Ultimate Intrigue: Running a fantasy-based "superhero" campaign


That's the premise.

My group is currently about to finish up the Carrion Crown adventure path, and the GM would like to rejoin the ranks of the players. I offered to run the next campaign/adventure saga. My group consists of seven players, most of whom are highly experienced, in addition to myself (I've been involved with RPGs for nearly 30 years, myself). A number of players have had a hankering for a superhero-themed game, many strongly pushing me to run the Champions/HERO System RPG. As much as I love the system, I'm really the only player in my group with an in-depth knowledge and experience with it, and just don't feel up to holding everyone's hands while simultaneously trying to guide a story.

As a compromise, I've decided on running a fantasy-based, superhero-themed campaign in Pathfinder. I own the Ultimate Intrigue book (and LOVE it), and would like to build my campaign around the Vigilante class concept (players are free to play any class, however). The saga should be generally centered around a city within which the heroes/vigilantes operate, with occasional excursions to outlying areas of the kingdom/countryside. I'd like this to be an expansive city, with numerous districts, some dark and riddled with crime and poverty, others more affluent and regal, and everything in-between. Preferably, a location with a wide range of cultural diversification, as well. I'm not particularly familiar with Golarian, so if there is a city that fits this description, please direct me that way. I like Caliphas, but it's quite possibly too dark (and deadly) for upstart heroes. But it has a lot going for it.

Any suggestions for custom/house/optional rules that would promote and/or amplify the super-heroic vigilante concept would be greatly appreciated.

I'm thinking that initially the characters will not "know" one-another. Each hero (unless they opt otherwise) will be have both a social identity and a vigilante identity. Non-Vigilante class characters will get a limited version of the Dual Identity ability, and the effects of the Double Time social talent with any single skill of their choice. Prior to the start of the story, each hero will already have established a brief history of masked vigilantism, as well as a rudimentary/obscure reputation (Knowledge (local) check DC 20 to recognize them in their vigilante identity). A series of events (campaign prologue) will have inspired investigations which inevitably have drawn their vigilante identities together. If I play it right, the heroes should be inspired to form a team, banding together to right wrongs which are bigger than themselves as individual.

This will be a tricky game to run, and there is no reason for the heroes to feel obligated to reveal their social identities to one-another. The game will likely be episodic. Occasionally, I may attempt brief sessions of split party adventures, where I'm running two separate scenarios in parallel, but that my be too big a challenge. This sort of adventure does, however, make it easier to suspend disbelief as to why one of the heroes is not present when their player can't make it to game.

This campaign has potential to be both very fun, as well as very challenging (to me, as GM). Right now, it's in its basic development stage. Any advice, ideas, suggestions, etc, would be greatly appreciated. Anything from rules options to campaign settings to plots and plot devices.


Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber

One thing I would suggest is doing individual email sessions in the social ID'S so that you can have separate stories without having to do one on one time during gameplay.

You may want to provide a slight boost to the vigilante to compensate for the other classes getting one of their abilities.

I would conside world building with your players. Have them develop some background info and try to incorporate it.

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I love the idea of a Pathfinder Superhero campaign and actually did one myself; I devised a system to build superhero characters also (after testing with conversions of our actual Champions/Hero System characters in Golarion as a short campaign).

Here are links to posts I made about the system if interested:

First, showing completed stat blocks of street level Wolverine and Nightcrawler...



then, the actual basic system...

Superpath System

There they are if you want to review to brainstorm ideas for your campaign; the system is basic but works for my group, =)

However, if you want a professional developer look at superheroes, I would recommend (endorsement fully intended):


You could easily ignore the technological parts of the system and just use the Hyper Score System to grant abilities (kind of like the Mythic Tiered System) to your players. I played in a complete Kickstarter reward for the game and had a blast with the system!

Please keep us updated on how the campaign pans out no matter what way you implement the superhero system, =)

Shadow Lodge

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Here's another take on some superhero classes that fit into fantasy land. Super easy to implement (get it?).

It will be fairly likely that your players will just agree to keep one another's secret IDs safe, so you could have the social sections done as a party as well.

Silver Crusade

You might want to consider Katapesh as a setting:

If you dont mind aps, Hells Rebels is actually not far off what your describing. Im actually playing a vigilante in it at the moment an its very fitting. Me an some other members of my group have talked about redoing it with nothing but vigilantes, given how modular the class is with all the the archetypes, later on.

