. Being part of an engaged community of gamers that talks about their campaigns is actually a pretty awesome way of picking up some neat campaign tricks, so it’s worth checking to see if your system of choice has one.