A friend of mine's L5R game just ended recently, and with the friend only going to be in the area for a few more months we've decided to pass the GMing mantle from him to me and switch games up. This works out just fine for me, because now I get to run another game and I can try out a new system. Now, my intention is to set this game in the Marvel universe, being as the system we'll be using is the new Marvel Heroic RPG. Today I want to talk about some of the things I've been thinking about as I choose the setting; things that you may also want to consider when you use an established setting.
One of the biggest strengths of using an established setting is how much of the groundwork is already done for you. You have big names to pull on, as well as an established canon of events and other things going on that all involved with the game can pull on common images to use. However, you can only manifest this strength to its fullest when everyone has a similar level of exposure to what is going on. Ever been in a DC universe game where one of the players was a walking DC encyclopedia and another player wasn't? One of those people is geeking out a lot more and has a much easier time recognizing things and putting mental images in place. However, there is more to this. Along with recognizing things there also comes an understanding of the rules and events going on. If I say I want to run a Halo game where everyone is a Spartan, people can get a fairly good idea from Halo Reach and the other Halo games as to what kind of heroics are expected of them. If one of the players has no Halo experience though, they may not grok what exactly is expected to happen as fast, and that can hinder enjoyment for everyone.
To address this issue with my own game I'm going to be using the Marvel Movie Universe and do a bit of combining to get it right. My players will already have an email in their hands when this goes up letting them know what movies have and haven't happened and what is public knowledge. For example, Spider-Man 1-3 have happened, but they aren't talked about a whole heck of a lot. Spider-Man himself would be an urban myth if not for all the photographs of him in the paper. At the same time, the events of X-Men 1 and 2 happened but not 3. Also, everything for 1 and 2 was very hush hush and no one really knows just what happened. There was a laser light show at a UN meeting to discuss mutants, and then everyone went home with no incidents having occurred. You get the idea, but the fun here is that it isn't hard to get involved with the movie-verse, which means everyone can have the same knowledge going in. Also, it solves another problem.
Players Should Be Special
Nothing can kill the feeling of being special faster than playing in an established super hero universe. Why? Because all the stuff that your character is doing, other heroes have already done a dozen times. It sucks being a new hero in the DC universe and having to live in the justice league's shadows. Sure, a good GM can trump that and all, but you can also help yourself do it. For example, in the Marvel Movie-verse we really only have a handful of heroes who are around, and most of them are relatively unknown. Only two heroes (I'm doing pre-Avengers movie) have any sort of media recognition on a large scale, and that's about it. Ultimately, this means that - partly because of where I am choosing to set the game inside the setting - my players will get to be among the first wave of superheroes that show up in the world in a big way. Course, that might not be something they're too keen on themselves in the adventures.
Location, Location, Location
I'm not setting my game in New York. Why? Well, because half the Marvel universe happens there. The above point is about making the players special and that's hard to do when half the active super heroes in the world are running around. The comics don't address it, but I can just picture that poor mugger's face when Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, and Darkhawk all show up at the same time to stop him because they all just happened to be in the area. That said, I do still want the game to be centered around a big city, and one where I can bring in a number of tensions easily would make that even better.
For this reason, I'm actually very heavily leaning towards setting the game in Miami. It's still on the east coast (yes, that's a joke at marvel. a bad one too), still a big city, and still fairly close to "places that matter" like Washington D.C. and that sort of thing. It also benefits from the fact that not much goes on in Miami in the Marvel universe that I'm aware of, which lets me make it my own little playground inside the established universe. I can do things without worrying about breaking canon, and maybe even make some unique additions to the world as I go along.
Make It Your Own
The last thing, and I did just touch on this, is you want to do things to make the universe your own, or better yet, unique to the game. The players shouldn't be the only ones making up brand new characters to do stuff with, you should too. New gangs, new factions, and new supervillains are great things to add to the equation to make the universe feel like it is the game's to play with. All the while you can bring in the established names from time to time when you want to to give folks that grounding in Marvel lore. Maybe the X-Men will show up at some point to recruit a new mutant that is causing problems. That could be a lot of fun now that I think about it....