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I think Background Skills would be good for helping to reflect their social identities, and Automatic Bonus Progression feels more superhero-ish to me.

It's also worth noting that Inner Sea Intrigue has rules that allow for anyone to have a secret identity.

@ Taernia: The email suggestion is a good idea, though I may utilize such for behind-the-scenes (between session) operations, rather than establishing their social identities. Everyone is SUPER excited about this game, and they're bound to share their various character ideas amongst themselves. Many of us have been playing as a group for over 20 years. I'm not too worried about stepping on the Vigilante class' toes, and my players won't really care, either. As far as world building, I'll definitely be taking input from the group on that front.

@ Swashbucklersdc and Broken Zenith: Interesting suggestions. I'll have to read more into these.

@ The Sideromancer: I'm not worried about the players keeping secrets or metagaming knowledge their characters wouldn't actually know. In our current campaign (Carrion Crown), two of the characters are possessed by demons, and one is a vampire. Nobody in the party knew any of this, but the players all knew. We just feign ignorance until the GM informs us we suspect something, or we something happens that can't be ignored. Like two weeks ago, when our cleric used Turn Undead, and the vampire character fled in fear. That was a... dead... giveaway?

@ PCScipio: Thanks for the setting suggestion. Even though I'm not a fan of desert-based adventures (maybe it hits too close to home, as I live in Nevada), "middle eastern" trade nations and port cities are quite ideal for this type of campaign.

@ jedi8187: While I'm not really interested in running an Adventure Path, I don't mind hijacking materials from an Adventure Path, and simply focusing on the social/political/criminal elements of the campaign setting. I'll look into this one.

@ Luthorne: I'm definitely planning to use Automatic Bonus Progression. I want the game to spotlight the heroes and their abilities, rather than their equipment (something that has bothered me about many RPGs and CRPGs for a LOOOOONG time). I wasn't familiar with Background Skills before, so thank you for pointing this optional system out to me. I'll definitely be using this. As far as Inner Sea Intrigue... I'm not quite ready to jump on another book, but I'll look into it.

Thanks everyone for your feedback, thus far!

Liberty's Edge

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If you want to make the power level clearly higher than standard Pathfinder and also make secret identities ubiquitous, you could go Gestalt with one of the Classes required to be Vigilante.

Given the Archetypes available, this allows a fair bit of variability in the PC group while really reinforcing the particular themes inherent in the Vigilante Class.

@ Deadmanwalking: I hadn't considered the gestalt option, but it's something to mull over. Restricting it to Vigilante + Class Of Choice is a reasonable limitation, considering all of the options available to the Vigilante class.

A general question: How "overpowered" do folks feel it would be if I were to implement this limited version of the gestalt option? I'm aiming for low to moderately power-level "super" heroes. If I use this gestalt option, I believe I will utilize the slow experience track.

A couple of thoughts I'm pondering:

1. I want the heroes to begin the game under the pretense that they have spent a little time working the city and have built a modest reputation, but they are still relatively new (haven't had any major encounters). To reflect this (and make them more survivable out the door), I've been considering starting the characters between levels 3 and 5. Alternatively, I could simply give them max hit points for a level 3 to 5 character, but not advance their hit dice until their levels catch up, and grant them each a modest reputation in their respective neighborhoods. What sounds better?

2. Is there any sort of system in place for easily designing minion-, lieutenant-, and boss-level villains? I want minions that are easy to defeat in numbers, lieutenants would be 1-on-1 or 2-on-1 (either way) enemies, and bosses should generally require a team effort defeat (before escaping in their Big Boy rocket w/ Cryo chamber).

Incidentally, I'm also interested in plot ideas. I've got a lot of work ahead of me with this game, and it will be time to run before I know it. Any help is greatly appreciated. Think comic books. Some stories pan out in a single issue, some over the course of 3 to 5, some are ongoing sagas that cross over titles, and some are the drawn out plots that are slowly seeded over the course of numerous issues (and years). Each month's worth of sessions (played once per weekend) should equate to approximately one or two comic books.

Thanks again!

Liberty's Edge

0: Gestalt probably doesn't add more than +1 APL or so. It's cool, but adds options more than raw combat power in most cases.

1: I'd go with level 3-5, no extra HP. With Gestalt, that should be more than enough to make them plausible as effective and well-known. You could give them the Renown Social Talent for free (or require its purchase), if combining this with the Gestalt suggestion.

2: Not really.

1st-2nd level non-Gestalt characters (especially of NPC Classes) make good minions to face for the starting characters stated above (and will go up in level), while PC Class characters of their level (or one above), with or without Gestalt, make decent lieutenants. Main villains 'requiring a team to defeat' are very difficult in Pathfinder, and you might be advised to have them as APL +2 or +3 CR enemies with a couple of lieutenant types (or a whole lot of minions they can buff, if they're a Bard or something) with them, for an APL +4 CR encounter or so.

3. Depends on what kind of themes you're interested in exploring. Comic Books are a very versatile genre and covers a really wide range of thematic ground.

Surprised nobody mentioned Kineticist (for your Energy Projector type of superhero).

Thanks again, DMW.

I didn't think gestalt would be all that bad. From my personal experience of (briefly) playing a gestalt, I didn't feel as though my character was any more "powerful" than he would have been as a single-class character. Just more versatile.

1. Yeah, I think level 3-5 is probably the avenue to take. Level 5 seems to be when most characters start blossoming into coolness.

2. I was afraid of that. I'll have to play around with my options. Not every foe will be NPCs/humanoids, so monsters are the minions/liueys/bosses I'm more worried about. And I'm VERY well aware of the problem with single BBEGs. Especially with large(ish) parties, like mine.

3. As far as themes, at the start they should be themes based around the heroes' home city/kingdom. Just about any idea is worth mentioning. I want to generally stay away from plots involving saving the world, traveling to other worlds (planes), and generally cosmic-level challenges, at least at first. I want to stick with localized themes, at the start. Criminal organizations, corrupt law enforcement, morally questionable government, serial killers... and pepper all that with the existence of magic (and those who wield it), deities, mythical monsters, mysterious plagues, and pretty much anything you would find in a fantasy version of a hybrid Gotham/Metropolis/Marvel NYC.

Liberty's Edge

0: Yeah, there are some combinations that are a bit more impressive than baseline stuff, but it's not too bad.

1: Sounds good.

2: Well, for monsters, just convert all that to CR (CR 1/3-1/2 for minions, CR=APL or APL-1 for lieutenants, CR=APL+2 or +3 for Big Bads with minions).

3: Sounds like you've got some ideas already. I'd personally start with organized crime, maybe dabble in Evil Cults, and maybe throw in a crazed spellcaster/supervillain or three.

Now that I think about this more, I am tempted to think of Mutants & Masterminds for this (even though it would be a LOT of work).

It needs a new updated edition but man-made Mythology is good if you want to do superheros in pathfinder. They are already compatible.

Dark Archive

Re: Themes; for a slightly different approach to Superheroes, you should check out the web serial Worm. I used to think supers were stupid and a waste of my time, then I read Worm.

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Check out Clinton Boomer's Age of Strange Marvel Pathfinder mashup giving a fantasy alternate future version of the Marvel Univere

Or do you want to set it in Golarion? Alternate Golarion?

Belefauntes, how is your campaign progressing? I would like to hear how it all has merged together, =)

Swashbucklersdc wrote:
Belefauntes, how is your campaign progressing? I would like to hear how it all has merged together, =)

Hey, sorry for the delayed response. I've been away from the boards for a bit. I haven't yet started the campaign. I'm still mulling over concepts. The campaign it will be replacing hasn't yet ended, so I still have time to flesh things out. I'll try to get back here once the campaign is under way. :)

I suggest Mutants and Masterminds. It's closer to d20 games than hero system and a little more balanced.

If you do want to go Pathfinder, I suggest starting at at least 5th level. I'd use gestalt, psionics, and spheres of power. Letting people build their own races using the race builder with 20-25 points would help with powers that don't make much sense in other ways.

Deadmanwalking wrote:

If you want to make the power level clearly higher than standard Pathfinder and also make secret identities ubiquitous, you could go Gestalt with one of the Classes required to be Vigilante.

Given the Archetypes available, this allows a fair bit of variability in the PC group while really reinforcing the particular themes inherent in the Vigilante Class.

What might also work to lower the power level a little from gestalt is if you do a 'partial' gestalt; everyone picks a class, and then gets the class features only from the vigilante; they have to take the BAB and the HD and the saves and the skill points from their base class, not the better of that or the vigilante.

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